Biography of Ven. Sayadaw U. Sumana
Sharing of Merits. Part One
Sharing of Merits. Part Two
Sharing of Merits. Part Three
Sharing of Merits. Part Four
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These five Dhamma talks on dana and the sharing of merits were delivered to devotees in Buddhist Hermitage, Lunas by Sayadaw U. Sumana.
Devotees have benefited greatly from his Dhamma talks every Sunday morning. This is evident from the increasing number of devotees who perform dana every day.
However, Sayadaw’s greatest contribution to Buddhist Hermitage, Lunas, is his constant encouragement to devotees to meditate. Today we see a steady stream of yogis (local and foreign) practicing Vipassana Meditation under his guidance in the center.
May he be able to stay for as long as possible and continue with his good work in propagation the Buddha Sasana.
Buddhist Hermitage, Lunas.
Lot 297, Kampung Seberang Sungai, 09600 Lunas,
Kedah, Malaysia. (Tel/Fax: 604-4 844 027)
To the following my “Special Thanks” for the support and encouragement they have rendered in the publication of this book ‘Sharing of Merits’. My deepest arrreaciation for proof reading and editing to U Han Htay (Research Officer); Daw Mya Tin (MA); Miss Khaw Lek Ai (Bukit Mertajam, Malaysia); Bhikkhu Pesala (UK); Daw Khin New Yi (Shwepuzon); Ko Soe Naing-Ma Khin Htay Yi (Japan); The Teachings of Buddha Publishing Group, Johor and especially the devotees of Buddhist Hermitage, Lunas, for their unstinting support. Hopefully, all devotees may find value in reading these essays and take note of the ways to prolong the present Buddhasasana to some extent. Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!
May you all enjoy the bliss of Metta.
Biography of Ven. Sayadaw U. Sumana
On completing his primary education at the age of eleven, he proceeded to learn Monastic education. At twenty three, he graduated with a “Dhammacariya” degree.
Subsequently, Ven. Sayadaw U. Sumana taught Buddhism to junior monks at various temples in Myanmar for several years. During this time, he commenced studies in the English language.
In 1980, he devoted much time to the practice of insight meditation under the guidance of famous teachers in Mahasi Meditation Centre. Having acquired these skills, Ven. Sayaaw U. Sumana accepted an assignment as assistant meditation teacher in Plivijja Centre in Ye U Township. A few years later, he was relocated to Mahasi Meditation Centre where he took up further studies in English in preparation for foreign missions.
As a member of the Dhamma preacher society, Ven. Sayadaw U. Sumana, as part of his commitment, participated in taking Dhamma tours all over Myanmar each year. Occassionally, he attended short retreats in many places to teach meditation.
Part of 1993 was spent in Sweden, where Sayadaw was engaged in missionary work for four months. Then, followed a commitment to study Buddhism in English with Sayadaw acquiring an M.A. degree at the Buddhist and Pali University in Colombo.
At present, Ven. Sadayaw U. Sumana is engaged in teaching
meditation at the Buddhist Hermitage in Lunas, Malaysia.
SHARING OF MERITS PATTIDANA CEREMONY
Today is a special day which is dedicated to our departed ones. We are performing the Pattidana Ceremony. From the time of the Buddha, Buddhists have practiced this tradition. Buddhist countries like Burma, Sri Lanka and Thailand observe this custom. In Malaysia, especially the northern parts the Chinese practise a similar ceremony known as Pai Kong Mah or Ching Beng dedicated in memory of their departed ones.
Pattidana means sharing merits with our departed relatives of this life and of the past lives as well as all living beings.
Today all of you are here to offer various requisites to the Sangha, such as delicious food, robes, rice, and other necessities for the monks, etc. This will give rise to wholesome kamma. From the moment you have the intention to make an offering, until the very moment when you actually make the offering, you have developed the preceding volition called pubba cetana. At the moment when you are offering something to the recipient, it is called munca cetana (volition during the act of charity). In future, when you remember what you have given today, it is called apara cetana (volition after the act of charity). Throughout the whole process, as the three kinds of volition arise, you will have joy and loving kindness and you will develop faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. These are wholesome states of mind which will promote a lot of merits which in turn will produce good results such as long life, beauty, good health, strength and ultimately the realization of Nibbana. From these merits, our departed relatives will have a chance to say “Sadhu”, will done (patta-numodhana) because their families are performing charities and sharing the merits with them, as you are doing today.
Then if the departed ones need merits, they can then receive them, enabling them to be transcended to a higher level of existence. This is the result of Pattidana kusala.
