Transfer of Merit

Last week we put up a new page on this website – if you look up at the tabs you can see a new one labeled Transfer of Merit. One of our aspirations for this website is to use it to spread the merit of training, and we are delighted to have what we think may be the first online version of the physical merit board that you will find in all OBC temples. Please take a look at the new page, follow the link About requesting meritwhich will tell you more and give you access to an excellent article by Rev. Master Mokugen.

I have just recovered from a headache that I’ve had for the last 24hrs. There is no doubt that life is much more pleasant without a headache, and I certainly do whatever is reasonable to keep myself in good health and look after myself when I am unwell. Yesterday afternoon when the headache was taking hold the phrase “this too will pass” came to mind.

There is a story that seems to have been adopted by a few traditions, including Buddhism, about a poor farmer who lived with his only son. One day their horse ran away and the neighbours said “Oh, what bad luck”. The farmer replied “We’ll see”. A few days later the horse returned, bringing with it a number of magnificent wild horses which the farmer and his son corralled. The neighbours said “Oh, what good luck”. The farmer said “We’ll see”. Next day his son started to tame one of the wild horses and was injured and broke his leg. “What bad luck!” said the neighbours. “We’ll see”, said the farmer. The following week the army came through their village and recruited all the young men. Because the farmer’s son was lame he was not taken away by the army.

What this story points to, for me, is the ever-changing flow of circumstances and the futility of passing judgment on them. We may regard one circumstance as desirable (acquiring more horses) and another as undesirable (a headache or a broken leg), but ultimately we are not in control of our circumstances. What is important is how we approach them, and the farmer who made no judgment was wiser than the neighbours who were continually concerned with evaluating things as good or bad. It is not the details of the circumstance that are important, but what we do with them; whether we create more suffering and delusion or whether we face them with honesty and acceptance.

To relate this to the transfer of merit, when we ask for merit to be given to a particular person who is suffering, we are not making any judgment as to what the outcome should be. The purpose of offering merit is to support the person to accept difficult circumstances, to live, sometimes to die, skilfully within them, and for the compassion of the universe to find expression.