December 4, 2005 at 3:51 am #9093
Wow, some interesting stuff here over the past month. Good entertainment for me as I recover from knee surgery.
Max has brought up the importance of merit many times here and elsewhere. I am guessing it is the work of Bill Bodri that has influenced this view.
I was pretty hesitant to go through Bill’s work(I purchased most of his e books)since most of it is very long and like someone said he tends to repeat the same points over and over again for hundreds of pages.
From my understanding, the merit teachings take into account the Buddhist and Hindu view of ‘Indra’s Net’ that all beings simutaneously interpenetrate and are reflected in eachother and an act of kindness(or hate) towards any part of the net(universe)would have the effect of being reflected back(karma)..or something.
What I am not sure I agree with is the point Max seems to place as so important that merit is most important of all. And you better work at creating merit otherwise you have no hope of enlightenment.
I don’t think it is a bad teaching no doubt Buddhas have always taught Do Good Do not do evil Do Good for others etc. But the teaching to sort of “go out of the way” to ” create” merit seems somehow untaoist to me and not what Lao Tzu was talking about.
It seems Taoism is about simplicity and returning to natural virtue..te. I don’t think going out of your way to do good good deeds for others is necissarily true te .true te, it seems, would flow efforltessly from the heart as ana ct of love of one human being to another(or other life form, animal etc.)
So my feeling about this is saying merit is most important is sort of putting the cart before the horse since through meditation(it seems) and study of taoist philosphy and nature in general you develop natural te which is in alignment with Tao.
The sun shines it’s warmth on all it doesn’t think ” Oh, what kind of merit will I get from this”. So the higher forces of anture are efforlessly giving there love and energy to the rest of the universe without much though of “self”.
Getting rid of the view of a small independant self seems to be the root of what blocks natural te from being everyday acts of kindness.
But am interested in others views on this for clarification. Since Lao Tzu(whether he was a single man or group of people) thought it so important to put it in the title of Tao Te Ching.
It seems to be a subtle issue to me.December 4, 2005 at 5:09 am #9094
Just to be clear. I think charities are awesome and help people when possible but just trying to detuct whether it is really the path to be thinking of helping people in order to create merit or help people because it is good to help people!
I guess it is a mute point since it’s obviously not a bad thing if you get some spiritual rewards for doing good deeds but mentally isn’t it better to help people out of a sense of compassion and love not out of a sense of personal gain?
Or is the idea here that many people do not have a sense of service to others, love and compassion so they should just help others on faith that it is the good thing to do until it one day occurs to them they are benifitting from it and they are getting the love, rewards etc back to them and it’s all good and you feel warm inside.
I am sure M Winn has his own views on this which would be interesting to here.December 4, 2005 at 7:05 am #9096
Hi golden sun.
I’ve always felt that merit, and the idea of karma that “if I do good deeds toward others, then good will come to me” is just subtle greed. It appears to me in such a case, that the reason a person helps that guy change his tyre or assists an old lady etc is so that something “good” will come to them in return. So subtle selfish gain seems to be the motive.
I remenber a story where an emporer asked Bodidharma what wil be his reward in heaven for building so many temples and other good deeds. Bodidharma replied “…..heaven? you will go to the 7th hell”.
He meant that the emporers’ motives for such ‘virtuous’ acts were just selfishlly motivated. He was doing them with the idea of some future reward.
Compassion, I agree with you, seems to be a spontaneous flowering of meditation/cultivation. You just feel yourself becomming more compassionate and sensitive, not only toward other people, but everything.
– matDecember 4, 2005 at 7:07 am #9098
Heya Golden Sun,
There is a definitely a sense in which some merit-wrangling can be a bit hypocritical, because it could build up your ego. You could sit at home at night going, “Aren’t I wonderful? Look what I did!” It reminds me of that little bon mot – was it C.S.Lewis? – “She’s the sort of woman who lives for others, you can tell the others by their hunted expression.”
However it’s possible to overstate this. Even if you do it with this attitude, it is still doing good – it’s just that, by pumping yourself up with it, you inevitably start to be condescending or pompous or self-righteous or angry with other people or whatever it is. You start to think that your merit gives you licence. One could imagine someone very kind to anonymous strangers and very unkind to their own child, for example. If you help someone and go to sleep thinking of the smile on their face, it is different from going to sleep thinking of the smile on your own.