As long as Buddha’s Teachings exist in this world, this tradition will be practiced by generations to come. The Buddha Himself has constantly reminded His followers to do good and refrain from doing any evil deeds.
We human beings are always occupied with living our present life to the fullest. Many of us hardly prepare, or even think of our next life. While we are struggling for convenience of present life, we are driven to death. For many of us, future life is but an uncertainty. Maybe we will be reborn as human beings or even as gods. That will be wonderful. Nothing to worry about. However, we may also end up in the dreadful and most regrettable planes of existences. Being of the four woeful states, the peta, the hungry ghosts, have the opportunities to free themselves from these dreadful existences if their families perform meritorious deeds and share the merits with them, as we are doing today. For the animals and the beings in hell, there is no hope at all.
From the Buddhists’ point of view, as long as we have not yet attained Sotapatti stage, i.e., the noble ones, we are liable to land in the four woeful states. We cannot escape form there. So, ordinary people, like you and me, are always in danger. There will be no escape, if we do not have anyone to help us by sharing his or her merits with us.
I am sure all of you have watched a horror movie before. At one time or other, we have heard stories about ghosts and spirits. There are plenty of books on the subject of ghosts. Besides the fictional ones, there are books written on real cases and occurrences which are studied and investigated by authorities in this field. Most of the time it is shown that spirits or hungry ghosts still linger around their houses, as these hungry ghosts still had attachments to their families. They cannot part with their loved ones.
I would like to tell you a true story of my own personal experience. By listening to this story, I hope you will understand that we should prepare ourselves well in our present life, so as to overcome any hardships in the future life.
Once I was staying in a small town named Mawgoun in the Eravati province of Burma. I stayed in a Buddhist temple with a fellow monk. This monk’s mother had two sons but she was especially fond of my fellow monk. One day she fell seriously ill. Unfortunately, my fellow monk was on a trip far from home at that time. She was dying. Although words got to my fellow monk about his mother’s condition and that he should return immediately, he did not make it back on time. She passed away while waiting for him.
Because of her attachment to him, she was reborn as a spirit and returned to their house. Very often, she would manifest herself through her daughter-in-law, the second son’s wife. She stayed with the family for three years after which she asked that her family perform Pattidana on her behalf on a special day, by offering food, robes, slippers and etc., to the Sangha and to share the merits with her. They did as told. After that, she never appeared again. It was hoped that she had freed herself from the spirit world and transcended into a higher existence. I was there participation in the Pattidana ceremony and was shocked to hear the story. I did not know how to react to the situation. From this story, the best thing we can do for ourselves to overcome such dangers is to achieve insight knowledge by practicing Vipassana Meditation. If that is not possible, we should at least do dana or charity and observe the five precepts as much as we can as this will help to protect us from dangers in the rounds of rebirth and also help us to prepare for a happier future existence.
Sharing of Merits
Once a year, we dedicate a special day in memory of our departed ones. Here in the temple, we perform the Pattidana Ceremony. Today all of us come before the Buddha image and listen to paritta chantings. According to their traditions, Chinese all over the country during this time visit their ancestral graveyards and bow down to pay respects to their ancestors. This is a Buddhist tradition that is good to preserve.
In my country, Burma, we observe this tradition in October. On such occasions, we, young children, would visit our relatives’ houses to pay respects to our elders. The elders in return would give presents to us. After that we would go to the graveyards to offer joss sticks, flowers, candles, etc., to our departed relatives. We were happy to have performed the Pattidana Ceremony. We have never forgotten this tradition. In the process of performing this ceremony, we developed loving kindness towards one another.
Here in Lunas, all of you are following this tradition. During the ceremony, in memory of our departed ones, we offer delicious food, rice, robes, and all kinds of requisites to the monks. We take the five precepts, listen to Dhamma talks and participate in paritta chantings. Later on you will go to your ancestors’ graves and bow down to pay your respects. All these are wholesome deeds that will give rise to beneficial results.
At the last part of the ceremony, we are going to share our merits with the departed ones. This is the most important part of the ceremony. We should understand the purpose of sharing merits in accordance with the Teachings of the Buddha. There are three requirements to fulfill. If we can understand and fulfill these three requirements, then we can say that this Pattidana Ceremony has indeed been successful.
What are these requirements?
First, we must remember our departed ones respectfully and have the intention to share our merits with them wholeheartedly. On the day before or on the day of performance of the offering, we should say, “Dear departed ones, tomorrow or today, we are going to the temple to do dana and keep precepts in memory of you. Please join us in this wholesome activity so that we can transfer our merits to you”. This invitation is important as our departed ones may not know of our intentions and therefore not be present during the ceremony.
