The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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How to get Good results from Doing Merit
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Dear Buddhist , I would like to discuss basic good deeds or virtue that we all are seeking. The topic to be talked about here is Dhana or alms-giving which is a basic process of doing merit in Buddhism.
If we want to gain a good result of merit from alms-giving, we, first of all, should know how to do it correctly. Therefore, we have to inform ourselves to make sure that we understand what ought and ought not to be done in due course.
There are many kinds of objects suitable for alms-giving described in the Buddhist Canon: Sutta-pitaka, the Discourse of the Buddha; Vinaya-pitaka, the Book of Disciplines; and Abhidhamma-pitaka, the higher subtleties of the Dhamma.
ALMS-GIVING IN THE SUTTA
Dhana or alms-giving in the Sutta or the Discourse of the Buddha is divided into ten types. They are almsfood, clothing, vehicle and transportation facilities, flowers, incensories and aromatic things, mat and paving material, medicine and light.
All the ten categories of alms can be offered to human being as well as animals in general. But for animal they can obtain only some kinds of these alms. For example, we have rice but can never offer it to cattle since they do not consume rice.
On the other hand, we can simply offer all the above ten thing to human beings, such as the disable -- the blind, the deaf, the crippled, the insane, etc. -- the poor, the orphaned, those who lost their homes and all their belongings in the fire, flood, storm, drought, wars and other disasters.
ALMS-GIVING IN THE VINAYA
Alms-giving in the Vinaya, the Book of Disciplines has four kinds of alms-giving for the monk and novice. They are called Nisaya or the four necessities on which the monastic life depends. These four necessities of life are: Jivara -- robes, clothing; Pintapata -- almsfood and drinking stuff; Senasana -- lodging facilities; and Bhesajja -- medicine and medical equipment. Apart from these 4 kinds of alms are extra acquisition or extra allowances to the monk or novice.
We the Buddhists, should understand what ought and ought not to be done in offering alms to the monk and novice, and should know about the monastic tradition as well. It is also important to know what should and should not be offered to the monk and novice. Many people do not understand this and still do it incorrectly in offering alms. I therefore, would like to give some advice to all of you who have a meritorious mind, to make sure that you will get good result in doing merit. You therefore, should understand in offering each kind of alms.
The first kind of alms-giving under the monastic discipline is to offer robes and clothing to the monk and novice. These objects are the yellow robe, the outer robe, the inner garment and other accessories -- a bathing cloth or rain cloth, sleeping sheet, towels and handkerchief.
Normally the monk dresses with three pieces of clothes -- robe, under garment and outer robe. We can offer all or any of the three garment and other accessories as we want, but have to aware of the color, type, form, length and width that are suitable to the monk.
In offering almsfood and drinking stuff, we have to know what kind of food and drinking stuff is suitable and the proper time for a monk's consumption. If we understand what to offer, what is the proper time and how to do it, this will be convenient to both the donor and the monk.
Problem found in giving almsfood. In presenting food as well as many other things to the monk, we have to present it to the monk's hand or in the monk's bowl. Otherwise, the monk cannot take it because it is still the donor's property and the monk is still not allow to take it. This is one of the monk's disciplines.
If the donor is a man, the monk can receive things directly with his hand. But it is not allowed for the monk to do so with a women donor. This is not a sex discriminating idea at all. Since the monk and the novice are not suppose to touch a woman or any female animals, this might cause them some sexual feeling which is dangerous for priesthood and novice hood. For not allowing monks to receive things directly from a women's hand is to prevent such a problem.
Sometimes there is far too much food that the monk can consume within a day. Some of the food can be kept for another day of consumption. The monk may kindly ask the donor to leave some of the food in the kitchen of the temple or leave it with a lay-person who look after the monk and the Wat, so that the food can be offered tot he monk on the following days. This seems to offend some Buddhists. They might complaint that the monk is difficult to deal with.
It should be understood that the food presented in the morning can only be consumed by the monk and novice up to noon on that day. Some monks and novices take only one meal a day in the morning. And some of them in some Wats take two meals, in early morning and before noon. They are neither allowed to take the left over food or to store food for the next day's consumption. It is an ecclesiastical offence to do so. In practice, the monk will usually give away all the rest of the food tot he people or animal around, but cannot give to other monks.
For the donor's part, they may think that if they do not present all the food they bring to the monk at the same time they may get little merit. This is why they prefer to present all the food they bring to the monk's hand directly.
Some people may even think to change their mind and go to other temples where they can present all the food to the monk as they wish. This is because they do not quite understand the nature of being a monk or the monk's discipline written in the Vinaya.
The monastic tradition and regulations cannot be understood by those who do not study thoroughly. They do not know what can be handed to the monk and at what specific time -- morning or afternoon. And so what kind of food the monk can consume anytime if it is necessary.
Time and kinds of food to be presented to monks. Five categories of food that can only presented to the monk and the novice in the morning but not in the afternoon or at night are staples, desserts, preserved and dried food, fish and meat.
The following 5 nutriments can be presented to the monk at anytime, the monk can take them in the morning, afternoon and also at night, and he can keep them for seven days. These five nutriments are honey, sugar and syrup, fat, ghee and butter, and cheese. These nutriments are treated equivalent to medicine, but they can be kept by the monk for future consumption for seven days only.
For fruit juice, called Nam-pa-na, can be presented to the monk to be consumed in the afternoon, evening and also at night. However, we should know how to prepare it. We will discuss how to prepare this nam-pa-na for the monk later.
Problems with vegetarianism. At present, it has been controversial among the Buddhist groups that some monks in some certain Wats are vegetarians and refrain from eating meat, while some monks take meat. And it is also believed that the vegetarian monks are more observant than the monks who take meat. This makes a conflict between these two different ideas.
In this case, we as the Buddhists who have meritorious mind and respect in the Dhamma of Lord Buddha should study Dhamma thoroughly as well as the monk and novice, so that we all will understand what is forbidden and what is allowed to be consumed by the monk and the novice, and also what to perform correctly according to time and place.