I think the real point is what Michael is saying – “the good” is only perceptible personally. To do good you must know the good and no-one else can tell it to you. It is inalienably connected to your true self, which can be learned from no set of rules. Not only does the sun shine unselfishly, it does so because it knows this is what it there to do. It understands its destiny and is at peace with it, and it’s ready to get up every day and give it everything.
The thing is that, when you find what is the true you, you might find “the good” in this or that situation is different from what someone else tells you it is. It’s only self-knowledge that produces good. If you do a “good meritorious deed” and then look at the faces of those watching, silently asking ‘was that a good deed?’, then you are not really acting on the good, only on other people’s ideas of it.
best, NNDecember 4, 2005 at 10:46 am #9100
I get a little confused with this notion of merit… I understand that if you do ‘good’ deeds you get ‘good’ merit and if you do ‘bad’ deeds then you get ‘bad’ merit (is that right? – or do you just not get merit if you do ‘bad’?)
My confusion is how it is decided whether whatever deed you have done is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I was thinking maybe the good/bad dichotomy comes from the person doing the deed, but then I remembered of Harold Shipman (those in the UK will probably know who I’m talking about) – he honestly thought that he was doing ‘good’ deeds when he killed off hundreds of his elderly patients – does he get good merit?
Then I thought maybe the person who the deed is done to, is the deciding factor whether the deed is good or bad. But then I thought of the common occurance of homless heroin addicts on the streets of London. They’re always begging for money ‘to stay in a hostel’ – and with the money they buy their fix. So if you give them money, in their minds it’s a good deed because they’re a little closer to getting high, but overall this obviously fuels their downward spiral. (I tend not to give money to beggers, sometimes if I have some food on me I give them that – or if they’re near a coffee shop and it’s cold I may buy them a coffee.)
There are many other examples of second-person contradictions – such as the guy (in holland?) that wanted to be eaten, or the many masochists that enjoy being severely beaten. Or (since I already mentioned heroin addicts) if say your brother is an addict and you lock him in a room so that he stops his addiction – is this a good deed? (I bet you anything the addict brother wouldnt think so).
If I’m in a different country with homless people that dont take drugs, and I decide to give one some money (that = good right?), but then I didn’t give money to all the other beggars (= bad?). What if the other beggars get jelous of the one that got my money and beat the crap out of him?
If you kill the man that has enslaved (and perhaps tortured or killed some of) your family (thus freeing many people at the expense of the death of just one) – is that a good deed?
I’m still confused as to who decides whether a deed is good or bad… and how is this decision made? – is ther some form of objective meritmeter? Maybe there is some all-seeing god that calculates these things – but that still leaves contradictions – how does he decide in the example above whether the enslaved man did a good deed or not? Does this God carry favor with some and not others?(is Goerge Bush doing a good deed by killing off ‘terrorists’? Or are the terrorists doing a good deed by killing off their envaders/enslavers?)
This merit thing seems so simple on the surface, but ‘the way it works’ seems to be based on a very outdated Aristotelian logic so it throws up contstant contradictions for me – maybe one of you can explain it in a way that would make sense to me?! This would be very helpfull, as I have the same reservations about karma. Yet I can see there is something to it (at the moment I believe in genetic memories and such, so this karma thing has some basis for me).December 4, 2005 at 10:58 am #9102
Great ideas and contradictions ff. The right and wrong thing is before Aristotle just go back the the Garden Of Eden. It is so rooted in our minds. I am not sure how a person raised without that polarizing story views merit.
I know that my practice develops a relationship with inner virtues. I guess I tend to use that inner resonance to them as my ‘meritmeter’. I make mistakes and cause problems and learn by deepening my practice and inner communications. It is feeling based for me and not a thought. It is a full body experience and a release as to the outcome. It is trust based it will unfold according to others karma or needs or spiral of development that I cannot control.
But the ‘meter’ is definitely internal and rooted in my self cultivation, babaDecember 4, 2005 at 6:25 pm #9104
Thanks so much, baba. Your post really made me think.
I guess that as you get more and more in contact with your inner core, the more your outward actions are congruent with your inner self – this usually translates to actions that can be deemed ‘good’ by some people.
