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Transference of merit


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#1 RobertK

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Posted 11 June 2006 - 01:28 PM


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To transfer one's own kamma to another being requires a certain strength and agility that is present only in certain kusala cittas but entirely absent in all akusala ones. If one ever had a wish to bestow one's own evil kamma upon another being, then by definition the citta at that moment would be akusala, hence incapable of effecting any sort of kamma transference. For a more detailed discussion of this point (and many others on this same topic) see the Milindapa˝ha's Pubbapetādisapa˝ha (Mil. 294-7 = I.B. Horner, Milinda's Questions II. 123-8).


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I agree that the word "transfer" is not exactly the right term. Inviting others to rejoice, that makes more sense. If that person rejoice in it, then he/she will create his/her own kamma and will receive its result.



You are discussing two different things here. Inviting others to rejoice in something meritorious that one is doing is called pattidāna. Occasionally this does get misleadingly translated as "transferring merit", but it would be better to reserve this expression for pu˝˝a-uddissana, which is something else entirely.

Pu˝˝a-uddissana is an act carried out by humans for the sake of alleviating the sufferings of one of the four types of hungry ghost. The four types are:

1) vantāsika petas: those who relieve their hunger and thirst by eating vomit.
2) khuppipāsī petas: those who have no means to relieve their hunger and thirst.
3) paradattūpajīvī petas: those who relieve their hunger and thirst by receiving offerings of merit from humans.
4) nijjhāmataṇhika petas: those who relieve their hunger and thirst by stealing merit from paradattūpajīvī petas.

Most commonly one will perform some meritorious deed and then transfer the merit to one's deceased relatives and ancestors. If the beings concerned happen to have been reborn as paradattūpajīvī petas then one's merit transference will relieve their hunger. If they have been reborn somewhere else then it won't be of any use to them. This leads King Milinda to ask Nāgasena if the transferred merit will go to waste. His answer is no: the merit will simply remain with the person who made it; he will also accrue additional merit for his kusala intention to help his departed relatives.

Best wishes,
Dhammanando Bhikkhu

#2 RobertK

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Posted 11 June 2006 - 01:28 PM


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The only instance in the Pali canon directly dealing with "Transfer of Merit" of which I am aware is the Angulimala Sutta. MN86



Merit transference wasn't the means by which Angulimāla helped the pregnant woman. The proper name for what Angulimāla did is saccakiriyāvācā (efficacious asseveration of truth), and merit transference (pu˝˝a-uddissana) has nothing to do with it.

In English we make saccakiriyāvācās whenever we say things like, "It shall be so, or else my name's not Dhammanando!" The difference is that Indian Buddhists, in common with Indians in general, believed that such imprecations could in some circumstances be effective in bringing about the desired result (or in preventing some undesired thing). There were different opinions on just what conditions were necessary for a saccakiriyāvācā to work properly. Some insisted on the purity and/or psychic potency of the speaker of the saccakiriyāvācā, while others (e.g., the Mimamsakas) held that the secret of success lay in correct pronunciation of it. Then there were others who thought it was a bit of both.

In the Sutta Piṭaka there are perhaps a couple of dozen saccakiriyāvācās in all, some spoken by arahant disciples and others by the Bodhisatta in Jātaka stories. All of these are nowadays used by monks as paritta chants.

Best wishes,
Dhammanando Bhikkhu

#3 RobertK

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Posted 13 June 2006 - 10:44 PM


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Buddhaghosa in the Khuddakapāṭha Atthakathā and Dhammapāla in the Petavatthu Atthakathā both deny that it is possible "that action done by one gives fruit for another" (na a˝˝ena kataṃ kammaṃ a˝˝assa phaladaṃ hoti). Buddhaghosa offers an alternative explanation in his gloss on the third verse of the Tirokuṭṭa Sutta (to which Dhammapāla's comment on a parallel passage is substantially the same) :-

idaṃ vo ˝ātīnaṃ hotu, sukhitā hontu ˝ātayo.
"Then let this be for relatives;
May relatives have happiness!"

"And when he had said this, showing in what way a gift should be given for relatives who have appeared in the Ghost Realm, he then uttered the second half of the fourth stanza, namely, These ghosts of the departed kin foregathered and assembled there, and the first half of the fifth, namely, Will eagerly ... for plentiful rich food and drink, showing that although it may be said, 'Then let this be for relatives', nevertheless it is not that action done by one gives fruit for another (na a˝˝ena kataṃ kammaṃ a˝˝assa phaladaṃ hoti), but simply that an object dedicated in this way is a [necessary] condition for [ghost] relatives [themselves to do] profitable action (vatthu ˝ātīnaṃ kusalakammassa paccayo hoti), [and he showed] how such profitable action with that as its object generates its fruit at that very moment."
(Khp-a 209; Illustrator p. 232)
Dhammanando Bhikkhu