Is it possible to do certain good deeds to solve specific problems? Of course, karmically speaking, this is possible – provided that the right seed is planted and nurtured with the right conditions for the appropriate fruit desired. For example, if one suffers from having generally poor karmic affinity with others due to habitual anger, the practice of loving-kindness meditation will lessen it, thus improving one’s relationships. However, there are some other beliefs pertaining to problem-solving that might seem more mystical and inexplicable. For instance, there is the traditional belief that donating money for the printing of sutras (Buddhist scriptures) can help transform dull-mindedness to wisdom. In a similar vein is the contributing of funds for the running of Dharma libraries. Some nominal Buddhists, though having some faith in the workings of cause and effect, might be unwilling or lazy to learn the Dharma via classes and talks, while being open to transforming their life situations via donations and such. Is it possible that their wisdom simply grow this way? And what kind of merit-making can improve romance and career, which are more common and worldly concerns?
The immediate and fastest way to gain wisdom is to study the actual sutras (already or) being printed, and to read the books in the library, so as to practise and realise the Buddha’s teachings directly! Other ways are surely slower. Merely helping to produce and distribute Dharma books will help nurture others’ wisdom when they learn the Dharma through them. If one does not study and practise the Dharma personally, how can wisdom suddenly arise? However, it is true that one who generously and gladly supports propagation of the Dharma with genuine rejoice is likelier to have more conditions to cultivate wisdom later, just as one provided those conditions for others. The fact that there is enthusiasm to contribute already shows that one has some wisdom, knowledge of the value of the Dharma, even if that person is not fully interested in delving more deeply into it yet. There is however, the deepening of some interest and affinity with the Dharma, which increases one’s more ready delight in the Dharma when encountering it in the future, be it in this life or a next.
What if one donates on the behalf of others who have no interest in the Dharma at all, dedicating the merits of doing so to them? Does this help in hastening their ripening of wisdom? To have one voluntarily create merits for another, the latter must have some good karma to deserve this assistance. This dedication can help to some extent, but not exactly as above. For example, if a child does not like to study, and the mother gives books to other kids, it means she appreciates education; not that her child does. She thus increases conditions for herself to have better education in the future. The child will still need to plant the seed of personal interest in studies – through self-effort, perhaps in tandem with more efforts by the mother or someone else, before the shared merits can kick in as conditions to grow the fruit of more interest in learning. The child’s knowledge and rejoice in the mother’s good deed helps too. If dedication of merits can increase another’s wisdom, we would all be enlightened already – as there are countless Buddhas with immeasurable merits dedicating as much as possible to us! As such, they also use their compassion and wisdom to manifest all kinds of skilful means to spur our interest in the Dharma.
According to ‘Chapter Seven: Benefiting the Living and Deceased’ (利益存亡品第七) in the ‘Sutra of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva’s Fundamental Vows and Merits’ (地藏菩萨本愿功德经), the Bodhisattva taught thus: ‘If there are men and women, whom when alive, do not cultivate good causes, and create many of all kinds of misgivings, after their lives end, family members little and great, for creating blessings [merits] to benefit all noble [Dharma] matters, of seven parts, [the deceased] then receive one, with six parts of meritorious virtues [merits], of the living ones self-benefit from. As such, thus, in the future and now, good men, women and others, when strong and healthy, should self-cultivate [merits], with every part [of merits] self received.’ (若有男子女人，在生不修善因多造众罪，命终之後，眷属小大，为造福利一切圣事，七分之中而乃获一，六分功德，生者自利。以是之故，未来现在善男女等，闻 健自修，分分己获。) As a natural law, only one-seventh of the meritorious blessings one personally creates can be shared with another through interconnected collective karma. While merits are partially ‘transferable’, wisdom, however, cannot be transmitted this way. To attain Buddhahood, we have to cultivate and perfect both our merits and wisdom (福慧双修).
To better situations romantic and careerwise, before creating merits via less direct means to do so, one should reflect upon one’s own character with the Dharma as a guide, to know and see what cause the problems, so as to rectify them accordingly; instead of looking for quick fixes via giving money to ‘buy’ one’s way out. Generosity is important, but actual remedial action to change oneself is important too. Specific issues can also be brought up before trained counsellors and good Dharma teachers for advice. For helping others with the same problems, as above, the nurturing of personal wisdom takes priority. One can share wisdom on resolving the issues, or encourage seeking solutions via seeking counsellors and teachers too. The creating and dedicating of merits to help them, also as above, might not be as swift and effective as hoped for, so long as the key seed of wisdom has yet to be planted. However, we should still do our best to share merits, in order to provide more conducive conditions for them to more easily sow this seed for effecting substantial breakthroughs.
The thoroughly enlightened
manifest compassionate rebirths
which further illuminate others.
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Faith is like a ring, a grommet; the Buddha’s compassion is like a hook, or shepherd’s crook. The two can connect and Buddha’s blessings can enter wherever there is openness to such grace. This is illustrated by the tale of the old woman who attained spiritual awakening with the help of a dog’s tooth. The faithful have always venerated the teeth and bones of saints as sacred relics; these remains are thought to have become imbued with spiritual presence.
Once there was an old woman whose son was a trader. Often he joined a caravan and went to distant India on business. One day his mother said, “Bodh Gaya in India is the place where the perfect Buddha was enlightened. Please bring me a blessed relic from there, a talisman I can use as a focus for my devotions. I shall place it on the altar, pray and bow to it as a material representation of the Buddha’s blessed body.” Many times she repeated her request. However, each time her son returned from a business trip to the holy land of India, he realized that he had forgotten his mother’s fervent plea. For several years he failed to bring her what she had asked for. One day, as he was getting ready to depart yet again for India, his mother said to him. “Son, remember my words on your journey. This time, if you do not bring me a relic from Bodh Gaya to use for my prostrations, I shall kill myself in front of you!” He was shocked by her unexpected intensity. Vowing to fulfill his mother’s wish, he left.
At last, after many months, his business affairs were completed and he approached his homeland. Again he had forgotten to acquire for his dear old mother a genuine relic of the Buddha. It was only when he approached his mother’s house that he remembered her words. “What am I going to do?” he thought. “I haven’t brought anything for Mother’s altar. If I arrive home empty-handed, she’ll kill herself!” Looking around in dismay, he spotted the dessicated skull of a dog lying by the roadside. Hastily, he tore a tooth from the jaw and proceeded to wrap it up. Reaching home, he reverently presented this package to his mother. “Here is one of the Buddha’s teeth,” he said. “I acquired it in Lord Buddha’s native land, India. You can use it as a support for your prayers.” The old woman believed him. She had faith in the tooth, believing it to be from Lord Buddha himself. She constantly offered prostrations and prayers to it as the veritable embodiment of all the Buddhas. Through such practices she found the unshakable peace of mind she had long sought.
Miraculously, from the dog’s tooth emanated countless tiny translucent pearls and swirls of rainbow light. All the neighbours were delighted to find such blessings free for the taking at the old woman’s altar, where they gathered daily. When the old woman finally met death, a canopy of rainbow light surrounded her, and everyone recognized in the beatific smile on her wizened face that she had attained spiritual exaltation. Although a dog’s tooth in itself contains few blessings, the power of the woman’s unswerving faith ensured that the blessings of the Buddha would enter that tooth. Thus a mere dog’s tooth became no different from an authentic relic of the Buddha, and many were uplifted.
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