Category Archives: Teachings

Thoughts on Spiritual Merit – Part Three

Here is the final section in the series ‘Thoughts on Spiritual Merit. On Sunday I did a talk using more or less the words from these three posts. I believe the talk will be up online on Wednesday and I’ll link to it here. It is on video. Gulp!

I’m glad, and fortunate, to be here and to walk through my days with others. Following the same schedule of activity, including formal meditation and the daily round of ceremonies and getting on with my responsibilities. Best I can. However well-intentioned it might be, if you are tempted, it is a mistake to hold up the life of the monastery, of monks training, as a kind of gold standard. Each of us, within the physical setting, and form, we find ourselves, share equally within the life of the trusting heart of practice. We have an equal capacity to practice, to engage fully with what is asked of us. Differing forms, differing lives, same heart/mind.

However, some of the religious forms can be adapted and utilized, where ever and whoever you are. For example the meal time recitations. In the formal setting, there is a lengthy recitation during lunchtime. However saying the Five Thoughts aloud or silently at the start of a meal and the ending blessing verse at the end can re-anchor to the baseline intention, running in the background of ones being. In a certain setting, I’ll just think ‘Thank you’. There are many such ways to re-anchor and the sangha refuge is likely to come up with brilliant and creative ideas. I’ve said enough on this subject, although I could go on and on, and may well do so, on Throssels blog, or elsewhere. I’ve done my best to explain spiritual merit, as I practice and understand it. It is down to you to do whatever you feel is good, perhaps now having a deeper perspective, and understanding, and appreciation of the Buddhist teaching, that underpins merit.

To recap. The talk, which will be available later, is about how and why the transfer of spiritual merit works. Firstly, the Truth embedded in Anatta, no separate self and Sunyata, all existence is ’empty’ of individual aspect, means merit can’t help but circulate.  That’s through enlightened action, underpinned by keeping to the Three Pure Precepts. Secondly, the ‘resonance’ or ‘merit field’ established when good is generated means good simply flows, unimpeded by any ‘thing’.

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Thoughts on Spiritual Merit – Part Two

Having established that acting from a clear baseline intention to ‘train’ oneself is ‘good’ and that the intention put into action (sitting formally included) has merit and has a positive impact on others, the questions are ‘How does merit work’? Does it make a difference? How do you know it works and how do you do it’?  These are questions best answered by entrusting oneself to a process. The process of daily practice, day in and day out. The answers come via anecdotes from people who have experienced receiving merit. I’ve had my own experience of that. Through talking to other trainees about what they understand, and how their practice of transferring merit takes form. Sometimes answers come when least expected.  So it is with training generally.

Personally, I don’t deliberately offer merit, although I do ask for the full name of people I hear of who are in extremity and keep a private list of names on my altar. During the day names come in and out of my mind, I regard this as giving a non-deliberate ‘push’ in their direction. Or is there a pull from those in need? I don’t know. They are included in some subtle way.

There has been a great call of recent weeks for people to join with others, on-line, to sit together and many are engaging with this, and benefitting as several people have reported. Similarly, we have posted videos of a couple of our ceremonies on the Throssel website, which people have joined in with, which is great. We normally encourage people, if they can, to sit with a meditation group, priory or the like because doing so has a positive impact on the meditation of all there, as mention before. The merit that is generated through this common activity is greater than the solo efforts of an individual alone. For those who sit with others, for any length of time, this is unmistakable. So, unseen and unacknowledged the merit of the meditation circulates and supports all present. Circulating no less for sitting on-line, together with others.

One of the reasons we recommend, and ask, that people follow the same tradition, Serene Reflection Tradition way of practice/sitting, is that there is a common unified baseline intention to – Just Sit. No add ons like visualizations, repetitions of a koan or mantra, for example. All fine within the tradition they come from, but that’s not our tradition. So, sitting together, reciting a scripture together, in unison expresses the truth of non-separation. We talk about reciting with ‘one voice’. It’s a way to alleviate the very real sense of being separate, individual, isolated, different and fundamentally alone. You could say that a kind of resonance is set up when people practice together in the same space. Much like when a bell is struck next to, but not touching, another bell. The vibration passes, unseen, between the bells and the second bell sounds.

The ‘big cry’ I mentioned early is that yearning of the heart to share in, connect with, be verified by, that deep resonance shared between those with a common purpose. Especially when that common purpose is formed in the deepest possible part of our consciousness.  Yes, people are joining together to sing and dance and exercise and practice yoga and check in with family and friends. Yes, and there is a joy and a bond which alleviates the isolation and basic loneliness many will be suffering. The big cry, the calling of the heart, however, is of a different order. Although it may not be that apparent, given how the social aspect of connecting to fellow sitters is a reward in itself.  For short I’m calling the resonance effect a ‘Merit Field’ which is unseen, unknowable, with the ordinary everyday mind, but none the less ‘real’.  This resonance cannot, in truth be hindered by physical distance, though clearly confirmed and reinforced, currently, via on-line connections.