Ten kinds of meat not allowed to be consumed by monks and novices. They are human flesh, elephant, yellow tiger, tiger, leopard, bear, lion, snake, dog and horse. These ten kinds of meat Lord Buddha did not allow the monk and novice to consume whether they are raw or cooked. Animal meat other than those 10 mentioned above are allowed for monks and novices to consume if well cooked.
It is important ( for monk and novices ) to understand correctly here why Lord Buddha forbade monks and novices to take these 10 kinds of animal meat. There are stories and reasons behind this, but I do not want to discuss them here.
Some monks and novices in some monasteries are vegetarians. They do not consume meat assuming that Lord Buddha did not allow them to do. It is good for them to do so, but should not boast that they are more observant and purer than others. This is not mentioned in the Vinaya or discipline of Buddhist monks and novices. Instead, they are taught to be easy going.
Mungsa-u-tis: Food or meat promised in advance. Monks and novices are not allowed to take food and meat that is prepared for them purposefully which fall into any of these 3 cases:-
The monk heard the name or kind of food to be presented to him in advance by the donor. This means that the alms-giver promised the monk by mentioning the name or kind of the food he or she wants to present in advance at the time he comes to invite the monk. (For example, the donor should not promise the monk like this. "Please come to my place, I will prepare a special roast beef for you. " "Tomorrow morning I will bring you noodles, pork, fish and lots of fruit. Please don't go away. ")
Names and kinds of food in this case include 5 categories: staples, desserts, dried or preserved food, fish and animal meat.
The monk saw the donor coming to present him the food being promised in advance.
The monk cared that the food was purposefully prepare for him, especially that the animal was killed for him. This look as if the monk himself cause the animal to be killed in order to get meat for his consumption.
Such an event happened in Lord Buddha's time. Then, some observant Buddhists wanted to do merit by inviting the Buddha with his monks to have a meal at their place on a certain day. They ignorantly promised Lord Buddha by telling the names and kinds of food they were going to prepare for him and his monks. Their purpose was just to please Lord Buddha and his monks so that they would not refuse the invitation because he cared about taking delicious food that was promised. This is not the way that good Buddhists should do. And this is why Lord Buddha did not allow himself as well as his disciples to take the food that had been promised or mentioned in advance.
If we want to invite the monk for almsfood, we should not promise by telling the name or kind of food we want to offer in advance. The monk will be pleased to take any kind of food if he is not allergic to it and will not make him ill. He will take it after considering that the food is safe enough for his consumption.
When the monk is ill, or has broken heels and cannot go for alms-collecting.
When it is time to offer the yellow robes which start from the last day of the Rains Retreat up to 4 months after the Kathin ceremony (the annual robe presentation ceremony in the month following the end of the Rains Retreat). This is about a five month period of time.
When it is time for monks to make their robes.
During a long distance of travelling up to approximately 10 miles.
During a boat trip, both on and off board the ship, as well as during the trip.
When there is a fourth monk joining in a meal from alms-gathering that is just enough for 2 or 3.
When the monk is invited form any group of priests to have a meal.
On any of these seven occasions, the monk is allowed to consume the food that was promised or told the name in advance. However, it should be taken under his good consideration.
Moreover, in any case if the monk is insane, it is not forbidden to take the food under the above discussion.
Offering lodging facilities to monks.
Giving alms concerning lodging facilities for the monk are, for example, living quarters of monks, preaching hall, study hall, refectory, monastery library, Scripture library, bell tower, chanting and meeting hall, the Uposatha hall or consecrated assembly hall, Buddha image hall, shrine hall, cloister, wayside shelter, temple bathroom and toilets, and many facilities in the Wat. Both monks and lay-people can use these facilities which make them convenient for joining religious activities. They feel comfortable to use these facilities because they are open to the public all the time. This is considered another way of doing merit.
Some people might ask whether they can gain merit by building public facilities outside the Wat. Yes, they can. Of course, you can gain merit in doing so according to Buddhism.
In offering facilities outside the Wat, we can do many things for the public. For example, building roadside shelters, public toilets, schools, hospital facilities, welfare institutes, government offices, public wells, ponds, irrigating systems, dams, public walkways, bridge, public gardens and many other facilities.
In short, we can gain merit in offering alms-lodging and facilities both within and outside the Wat.
Offering alms concerning medicine.
This kind of alms concerns medicine and medical equipment and facilities for curing the sick and in order to relieve the suffering of monks as well as of lay-people. Whoever studies to be the doctor or a nurse to help sick people, they are doing merit. On the other hand, whoever supports or contributes in building hospital facilities and medical instruments, they are doing merit too.
Whichever way we try to get rid of suffering of sick people, or make monks and other people healthy, we will gain merit.
ALMS IN THE ABHIDHAMMA
In the Abhidhamma or higher Subtleties of the Dhamma, alms-giving is classified into 6 categories according to our six sense-bases: -
Alms from eye-perception or visible objects. When one sees beautiful things and would like to have them for alms-giving.
Alms for ear-perception. When hearing people talking about going for alms-giving, practicing meditation at a Wat or religious places and would like to do so.
Alms for nose-perception or odorous objects. When smelling something nice, for example, flowers and some other fragrant things, then one feels like getting them to warship the Buddha image, to get them for alms-giving.
Alms from testing some nice and delicious food and one would like to present it to monks and novices, and also offer it to other fellow men, in order to do merit to oneself and to give help to others.
Alms from physical touching or tangible objects, for example, clothing , sitting or sleeping mat, accommodations and other facilities, and would like to do merit by presenting them for monks, novices or sharing them to others.
Alms from mind or heart touching -- ideational or mental objects. This means emotional touching to the above 5 categories. Then we feel happy and would like to do merit with those things by offering them to monks and novices and other fellow men.
The result from so doing in the above 6 categories would make one gain a great deal of merit since it is the mind and intention to do merit which will make one feel happy.
