What is merit? Merit (Punna) is something done that which purifies and cleanses the mind. It has the power of purifying the mind of the three evil roots mainly greed, hatred and delusion. Thus merit can be looked upon as those actions that improve the quality of the mind. It is the making of merit that ensures one to lead a balanced, righteous and harmonious life.
Another fruit of merit is that “merit opens doors everywhere.” A meritorious man generally finds his way unobstructed, smooth in general. The power of merit will not only be experienced in this life but also and/or in the subsequent life. Buddha once said merit is one thing that fire nor earthquake can destroy, nor can water drown its effect. In other words, others cannot destroy one's accumulated good merits.
We can acquire merits by performing the ten meritorious deeds below which comprised of 3 big categories: Dana (Generosity), Sila (Morality) and Bhavana (Meditation).
Under Dana comes: charity, sharing of merits and rejoice in others’ merits. This overcomes jealousy and selfishness.
Under Sila comes: Morality, paying respect and providing service in helping others. This overcomes attachment and anger.
Under Bhavana comes: Meditation, listening to dhamma, teaching the dhamma and straightening one’s view. This overcomes delusion and wrong views.
Ten Meritorious Deeds
The ten meritorious deeds which we should cultivate and do are:
Giving in terms of charity includes gift of food to the hungry, medicine to the sick, monetary aid to the poor, blood or organ donation to the sick and education to those who are uneducated. Lay people can provide monks with 4 requisites: food, medicine, shelter and robes.
It is the intention that really counts as action, not the mere outward deed. Here the good intention that arises in the giver on 3 three occasions of a) producing the gift prior to giving b) giving the gift c) recollecting with a pleased heart the gift has been given is the way of making merit in giving
Those who do not give generously maybe reborn poor and those who give generously will be reborn rich.
2, Moral Conduct/ Virtue (Sila)
Moral conduct is the foundation of the whole practice eightfold path and is one of the threefold training namely morality, concentration and wisdom.
We should observe our 5 precepts: abstain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech and intoxicants. In other words, we have to be mindful of all our moral actions in terms of thoughts, speech and actions.
When hiri(shame) and Ottappa (Fear of wrongdoing ) exist, moral conduct arises and persists. When they do not exist, there will not be moral conduct and there will be social decline.
Without morality, one’s progress in spiritual sphere will definitely be limited.
Having good moral conduct will improves future life and is a pre-requisite for escape from samsaric suffering.
3. Meditation (Bhavana)
It is one of the richest fields of making merit. There are two types of meditations namely Tranquillity (Samatha) i.e. concentration (Samadhi) and Insight (Vipassana) i.e. wisdom (Panna).
One meditates to calm the mental defilements and develop the mind to gain real wisdom (Panna) from which realization of Nibbana is possible.
When one supressed the mental hindrances, Jhana factors arises and then once can reach deep concentration.
Buddha once said “He who is mentally concentrated, sees things according to reality.”
4. Respect or reverence (Apacayana)
Paying respect and reverence to Buddha, Dhamma and sangha (Refuge in triple gem), to parents and elders, to teachers and to others leading virtuous lives.
It also includes respecting others’ feelings, privileges, property and life as well as regarding them with honour and to avoid degrading, insulting, corrupting or offending them.
The reverent and respectful man develops his mind and accumulates merit, by cutting down the defilement of pride/ego and replaces it with wise conduct and modesty.
5. Rendering service in helping others/ volunteerism (Veyyavacca)
Doing voluntary work to serve the needs of fellow beings with compassion can gain merits.
For example, voluntary in animal shelters, distributing food to the needy, visiting old folks in nursing home and help with cleaning the temple.
6.Transference of merits (Pattidana)
Transference and sharing of merits is a way to make merit: “May this merit be for so and so.” Or “May it be for all beings.”
There is no decrease in the merit of the person who shares his merit but on contrary there is an increase only.
Transference of merits to the dead and deva also falls into this category and wishing them to be well and happy. Buddha declares that one of the duties of children towards their dead parents is to transfer merits to them.
7. Rejoicing in others’ merit (Pattanumodana)
A meritorious deed is to rejoice with the words, “Good, well done (sadhu) when others share merits with us or when they perform a meritorious act.
This falls under one of the 4 Brahma vihara which is mudita (sympathetic joy).
8. Teaching the dhamma (Dhamma-desana)
Buddha said the highest gift of all is “the gift of the Dhamma”. In other words, if one can open the eye of the dhamma in another by expounding, teaching of explaining it to him, that is the highest gift of all.
Buddha said if one were to attend to his parents by carrying them all his life on his shoulders he would still not be able to repay the debts he owes to them. The only way is to teach and establish them in the dhamma. Hence even before Venerable Sariputta’s death, he returned home and taught his mother and helped her to attain Nibbana.
Thus the Gift of dhamma means to teach and explain the dhamma to others, to deviate them from wrong path and lead them to the right path, to introduce what is moral, to organize dhamma discussions, to write and print dhamma books.
9. Listening to the Dhamma (Dhamma-savana)
When one listens to the dhamma, he should wish for his and the welfare of others thinking, “thus there will be much fruit for me”, this good intention is the way of making merit when listening to the dhamma.
Listening to dhamma can be in the form of attending Buddhist courses, going to Buddhist forum talks, attend talks by sangha and listening to other dhamma teachers.
10. Correcting one’s view (Ditthiju-kamma)
The intention to correct one’s view is the way of making merit in right view (one of the noble eightfold path).
Buddha said “No other things than “right view” do I know whereby good actions that have not yet arisen will arise, and good actions already arisen are brought to growth and fullness”.
To develop right view and understanding of 4 noble truths and avoid incorrect views.
Mundane right view: Understand that it is good to give alms and offerings (dana), that both good and evil actions will bear fruit (cause and effect of kamma) and will be followed by results. This is meritorious and will yield worldly fruits and brings good results. This is developed by normal worldly beings.
Supramundane right view: Whatever there is of wisdom, penetration, of right view conjoined with the noble path, this is called supramundane right view. This is developed by ariyas (noble ones) that have attained stages of enlightenment.
Conclusion Buddha advised this “Let the man train himself in merit-making that yields long lasting happiness. Let him cultivate the practice of giving, virtuous conduct and a mind of metta. By cultivating these qualities, the wise man arrives in untroubled and happy states. Do not fear merit making. Merit-making is a term denoting happiness, what is desirable, pleasant, dear and charming".