Merit (Sanskrit puṇya, Pāli puñña) is a concept in Buddhism/Hinduism. It is that which accumulates as a result of good deeds, acts, or thoughts and which carries over to throughout the Life or the subsequent incarnations. Such merit contributes to a person's growth towards spiritual liberation. Merit can be gained in a number of ways. In addition, according to the Mahayana Sutra of The Great Vows of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, one can "transfer" 1/7 merit of an act they have performed to a deceased loved one such as in the Shitro practice in order to diminish the deceased's Suffering in their new existence. Pariṇāmanā (Sanskrit) may be rendered as 'transfer of merit' or 'dedication' and involves the transfer of merit as a cause to bring about an effect.
The idea of transfer of the merit from one’s religious practice to another person or for the good of other beings is generally regarded as non-canonical in Theravada Buddhism although it is quite common in practice. In Mahayana Buddhism the dedication of merit for the good of other beings is an essential part of all ritual practice.
Three bases of merit
The Pali canon identifies three bases of merit (Pali: puññakiriyavatthu). In the Puññakiriyavatthusuttaṃ ("Meritorious actions discourse," AN 8.36 or A 8.4.6), The Buddha identifies these three bases:
- giving (dānamayaṃ puññakiriyavatthu)
- virtue (sīlamayaṃ puññakiriyavatthu)
- mental development (Bhāvanā mayaṃ puññakiriyavatthu)
In the Khuddaka Nikaya's Itivuttaka (Iti. 1.22), the three bases are defined as: giving (dānassa), self-Mastery (damassa) and refraining (saññamassā). Later in this same Sutta, the triad is restated as: giving (Dāna), a Life of mental calm (sama-cariya) and a mind of good-will (Metta-Citta).
A post-canonical commentary, elaborating on the canonically identified meritorious triad of Dana-sila-Bhavana (see D.III,218), states that lay devotees can make merit by performing these seven more specific acts:
- honoring others (apacayana-maya)
- offering service (veyyavacca-maya)
- involving others in good deeds (pattidana-maya)
- being thankful for others' good deeds (pattanumodana-maya)
- listening to Teachings (dhammassavana-maya)
- instructing others in the Teachings (dhammadesana-maya)
- straightening one's own views in accord with the Teachings (ditthujukamma)