These are 6 kind of alms-giving in the Abhidhamma as a way to do merit by one's mind.
INTENTION IN DOING MERIT
One's will and intention is accounted for a success of doing merit.
Bhuppa chetana: the pre-intention.
This means that before doing merit, one should have will and intention and feel happy with the merit we are going to do.
First, we have to prepare things for alms-giving. The alms should be found or bought in a morally clean way and with clean money. This means that material for alms have to be morally clean.
When we prepare or go to buy things for alms-giving, we should be happy an pleased with what we are doing no matter how much we spend for this. We should bare in mind that we are doing the right thing. This means the will and intention to do so is good and pure.
Muchana chetana: the intention-in-between.
After the things are prepared, now we are ready to do alms-giving. Suppose we want to offer the alms to a certain monk in a certain Wat. We will first come to see him, pay homage to the Buddha image and to the monk. We might formulate our intention to observe the 5 preceptsg them in a vow ("I undertake the 5 training rules: to refrain from taking life, from stealing, from sexual misconduct, from lying and from taking intoxicants".) This is to purify ourselves. The monk, as a receiver, has to be pure too which is completed with the monk's 227 precepts.
If both the donor and the receiver are morally pure and ready, then we present the alms to the monk respectfully, and mindfully.
We will discuss how to present things to the monk later.
Aparapara chetana: the post-intention.
When the monk receives the alms already, he will willingly bless us and we will hearted receive the blessing. We always feel happy whenever thinking of the good deed we have done. This is so-called Aparapara chetana or good feeling after doing merit.
The most important thing in doing merit is one's will and intention. No matter how much the alms cost or how great in quality and quantity, the alms has to be morally pure, we must have good intentions, and the one who receives it has to be pure and have good intention too. If all the three components are united correctly, then we will receive a great deal of merit. That means we always feel happy whenever thinking or talking about the alms-giving we have done.
After that we should extend our good feelings, which means dedicating our merit and wishing all beings to be well and happy like we feel in that good experience.
HOW TO PRESENT THINGS TO MONKS
According to the Vinaya or monasterial disciplines, the monk cannot take things without being presented them. It is an ecclesiastical offense. Therefore, knowing what to do in presenting things to the monks is necessary for us, the Buddhists.
First, the size and weight of the object presented should be portable by one person. It should not be too heavy which is inconvenient to both the monk and the presenter. There is no problem with lighter and smaller things.
When both the monk and the presenter are ready, he or she should be about an arm-reach or one meter away from the monk, and present the alms nicely and respectfully to the monk. The monk has to receive the alms nicely and respectfully too.
On presenting the object to the monk, if it is done by two hands it will be received by both hands too.
The monk cannot receive things from a woman's hand directly. He will use a piece of cloth to receive the presented object by placing the cloth in front of him. Then the women places the object presented on that piece of cloth. Again, if it is presented by one hand, the monk will receive it with one hand as well. Both the presenter and the receiver have to do this nicely and respectfully too. This make a correct, nice and beautiful gesture in presenting things to the monk.
PRESENTING FOOD ON THE ALMSROUND
Monks are forbidden to hoard food, and they cannot do cook. Therefore, alms gathering is the monk's daily routine. Some of them take only one meal a day in the morning, and some have two meals -- in early morning and pre-noon. They are not allowed to eat after midday, except if sick.
In the morning, the monk is expected to go for alms gathering as his routine. The Buddhist layman personally contributes toward the daily food requirements of the monk and novice as an act of religious merit, as well as a means to support Buddhism.
Offering food to the monk on his alms round should be done correctly too. One who wants to do this should prepare the food and get ready. Make it seen that you want to offer alms food to the monk. When the monk comes, he stops in front of you and opens the lid of his almsbowl. Then, we will carefully place the articles of food, one after the other, into the almsbowl. The monk will receive the food peacefully and respectfully. He also will bless us at that moment as well.
The monk does not wear shoes while doing the almsround. Therefore, during this almsround presenting we ought to take of our shoes too. Otherwise we will be in a higher place that the monk, and this is considered to be improper or impolite. This is excepted if the government officials, soldiers and officers in their uniform.
However, if the monk is standing on a platform or on a mat which is considered to be in higher place than we, taking off one's shoes is not necessary.
THE ALMS, THE MONK AND THE DONOR
The result of doing merit depends on the qualification of the three components. These are the receiver, the alms and the donor.
The result of doing merit would depend very much on how the alms-receiver is. If we offer an alms to the monk, the purer and more observant the monk is, the more merit one will receive.
If we give food as an alms to animal, in terms of merit, we will receive very little. The reason is that an animal is in a lower position that human beings. The animal cannot observe religious precepts. The Buddhists believe that observing precepts is moral training or purification process. For the same reason, if we give alms to those people who do not have the 5 precepts in mind, for example, mischievous people, we will receive very litter merit, but more than the offering to animals. We offer alms to those mischievous people in order to help them to improve in terms of morality. There is still some hope because a human being is a teachable animal, or in a higher position than animals in term of virtue or morality.
Offering alms to those who observe the 5 precept in mind ( to refrain from killing, from stealing, from sexual misconduct, from lying and from taking intoxicants.), we will surely receive more merit than offering alms to those who do not accept or observe the 5 precepts. We will gain even more merit when offering alms to those with a higher degree of precept observed, like 8 or 10 precepts. And, this will be even more with the monk who observed his 227 precepts completely. So, it will be the best to give alms to the perfected one ( Phra Arahant ), and the top most is to give alms to Lord Buddha.
When we give alms with something morally unclean, i.e., we get it by a mischievous way, we as a donor are immoral, or if the monk who receive the alms is not observing well his 227 preceptse will receive very little merit. In this example, all three components are morally unclean.
