Overflowing Merit


While wholeheartedly agreeing with what has been said by everyone before - the meritorious nature of the gift might be even greater if it was given without having any expectations- merit included. But often there’s some kind of expectation.

How to give a gift? Dana Sutta: Giving



Thanks, all!

Excellent question! I take it to mean:

They nurture happiness and are conducive to heaven, ripening in happiness and leading to heaven. They lead to what is likable, desirable, agreeable, to welfare and happiness.

I’ve always been a bit confused by suttas that seem to encourage layfolk to ‘aim for heaven’, but I’ll set that aside.

I feel a little abivelant about this. In one way I think it is a great piece of advice, at the same time I’m a bit apprehensive about the room it allows to dismiss the important work of examining what one is doing and if and how it is benefitial; investigation is an enlightenment factor. I might even hypothesize that reflecting over giving (and ethical conduct) in particular is an vital ingredient for stimulating the joy and such that leads to “what is likable, desirable, agreeable, to welfare and happiness.”

As I read the Buddha’s teaching, it strikes me as marvellously technical; it describes a process of how to accomplish a thing. However, while folk quite often seem to be interested in endless, intricate discussion about meditation techniques, there seems to be fairly little detailed examination of how dana and sila function. To my mind, given that dana and sila are the absolute foundation for everything else and that all the rest automatically flows from them, there is a strong case for invtering the ratio of discussion themes, or at the very least granting it may be worth some technical scrutiny.


Very well. Here is giving in detail. The last item is actually quite remarkable and changed my concept of giving entirely:

Eight reasons to give.

  • A person might give a gift after insulting the recipient.
  • Or they give out of fear.
  • Or they give thinking, ‘They gave to me.’
  • Or they give thinking, ‘They’ll give to me.’
  • Or they give thinking, ‘It’s good to give.’
  • Or they give thinking, ‘I cook, they don’t. It wouldn’t be right for me to not give to them.’
  • Or they give thinking, ‘By giving this gift I’ll get a good reputation.’
  • Or they give thinking, ‘This is an adornment and requisite for the mind.

Interestingly, I suspect that if all our actions were “adornments and requisites for the mind”, sila would shine forth.

What do you think?


Just to give a little alternative aspect, such that “merit” and a quest for “merit” might be secondary if not useless. I cite from SN 3.2 (Padhana-Sutta)

(Mara argues to the Buddha to earn merits instead of having a hard time)

(The Buddha)
O Evil One,
O Cousin of the Negligent,
you have come here for your own ends.
Now, merit I need not at all.
Let Māra talk of merit then,
to those that stand in need of it.

For I have faith and energy,
and I have understanding, too.
So while I thus subdue myself,
why do you speak to me of life?


Personally I don’t like any idea or even only mental association like managing a “bankaccount of merits” … This eventually ends in bargaining for being sold free from sins (here: bad karma), like it has been a very big, profitable business in the catholic church, by its shere excess and spiritual corruption provoking the lutherian and other medieaval riots and reforms.


Don’t need to search around town.

  • Undertaking the five precept would yield much more merits than make an offering to the Buddha himself.
  • Develop a heart of love yield more merit than undertaking the five precepts.
  • The greatest merit of all is to “develop the perception of impermanence”.

"…To an animal, a hundred times. To an unethical ordinary person, a thousand. To an ethical ordinary person, a hundred thousand. To an outsider free of sensual desire, 10,000,000,000. But a gift to someone practicing to realize the fruit of stream-entry may be expected to yield incalculable, immeasurable returns. How much more so a gift to a stream-enterer, someone practicing to realize the fruit of once-return, a once-returner, someone practicing to realize the fruit of non-return, a non-returner, someone practicing to realize the fruit of perfection, a perfected one, or a Buddha awakened for themselves? How much more so a Realized One, a perfected one, a fully awakened Buddha? MN142 SuttaCentral

…It would be more fruitful to feed one Realized One, a perfected one, a fully awakened Buddha than a hundred Buddhas awakened for themselves. It would be more fruitful to feed the mendicant Saṅgha headed by the Buddha than to feed one Realized One, a perfected one, a fully awakened Buddha. It would be more fruitful to build a dwelling especially for the Saṅgha of the four quarters than to feed the mendicant Saṅgha headed by the Buddha. It would be more fruitful to go for refuge to the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha with a confident heart than to build a dwelling for the Saṅgha of the four quarters. It would be more fruitful to undertake the training rules—not to kill living creatures, steal, commit sexual misconduct, lie, or take alcoholic drinks that cause negligence—than to go for refuge to the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha with a confident heart. It would be more fruitful to develop a heart of love—even just as long as it takes to pull a cow’s udder—than to undertake the training rules.
It would be more fruitful develop the perception of impermanence—even for as long as a finger snap—than to do all of these things, including developing a heart of love for as long as it takes to pull a cow’s udder. AN9.20 SuttaCentral


Thanks for that hmong, all wonderful points! However, at the same time, I think maybe there’s a bit of a difference in understanding of the original question.