Secondly, our departed ones must be available to share the merits of the wholesome deeds done by us. If they have been reborn as human beings or gods, then they do not require these merits. However, the result is still beneficial to us.
The last requirement is that we should make our offerings to a virtuous monk. By this, we mean a noble one, for example, an Arahant, an Anagami, a Sakadagami or a Sotapanna. However, if this is not possible, it is better to make the offerings to the community of monks or Sangha (to-day it is called Sanghikadana), and not to any individual monk.
I hope today, we have fulfilled all these three requirements.
I would like to ask all of you a question, “Why do we need to share merits with our departed ones?” Buddha once gave a short answer to this, “because none of us know our destiny”. Let me explain further.
There are five things unknown to everybody: namely:- Life, Disease, Time, Place and Destiny.
Life is an uncertainty, for none of us can determine how long we should live. Life may fail at any point; at conception, during the first week of the embryonic stage, the first month, at the time of birth, or any time after that.
We cannot avoid sickness nor can we decide when we will fall ill. It is said, “Of this sickness beings die, not of another”. For man is vulnerable to all kinds of diseases and we cannot determine when or where we will die as well. One may die at night, in the morning or in the evening. Some are killed by floods, some in the sky because of plane crash, some on the road side in a car accident. It is not up to us to decide. All these are unknown to all of us.
Our final destiny is unknown to us as well, for we cannot say, “one who passes away from here will be reborn in this place”. There are five places where human beings find rebirth. These are:
peta world and
On passing away in the deva world, beings may be reborn in the human world; on passing away in the human world, beings may be reborn in the deva world or other worlds. Mostly beings are born in the woeful states. During our rounds of rebirth, we can end up anywhere.
That is why we need to perform Pattidana Ceremony, that is the sharing of merits with our departed ones in consideration of the five uncertainties mentioned above.
What are the results we can expect from performing the sharing of merits?
Firstly, our departed ones will rejoice at our act of doing dana and of keeping sila in memory of them. They will enjoy the bliss of the merits and be able to transcend to a higher level of existence.
In return, when we perform sharing of merits we will also have four kinds of blessings: long life, beauty, good health and strength. All this bliss can be experienced, as it is said in the Dhammapada, “Cattaro dhamma vaddhanti, ayuvanno sukham balam”. For the one who is in the habit of constantly honouring and respecting the elders, he or she will surely enjoy these four blessings. They would not have to pray and ask for them.
According to the Texts if the sharing of merits is after making donation of alms-food, the departed one will be instantly appeased from hunger by saying, ‘Sadhu!’, if the donation is garments and robes, the deceased will become well-clothed upon saying, ‘Sadhu!’
Sharing Merits with
Today, I would like to talk about sharing of merits. “Our ancestors hope for five things from their sons and daughters”. The Buddha said so in the Pali text of the Anguttara Nikaya. What are the five?
1. Their sons and daughters will help them in every
2. They will carry out what must be done on behalf of their elders.
3. They will preserve the traditions practiced by their elders.
4. They will protect the inheritances left to them by their elders.
5. They will make offerings to the petas after their elders pass away.
(from the book “Dhammaratana”)
When we think about these five things taught by the Buddha, we find that they are true. Our ancestors hoped for all these things when their sons and daughters were born. Now that you are a parent yourself, I am sure that you are hoping for the same from your children.
Firstly, they hope that their sons and daughters will help them in every aspect. When parents get old and are not able to work anymore, it is the duty of their sons and daughters to provide them with shelter, food, clothing, medicine, etc. This custom is very common in our Buddhist communities. For Buddhist devotees, this practice is very beneficial to both the parents and the children. However, in the West, it is very common that the elderly rely on themselves or on homes for the aged or being supported by the government.
Secondly, they will carry out what must be done on behalf of their elders. In this world, social relationships are essential. “No man is an island”. In our society, we must depend on one another in all aspects of our lives, such as weddings, funerals etc. These should be done on behalf of the elders.
Thirdly, they will preserve the traditions practiced by their elders. They will protect the lineage of the family and not let it deteriorate.
The lineage of the families are of two kinds:-
- the economies and businesses of the mundane
- The religion and teachings which the parents believed in and worshipped.
If the parents are merchants, their businesses must be preserved and improved on and prevented from failing in their hands. If the parents are government servants, their status must be maintained and not bring shame to the family.
Children of good parentage must keep up good work of their parents, such as continue to make offerings to temples, Buddha images and pagodas which their parents have built. They must see to the maintenance of these in terms of effort and money so as to preserve them for as long as possible. In Myanmar, wealthy families that can afford to, usually carry out such great dana as building of temples on their own. In other places devotees usually collect funds for offerings.
