revised on 2020-03-24
By Venerable Uttamo Thera（尊者 鄔達摩 長老）
Having made merits in the past is a very important topic for every human being. To appreciate it we need to have faith in the law of kamma. True faith comes from the right understanding of kamma. There are a lot of differences among human beings because of their actions (kamma). Here the kammas mean the past and present lives actions. Why are there very few people having the well to do and fortunate life style in every aspect of life? Because very few people interest in and do wholesome merits of different kind. Also untrained mind usually takes pleasure in unwholesomeness. Therefore, the actions of human being are usually not very good. For this reason, the Buddha warned humans that the woeful planes were the permanent homes of living beings. Among the 31 planes of existence, human plane is the best place with chances for cultivating of all the goodness for well-being, from dāna, sīla, samādhi to paññā.
The third quality of the Buddha was vijjā-caraṇa-sampanno – perfected with knowledge and conduct. Here caraṇa – conduct has connection with merits.
There are fifteen conducts, and they could be classified into six groups. The fifth group is called seven noble treasures. These are: Faith, virtue, shame of wrong doing, fear of wrong doing, listening (studying) of Dhamma, generosity and wisdom. Everyone who can develop these seven noble treasures becomes a true Buddhist. Both knowledge and conduct are included in these seven noble treasures. For a noble being (an ariyan), these treasures become his own properties. For a worldling these treasures are very important for him to develop and perfect it. Wandering on in saṁsāra without them is quite painful indeed. These dhammas send beings to good rebirth and become wise. Merit bases on faith, whereas knowledge on wisdom. People who want to transcend dukkha need to develop both vijjā and caraṇa. Lacking of caraṇa is difficult to encounter the Buddha and Dhamma, and to have good rebirths. One cannot transcend dukkha even encounter the Buddha and Dhamma if lacking of vijjā (There are many evidences for both kinds of those persons in the suttas).
Sayadaw Dr. Nandamalabhivamsa gave an interesting talk called “With complete causes come perfection”. This talk had connection with our present discussion – having made merits in the past. I will mention a gist here because it is worthy for contemplation. In doing wholesomeness (goodness, merits, etc., refer to kusala dhamma), we must do with it completely, such as dāna, sīla, samatha, bhāvanā, etc. We have to start it from easy to difficult; as an example, the first one Dāna (giving) in the ten perfections (pāramitās). There are three stages for Dāna, from easy to difficult; such as giving foods, drinks, clothes and shelters to refugees; donate one’s bodily part to save live (e.g., kidney) and sacrifice one’s own life to save others, etc. Someone who wants to get all the goodness has to do all the good things (Sayadaw talked about the ten pāramīs with the three stages for each one roughly. We can study them in the Jātaka Stories. There were many profound dhamma and teachings. Give an example, the Mahā Nārada Jātaka includes law of kamma, wrong views, the fools and the wise, etc.). After the completion of his ten perfections (i.e., from Sumedha hermit to Siddhattha Gotama), Siddhattha became a Buddha. He possessed all the goodness nobody had because he had done all the goodness.
The following story tells us what goodness means. There were two monks in the time of the Buddha Kassapa (before Buddha Gotama). The first monk had generosity (cāga) and he always shared his foods and other things with others, which came from alms round or donated by laypeople. The second monk only interested in practice and not cultivated other merits which he took as unnecessary. After both of them died, they took rebirths in heaven. In heaven their standards of life were quite different. The first devata (deity) had longer life, the body light was brighter and shining, had more wealth, strength, power and intelligence than the second deity (i.e., the second monk) because of his past merits. Therefore, the second deity had more inferior standard than the other. After both of them passed away from heaven, they took rebirths in human world (Here it seemed the second deity died first and took some rebirths elsewhere before the death of the first deity. The reason behind it was the first had longer life span than the second).