Let us take another case. If the alms is morally clean, we as donors observe well the 5 preceptst the monk is not perfect with his preceptsn we will receive very little merit as well. This can be compared to planting rice in sand or on the seashore without fertilizer. The plant cannot grow well. (The alms is plant seed, and the receiver is the ground.) The monk without morality or perfection by not well observing his religious precepts is like the soil without fertilizer. If we do merit to such a monk we will receive very little merit, like planting in the soil without fertilizer.
Now, when we are ready with alms objects, we as alms-givers are morally clean and have good intentions, and so is the monk who observes his religious precepts perfectly, this alms-giving will result in a full and perfect merit.
Unclean alms, immoral donor and different levels of monks.
Suppose we do not observe well religious preceptse offering objects are not quite morally clean, but the monk who receives the alms ids perfect with his precepts; we still can receive some good merit. Let say half of the merit should be of value in this case. Comparing this perfect monk with third class soil, the plant can grow and be fruitful for about 2 or 3 ears of corn per a plant.
Now, if we are not morally clean, as well as the stolen alms-giving objects, but the monk presented is perfect with his precepts plus having good meditation practice, we will receive more merit than in the previous case, but still not perfect merit. The monk in this case, with perfect precepts and good meditation practice, can be compared to the second class soil with some fertilizer.
On the other hand, if we as well as the offering objects are not morally clean, but we give alms to Phra Arahant, a Wholly Perfected One, we will receive a great deal of merit. This is compared to planting in first class soil. Each plant may produce many ears of corn, and each ear bears plenty of grain.
When we cannot find a perfect monk.
Now, suppose we want to make merit but we cannot find any good and perfect monk as we wish. We still should give alms to any monk, or do alms-giving as much as we can. This is a way to accumulate our merit. It is like scooping up water from a sandy place which can fill up a jar if we keep trying.
If we keep on giving alms to any monk happily and think that we offer alms to our Lord Buddha and any perfected monks, we will receive a great deal of merit and happiness. Therefore, whenever we do merit, we should have a happy mind and feel pleased with what we have done.
Doing merit with the disable.
Nowadays we give alms to the blind, the deaf, the disabled, as well as the aged. We will received merit according to how morally good they are. Lord Buddha teaches all the Buddhists to have a sharing mind. We should share what we can afford with our poor fellow men and other beings.
Doing merit and our intention.
In alms-giving, our intention is very important :-
At the beginning, our good intention in doing merit is more crucial that how much or how expensive the things are. This is called Bhuppa chetana or the pre-intention, having good intention in doing merit.
If the monk who receives the alms is observant of his religious preceptsd the donor and the objects are thoroughly clean, then we will receive a great deal of merit, no matter how little we present to the good monk. It is the same practice to give any thing to any person. We should be doing it willingly with a nice, kind and respectfully gesture. This is called Munchana chetana, or the intention-in-between, willingly and respectfully of doing merit.
When the monk intentionally gives blessing to the alms-givers who also intend to receive the blessing happily and extend good feeling or dedicate the merit to all beings. This is called Aparapara chetana or the post-intention, a good feeling after doing merit.
CAUSE OF FAILURES OF DOING MERIT INCORRECTLY
These days many Buddhists do not understand how to do merit correctly according to Buddhism. A good deed that has been done incorrectly which causes one's merit failure comes from 4 reasons: performing virtue in the wrong place, to the wrong person, at the wrong time and never follow-up one virtue.
Performing virtue in the wrong place. An example is that some people prepare food and many other useful things to do merit, but instead of giving alms as a religious tradition, they worship a spirit house, a spirit at a big tree, forest ghost or a spirit of the sea, and so on. They think they are doing merit correctly. According to Buddhism, we will not gain merit if we do it in the wrong place.
Performing virtue to the wrong person.This case means that we offer food and things to support those who are bad or mischievous. For example, those people who do not believe in virtue, who do not accept the 5 preceptso are troublemakers, heroin addicts, and so on. If we offer food, money or any other things, it will only help them and support them to perform more bad deeds. Things would be even worse as if we offered them weapons, guns, and grenades to kill other good people. This is to do good or performing virtue to the wrong person which is failure to receive merit.
Performing virtue at the wrong time. This is like growing plant in the improper season. The plant will not grow well. If we grow a rainy season plant during the dry season or grow a cold climate plant in a warm place, the plant will not grow; and we will only waste time in doing so.
Suppose we want to support animals like elephant, horse, cow, tiger, bear and poisonous snake that we like to take care of. If we are not aware enough of time to feed or to treat them, we may be in danger or be killed. This is to do good at a wrong time. It never works.
The result is the same when we want to do good to other people in a wrong time. We should not forget that people are born with individual differences and with different levels of intelligence. If we come across a mischievous people who carry weapons, or who are alcoholic or addicted to heroin or some other vice, and want to teach them to be good or to learn about Dhamma, they may not be ready to learn at that time. Moreover, this may contradict their defilement's and make them angry. We may get hurt or be killed by them, because we are not aware of the suitable time to do this.
One other group of people that we like to do good to, but it is wrong time, are those who do not believe in religion, who never go to a Wat or any religious temple. They may not know anything about doing merit or even paying respect in the right posture to the Buddha image. It is not the right time to teach them about the Dhamma. They may not be ready to learn.
It is not possible to force someone who is not ready to observe the five precepts or do meditation. This may cause a great deal of conflict. It is the timing that is important.
Performing virtue with no follow-up one’s virtue. This means that one used to do something good before but stopped doing it and did not follow-up the work. For example, when we were students, we used to study hard, then we gave up such good thing we accomplish. Or once we used to work as teachers or government officials who worked responsively, and then give up such a good habits.
The same goes for those who work in the fields, planting staples like rice, fruit, and many other plants, but do not take care of them. In this case, grass and weeds may cover the field and destroy other living plants, so they will not bear any good products.
In building things like a house, flat, apartment and other constructions, if the work has been half done, we cannot earn money since people cannot live in them. The same goes for half-built roads or bridges, for they cannot be used.
