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.

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.