Fourthly, the parents would expect their children, whom they have brought up since infancy and whom they have educated and taught to stand on their own two feet as adults, to have good virtues and protect their inheritances, such as wealth, properties, etc., which they have accumulated during their life time.
Lastly, if the parents themselves cannot practise meditation while living in this mundane world and if they cannot be mindful on their deathbed, they might be reborn in the lower planes of existence. It is hoped that their children will do meritorious deeds and share merits with them.
What I would like to emphasise today is the fifth one which our ancestors are hoping for. When we are in need, we hope that others will help us. We can be reborn anywhere after this life, be it in the human world or in heaven. There is nothing to worry about if we are reborn as a human being or god. However, it is a different matter if we are reborn as petas, animals or beings in hell. Of these, certain petas known as Paradattupajivika, are able to free themselves from the peta life if they receive merits from living relatives. For this reason, we should practise sharing merits.
The Buddha said, “There is no one who has not been another’s husband, wife, father, mother, brother, sister, grandfather or grandmother in the rounds of rebirths”. So our ancestors in this very life, or from the past, might need our help to free themselves from the lower planes. It is our duty to help them. When they are alive in this world, we support and provide for them. When they leave this life, we can help them by performing meritorious deeds and sharing the merits with them like what you are doing today. This is what we can do for them. In this way, we fulfill our responsibilities to the expectations of our ancestors.
Let us consider our own life. We are always faced with the difficulties and hardships of life. On a bigger scale, we have problems in politics, economies, social relationships, health care, etc. On a personal basis, we have to face up to old age, sickness and death. We can never escape from all these sufferings. If we are not able to free ourselves from these sufferings, we hope that our off-springs will help us when we die. The road to liberation, to freedom from all sufferings, is nothing but the practice of meditation, Vipassana Meditation. I am always ready to teach, if you put in the effort and join the meditation course.
The Buddha has instructed on the five expectations mentioned above. Sons and daughters who fulfill these expectations will gain much benefits in both the mundane and supramundane world in this very life. In their future existences, they will meet with good parents and have the opportunities to increase their merits, till they reach Nibbana.
Sharing Merits with
In the Buddha’s Teachings, there are a lot of stories about peta beings (a sort of ghost) mentioned in the Peavatthutu text. Just as animals and creatures are countless, so is the same with petas. This shows that being a peta is common. Anybody is liable to be reborn as a peta. In one of the Vinaya books, Parajika Pali text, mention is made of different types of petas with dreadful, fearful and disgusting shapes. They first land in hell for many years, after which, the rest of the evil deeds that they have committed caused them to be reborned as petas.
Which of them can obtain the results of merits performed and shared by relatives? In the Milinda Pannha, it is mentioned that those who feed on vomit, those who are tormented by hunger and thirst and those who are consumed by cravings do not benefit. The fourth category that live on the gifts of others do derive benefits and so do those who remember them.
If the departed ones do not receive the benefits of the dana then the givers themselves derive profit from them. Suppose some people after preparing fish, meat strong drinks, rice and other kinds of food were to go to their relations’ houses and if those relations were not available to accept their presents, then the givers themselves would profit.
There are instances in which peta beings achieve the benefits of merits. The following is an extract from the book ‘Hemevata’ by Mahasi Sayadaw.
Once, while the Buddha stayed in Rajagaha city at the nearby Veluvana Monastery, King Bimbisara returned to his palace after he had offered alms food to the Buddha and the Sangha. On that night peta beings haunted the royal chamber in the palace and tried to frighten the King. These beings had heard from Kassapa Buddha (a previous Buddha) that they would obtain things to eat after they had said sadhu (Pali for well done) when the King shared his merits gained from the good deed of alms and food offerings. So they gathered at the Buddha’s monastery and waited to say sadhu. Unfortunately the King forgot to share his merits and returned to his palace. He did not know about this matter. So peta beings entered his chamber to frighten him so as to remind him.
When the King reported to the Buddha about this, the Buddha told the King that these peta beings had been the King’s relatives ninety-two kappas ago and that these beings haunted the royal chamber to frighten him to remind him of his failure to share his merits with all beings. So the King offered alms food to the Buddha and Sangha again on the following day and shared his merits with all beings. The peta beings said sadhu and thus obtained celestial food. The human eyes cannot see these beings but the divine eyes (psychic power) can.
In view of such a story, we are keeping on the practice of sharing merits. These days similar stories still happen here and there.
Moreover the Lord Buddha emphasized that children develop a sense of gratitude towards their parents because parents are by nature imbued with the four sublime dhammas of loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity where their children are concerned. They are similar to Brahmas in the celestial world. Those Brahmas are always absorbed in Jhana by practicing the above four sublime dhammas.