On the other hand, there are people who used to help others and do merit like giving alms to monks, then for no reason, they stop doing so. Those who use to observe the 5 or 8 preceptsr practice meditation, then stop doing so, thinking of consuming time, saying that there is no time or they are too busy to do things and forget all about the religious practice.
In summary, we should follow-up or continue to perform virtue; otherwise, we will not receive good result as we wish.
VIRTUE PERFORMING IN A FRUITFUL WAY
Talking about doing merit in a fruitful way which brings about personal improvement, we should know what and how to practice happily as follows: -
Virtue performed in the right place. We may choose a place for offer alms, for example, to help the poor, the blind or any other disabled people, including those suffering from some kind of disaster, like flood, storm or fire. Those people may be unable to help themselves. We may contribute in building contemporary lodging for them, building a school for their children, and building a place to care for the sick. We may contribute in building a bridge or road as public facilities, or in building a dam to save water for the people living nearby to have clean water to use for their better health. This is a good way to do merit.
When we know how to do beneficial merit, we will consider whatever helps and makes both people and animal happy. Suppose there are some holes in the ground in front of our house, we may fill them up, so people can walk past conveniently.
Everyone will be happy from one’s good deed. We will receive merit by doing so. We do not have to go to a temple to do merit every time. We can do other useful things as well.
If you are wise in doing merit, you will choose to do good or useful things in the right place. For example, we build a public roadside shelter that anybody can use whenever they need to: to get rest from sun burn, or to get dry while it is raining. In addition, we can build a monk lodging place, pavilion, shrine, toilets, electricity, preaching hall, library, public rest house, and so on.
Lord Buddha teaches us that , "When we bring happiness to others, we will be reciprocated."
Virtue performed in a right place can be compared to wise farmer who select healthy seeds and plant them in good soil with fertilizer. They will surely receive a great deal of products, and this will make them happy.
Virtue performed to the right person. This means to set up our mind to help and support our fellow friends as well as animals by sharing so called "happiness" with them, as much as we can. We extend our good will to all animals, from the smallest to the biggest one, like an elephant, water animals, land animals, and no-legged animals, which crawl along the earthg animals included. We can share food suitable to each kind of animal. Our good will helps them grow and live. This is why we receive a great deal of merit.
Talking about helping our fellow human beings, we should first consider how those people are. We should be careful not to support those who are mischievous, who do not care of morality or virtue. Otherwise, we might support them to do bad things unintentionally. It is useless to do so.
In general, we should support the poor, the disabled people, the aged, and those who suffer from natural disaster like a flood, big storm, earthquake, fire or so on. We can support them by sharing food, shelter, clothes, medicine and other necessary things.
Our good deed is to help support them to survive and help them to help themselves as soon as possible. This is a way of doing merit in Buddhism, and we receive a great deal of merit. This is what the Buddhists always do in their countries.
There is another way to do good merit among the Buddhist assembly, which is to treat parents and grandparents kindly. The parents will encourage and support their children to enter the priesthood, which is considered a way of way of paying gratitude to their parents and their ancestors. Then they will offer the four requisites – food, clothing, dwelling and medicine, to the monk. Further more, they may offer some other necessary things to the Wat, such as electricity, water reserve tanks, and some other facilities.
No matter and what we are, we will do merit as far as we can. No matter where the monk is, or how old he is, as far as they are perfect monks or novices, we will get full merit when we give alms to them. If the monks have plenty of those things, they will share things with other monks or with other lay people who are in need. In this case our merit will be extended.
Unfortunately, some Buddhists might meet some imperfect and not well practiced monks. They become down hearted and lose faith in Buddhism and think that all the monks are the same. This will prevent an opportunity to do merit with other perfect monks.
The writer would very much like to advice the Buddhist assembly not to be too depressed and stop doing merit or whatever is good to practice. Lord Buddha’s word is, "Alms-giver should not be down hearted but should keep on doing merit where and when it is beneficial." This means one should decide to do merit willingly to whom we are happy with. Since our alms is worthy, we should decide to offer things to good and perfect monks.
Let’s take this point, if you do not feel like giving alms to any monks or novices, please do not give alms to them. Because, when we do not have good intentions, we will get less merit. If there are any monks or novices you are pleased with, then do offering alms to them. This will make you feel happy.
In general, we, as Buddhist, should gradually do merit as far as we can. Our merit will be accumulated just like scooping up water from a sandy place bit by bit, and as a result we can fill up the water container. Since our alms is noble, we should decide to do merit with a well-practiced monk. If we do it whole heatedly, this will make us happy.
Virtue performed at the right time. This means we should know the right time for doing merit, for example, to give a feast to the monk, to perform morning or evening chanting, and to hear the sermon.
We should know what kind of food or drink should be present to the monk in the morning, and what can be presented in the afternoon or in the evening. The monk will take food just in the morning, and some take one meal, some take two. If we want to offer food to the monk to reserve other days, we should not present it to the monk’s hand. We just let the monk know, and then leave it to the lay-supporter so that he or she can prepare it for the monk the next day.
A fruit juice, called nam-pa-na, can be presented to the monk from the afternoon till midnight. This includes coffee or tea without milk, and some other soft drinks like Pepsi-cola and Seven-up. However, milk, ovaltine, and other liquid things of the same kind, are considered food which can be presented to the monk only in the morning, but not in the afternoon or at night.
The five nutriment that can be presented to the monk in the afternoon (the monk can keep them for consumption for seven days only) are honey, sugar, fat butter and cheese. These five things are considered medicine.
Any kind of medicine, can be presented to the monk at any time, and the monk can kept it as long as he wants.
Preparing "nam-pa-na" or fruit juice for the monk.
Fruit that can be used to make fruit juice for the monk should not be larger than one’s fist, or about the size of an orange. These fruits include lime, jujube, green prune, jambolin, tangerine, orange, tamarine, green marian, plum, unripe banana with seeds, etc.