What I meant by Aristotelian logic is the way that people (especially in the west) tend to label things with simple words… and generaly in an ‘A or B’ structure (black or white, good or bad, yin or yang). Firstly when you label something with a word it tends to make you feel as if you’ve ‘worked it all out’, it often stops any further logical thought about the matter – since you’ve already ‘worked it out’. Aristotelian logic also only works if there is an objective value to something (and when you label something it automatically makes it objective). For example in Aristotelian thought you could take a stick and say “the stick is 5 inches long”, the length of the stick is part of its identity – and 5 inches is an objective label for its identity. However in modern sicence the stick can not possibly be objectively 5 inches long, since if it was traveling on a very fast spaceship and you measured it from the slow-moving earth it would actully measure much shorter. It’s called special relativity.
I mentioned in a previous post how words like naturally, easily, effortlessly etc. can stop the evaluative part of your mind. In the same way, if someone that you think highly of (whether s/he is a teacher, parent, president or police-person) says “A is good, B is bad” then you tend to accept it as ‘true’ without really evaluating exactly what’s going on. So perhaps Dr Harold Shipman, who killed hundreds of elderly people had a little program in his mind that said “suffering = bad” so he thought that to end the suffering (in whatever way possible) will = good.
I’m still confused with this merit thing; the structure of how it works (as I understand it currently) opperates in an Aristotelian way; i.e. there is an obective measurement of ‘goodness’ so if this is the case I’d like to know how the goodness is measured and who or what measures it. And if it doesn’t operate in the way I think it does, I’d like to know how it really works. baba, your way of doing it seems very different with the way Max (for example) seems to think of it. So I’d really appreciate a clarification from someone who has some experience with gaining ‘outward’ merit.December 4, 2005 at 6:58 pm #9106
Heya .f –
>>I’d like to know how it really works. baba, your way of doing it seems very different with the way Max (for example) seems to think of it<< I'm no expert by any means, but I would say this: if you have to *think* about it at all, this isn't what is meant by "merit" as I understand it - or "goodness" would be my term. The "objective measure" doesn't exist in the way you are concerned about, so try not to worry about it! Although the measure is objective it is still ultimately your own. Endless worrying about what is right doesn't help and is indeed, I feel, a legacy of social religion that we could well do without. Those "laws" are social ones, not spiritual. It is a question of noting how you feel, that's all. Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me there is nothing more to it than that. In your Shipman example you were trying to judge a man's actions by some, as you put it, "Aristotelian measure" - but this isn't necessary. You aren't required to judge anyone else. How do you feel about what he did? This is all that matters. Get away from the idea that there is some list of perfect ways to behave, esp. if they are "don't"s. Or that would be my advice. When it comes time to act, simply act as best you can and again note how the result feels. Am I being too simplistic here? best NNDecember 4, 2005 at 7:31 pm #9108
>Am I being too simplistic here?< A little lol. I dont subscribe to the good/bad either/or aristotelian world view. I'm not worried about it and I dont tend to think whether what I'm doing is good or bad - I just do it. I believe that good/bad is completely relative, and so makes absolutely no sense to think in those terms. >In your Shipman example you were trying to judge a man’s actions by some, as you put it, “Aristotelian measure” – but this isn’t necessary.< What I was trying to point out here was the relative nature of this whole good/bad phenomenon. From Shipman's point of view what he did was good, from the point of view of the legal system what he did was bad. >It is a question of noting how you feel, that’s all.< So if Shipman felt good about what he did, does that mean he got good merit? Another example that would illustrate the same point would be the case of the suicide bombers. From their point of view they are doing a very good deed, from the point of view of the people injured by suicide bombers they are doing something very 'bad'. So would the suicide bomber get merit or not? (I'm pointing out the contradictions inherent in this merit system, as I understand it currently - that's why I'm asking for further clarification). >When it comes time to act, simply act as best you can and again note how the result feels.< That's pretty much how i do it - although i never think whether what I'm doing is good/bad. I remember once, while traveling on the underground I offered my seat to an elderly lady - who got really angry for some reason. So it's again about 'points of view' - from my point of view what i did was helpfull - from the lady's point of view what i did demeaned her self image. >The “objective measure” doesn’t exist in the way you are concerned about< that's exactly what I'm trying to point out. However, it seems to me that the merit thing cant operate without this 'objective' measure - I'd like to be proven wrong if possible.December 4, 2005 at 7:42 pm #9110
That’s what I meant when I said that it is a spontaneous flowering of meditaion/cultivation. It just arises in the present, and you go with it. And because it is of the present moment, it is alive.
