Customs and Rituals

What is the connection between ritual and the Theravada notion of making merit?

Some actions and attitudes take on a ritual dimension because they are associated with the two essential spiritual activities of making and transferring merit. Actions that make merit for the individual store up positive energy needed to overcome the inappropriate craving that can prevent one from achieving liberation. These actions prominently include a group of ten: proper beliefs, reverence and service of one’s elders, giving generously to monks, observing the five (or eight) precepts, various forms of meditation including recitation of scriptural verses, respect for others, preaching, hearing a sermon, empathizing with merit, and transfer of merit. When lay Buddhists commit themselves temporarily to the Eight Precepts they add the monastic practices of avoiding food after the noon meal, certain forms of entertainment, and the use of cosmetics. Some lists of merit-making deeds also include building a monastery, becoming a monk or having a son do so, donating funds for the repair of a temple, and observing every uposatha (“sabbath”). Transfer of merit is a doubly meritorious form of altruism, since in the very intention to share, one receives back. In fact, Buddhists characteristically see a reciprocity in all ritual deeds. Devotees give generously to monks, for example, and the monks give spiritual encouragement, good example, and teaching in return.


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