The first deity was born to a young consort of King Pasenadi Kosala, but the second deity was born to a maid who looked after the baby prince because of their past kammic link. They were born at the same day. The baby prince was in a golden cradle and the maid lay her baby son on the floor. The small prince remembered their past lives when he saw the poor baby. So, the prince spoke to his friend “Dear friend, you are falling into this situation because you had not listened to my exhortation before”. Then his small friend retorted as “Yes, I didn’t listen to you and so what!” The prince answered “We’re now in a such different standard.” The friend replied “Your golden cradle is made from the four elements and my floor is also the same.” Their conversation was heard by the princess Sumanā rājakumārī who just came to see her little half-brother. She was quite surprised and went to see the Buddha to ask the question of the differences between someone having dāna (merits) and someone without it. (Sayadaw stopped the story here.) This strange story testified the importance of knowledge and conduct (vijjā and caraṇa).
There are two suttas in the Aṅguttara Nikāya connection with the importance of merit: Kula Sutta (Families, AN.5.199 Kulasuttaṃ, PTS: A iii 24③ and Devata Sutta (Deities). These two suttas have connection and mention about the same things from different angle.
In Kula Sutta the Buddha talked to the monks as followed:
① Monk or monks visited to a family and if the families received with joy and gladness, they would born in heaven.
② Giving the monks seats and paying respect would become an upper-class person.
③ Wanting to offer the monks requisites would become an influenced person.
④ Performing the offerings would increase fortune.
⑤ Listening to Dhamma and asking questions would become a wise and intelligent person.
All these points remind human beings the importance of perfection coming from good causes (again see the Buddha’s perfection connected with the ten pāramitās). Someone who has the merits of no. ① to no. ④ but lacking of no. ⑤ can be called a fortunate fool because he will think and act blindly. Someone who is wealthy but not intelligent and wise will probably become poor again. There was a politician who was wealthy billionaire but not intelligent and wise in U.S. A. He misused his power and influence which harm people because of lacking wisdom and intelligence. Wealthy and powerful people can create a better world and society if they know how to use their wealth and power properly and wisely.
Therefore, how to use power and money is more important than how to get it. The situations around the world today are mostly connected with these influential people.
The Buddha mentioned in the Āthana Sutta (??) that there were no merits (kusala) which one should not do but only one should not do demerits (akusala). In the Devatas Sutta a number of deities came to see the Buddha, telling about their past merits and the present situations. The first group of deities said that in the past as human and monks approached them. They rose up for them but not paid homage to them.
Lacking of the other merits, they were reborn as inferior class to compared to others. The second group – they rose up and paid homage but not offered seats. So they became inferior class if compared to others. The 3rd group – they did ① and ② but not offered things to the monks. ④ they shared things (offered) to the monks but not listened the Dhamma (here requested for Dhamma). ⑤ listened Dhamma but not with eager ears ⑥ listened with eager ears but not retained the Dhamma in minds. ⑦ retained the Dhamma in minds but not contemplated the meanings ⑧ contemplated the meanings but not put into practice ⑨ put the Dhamma into practice so that these last group of deities free from regret and remorse. The Buddha mentioned the whole episode to the monks and exhorted them to do all things which should be done, otherwise they would regret like those deities.
The blessing of merits done in the past is very important for human beings because it was like planting a tree. From a tree we have a lot of benefits such as clean air (one way to deal with present global warming), good weather, give shade, fruits, flowers, for constructions, etc., in the same way merits done in the past and present will bring us good rebirths, good fortunes, welfare and protections. Everyone can stop the unwholesome for arising with a lot of wholesome kammas because wholesome and unwholesome kammas are following him as energies waiting for chances to give results.
Deities have more appreciation and understanding of merits than human beings. In heavens their enjoyment in sensual pleasure and other benefits are totally depending on their past merits because they do not have the chances to perform merits in heavens. Even king of heaven, Sakka had to come down to earth for making merit. Human beings (mostly) do not have any power or knowledge to know their past merits, instead they use their intelligence and effort (ñāṇa and viriya) to achieve what they want and need.
When deities are near death they want to take rebirth in human world for cultivation of merit and return back to heaven because human world is the best place for it and not because they like the place. (they disgust the smell of human’s.)
Someone is intelligent and wise, also encountering with good things and suitable situations, etc. because he or she had made merits in past lives. People had many wholesome merits in their past lives, mostly had success whatever kind of endeavor they were in. In the Buddha time, the billionaire Jotika was a very good example. In modern-day, the Hong Kong business tycoon Mr. Li is also a very good evidence. He came from Mainland China into Hong Kong and met a Feng Sui master.