I think: (1) your suspicion is a very strong one that is unlikely to be proven wrong! :grin:, (2) the technique suggested is thoroughly marvellous, (3) while the technique suggested is thoroughly marvellous, it also has a limitation similar to the instruction, “just follow the breath”. Perhaps even just some little questioning around how the thought, “This is an adornment and requisite for the mind” ‘lands’, or is received within and with what variation and in what circumstances and so on could begin to offer a helpful supplement where a supplement would be useful, (4) the analysis put forward in the quote you gave from DN33 (common also to the sutta Mat linked to, and is also in at least one or two other suttas I can’t remember from the top of my head) is thoroughly awesome and provides such an excellent, full account of the span of the psychology of giving. (5) in terms of answering the ‘how is this bit actually meant to work’ aspect of the OP, Dan’s reply is the most compelling as of yet.

Much thanks. :pray:


There’s the unwholesome version of the recepient’s state of mind affecting (de)merit in the Jivaka sutta MN55 as well!


I always thought ‘an adornment to the mind’ meant it was a temporary flash of joy that you get after giving. And perhaps, that joy isn’t sustained enough, on its’ own, to be counted as one of the seven factors of enlightenment.


To me the key part of adornment is its lack of necessity. I had always worried about the appropriateness of a gift and had muddled myself into a mire of giving for utility where the merit of the gift was bound up in the degree of utility of the gift.

The simple word “adornment” freed me from that attachment to greater utility. In this way a bread roll or a million dollars have exactly the same merit. They are both adornments, not strictly necessary, yet both of use to the recipient. They are both requisites. It is the giving with an open heart that purifies the gift.

a religious donation that’s purified by the giver. --DN33

Furthermore, the merit of a gift grows with the scope of the gift. Per MN142 giving to the Sangha is better than giving to the Realized One. Giving a bread roll to the Sangha is generally better than giving a bread roll to a favorite monk.

“Give it to the Saṅgha, Gotamī. When you give to the Saṅgha, both the Saṅgha and I will be honored.”


Interesting… :thinking: … yes, I also would understand ‘an adornment to the mind’ as something connected to joy (necessary for meditation), but in this context I’d sooner take the whole sentence into the picture:

“He does not give a gift, [thinking]: ‘When I am giving a gift my mind becomes placid, and elation and joy arise,’ but rather he gives a gift, [thinking]: ‘It’s an ornament of the mind, an accessory of the mind.’ (Bodhi)

They don’t give a gift thinking, ‘When giving this gift my mind becomes clear, and I become happy and joyful.’ But they give a gift thinking, ‘This is an adornment and requisite for the mind.’ (Sujato)

Having given this, not seeking his own profit, … but with the thought, ‘This is an ornament for the mind, a support for the mind’ (Thanissaro)

They all use the word “thinking/thought”. I read it more as a reflection (and intention setting) that will at some point lead to the brightening of the mind.

Incidentally, Bhikkhu Bodhi further comments:

The three editions have slightly different readings. I follow Ce cittālaṅkāraṃ cittaparikkhāranti. Neither Be nor Ee have the quotation marker ti. Mp: “It is an ornament, an accessory, of the mind pertaining to serenity and insight” (samathavipassanācittassa).

There’s really a point worth pausing on! Much as I’m delighted by Mat’s confidence in the “temporary flash[es] of joy that you get after giving” I’m really not so sure that this is always everyone’s experience. It’s my feeling that it’s better to account for and work with as broad a range of actual experiences (in this case in connection to giving); if an instruction doesn’t resonate, or ‘click’, I reckon it’s probably not going to be all that useful to a practitioner at that time.

I think this is a slightly difference case, here the Buddha seems to be talking about the moral validity of a mendicant accepting a meal and how they should ‘relate’ to the given meal. There is no discussion about the results mendicant’s actions will have on the person offering the meal.

In fact, this is the very reason why I find AN5.45 a little interesting, it essentially suggests that someone else’s actions (or accomplishments) will bring an individual merit. I find it a bit problematic for a couple of reasons, the primary one being that the implication is some degree of an individual’s spiritual happiness can fall outside of the field of their own intention/action.