The juice to be used for making nam-pa-na starts with taking out all the seeds, squeezing and leting it be filtered with a clean white cloth 7 times. One may mix in spices, salt, sugar or herbs suitable to each kind or fruit as one wishes.
This kind of juice is not allowed to be boiled. It can be present to the monk from noon to midnight. After that, it cannot be consumed by the monk because it might become liquor by fermentation.
Now, in the case of giving medicine to the monk, it is the same practice as giving it to other lay people, for it has to be specified by time and dose indicated by a physician.
As we learn the correct processes in doing merit, we should advise anyone who wants to do merit and how to do it correctly. We should know the right time and right way to inform them. If they can do it correctly, the next step is to encourage them to observe the 5 precepts. This is consider to be the correct time to teach others fruitfully. If they persue what we tell them, we will gain merit in doing so. This is the merit gained through giving good advice to our fellow man.
Another way in doing merit is to have a joyful feeling with those doing merit or good deeds. For example, when we see someone present the Buddha image to the monk, to build a monk lodging for the Wat, to offer almsfood to the monk, etc., we should rejoice as we are pleased with those donor people. Another example, if we know that some people perform good deed, we should feel pleased and congratulate them. This makes us feel happy and rejoice in the other’s merit.
For lay people who observes the 5 precepts well enough, the monk may persuade them to do meditation practice as the following step. This is again considered to be the right time to teach people to do merit since they are already at the Wat. The merit is there for us all to do at the right time.
Following up one’s virtue. If we never go to Wat, we can make merit in another way, for example, if we make a walkway for the public, if we keep the road clean, or if we give advice to our kids and friends to be good. We can help and support the poor, and give them food and any other necessary things. We can support those who are unable to help themselves. The above example are ways of doing merit outside the Wat. Although we never go to a Wat, we still can do merit by supporting people and animals that are in need. We should continue doing this to accumulate our merit as much as we can.
If we go to a Wat and do merit, for example, to offer alms to the monk, to observe the 5 or 8 preceptso practice meditation and so on, we should go on doing so and also try to raise up our mind continuously, and accumulate merit as much as we can.
When we observe the precepts as our habit, we should go on to practice meditation as a further step. If we cannot concentrate well, we should keep trying, and we will find that our concentration will be better and better. We may practice a terrace walk (chankrama walk). When we feel peaceful in our mind or enter into a Khanika-samadhi (momentary concentration), we should trying to keep our mind in peace all the time., or as long as we can. The peaceful mind will lead us to consider Dhamma profoundly. We should go on rigorously cleaning the dirty white cloth which may take some time.
Anyhow, many people only know how to clean their clothes, hands and bodies. They do not know how to keep their mind clean and clear from covetousness. Some may get angry easily, full of hatred and covetousness, and ignorance. In summary, anyone who is eager to follow up one’s virtue, he will be able to raise his mind to be perfected.
ALMS-GIVING NOT BEING CONSIDERED AS DOING MERIT IN BUDDHISM
If one understand about doing merit, he will surely do it correctly. He should know what is merit and what is the benefit of doing merit. It is a cause and effect relationship. This means that if we perform good causes, we will certainly receive good results. This is the Dhamma of wise people.
If we use our wisdom in doing merit we will get a great deal of merit. On the contrary, doing merit without wisdom will receive less merit. It is just following what other people do without understanding the reason for doing so.
Somebody might think that if we offer anything to the monk we will gain merit. Actually, it might not be as he expects. There are many examples.
Will we gain merit if we donate a fish net, an animal trap to somebody so that they can use these instruments for earning their living ?
How about donating poisonous or chemical things and pesticides to a farmer for killing insects – will we gain merit ?
How about donating a baby for adopting to people who have no children?
And, how about teaching arts, decorating, and crafts to a monk, will we gain merit?
All these example are worth being considered in doing merit according to Buddhist teaching.
Donating living animals to the monk.
Some may thing that they will gain merit if they donate living animals such as elephant, horse, cow, buffalo, pig, dog, duck, chicken, bird, etc., to the monk to be looked after. We will not gain merit in doing so. The monk is not expected to feed or take care of animals. It is not the monk’s duty. The monk would rather do his duty as a monk; practicing meditation, studying religious knowledge, performing religious activities.
If we donate living animals to the Wat, the monk has to take care of them. This is to put more burdens on him. Moreover, animals like cattle might destroy the trees and flower’s in the Wat compound. The whole Wat would be covered and dirtied with animals’ dung. Donating living animals to the monk is looked as if to give more work to the monk. The monk will have less time to concentrate on his religious duty. Therefore, we will not gain merit in donating living animals to be taken care of the monk. The monk will be unhappy because it is not expected to be his duty.
Donating weapons to the monk.
Some people might want to offer weapons such as guns, and grenades to the monk for his safety and for protecting himself, particularly to the monk who lives in the jungle or in the remote areas. But weapons are for fighting and killing; Lord Buddha did not allow monks to own and handle weapons. This is why we will not receive merit from such alms offering.
Offering animal traps to the monk.
One will not receive any merit in offering animal nets, bag net or fish trap to the monk. Such an instrument is useless for the monk. If the monk gives it to other people, this means that he encourages others to kill animals. We will not gain merit from such alms-giving.
Offering a baby-girl to the monk.
Offering a litter baby girl to the monk is not considered in doing merit. The monk has to look after her and feed her. He has to look for money to buy food or milk for her. This certainly cause a lot of trouble for the monk. In addition, the monk is not suppose to touch a baby-girl since she is the opposite sex.
On the other hand, if one only request the monk to tie the sacred cotton thread on the baby’s wrist and give her a magic blow above her head to bless her with good wish, this is considered acceptable.
Teaching artwork to the monk.
It is not quite doing merit in teaching artwork to the monk. Suppose we graduate from a school of art and would like to extend our knowledge to the monk and novice, for example, carving, glass work, construction, furniture making, painting, and so on. The monk and novice may be interested in learning such art work. They may dedicate their time to do art work, with hammer and chisel for carving, instead of working on their religious studies.