I agree, because that thinking will probably be sourced from memory or some idea about what is right/wrong, which is almost always based on what someone or some group has told you, and a heap of conditioned baggage comes with that.
I found the inner smile and wuji qigong seem to be opening the heart to it’s true nature. I the heart KNOWS.
Yeah it’s simplistic, but isn’t life simple?
Thanx for your posts. – matDecember 4, 2005 at 8:34 pm #9112
I think your thinking is clear, but you are confronting a relifious belief from a particular form of Buddhism whose presuppositions you may not share. Those presuppositions have not been made clear really by Max, who would help things along here by clarifying what is Merit and who decides it according to his buddhist tradition.
I believe this notion of Merit is embedded in a particular karmic view of humanity, i.e. that we are born because of past bad deeds and have to work them off by acquiring merit until we are released from this physical purgatory/hell/less plane. If you don’t accept that, then this presentation of Merit will not make sense.
I personally don’t buy the “humans are the product of past sins” religious theory, I think it is the worst kind of dogma-doggerel that infects many of the fear based religions.
It sounds like you have had some academic training in philosophy. I think you would get a lot from the Daodejing (Tao te ching): A Philosophical Translation by Roger Ames and DAvid Hall
Not only do I consider it to be the most accurate translation, but it has clear explication of the philosophical implications of many taoist ideas, and how they are radically different from other religions, being based on the notion of unique process in each moment. I think it recently came out in paperback.
Everyone on this board should have this ibook. Along with the Total I Ching.
My humble opinion.
michaelDecember 4, 2005 at 8:59 pm #9114
Hey .f –
>>So if Shipman felt good about what he did, does that mean he got good merit?< < Yeah, ok, I don't understand that either! Whatever way you approach it, it seems to come down to how you behave externally in comparison with someone else. Alright, I give up, how *is* this supposed to work? And doesn't Lao Tzu say something about everything being ok until the sage comes along with his talk of benevolence and righteousness? In other words - >>it seems to me that the merit thing cant operate without this ‘objective’ measure<< Then it can't operate! Still too simplistic I suppose. But I'm beginning to feel discussing it doesn't help! When I sit and meditate about it things seem alot clearer... sheesh. best NNDecember 4, 2005 at 9:13 pm #9116
Michael: >>I believe this notion of Merit is embedded in a particular karmic view of humanity, i.e. that we are born because of past bad deeds and have to work them off by acquiring merit until we are released from this physical purgatory/hell/less plane. If you don’t accept that, then this presentation of Merit will not make sense.<< Michael is that really what Buddhists believe? I must admit I know very little about Buddhism? Is this then why they say we are here to suffer, etc.? If this is what Buddhists think... well I had no idea, that's all! How weird... NNDecember 4, 2005 at 9:41 pm #9118
Thanks, Michael this makes things a little clearer…
>Those presuppositions have not been made clear really by Max, who would help things along here by clarifying what is Merit and who decides it according to his buddhist tradition.< Yes, it seems that Max is the most qualified person to answer my questions. And yes, I dont agree with that notion of karma (since i dont (currently) believe in some objective, dualistic 'god' somehow calculating whether your deeds were good or bad) - however i have a feeling that there is something to the notion of karma and 'past lives' - inherited tribal/genetic memories make some sense to me and so does Jung's collective unconcious - I feel that somehow those things are connected with this popular notion of karma. I wonder what Taoists think of karma/past lives etc? Thanks for the book recomendations - I've been looking for a decent translation of the Daodejing and your recomended book (along with the Total I Ching) are on my wish-list ready for my next amazon spending spree! PS my philosophical training comes from reading too much... I'm glad I've found such an elegant, body-centered system as Taoist Alchemy.December 4, 2005 at 9:51 pm #9120
>Alright, I give up, how *is* this supposed to work?< lol - I'm glad you're also confused, it means I'm not being too unreasonable with my line of thinking/questioning. >Still too simplistic I suppose. But I’m beginning to feel discussing it doesn’t help!< not simplistic at all, I think you got my point now. I'd agree that discussing it any further without some input from someone who agrees with and understands this Merit model will not lead to any further understanding. thanks for your posts - I'm enjoying reading them very much, you seem to have a similar agnostic outlook on things as me. PS. you may also enjoy this excellent forum: http://www.thetaobums.com
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.