Thus it is trainees act as spiritual ‘anchors’ as touchstones for one another. As I see it the monastery, priories and individual monks function in this way too. It should be understood however that, while such anchors are encouraging, they are not essential to practice. Which is just as well since even our trusty internet can fail us at any moment. And if it does, then what?

Obviously dear readers I’m preparing my talk here. I find I can think more clearly by typing into the editor on Jademountains. I’m in effect talking to somebody(s) and so doing I can find my voice. Thanks for listening. Thanks for being there.

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Thoughts on Spiritual Merit – Part One

For many the idea of ‘transferring/offering merit’ (spiritual merit) to those who are in extremity, who have died, are suffering, for families and situations, which we are all too well aware of right now, is a question. ‘Why offering merit for those who are dead’ how would they benefit? Somebody asked this in an email the other day and it helped me focus on the talk I’ll be giving on Sunday (Uh! That’s tomorrow) following the ceremony of Transfering of Merit. That question points to a fundamental question for all (Buddhists) and that is a deep call to examine what we understand about the fundamental nature of existence, of life and death. It is a question begging to be answered and many a young child has rangled with this and then gets lost sight of in the imperative to get on with life and LIVE IT. Rightly so.

At the beginning of the ceremony on Sunday, there is an incense offering when the celebrant (yours truly) will be voicing a wish or intention on behalf of everybody. I’d like to think that means EVERYBODY, you included. At the moment it will most likely be thus.

We offer the merit of this ceremony to all those who have died, are dying and will die throughout all time and infinite space.
In the midst of flux may our minds awake to Great Compassion, Great Wisdom and to Joy.

That last sentence ending with joy comes from a chant we will be doing during the ceremony called Dedication of Merit. It is, for me, the most uplifting of all our chants. In the midst of flux, Joy! Really? Should we all not be crying at this point? Therein lies the nub of merit and the offering of merit. Practice, which isn’t what we think ‘it’ is.

Here is how I’d describe ‘practice’ although I’d probably use different words at another time: which is directing ourselves to our simple and open hearts, unstintingly. That’s within the heart of meditation both formal ‘sitting’ and during the rest of our day, as well as everyday meditation; working meditation, talking meditation, walking meditation, cooking meditation, cleaning meditation, reading/listening/watching the news. In other words, practice is the wellspring of an intention, that which underpins our lives to do that which is ‘good’, refrain from harmful habitual action (largely outside of our conscious minds) and do/be good for others. That’s to practice kindness, keep to the Precepts, be wholely present to the task at hand. And generally, endeavour to be the best person we can be. Perfection is not on the cards nor is judgement of oneself or the multitude of others. Followed by forgiveness, followed briskly by wise action. We, humans, are wired for action.

So is the offering of the merit of our practice, and there is merit or ‘good’ embedded in our sincerity of purpose to train, worth it? How exactly do you DO offering of merit? Practically speaking. The ceremony on Sunday is an example. The ‘reason’ or the ‘how’ circulating merit works takes us to the very heart of Buddhism and the Buddhas original teaching. Anatta, no separate abiding ‘self’.

Well, this is a start. I have a couple more posts to go before I answer the question posed, ‘Why offering merit for those who are dead, how would they benefit’? In the meantime here are words that come at the start of the Shushogi: What is Truly Meant by Training and Enlightenment.

Introduction: The Reason for Training
The most important question for all Buddhists
Is how to understand birth and death completely
for then, should you be able to find the Buddha
within birth and death,
They both vanish.

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Renewing The Precepts – Video

This video recording of the semi-monthly recitation of the Precepts ceremony, which takes place on alternate Wednesdays, is offered here for those for whom it has meaning. And for others, it provides a window on a ceremony held at Throssel and also a view of the Ceremony Hall as well.

At the heart of the ceremony is the Reading of The Kyōjukaimon, Great Master Dōgen’s text of the Buddhist Precepts, by the celebrant. The Bodhisattva vows also feature; these are recited by everyone present following the precentor’s lead. They are as follows:

However innumerable beings may be, I vow to save them all,
However inexhaustible the passions may be, I vow to transform them all,
However limitless the Dharma may be, I vow to comprehend it completely,
However infinite the Buddha’s Truth is, I vow to realize it.

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Advice Blog from Two Dogs

Wombat and Dingbat Fix the World Come. Heal.
Living With Distance
Here is an extract from a readers question

Living With Distance

Like snacks? My body likes snacks. (human)

Yes, snacks, but also things like putting on lotion and taking a hot bath and drinking tea and dancing in the living room. Not with the tea. (Wombat and/or Dingbat response)

Note: Such sage advice but this blog is dog centred. You have been warned cat people.
And just in case you are not convinced here below their bio.

We are Wombat and Dingbat, two Australian Shepherds of exceptional wit and ability. With our human, Lynn Ungar, we’ve made a study of the art and science of behavior modification. (If you called it dog training you would be missing all the ways we’ve trained our human.) We’re totally down for all the tricks and stuff, but it’s come to our attention that you humans are, generally speaking, in a bit of a pickle. We’re here to help. Just let us know in the form below what you need. Kid won’t take a bath? People keep shooting up schools? Whatever your human-type problems, large or small, let us know and we’ll use the power of behavior science to set you in the right direction.

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