Paul lives in Thailand and has been married to a Buddhist for many years. He has observed merit-making inside and outside of temples.
Making Merit Is Important for Buddhists
Making merit is one of the most important practices of Buddhists. Since retiring in Thailand in 2007, I have observed my wife and many Thai make merit both inside and outside of Buddhist temples.
In this article, I first define Buddhism and Buddhists. Next, the concept of merit is discussed with examples of how Buddhists make merit. Finally, I show why and how merit-making is important for the present and future lives of Buddhists.
What is Buddhism?
Buddhism is an Indian religion or philosophical tradition based on the original teachings attributed to Gautama Buddha. It had its origin in ancient India sometime between the 6th and 4th century BC.
Like Christianity, Buddhism has five precepts which are:
- Refrain from taking life
- No stealing
- Refrain from having too much sensual pleasure
- Refrain from wrong speech
- Refrain from intoxicants that cloud the mind
Furthermore, the noble eightfold path to Nirvana in Buddhism includes having a:
- Correct view
- Correct resolve
- Correct speech
- Correct conduct
- Correct livelihood
- Correct effort
- Correct mindfulness
- Correct meditation
Buddhism further teaches that everyone's suffering or wealth is dependent on their sins in a previous life. The effect of doing good and merit such as gratitude to parents, refraining from killing animals, releasing animals to be free, making a donation, and trying to do meditation will help them in the next life. Therefore, a person's previous, present, and future lives are very important.
Who Are Buddhists?
Buddhists are those who believe that human life is one of suffering. Meditation, spiritual and physical labor and good behavior are ways to achieve enlightenment or nirvana.
Most Buddhists I know in Thailand go to a temple for meditation only on special occasions. They include the celebration of the Buddhist New Year and the beginning and end of Buddhist Lent.
Buddhism Around the World
According to the Pew Research Center, only seven percent of the world's population or around 490 million people were Buddhist in 2010. Those practicing Buddhism are overwhelmingly concentrated in Southern, Eastern, and South-Eastern Asia. Half of the world's population that practices Buddhism is in China, while the other countries with the highest percentages of their population practicing Buddhism are Thailand (13%), Japan (9%), and Myanmar (8%).
What is Merit?
According to Buddhist teachings, merit is a force that results from good deeds. It can attract good circumstances in one's life as well as improve a person's mind and inner well-being.
Merit also brings good and agreeable results. It determines the quality of the next life and contributes to one's growth to enlightenment.
Merit can also be shared with a deceased one in helping the deceased in their new existence.
How Do Buddhists Make Merit?
Buddhists make or gain merit through the following three ways. Each way will be discussed.
- Mental development
Making Merit by Giving or Donating
Buddhist Thai generally make merit by giving or donating to monks, temples, and charities. Each way is described below.
1. Giving to Monks
Offering food to monks is a common way of making merit in Thailand. Monks are not allowed to cook for themselves. Therefore, every morning at daybreak, monks walk along the street carrying a big alms bowl. Residents kneeling with food offerings place them in the alms bowl. The monks then bestow blessings.
Monks also receive offerings when Buddhists engage them to bless homes and motor vehicles. My wife and I made merit when we invited nine monks to bless our new home. We had food and drink for the monks and also donated money for their temple. After buying a new car, we also made merit by making a monetary offering to have a monk bless our car.
2. Donating to Temples
Every year we make offerings of food, drink, and sundries as well as monetary donations to my wife's village temple. This is done on the occasion of the Buddhist New Year and at the beginning and end of Buddhist Lent.
We have also made donations for new robes for monks and to have a new building constructed on the village temple grounds.
3. Donating to Charities
Every year we donate used clothes and shoes to a local charity.
Making Merit by Accumulating Virtue
Accumulating virtue is an excellent way to make merit. Very similar to keeping the Ten Commandments, Buddhists make merit by being honest, hard-working, and honoring their parents. They also refrain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and bearing false witness against neighbors.
Making Merit Through Mental Development
Finally, Buddhists make merit through prayers, chants, and meditation. My mother-in-law usually meditates and prays for 15–30 minutes each evening before bedtime.
Why is Merit-Making Important?
Buddhism teaches that everyone's suffering or wealth is dependent on their sins in a previous life. Therefore, the effect of doing good and making merit will help and support people in their next life. What you do is what you will receive. Your previous, present, and next life are very important.
For example, a person is wealthy in this life because in a previous life he used to cover the image of the Buddha with gold leaves.
If you donate an outer robe of a Buddhist to a monk, you will receive merit for this and your future life.
A person has a long life because he made donations and bought animals to release in a previous life.
In this life, if you respect a philosopher, a learned man, and the elderly, you will have good luck, be clever, and live a long life.
Also, if you avoid killing animals and releasing them, you will have many descendants.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Paul Richard Kuehn