The way to make merit

Dhamma is not a trivial matter. Listen attentively and wholeheartedly, as it is beneficial to your lives. We do not have much time. We were born, then we got old, got sick, and died. No matter how much wealth and possessions we accumulate, we cannot rely on them. Unlike those things, with dhamma, it is something we can truly rely on. Nevertheless ,it is regrettable that many Thai people, though living in a truly Buddhist city, do not realize its value. On the other hand, Westerners are interested, as are the Chinese. In countries where Buddhism is not prevalent, the people desire it. We Thai people have been with Buddhism since birth, yet we do not know its true value.

Currently, there are 1.6 million Thai people with mental illnesses, and this number is likely to be higher now. This statistic is from the year 2021. Mental illnesses used to mainly affect the elderly, with conditions such as depression and loneliness. However, now it affects middle-aged individuals, who are stressed about making a living. Now, even young children are affected; they feel stressed as they have to compete in their studies. Life lacks warmth in the family. Those of you who are older may recollect about the warmth of our large families from the past.

These days, each family is preoccupied with its own problems. Every man for himself. Many cannot talk to anyone about their issues but keep them hidden inside. They don’t know who is a true friend and who is a real enemy. Consequently, life becomes lonely, deserted, and full of stress. It’s unfortunate that most people do not understand Buddhism. They think Buddhism is about going to temples to make merit. Nowadays, temples are adorned with various images of reverence and offer new merchandise for people to worship and donate to sustain themselves. People do not go to temples to seek dhamma but to seek fortune, wealth, and luck. They come to ask for blessings. These things are not the essence of Buddhism. Buddhism is about relying on oneself.

Karma over destiny

We must anticipate it, and yes, everyone already knows this. One day, we will grow old, we will get sick, and we will die. One day, we will have to part from those we love. Sometimes, we will have to encounter people we dislike. Many times, various desires and cravings arise, but they are never satisfied because our desires are endless. Once one desire is fulfilled, another arises. Whenever desires arise, suffering arises in our hearts.

Lord Buddha teaches us to understand the truth of life, to see that it is ordinary for us to age, to get sick, and to die. It is common for us to have to part from things we care for, from those we love and from what satisfies us. It is typical for us to encounter things we dislike from time to time. It is normal for desires to arise and not be satisfied. Our desires have no end as they keep expanding endlessly. Once we get one thing, we desire more and more.

Lord Buddha taught us to see the truth of life, that life is impermanent and uncertain. People in this world keep seeking wealth, fame, and happiness, even though these things are just temporary. They stay with us for a while and then they are gone. Having wealth brings benefits, especially evident in today’s world. Some thrive in business and make easy money. But soon they face sudden downfall, accumulating debts and losses just as easily.

During good economic times, there is an influx of foreigners coming into the country. Previously, there were many Chinese, Japanese, and Westerners coming into Thailand. Like in Sriracha province where I live, there are many elderly foreigners coming to live. They enjoy their lives here as the cost of living is cheaper than in their home countries. Thai people rejoice when large numbers of foreigners come in as it boosts the property market. Unfortunately, now that their countries are facing an economic downturn, some foreign countries that were once wealthy are now struggling too. They lack the purchasing power during this difficult time. As we rely so much on them, we also struggle. Property businesses have become challenging.

This is another time where in only a few years, the economy booms and then stumbles. Unlike in ancient times when life was simpler and people could easily make a living by farming or fishing. Nowadays, lives are much more complex. If we don’t understand this, we easily get lost. When opportunities arise, we become intemperate. Wealth comes easily, we spend it easily. But when those opportunities vanish, our spirits plummet. That’s the reason why so many people suffer from depression and mental illness today. Thai people who suffer have reached millions.

In the past, when people felt mentally uncomfortable, they would go to the temple to relieve their suffering by seeking solace with the monks. Nowadays, even when we go to the temple, there’s no guarantee that our suffering will be alleviated. We’re unsure who to turn to, so some seek solace from various statues. Some statues depict Lord Buddha, while others represent deities. We plead for relief, but these statues can’t help us because they are merely objects. However, engaging in these practices can bring us some peace of mind. Lord Buddha teaches us to be self-reliant, not to rely on external forces or supernatural powers. We don’t rely on past karma either.

Indeed, each of us carries our past karma. It determines our appearance, gender, socio-economic status, and other aspects of our lives. However, the crucial point is that when the effects of past karma manifest in our present circumstances, we must create new, positive karma. If we engage in wholesome actions, our future will be bright. On the contrary, if past karma brings unfavorable consequences and still we continue to act unwholesomely, our situation may worsen. Some individuals face challenging circumstances like due to past karma, but they refuse to resign themselves to fate. They persistently strive to improve their lives, refusing to succumb to their circumstances. They work diligently, seek opportunities, and surround themselves with people who can provide helpful advice on how to improve their lives. As a result, their lives improve.

Based on that, you know the influence of past karma and celestial bodies is beyond our control. They affect those who believe in them, regardless of our actions. Therefore, there’s no need to worry about which year is luckier or more auspicious. The movement of stars and celestial bodies is inconsequential. What truly matters is our own actions. If we are born into poverty, we can create karma that leads to wealth. Lord Buddha teaches us practical ways to improve our lives: earning a livelihood, saving, investing, and spending wisely, as well as choosing good company. Associating with negative influences can lead to downfall, engaging in harmful activities leads to suffering. This is the essence of Lord Buddha’s teachings, which can truly solve our problems. It depends on our actions. If we practice earnestly, our lives will improve. Regardless of our past, if we act positively in the present, our future will be bright.

