Accumulate Merits and Wisdom, Life’s True Wealth and Eminence

Grand Master’s Dharma Talk:

      The Buddhadharma teaches: “As this exists, so does that; as this does not exist, neither does that; as this arises, that also arises; as this ceases, that also ceases.” Both worldly and supra-worldly dharmas require us to cultivate the right causes diligently before we can achieve anything—we absolutely cannot just sit and idly wait for results. Buddhism teaches that there is the causality of three periods: past causes, present results; present causes, future results. Nothing in this world happens because of chance—everything has its causes and its effects. Having wealth and eminence in this life is the wholesome result of wholesome causes planted in the past. If we hope the future unfolds according to our wishes, then we must diligently cultivate wholesome dharmas in the present. This is right understanding and right view.

Accumulate merits and virtues,
cultivate the right causes here and now.

      Some people do not understand Buddhism’s teaching of the causality of three periods. They believe that the past is already gone and the future is what comes after death, something distant and unreachable. They think the results of our actions will not appear right away, and thus see causality in a passive light. This is to define “past” and “future” too narrowly and misunderstand the principle of causality.

      What is the past and what is the future? Yesterday, the last quarter hour, and even the last second are all “the past.” Tomorrow, the next quarter hour, and the next second are all “the future.” Let us observe carefully: all our everyday activities, from morning to night, are in line with the law of causality. For example, I give you a friendly smile; this is a cause. You immediately respond with a nod; this is an effect. Students study hard, never slack off or cut loose; this is a cause. They have the potential to perform well in the future; this is an effect.           

      The same is true for having a job or career. If we put work first and follow the law, never arrive late or leave early, perform our duties conscientiously and responsibly, refrain from cutting corners, and do a little more than what’s expected of us—this is to practice giving and we will thus have merits. If there is an opportunity for promotion in the future, our supervisor will immediately think of us. On the contrary, if we slack off at work, indulge our bad habits, or take company paper and envelopes for personal use, believing these to be trivial matters not worth considering, then we do not see the seriousness of their ramifications. If there is a promotion in the future, unfortunately, it will not go to us. This is cause and effect.

      When we understand causality in this way, we will see how things truly are. 

      The Dharmapada says: “Disregard not the small good deeds, assuming they bring no merits. Tiny are droplets of water, but gradually they fill a great vessel.” Water on the eaves, falling drop by drop from morning till night, can fill half a bucket as the day goes by. Saving money in the bank is similar. If we save a few dollars today and a few dollars tomorrow, continuing this way for three years, five years, ten years…we can accumulate a small fortune. Cultivating wholesome dharmas is like this too. Perform a few good deeds today, a few good deeds tomorrow…if we keep practicing like this without fail, small good deeds will accumulate over time to become great virtue, thus bringing us great merits. 

      There are many ways to cultivate wholesome dharmas; for example, practicing giving is one of them. Besides giving money, we can also donate our expertise and labor. Or when we see other people doing good deeds, we can praise them and be joyful in their efforts. Confucianism teaches having filial piety for our parents, respecting our elders and teachers, loving our siblings, being loyal to the country and upright with friends…these are all wholesome dharmas. If we can practice them, our blessings and merits will grow, our minds will be joyful, and our families harmonious. Harmony can lead to good fortune, bring auspicious signs, and even cause Dharma guardians to sympathetically support our cultivation. This is also cause and effect. Therefore, do not think of causality as something lofty and remote. If we understand the principle of cause and effect, then we know that cultivating the right causes here and now is the most important thing.

Cultivate both merits and wisdom,
realize wealth, eminence, and a luminous future.

      Buddhism teaches us to cultivate both merits and wisdom. Merits come from performing wholesome deeds and must be accumulated over time. In addition to merit, we must also cultivate wisdom: perform wholesome deeds not for personal gain, but to benefit the public, liberate all sentient beings, and help more people awaken and enlighten themselves. This is wisdom.

      Without wisdom, we have erroneous thoughts and views. Even with blessings and merits, we will likely bring ourselves trouble. For example, say we are rich and affluent, which is a blessing, but because we lack wisdom, we do not know the right way to use our wealth. We squander the money on overeating, drinking, entertaining ourselves, living the high life, and investing indiscriminately, otherwise creating unwholesome karma with the “blessing” of wealth.

      People who have wisdom are different. They know how to use their wealth, using it to practice giving and benefit others. In this way, they improve and elevate themselves. Taking it one step further, they practice giving without the notion of giving, realize triple emptiness, and relinquish attachment even to wholesome dharmas. As the Diamond Sutra says, “By cultivating all good without the notions of a self, a person, a sentient being and a lifespan, one attains anuttara-samyak-sambodhi (unsurpassed complete enlightenment).” When we cultivate wholesome dharmas without attaching to them, worldly dharmas are then none other than Buddhadharma.

      The teachings in Buddhism can be both profound and accessible. If we wish to reach the highest teaching, we must begin with the basics. Both monastics and lay-practitioners alike must understand: cultivating wholesome dharmas is like investing capital and provisions for our success in realizing the Way. Even if it is hard work, it is still worth doing. Without these provisions, it will be impossible for us to go far.

      It is said, “towering buildings are built from the ground up.” Everyone hopes to achieve great things, leave a great legacy, accomplish great undertakings, or even realize the unsurpassed bodhi. These are high aspirations and long-term goals. If we want to reach them, we must make effort in our daily lives. The four kinds of right effort are:

“Grow the wholesome thoughts that have already arisen.

Quickly raise the wholesome thoughts that have yet to arise.

Eradicate the unwholesome thoughts that have already arisen.

Never raise the unwholesome thoughts that have yet to arise.”

We raise wholesome thoughts with the mind, speak wholesome words with the mouth, and perform wholesome deeds with the body; this is to have immeasurable merits. When we do not have the opportunity to perform good deeds, at the very least, we can still raise good thoughts. Practicing like this, broadly accumulating provisions of merits and wisdom, walking a luminous path every step of the way, we will perfectly realize unsurpassed bodhi.

      Buddhist cultivation is a lifetime endeavor, even one that spans the measureless future. It is not something we do for ten days or half a month. When, in this life, we accumulate provisions of merits and wisdom, it naturally brings us one step closer to realizing the Way. By continuing to practice diligently in this way, we can go from poverty to wealth, from darkness to light, from samsara to nirvana, from mundane existence to the realms of enlightened beings, and realize the true wealth and eminence in life.

Chung Tai Magazine #249