Translated by Chantaporn Gomutputra
Edited by June Gibb
Attahi attano nadho, we are our own refuge is the central theme of Buddhist teaching. The Buddha teaches us to rely only on ourselves because we are the creator of good and evil, and the one who will reap their corresponding results of happiness and pain. The creating mechanism of good and evil, joy and sorrow, heaven and hell are inside our mind. Mind is the principal architect. The Buddha therefore concludes that the mind is the chief, the forerunner of all things. It is both a doer and a receiver of its own actions. The mind is the master who gives order to his servant, the body, to do and say things.
There are three kinds of actions or kamma namely physical, verbal and mental. When we do good kamma, happiness, progress and heaven will be the results that follow. On the other hand when we do evil kamma, then pain, worry, anxiety and degradation will follow. After death, the mind will go to one of the four states of deprivation (apaya-bhumi) such as hell for example. Therefore, the Buddha insists that we must rely only on ourselves. We shouldn’t wait for someone else to create happiness and prosperity, heaven and nibbana for us. We must do it ourselves. To pray to Buddha images or to ask monks for blessings of success and prosperity is not the Dhamma teaching of the Buddha because he can only point the way to peace, happiness, and prosperity, and the way to suffering and deterioration. His teaching can be summarized as follows: avoid doing evil, do good and cleanse the mind of all impurities.
Doing good kamma or making merits such as giving to charity is like depositing money in a bank. The more we deposit the more money we will have accumulated. The interest will also increase and soon we will be rich. On the other hand, doing evil kamma is like borrowing money from the bank in which we would have to pay back the loan plus the interest as well. It can become a heavy burden to bear. People in debt are always anxious and worried, unlike those who have money in the bank, who are always smiling because their money keeps growing all the time. It is the same with making merits. It gives us peace of mind; make us feel happy and content. But when we do bad kamma, our mind would be set on fire. We become worried and restless. This we can see because it’s happening in our mind instantaneously, here and now, not in the next life. Therefore, if we want to be happy and prosperous, to sleep well and suffer no pain, then we must do only good kamma and avoid doing bad kamma.
There are ten ways to make merits or do good kamma as recommended by the Buddha namely,
1. Dana, giving, liberality; offering, alms. Specifically, giving of any of the four requisites to the monastic order. More generally, the inclination to give, without expecting any form of repayment from the recipient.
2. Sila, the quality of ethical and moral purity that prevents one from falling away from the eightfold path. Also, the training precepts that restrain one from performing unskillful actions.
3. Bhavana, mental cultivation or development; meditation.
4. Dedicating merits to the deceased.
5. Anumodana, congratulating on the merits or good kamma done by others.
6. Serving others.
7. Humility, modesty.
8. Right or correct view.
9. Listening to a Dhamma talk.
10. Teaching Dhamma.
What we are doing today is called dana or giving. After we have given something good and valuable like money for example, we would feel content because we have overcome our selfishness, greed, and miserliness. If we only think of ourselves, are greedy and selfish, we would always be hungry and lusting. By giving we can overcome them and make ourselves happy and satisfied.
To have sila is to abstain from hurting others by what we say and do such as killing, stealing, committing adultery, telling lies, and drinking alcohol, which could only hurt us and other people. Sila helps us eliminate stress, anxiety and worry that come from our misconducts. When we lie, cheat or steal we would worry about being caught and punished.
To bhavana is to cleanse our mind of defilement or kilesa like craving, greed, anger and delusion that make us depressed and miserable. It is like washing our clothes. In order to do it successfully following the example of the Buddha and his noble disciples, we need to have mental collectedness (samadhi) and discernment (panna) just as we need water and detergent to do our laundry.
By developing samadhi and panna the Buddha eventually achieved enlightenment, thus becoming a Buddha, one who rediscovers for himself the liberating path of Dhamma, after a long period of its having been forgotten by the world. He also became an arahant, a worthy one or pure one; whose mind is free of defilement (kilesa), who has abandoned all ten of the fetters (samyojana) that bind the mind to the cycle of rebirth, whose heart is free of mental effluents (asava), and who is thus not destined for further rebirth. Along with enlightenment the Buddha also realized the supreme bliss that is unsurpassed by anything in this world be it wealth, status, praise or sensual pleasure. The only way we can acquire it is through the practice of mind development (bhavana), developing samadhi and panna until the mind realizes vimutti or freedom from all forms of suffering (dukkha).
To dedicate merits to the deceased means to share the inner sense of well being that comes from having acted rightly or well. The recipients of our dedication are those people who have passed away and acquire the existence of a peta, a hungry ghost, one of a class of beings in the lower realms, sometimes capable of appearing to human beings. The peta are often depicted in Buddhist art as starving beings with pinhole-sized mouths through which they can never pass enough food to ease their hunger. We can’t dedicate our merits to the living since they can make merits for themselves and in greater quantity. The peta on the other hand are not able to do so and must rely on the living to do it for them. Those who are reborn in the human world or in the heavens have accumulated enough merits to keep them satiated and happy or are able to acquire more merits if they wish to do so. Those who are reborn in hell can’t also receive our dedication because they are completely consumed by the fire of suffering.