When the monk and novice are good enough at artwork, they might think of making a business, for example, to sell their products. Eventually, they leave priesthood or novicehood and are employed in a wood carving shop in Chiangmai or in other big cities. This is a way to spoil the priesthood of the monk. In Buddhism, this is not considered as doing merit, but the outside world may think it is.
Offering liquor and addicting drugs.
Offering liquor and other addicting drugs to some one is to kill him in installment. This is consider a sin rather than doing merit. Once people try drugs or liquor, they may be addicted to those things and have to have them all time. Soon they will spend all their money and sell their belongings – car, boat, house, farm, orchard, garden, and so on – n order to get money in a moral way, they may become thieves and steal things from others. Finally, they may end up their lives in jail. This means that we kill somebody indirectly if we offer drugs to him or her. We commit a sin in doing so.
In the case of offering liquor, as well as other addicting drugs, to the monk, since he cannot take such a thing, he might give it away to other people. This will cause them to get drunk or be addicted. This is not considered doing merit and is also against the law of the country.
At the wedding reception or other auspicious ceremony, we should not celebrate with liquor. The drunkard may cause trouble. The wedding couple may have a quarrel with each other if they drink. According to Buddhism, they should do merit by having a peaceful reception without having liquor or any other addicting drugs.
Some people, whom I have met, like to buy liquor and show a big bottle of it in a cupboard in their house as if to show off their richness or good taste. I think it would be better if they show the Buddha image instead.
Couples should try not to drink liquor. If they do, soon they might get drunk and start a quarrel and will not be responsible to their family. What is worse is that they will not pray and not perform their religious activities. They will even stay away from Wats and lead unpleasant and unhappy lives.
This is why we say that it is a killing work when we offer liquor to somebody. Some housewife asked me whether buying liquor for their husbands is wrong. This is absolutely wrong because they support their husbands in drinking and cause them to get drunk.
Offence from addiction to liquor as well as other intoxicants are: -
actual loss of wealth,
increase of quarrel,
liability to disease,
source of disgrace,
indecent exposure, and
weakening of one intelligence.
We should never encourage others to drink liquor or take any intoxicants. It is a way of committing a sin in Buddhism. A drunkard or a drug addict will lose his present of mind and will do any unexpected thing which can cause all kinds of trouble to himself as well as to society.
FOUR KINDS OF LAYMAN HAPPINESS
In offering alms to anybody, it should be suitable to the receiver. The alms we offer should be beneficial to the recipients, and make them happy.
The Buddha’s teaching about house-life happiness or deserved bliss of a layman is classified into 4 types:-
Bliss of ownership, happiness from having money. It is a source of pride to earn money and assets morally by hard work and industry.
Where are our assets from? Parts of them are from the good deeds of our past life which offer us abundant assets. They also give us a chance to increase our assets during the present life.
Bliss of enjoyment, happiness from spending money and assets. It is a source of pride to be able to earn our living morally, spend our money fruitfully, and treat those who deserve it.
If we all have enough assets or money, we will be able to spend it on doing merit or doing alms-offering without a deplorable mind. This makes us happy since we can spend our money affordably without having any troubles.
Bliss of debtlessness, It is a source of pride to be free being in debt.
We know that we will life happily when we are not in debt. We should be able to spend our money wisely, so we will not be in debt, and do not have to be worried that we will be asked for payment from somebody. So, we will live happily when we are not in debt.
The monks have to practice the same. They should know how to spent the money they get from donations wisely and not to be in debt. Some monks are in debt, mostly from buying things for temple construction on credit, for example, buying wood, cement, iron, sand and other construction materials. When the monk cannot pay, he will be unhappy when the bill comes. Therefore, if any monk wants to build some facilities at the Wat on credit, he will be unhappy since he is in debt. This is the same for lay people.
Parents should not spoil their children by encouraging them to go and play with whatever they want. They sometimes spoil their children by buying so many toys and too much clothing and other things for them. The parents should teach their children to be economical, to know what life is and try not to be extravagant; otherwise, they will cause a lot of troubles to the parents.
Bliss of blamelessness. It is a source of pride to behave in morality. No one can blame us physically, verbally and spiritually.
Doing things without physical fault. This means to do things that do not cause trouble or harm to other people or animals. Doing thing without physical fault in terms of precepts or rules of morality in Buddhist are: to abstain from taking intoxicants causing heedlessness. If we work and lead a moral life we will be safe and happy.
Doing thing without verbal fault. This means:
To avoid lying, not to tell a lie for the sake of our advantage. This means do not use deceptive words. Do not mislead others to do something wrong. Be honest to everyone, particularly in the family and among friends.
To avoid malicious speech, unite discordance, encourage unity and utter speech that makes harmony. We should avoid speaking to try to brake the unity of the group by our kind words. We should not be mean to our parents, our grandparents and the aged.
To avoid harsh language and speak with gentle, loving, courteous, dear and agreeable words. We should use nice and kind words to others. We should avoid being too talkative. We should speak only when it is necessary.
To avoid frivolous talk; to speak at the right time, in accordance with facts, what is useful, moderate and full of sense. Unkind or mean words never want to be heard by anyone. We ourselves would try to avoid using such unpleasant words to others.
In a family situation, we should be friendly to every member in the home. We should talk about and discuss about how to do merit, what we should do in alms-giving, how to observe religious preceptsw to do meditation and concentrate our mind and how to have presence of mind. All these discussion will lead us to be pleasant and happy.
Doing things without mental faults. This means that we treat people fairly. We are kind to everybody and all the animals as well. We do not envy people who are in a better position or who can earn more money than we. Instead, we will work harder to raise ourselves up to have a peaceful mind. We will try to build up a tolerant mind with gentleness and graciousness which will bring us happiness.
