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The Making and Sharing of Merit
A guided meditation by Ajahn Sucitto at Cittaviveka during the Winter Retreat, 2004.
Sharing of merit is a practice that we do in the monastery every day, although sometimes we may not give it our full attention. What merit is about and what sharing is about are areas we may not fully appreciate.
Merit is any degree of good fortune or blessing. It's a result that we receive. For instance, we have received the merit of this human birth; the merit of being able to reflect; the merit of being able to step back from instinct and passion; the merit of knowing the difference between what is skilful and what is unskilful; the merit of being not completely dominated by sense appetite or aversion. From this basis we can cultivate meritorious actions.
In our present situation we are mostly relieved from pestilence, famine and violent acts of nature - cold winter is about as tough as it gets.
We are free from war and oppression. This is something to acknowledge. Also we have received the merit of being free to practise the Buddha's teaching. We have physical forms that are capable of sitting still. We live in a situation where Dhamma is taught and lived and exemplified; where generosity is the standard; where every day we are supported by people's free will offerings of material requisites, teachings, efforts and work. We live in a place where precepts are kept, where we feel safe. There is no cursing, swearing, reviling, no stealing, no physical violence. These are the blessings of this situation. There isn't even the demand: 'You should feel grateful.' In our practice we can acknowledge this and let ourselves drink it in. We can float in it, this field of merit.
How much bigger than ourselves is this field of merit - how much vaster! It includes parents that provided and nourished our bodies, the many people who have healed them and fixed them. It includes the people who have instructed us, and people - some of them far removed - who have provided requisites, a reasonable degree of security, and freedom of speech. It includes teachers from the time of the Buddha onwards who have preserved the Dhamma, revealed it, explained it, expressed it, presented it, translated it, transfused it, and brought it to where we are now. None of all this could we have done through our own efforts. None of us could have organised and made this happen ourselves. That assumption of 'me making it happen' has no place here. So we relax that assumption, and tune into how things have actually come to be.
As we contemplate that galaxy of merit, we should recognise our own star.
Of course, that star is not the only thing going; but we should recognise for ourselves the goodness that each one of us has done, the harm that each of us has refrained from, the generosity that each has practised, and the aspirations and good intentions that we have each followed. We should not be shy about acknowledging our own efforts, our patience, our struggling and our generosity. We are all part of that field. We share and are shared; we are blessed and we bless. Our efforts are part of the galaxy of merit. Though we have our own personal channel - our particular ways of offering, of giving, loving, and forbearing - the quality of that light is common to that of all the stars. If we recognise this, we relax the differentiation between 'me' and 'others,' not only in the present, but in other times too. The merit of the past and the future is in the same continuum.
In understanding this we see that the mind is more of a channel than a doer - something that can connect and receive and be shared, rather than a personal possession that we do things with. It is something that can touch and suffuse a vast array of beings, states and dimensions. To hold it as 'me' or 'mine' would be a gross injustice.
If we see this, then there is a marvellous possibility of being, where the mind is not held or cramped or twisted.
The creation of merit lies not merely in helping other people. It also arises from recognising the selfless nature of mind, the shared dimension of the mind and our activities. There isn't any achievement of which one can say: 'This is mine. Only I did this. There were no other agents involved.' There are always other causes and conditions which point to the shared and sharing dimension of our lives.
The mind shares not only the dimensions of our other senses, it shares the dimensions of other people's actions, and what we attribute to other people. If we don't attune to its sharing nature, then the mind will always grasp at something to have; it will always try to get something and walk away with it - to have an experience and walk away with it - then fondle it and treasure it like a dragon sitting over a pile of gold. And, like that dragon, the mind will never really take in the gold. When it grasps something, all it can do is sit on it. All that one experiences then is the holding and a vague sense of smugness with the gleam of the collected gold. But you can't be the gold; its shine is not your shine. This grasping of experience is a defilement, a distortion of the mind's true nature.
The sharing that takes place with the mind can be compared to the physical sharing that takes place in the body. When we breathe, external air enters and internal air is breathed out. It happens quite naturally. There is a membrane between them, but it's porous - otherwise there's no breathing. In the mind, the subjective sense is similar; it is not held within a casing. It is subjective but it's not a self - it is not a separate thing. If I see this, then how can I say that anything is really mine?
What could the word 'mine' mean? The mind is boundless; boundaries are our artificial creations. In truth, we partake of and share the merit of our lives as if we were floating in a vast river, allowing ourselves to be swept ever onwards.
In sharing merit with other people, we must first of all be able to meet them. You cannot share or bless someone if you're not meeting them. This meeting occurs in a shared dimension. In the practice of sharing merit, we begin with people that we don't feel defensive or anxious about, where there's a feeling of gratitude and trust, with people from whom one feels a sense of blessing, beginning with one's spiritual mentors, from the Buddha on down. When you bring someone like this to mind, you can bring up the name or the face or the image. You can relax with it, without feeling you have to prove anything, or pay back anything, or feel guilty that you haven't been good enough. Just take in the blessing; let yourself be blessed; let the energy of the mind in that uplifted state flow, so that it is shared with that person. It feels like a mind-to-mind or heart-to-heart connection - a meeting at a place of blessing.
With people having aspects that we feel less blessed by or feel confused by, we put those aspects aside and go to that place of blessing where there is a merging and sharing. With anything that is uncomfortable or disagreeable, either in oneself or the other person - the grittier bits of fear or irritation - we digest them; we take them in as if absorbing them. Merit can do that - just as when we eat, we take in the skin of apples and the fibre of the vegetables - we digest all of it. In the same way with these grittier elements, we absorb them all, doing it with the feeling: 'May this be well. May this be received without aversion.'
So we take on the texture of the conditioned realm, its edges and hardness and grit. We take in the blessings; we take in the grit; we take it all, with the attitude, 'May this be well. May this be released.' So if you find yourself with a memory of someone, and the mind gets agitated or anxious about their welfare, or tries to fix or change something, just stop, breathe in, breathe out; then, rather than becoming involved in some personal activity that you feel you have got to do, trust in the goodness, trust the connecting, trust the sharing to bestow its blessing, to have its effect.
We can practise this sharing from the highest of beings to the least fortunate; with those we feel a lot of sorrow or distress for, and with people we feel antipathy towards, or fearful of, or numbed by. We digest everything with the merit. We can be bigger than these particular divisive qualities. The merit can be bigger than that; the goodness doesn't have to be held back by the trembling and tensions in the mind. The mind is capable of sharing. So every time it wants to retreat, or it loses confidence, gather it up, incline it towards the sharing, the trusting, the goodness. This attitude is reflected in the chant we do every day: 'Through the goodness that arises from my practice, and through this act of sharing, may all desires and attachments quickly cease.'
Sharing is the truth of the mind. As for the holding, the needing and the wanting, the merit lies in quelling them. It does not lie in aversion to them, but in just quelling the holding and attachment to things and actions - in quelling the sense of 'mine' and 'yours.'
May this meditation, this sharing, generate that field where beings receive blessings and where the pain of selfhood, with its fear and tension, is quelled!
Source: Forest Sangha Newsletter, July 2004, U.K., http://www.fsnewsletter.net
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last updated: 22-09-2004