The peta who lust for our dedication are like beggars. Only a tiny fraction of the merits we have accumulated can be shared with them, like money for a bus fare or a cheap meal. That is all. Therefore, every time we have done something right or well like giving to charity and would like to do something for those who have passed away such as members of our family or friends, we could dedicate this merit to them. They might be waiting. But for us who are still alive, we shouldn’t be complacent. Don’t expect that after we die, others would share merit with us. Even if they do, it’s very little. We can accumulate a lot more merits ourselves while we are still alive like what we do today, coming to the temple to give alms, keeping the moral precepts and listening to a Dhamma talk, which are a lot more merits than what the peta would receive. Every time we give alms we should share this merit with those who have passed away. If they are waiting they would receive it and we would also gain more merit by sharing it.
Anumodana is to congratulate someone who has acted rightly or well. When we show our appreciation we would feel good. Acting rightly or well doesn’t hurt anyone; it only brings benefits. Even if we don’t directly benefit from it, we should not feel jealous, because it is a form of kilesa that would only make us feel miserable. On the other hand, if we congratulate and show our admiration, we would be happy. Acting rightly or well is like waves in the ocean that will eventually hit the shore, sooner or later the benefits will eventually come to us. When someone in the community acts rightly or well, the community as a whole would gain by making it safe and peaceful and will benefit. It becomes a good, peaceful community. When the community is peaceful, we who live there will benefit from that. Therefore, when we see someone acting rightly or well we should show our support and admiration.
To serve others is quite obvious, so there’s no need to go into further detail.
Humility or modesty is a virtue that can only endear us to others; as opposed to arrogance, which can only generate aversion. If we still need the support and goodwill of other people and don’t want to be isolated, we should be humble and modest.
To have right or correct view is to understand the law of nature or the truth that governs our existence, such as attahi attano nadho, we are our own refuge because we are the one who makes us happy or sad, good or bad. When we realize this, we would know how to live happily and prosperously, because we know that by acting rightly or well we would be happy, and by acting wrongly or badly we would be miserable.
If we believe this law of nature and act wholesomely and meritoriously we would gain happiness and a favorable outcome. If we don’t, but still act wholesomely, we would also reap the same benefit. But if we don’t believe and act unwholesomely we would surely gain an unfavorable outcome. If we believe we would definitely not dare to misbehave or do wrong. Believers would benefit from this law of nature while non-believers would not because they would rather misbehave. Driven by the domineering kilesa such as greed, anger and delusion, they would rather act wrongly or badly since they don’t believe in heaven or hell, in rebirth and in reaping the fruits of their kamma in a future life.
This is due to having the wrong view of the law of nature that would propel them to endless rounds of rebirth and ceaseless pain and suffering resulting from their unwholesome actions, because of their inability to get rid of greed, anger and delusion. On the other hand, those who have the right view of the truth would know that it is their unwholesome kamma that generates the unfavorable consequences that they themselves would have to bear. They would then act rightly and well because they wouldn’t like to reap the undesirable outcome. By continuing to act wholesomely and meritoriously, their minds would gradually advance until reaching the same level that the Buddha and his noble disciples have achieved
To listen to a Dhamma talk is a very profitable experience because the Dhamma is like a light in the dark that will dispel the delusion in our mind that blind us from the truth. There are no benefits to be gained from associating with those who are similarly deluded. We should instead stick with those who are not deluded, like the Buddha and his noble disciples who have acquired the light of Dhamma that makes them know right from wrong, good from bad. If we regularly listen to their Dhamma teaching, we would gain knowledge, wisdom and insight that would make us do only what’s good and right and would generate good and favorable outcome. For these reasons listening to a Dhamma talk is another way to make merits
Teaching Dhamma to others is another way of making merits. If we know some Dhamma, however little, we should teach it to others. When someone we know has fallen on hard times and doesn’t know how to get out of his or her predicament, a little word of Dhamma advice could be extremely useful, and could give him or her the strength to carry on. These days we are lacking in Dhamma. When in trouble, we don’t know where to turn to for support and encouragement because we haven’t been going to the temples to listen to the Dhamma teaching, to train and develop our mind. So when we run into troubles we wouldn’t know how to cope with them when in fact they could all be easily dealt with if we could accept the fact that whatever will be, will be. We must face up to reality. Whatever we do we would have to pay for it sooner or later.
If we did something wrong, accept it and be ready to face the consequences. If we should lose everything, so be it. If we think like this, there would be nobody committing suicide. But these days when we are confronted with unfavorable outcome, we wouldn’t know what to do except thinking of killing ourselves to escape from it, not realizing that we could only kill only the body. The mind would continue to suffer in hell. When we are reborn as a human being again, we would commit suicide again when we run into troubles that we couldn’t cope with. The Buddha says that for each suicide committed another 500 suicides would follow in future human existences because it’s habit forming
The only way to break this vicious circle is to turn to Dhamma and use it to cope with our adversity. Use patience, perseverance and tolerance to face up to our problem, however severe it may be. We must not run away, even if it means going to jail or condemnation, just think of it as the consequence of our past unwholesome kamma. Once it’s paid off it would be gone forever.
Most of us probably think that to make merits is to give to charity only when in fact there are other ways to make merits. Like eating, we don’t eat rice alone; we also consume vegetables and fruits. Our body needs the five food groups in order for it to be strong and healthy. Similarly, our mind would only develop if we cultivate the ten ways to make merits. It is therefore incumbent on us to put what we hear today into practice. Then and only then would we reap the favorable outcome of bliss and prosperity.