I would like to share with you all some interesting answers presented by the legendary Ven. Nagasena to the sceptical King Menander I Soter on the topic of dedication of merits to the dead:
‘Venerable Nāgasena, these givers when they bestow their offerings, devote them specifically to former (relatives) now departed, saying: “May this gift benefit such and such.” Now do they (the dead) derive any benefit therefrom?’
‘Some do, O king, and some do not.’
‘Which then are they that do, and which do not?’
‘Those who have been reborn in purgatory, O king, do not; nor those reborn in heaven; nor those reborn as animals. And of those reborn as Pretas three kinds do not-the Vantāsikā (who feed on vomit), the Khuppipāsino (who hunger and thirst.), the Nijjhāma-taṇhikā (who are consumed by thirst). But the Paradattūpajīvino (who live on the gifts of others) they do derive profit, and those who bear them in remembrance do so too.’
‘Then, Nāgasena, offerings given by the givers have run to waste, and are fruitless, since those for whose benefit they are given derive no profit therefrom.’
‘No, O king. They run not to waste, neither are fruitless. The givers themselves derive profit from them.’
Another interesting point Nagasena makes is how vice is minute while virtue is great and grand:
‘Venerable Nāgasena, why is it that vice is so limited, and virtue so much more wide-reaching?’
‘Whosoever, O king, in this world gives gifts, and lives in righteousness, and keeps Uposatha, he, glad, right glad, joyful, cheerful, happy, becomes filled with a sweet sense of trust and bliss, and bliss ruling in his heart his goodness grows still more and more abundantly. Like a deep pool of clear water, O king, and into which on one side the spring pours, while on the other the water flows away; so as it flows away it comes again, and there can be no failure there—so, O king, does his goodness grow more and more abundantly. If even through a hundred years, O king, a man were to keep on transferring to others (the merit of) any good he had done, the more he gave it away the more would his goodness grow, and he would still be able to share it with whomsoever he would. This, O king, is the reason why virtue is so much the greater of the two.
‘But on doing evil, O king, a man becomes filled with remorse, and the heart of him who feels remorse cannot get away (from the thought of the evil he has done), it is forcibly bent back on it, thrown back on it, obtains no peace ; miserable, burning, abandoned of hope, he wastes away, and gaining no relief from depression, he is, as it were, possessed with his woe! just, O king, as a drop of water, falling on a dry river bed with its mighty sandbanks rising and falling in undulations along its crooked and shifty course, gains not in volume, but is swallowed up on the very spot where it fell, just so, O king, is a man, when he has done wrong, overcome with remorse, and the heart of him who feels remorse cannot get away from the thought of the evil he has done, it is forcibly bent back on it, thrown back on it, obtains no peace; miserable, burning, abandoned of hope, he wastes away, and gaining no release from his depression, he is, as it were, swallowed up of his woe. This is the reason, O king, why vice is so mean.’
Ven. Nagasena was indeed a wise man!