In summary, we should not have physical, verbal and mental demerits. We do not persecute other people as well as all animals. We should be nice and use kind words towards others. This will certainly make us peaceful and happy.
LEVELS OF ALMS-GIVING
In Buddhism, alms-giving is divided into 3 levels according to how the alms are treated:-
1. Dhasa dhana: a slavish alms. This is an alms-giving that uses old things as an alms object. For example, using old clothes which we do not want to use anymore and want to give away to the poor. As for food, this will be the same, we want to offer the left-over food that we cannot eat and want to give away to other people who are lower than us, to gives as an alms to the monk. This is called a Dhasa dhana or a "slavish alms", which is like a rich man giving away used things to his slave, to the poor or to his subordinates. This is considered a low grade alms.
People or whoever receive these old or used objects as alms should take them for granted that we were not nice in alms-giving in our past lives. This is the reason why we do not get nice things in our present lives.
During a food-ticket activity, some monks got their tickets for cheap things like a spoon and folk, or a folded knife, for example, while some other monks and novices get a ticket for expensive things like a Buddha image, a watch or some nice lamps. This can be explained in that they must have done something nice in their past lives.
2. Sahaya dhana: a friendly alms. This means to treat others equal to ourselves or as our friends. In this case, we will offer or share things to others with what we have in the manner that we do to ourselves. This kind of alms is better than the first type. We will receive more merit than the first one.
3. Samee dhana: a husbandlike alms. In former times, a housewife left her husband take the food first, and she took it after her husband. But people do not still practice this anymore. The way of offering alms to the monk in this case can be compared to the manner the wife does in offering food to her husband first and then she takes it afterwards.
The alms-giving will practice the same, i.e., we will share the food and some other things to be an alms first. Then we will take the rest if it. This is the best manner of alms-giving that we should do. It is considered to be a very fruitful merit.
MERITS FROM ALMS-GIVING
There are numerous kinds of merit from alms-giving that our Lord Buddha explained, some of which will be presented here. We can select what is the best.
Whoever shares and does alms-giving of rice or any stable food, he will be happy and healthy all through his life.
It will be the same to those who offering clothing. In their new lives, they will not have problems concerning lack of clothing and will have nice and beautiful skin too.
Merits from offering light for alms, for example, candles, torch light, electricity, incense sticks, and so on, will help us to have beautiful and bright eyes; moreover, we may not need glasses at all in our next lives.
It is said that, "Whoever offers vehicles, he offers happiness." Whoever offers vehicles and transport facilities to other people, they will be comfortable in travelling whenever they want to go somewhere. This kind of merit starts from the offering of a pair of shoes to the monk, to his teachers, as well as to his parents. The donor will be rewarded with an ox-cart to ride on and can be shared with other people. The reward of merit will be more and more and better as the donor keeps on doing merit in his following lives. For example, the reward can be things of higher technology like a motor car or an airplane.
During Lord Buddha’s time, there was no airplane yet. He explained that the merit from offering vehicle facilities will give the result when the donor entering priesthood or asceticism when he practice meditation, he might attain a super-natural power in which he can go anywhere with his Jhana (a state of serene contemplation attained by meditation). In other words, he can simply fly like a bird with his super-normal power if he wants.
We can make a summary that "Whoever offers happiness to other people, he will be reciprocated with happiness". This means that we will receive whatever we do and offer to others. We as Buddhists believe that we will be reborn under the cycle of rebirth, so we all should do merit for a better and more perfect life in the future.
Whoever offers a Buddha’s image for alms-giving, in his life, in the following lives, he or she will be as beautiful as the image of Lord Buddha.
Now, if we do alms-offering with the Buddhist Canon, religious books, including text books and learning material for school kids, we will be intelligent like Phra Sareeputra, one of the most distinguished disciples of Lord Buddha.
In my experience, I met somebody who is totally illiterate but very good in collecting money. He was asked to donated a 10 bath (about 40 U.S. cents) for poor student to buy books, rulers and pencils for their studies. This man refused to donate his money in that case, and he has never done such a contribution at all. This man will be seen to be illiterate in his next lives, and forever.
Those who have beautiful arms and beautiful fingers, they willingly showed the direction to a place when they are asked from other people who did not know the place.
Whoever want to have nice and beautiful skin, he or she ought to offer soap, skin lotion, and cleansing facilities for alms-giving.
If we donate money and materials for construction facilities in the Wat as well as for the public, in our next live we will have big and beautiful houses with facilities.
Whoever contributes by building bathrooms and toilets for the Wat, and for the public, as well as donates medicine for the sick, and contributes by building public hospital, he will be healthy and have a happy life.
In the Buddha's time, one of the Buddha's disciples name Phra Pakula who was healthy and never got ill even once in his life, Lord Buddha said that Phra Pakula used to donate toilet facilities for the public, built hospitals and donated medical equipment and facilities to the public in his former lives.
If anybody wants to have beautiful hair, he or she ought to donate money earned from selling his or her long hair for an alms. In the next life that person will get beautiful hair. In the Buddha's time, a woman had no money for doing alms. She sold her hair and spent the money for an alms. She wished to have beautiful hair in her next life, and she got it.
If we want to have beautiful and strong teeth, we should offer toothpicks, tooth-brushes and tooth-paste as the alms.
Whoever wants to have beautiful eyes, should donate his or her eyes to a hospitals.
Lord Buddha, in one of his former lives, while being a Bodhisatta (a Buddha to be), donated his eyes for alms. This is why, when he was Prince Sidhatta, he owned such bright, beautiful and perfect eyes.
Now, regarding donating blood, kidney or any other parts of one's body, organs as there have been in demand by medical institution these days. We should know that the merit done will all lead us to have a fit body and vigorous health in our future lives.
Thus all dear Buddhist, we all should increase good deeds through practice in Buddhism. We should refrain from doing what is forbidden. On the other hand, what is suggested for practice by Lord Buddha we should remember and try to practice as much as possible. We will all definitely be rewarded with both happiness and prosperity.