Actually, the merit overflows beyond the donor, not particularly to the immersed mendicant as I read this. I.e., the merit does not accrue specifically to the mendicant. Rather, the immersion of the mendicant amplifies the merit of the donor for the good of all (i.e., limitless)

the overflowing of merit for the donor is limitless


Oh yes, exactly the point! As per the quote in the OP:

When a mendicant enters and remains in a limitless immersion of heart while using a robe …

alms-food … lodging … bed and chair …

medicines and supplies for the sick, the overflowing of merit for the donor is limitless

There’s no question, it’s beneficial for the mendicant—marvellous!—but then the suggestion is that the mendicant’s accomplishments somehow gives a mighty boost to the donor*.

Now for me, it would very happily sit with my understanding if it went something like:

When a donor gives a requisite to a mendicant thinking, “may you use this as a support for limitless immersion” the donor gains limitless merit

ie. it is the donor’s intention/action that generates the ‘merit’ for the donor (and, of course, has much broader benefit for other beings, too), but no, here it seems to be that the boost to the donor’s merit is dependent on whether or not someone else enters into limitless immersion. It’s just a little peculiar to me.

However, at the same time, I have to admit already before posting, my basic reading of this sutta is just that it is give a little encouragement and inspiration to mendicants to use requisites well, just as you said in the first reply, and likewise, along the lines of Nimal’s suggestion, those who supported mendicants could just take it for granted (and be duly delighted and brightened in mind) that they were supporting folk well cultivated in mind (with all the omnidirectional benefits that brings).

* In fact, I guess I should note, for some kind of description how this is possibly meant to pan out, see Kd.8.15.6–Kd.8.15.14 as was once referenced in a discussion on a similar-ish theme.


Beautification of the mind

This is deeper (it seems that it was beyond my experience, and that perhaps in a mind of inner purity a gift to the enlightened sangha does carry the seeds of enlightenment):

On my calling that to mind, delight will be born; from delight, joy will be born; because my mind is joyful my body will be calm; with the body calm I will experience ease; because I am at ease my mind will be contemplative; this will be for me growth as to the sense-organs, growth as to the powers, growth as to the factors of enlightenment. (indriyabhāvanā balabhāvanā bojjhaṅgabhāvanā).

In the Jivaka sutta:

One’s disciple makes much bad karma for five reasons. When they say: ‘Go, fetch that living creature,’ this is the first reason. When that living creature experiences pain and sadness as it’s led along by a collar, this is the second reason. When they say: ‘Go, slaughter that living creature,’ this is the third reason. When that living creature experiences pain and sadness as it’s being slaughtered, this is the fourth reason. When they provide the Realized One or the Realized One’s disciple with unallowable food, this is the fifth reason. Anyone who slaughters a living creature specially for the Realized One or the Realized One’s disciple makes much bad karma for five reasons.” SuttaCentral

It seems unwholesome karma is amplified by the anguish of the animals. It’s similar when you get more wholesome merit when you give stream enterer than a virtuous person. AN9.20


Thanks for pulling out this quote from Kd.8.15.13, Mat. It’s very lovely, although in terms of the point at hand, the earlier bit in the passage that is also quite critical (Visākhā finds out the many ‘good outcomes’ for the mendicants who have passed away that once received her support).

An important, but different topic.


Yes, attaining greater distinction in the Dhamma, is worthy of great esteem! We express our faith in them!

Just showing that the recipient’s and victim’s mental state matters.


Yeah, I see the link you want to make, but I’m not sure it holds: in the case of the animals’ suffering, that is something that the person is directly and knowingly causing, so is quite reasonably taken as that person’s kamma. The reference to AN 9.20, however, is a great one, and very much does speak to the point.


It’s interesting, this gift of acknowledgment of another’s accuracy!


I take merit to be wholesome kamma.

I take “overflowing of merit” to just mean a lot of merit for the donor - as in the metaphor “my cup is overflowing”.
I’m not sure how merit could transfer out more widely from the individual.


Precisely my take on things! I’m just in the middle of going through a Dhp translation and came across the following which sums things up pretty well for me:

By oneself alone is a wicked deed done, by oneself is one defiled,
by oneself is a wicked deed left undone, by oneself is one purified,
purity and impurity come from oneself, for no one can purify another.

Vs. 165

That said, turning it over, somewhere in the mix of my thoughts over the last few days (through a combination of a few of factors) at one point I had quite a pleasing sense of how the thought of contributing to the manifestation of the best and brightest of all possible qualities in the universe could certainly go some way to lifting one’s heart.

Thanks to all.