V 1-11 Difference between Benevolent Deeds and Meritorious Deeds 善事和功德的区别
Disclaimer: The translations are not official nor endorsed by 2OR, so please just treat it as a ‘fan-based’ translation. The Buddha-Dharma is profound. No matter how you convey it, it won’t be completely perfect. Because the Buddha-Dharma is an experience, it’s an awakening 【佛法深奥无比，怎么写，都不会是究竟圆满。佛法是一种悟】. Please enjoy, and I hope it serves as a good filler until the official English version comes out.
The following idiom may be familiar to you, “Benevolence is repaid with benevolence. Malice is repaid with malice.” From the perspective of Buddhism, this is correct. Benevolent deeds and thoughts refer to having good conduct and notions, all of which are recorded and then karmically rewarded when the time comes. The same goes with malicious thoughts and deeds, which are also recorded, and appropriate punishments shall be served. As the phrase goes, “retribution will be served unfailingly”. What is worth knowing is that the karmic rewards from benevolent deeds and thoughts are not able to counteract the karmic retribution brought about by our evil deeds and thoughts. In other words, if someone who has performed numerous benevolent deeds has also committed one serious malicious deed, they will receive their positive karmic reward but will not be able to escape their karmic retribution either. That explains why some acclaimed kind-hearted people suffer in hell after they pass away.
The meritorious deed is a highly emphasised element in Buddhism. What are meritorious deeds and what good does it do? Meritorious deeds are benevolent deeds and thoughts which are only considered to be meritorious if a vow of the deed was made in front of the Bodhisattvas. In the absence of such a gesture, our benevolent deeds and thoughts, regardless if they are from one’s intention or done under the influence of Buddhism, shall remain at the level of self-expression. Take as an example; if a person has been practising vegetarianism for many years but did not make a vow in front of the Bodhisattvas, their practice can only be regarded as their personal lifestyle preference. This explains the importance of making a vow to practise vegetarianism in front of Bodhisattva as the practice shall then become a meritorious action in our resolution to refrain from killing. Therefore, we must make a resolution in performing all benevolent and charitable deeds, be it in helping others, filial piety towards our parents, or affection towards our siblings. However, there is an exception, i.e. benevolent deeds performed at Buddhist places of worship such as the temple and Guan Yin Hall. Deeds performed at these places are naturally considered meritorious, hence making a separate resolution is unnecessary. Just like how our documents need to bear the signature of the JP (Justice of the Peace) to be legally binding, benevolent deeds and thoughts are only considered to be meritorious if a resolution has been made and witnessed by a Bodhisattva.
What is the purpose of meritorious blessings? All of us know the implications of karmic obstacles and negative karma. They are like the viruses in a computer program hiding in a person’s Alaya consciousness. When the time comes, they will be incited and take effect on the person. This explains why a perfectly healthy person could suddenly become critically ill, get involved in an accident or encounter a catastrophe. There are some whose negative karma are so weighty that they constantly face problems throughout their lives, and their complexions are dull. They always blame everybody and everything but themselves. If one continues to commit malicious deeds and acts of killing in their present life, even if they have residual karmic rewards, their malicious deeds will transform into negative karmic seeds which will be planted in the Alaya Consciousness. Alaya Consciousness is the Eighth Consciousness - the fundamental consciousness. In this level of consciousness, there are countless karmic seeds, that could trigger a person’s benevolent or malicious behaviour (it predominantly refers to a person’s line of thought). For negative karmas stored in the Alaya Consciousness hereto, ONLY significant meritorious blessings can penetrate and counteract, resulting in the effect of its purification. Like the stanza which states:
“The body is a Bodhi tree, The mind a standing mirror bright. At all times polish it diligently, And let no dust alight.”
We are reliant on our meritorious blessings to purify the defilements in our mind. Hence, one of the most important functions of meritorious blessings is to eliminate and counteract negative karma, and that should be the primary aim of our cultivation. Only when negative karma is eliminated can our mind become tranquil and peaceful, thus allowing us to gain wisdom, leading to the possibility for eventual enlightenment.