In the same way parents keep their eyes on their sons and daughters to protect them from dangers, providing them with food, clothing, education, money and so on. Their loving kindness conquers all difficulties. Even though some of their off-springs are disobedient to them, they are patiently tolerant. This tolerance is also accorded to their disabled ones. We cannot measure the depth of their loving kindness. It is comparable to the highest mountain, the Buddha said. It is clear that we are indebted to our parents. It is up to us to repay our debts of gratitude to them. If they are alive, it is our responsibility to care for them by supplying their needs. If they have passed away, then we should share merits with them. Expressing deep sorrow or mourning does not make any sense nor will it give rise to wholesome effects. Whosoever has a sense of gratitude should repay their debts to their parents by making offerings to monks who are endowed with high morality and sharing the merits of such deeds with their parents.
The sharing of merits is beneficial not only to peta beings, but also to celestial beings. They take delight in saying sadhu. In the Mahaparinibbana sutta of the Digha Nikaya, the Buddha said that devotees should invite monks endowed with morality to their new houses. Then they should do dana and share merits with celestial beings (devas). Those devas will in return look after the devotees with loving kindness just as a mother protects her own children from danger. Such devotees protected by them will achieve success in their worldly life.
So the teaching concerning the sharing of merits with all
living beings including departed ones, human beings and celestial beings is of
great significance as well as the best way to support one another from the
spiritual point of view.
Buddhist devotees usually do good deeds by making offerings to the needy in our society. The belief in kamma enables us to appreciate the need to give offerings. To perform dana properly, certain teachings of the Buddha are necessary for devotees to understand, resulting in the achievement of results which commensurate with the nobility of the dana offerings.
According to the theory of kamma in Buddhism, basically, if we plant sweet seeds, these will bear sweet fruits. While if we plant bitter seeds these will bear bitter fruits. In the same way, one who performs wholesome deeds will surely enjoy benefits such as well-being, happiness and good health; while if one commits unwholesome deeds one will suffer. This is the principle of kamma in Buddhism. To distinguish between good and bad, we need to study the Pali text in great depth.
Performing dana or giving is like eating a balanced meal. One takes meat, fish and vegetables for the protein, fat and energy to sustain one’s body while taking different types of fruits for Vitamins A, B, C and minerals. In these way one receives all the nutrients necessary to sustain one.
In the same way, when we give (dana) there are different types of offerings: delicious food, robes, rice, books, building temples, raising funds, giving during special occasions and providing other requisites useful to the monks. Different types of offerings result in different effects.
For example, a devotee offers good food to the Sangha. Just as the monk who receives the food can have long life, beauty, happiness, strength and knowledge due to eating the good food, so will the devotee in return experience the similar five benefits. Because offering good food produces good results. There will be no need to pray for them. In the Pali text, the Buddha expounded the results of many kinds of dana. If you would like to know them, you can learn them from Lunas.
The Buddha said that His dispensation is like the grocery store in which everything is available.
anyone want to be wealthy?
Does anyone want to be educated?
Does anyone want to be healthy?
Does anyone want to be free from sufferings?
All these are attainable through practicing the Buddha’s Teachings according to its effect.
As I have just mentioned, giving is like planting. There must be fertile land and good seeds. In this case, the one who plants is like the donor. The recipient who is practicing morality, concentration and wisdom is like the fertile land. The offering is like the good seeds. Here in Lunas, monks and meditators are always practicing sila, samadhi and panna. So you can definitely achieve the good results of dana, which is similar to the sweet fruits planted in the fertile land.
What is most important is to make yourself happy or joyful, knowing that you have done offerings. Having benefited from your offerings, the monks and meditators will be able to practise virtues and to understand the Buddha’s Teachings. In this way you will have the opportunity to sustain the Buddha sasana. May Buddha’s dhamma and hence be free from sufferings. Then devotees will develop faith, volition and loving kindness. They will also have peace of mind and physical well-being. The more you develop this beautiful mind, the more you can acquire the beneficial results of your dana.
Lastly, the Buddha taught us how to wish whenever we perform giving. All beings in this world, whether Brahma, god or man are subject to aging, sickness and death. This worldly life is related to the four woeful states which we would not wish for. We should direct our minds to freedom from all sufferings which is nibbana, by performing wholesome deeds such as dana, sila, bhavana as they are practiced by you today.
So everyday, after taking precepts, we end by saying:
“Idam me pannam nibbanassa paccaya
(May these merits of mine be conducive to my attainment of Nibbana)