He asked him about his future. He predicted that Mr. Li would make a lot of money, and also whatever business he did he would succeed. These became true later. With the success of his business, he always donates a lot of money. Therefore, he is a well-known philanthropist. How to use money is more important than to make money. Most people, instead of using the money in better ways, just waste them; and even sometimes using them in unwholesome ways.
Do we believe in the law of Kamma? Just think about it. Two persons, even they have the same effort the results are different. These differences are connecting with their past kammas. And the old saying was; “Even though intelligent without past merits, it is always poor.” Sometimes we may meet an intelligent person, but whatever he tries to do something he does not get the result. This is the cause of lacking good conducts (caraṇa). The law of kamma is profound and complex. Most people know about it superficially. Even the Buddha mentioned it as one of the inconceivable subjects.
There was an interesting Jātaka story on this point (Jāt. 284 Siri Jātaka). A woodcutter went into a forest for fire woods. He came back late, and the city gate was closed. He had to sleep outside the city. The place he slept was near a tree, and two wild cocks also slept on the branches of that tree. At night some noises made him woke up. The cocks were in a quarrel because the cock on the upper branch shat on the cock at the lower branch.
The lower cock said to the upper cock with conceit: “Anybody who roasts my flesh and eats will get one thousand coins.” The upper cock retorted as: “Anybody who eats my inner organs will become a king; if he eats my flesh, he will become a field marshal or chief queen, according as he's man or woman; if he eats the flesh sticking to the bones, he will become the king’s Treasurer, if he be a householder; or, if a holy man, will become the king's favourite!”
The woodcutter killed the upper cock, took it at home and asked his wife to cook for him. After finished, he put it in a basket and both of them brought it to the Ganges River. They planned to eat it after bathing. Suddenly a strong wind came and blew away the basket into the river. The basket was floating down the river and arriving at a place where the king’s elephant trainer bathed the elephants.
He wanted to share the food with his wife and brought it back home. At the same time, his teacher, the hermit knew everything with his psychic power. He waited for him at his home and arranged for them. The hermit asked the elephant trainer to eat the inner organs, to the wife the flesh and for himself the other. He predicted him as would become the king after three days. By that time, another king came and made war with this country.
Without any other reason, the king put the elephant trainer like a king on the elephant to fight the war. The real king died in the war. But the elephant trainer was a good planner and leading the battle with success and became a king. We do not know our past kammas. Therefore, to have merits for the future, in this life, we should develop wholesome or good kammas. Another important point on kamma is wholesome, and unwholesome kammic results (or energies) are following us all the times.
Therefore, it is very important to have wholesome thoughts and actions in every moment. Negative and positive results are looking for chances to come in at any time. Once we understand the benefits or values of merits (meritorious deeds), we will want to do it. Only then we will have the 5th blessing. Also, we should very often reflect on the result of the merit. The merits we should perform are: giving (dāna), precepts (sīla), with care to look after our speech, look after our sense faculties, etc. (dāna, sīla, samādhi and paññā).
This is like buried golds, gems, and treasures in the ground. No-one can take away from you and become your properties. It will follow behind us all the time like a shadow. The Buddha gave a dhamma talk on the four treasure pots–Nidhidāna Sutta. It was about dāna, sīla, samādhi, and paññā.
The results of these merits are:
- fair complexion
- pleasant voice
- having a good bodily structure
- good looking face
- having power and influence
- with many companions and servants
- having the human happiness
- having the celestial happiness
- can realize Nibbāna.
All these wholesome Dhammas were praised by the wise and noble person. It could lead to becoming great disciples, chief disciples, Solitary-Buddha (Pacceka-buddha) and Sammā-sambuddha. Therefore, we must perform merits for this life and future lives to come. We should do it better and better.
revised on 2020-03-24; cited from https://oba.org.tw/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=4702&p=36785#p36785 (posted on 2019-09-17)
- Content of "Maṅgala Sutta – Protection with Blessing"
- Content of Publications of Ven. Uttamo
According to the translator— Ven. Uttamo's words, this is strictly for free distribution only, as a gift of Dhamma—Dhamma Dāna. You may re-format, reprint, translate, and redistribute this work in any medium.