Therefore, we Buddhists do not resign ourselves to fate nor do we believe in predetermined destinies. If the celestial beings wish to influence, they may do so, but karma transcends even celestial influences. Therefore, we strive to cultivate virtue within ourselves. By doing so, our lives will progress steadily towards tranquility and happiness.

Do good deeds. Diminish your selfishness

Today I am here to deliver a sermon over Khun Thana’s funeral. Khun Thana, who is usually referred to as “Pi Thana,” is a disciple of Wat Suan Santidham. He is considered an elder brother figure because he was one of the first disciples of Luangpor, assisting me with works since the early days. There are 2 people in particular who have assisted in the work since the beginning. And Khun Thana is one of them. Khun Thana had helped with the work since Luangpor’s first day of ordination in Kanchanaburi. He had always provided assistance.

When the temple receives numerous donations of goods, Khun Thana was the one who volunteered to deliver these items to help the needy temples. At our temple, we receive so many goods that you guys offer. Sometimes, it’s more than we need. I then send it to help the less fortunate temples. Khun Thana was the one who took on the responsibility of delivering these items. He was so diligent and hardworking, transporting goods via delivery truck every month.

He had been doing that consistently without expecting any benefits in return, except for the satisfaction of knowing that he had made a difference and helped those in need. When the temple lacked certain supplies, we informed Khun Thana and requested that he take care of it on the temple’s behalf. He then would purchase those supplies from Bangkok. It’s not that he bought those items for us for free, but it was a favor we asked him to take care of. He then helped wholeheartedly. I could say, he had assisted in every possible way, without hesitation, in every matter.

One of the most important tasks he had helped was propagating the dhamma teachings. Since my ordination, aside from Khun Thana, there was no one else to assist. Khun Thana has been of great assistance since my ordination. Even before my ordination, one of the Venerable Masters, Luangpor Put Thaniyo, who at that time resided at Wat Pa Salawan, had instructed me to engage in propagation dhamma for the people in the city. As I was not from the countryside; I was born and raised in Bangkok. I also worked in Bangkok until I resigned. As I was a city person, venerable Luangpor Put advised that I teach the fundamental principles that I have practiced with Luangpu Dul, which involves introspection and understanding oneself.

Luangpor Put mentioned that if it’s not conveyed, those who should benefit may miss out on dhamma. Therefore, when instructed by the Venerable teachers, I since then have to carry out propagation work. I have done that since before my ordination. After ordination, I continued teaching every day, with different people coming each day, repeating the teachings over and over. It became repetitive. One day Khun Thana and I discussed and we thought it would be better to publish fundamental dhamma books. Any interested person could read them, and I wouldn’t have to repeat the same teaching over and over. Thus, I began writing the first volume, “The Path of Enlightenment,” which consisted of just a few pages.

Then Khun Thana took my writing to photocopying. Initially, we hadn’t even gone to the printing press yet. It was just photocopied and distributed. Both of us worked together from the very beginning, with not much money. With little money we had, we invested it in building a monk’s residence in Kanchanaburi. So, when we received donations, we spent them to print books. As we continued to photocopy and distribute, Khun Thana then had an idea to print books and distribute as photocopying had become expensive. Printing and distributing books would be better. Therefore, Khun Thana became the very first person to start printing books on Luangpor’s teachings. Then we kept printing and distributing continuously.

Then there was this one monk. At that time, he hadn’t been ordained yet. Whenever I gave a sermon, he requested to record a tape for his own listening. Then he put a label on the tape which said “Do not publish”, but it created an opposite effect. Then we went on and recorded tapes to distribute for a while. Many people even brought their own tape recorder to record the sermon. Then, as the CD era came, Khun Thana then started making CDs, starting from disc volume 1, and continued to produce CDs gradually until now, reaching disc volume 100. By the time they reached, the Dhamma Media Foundation, which had taken over the work from Khun Thana, decided that they wouldn’t produce anymore CDs. So the 100th production of CDs was the final one, coinciding with Khun Thana’s life. Disc 100th happened to be around the time Khun Thana passed away. He started making them from the first CD.

So, as we started distributing books and CDs, people would read them and then donate whatever they could. Khun Thana collected the money and allocated it to print more books. As more money accumulated, he eventually decided to establish a foundation. Keeping the funds under his own name would have been a flaw. So, he founded the “Luangpor Pramote Pamojjo Foundation.” Khun Thana became the first chairman of the foundation. As the work progressed over time, it expanded continuously. Khun Thana did all this without expecting any personal benefits, dedicating himself wholeheartedly. However, as the workload increased, and coincidentally, he became ill. He then therefore decided to resign from his position as the chairman of the foundation.

Nowadays, we have appointed new generations to continue the work. It’s like passing the torch from one generation to another, ensuring a seamless transition. It is obvious that this transition has been smooth. Even after Khun Thana’s passing, the work hasn’t faltered because he had planned it meticulously. He ensured a smooth succession and preservation of the work of spreading and perpetuating Lord Buddha’s teachings.

Khun Thana did not just assist Luangpor with numerous tasks. He also extended his support to anyone who needed help or guidance. During the early stages, people contacted Luangpor through Khun Thana. He would assist and provide guidance on various matters. People respected him and referred to him as “elder bro” because he contributed wholeheartedly to the work. He assisted everyone, whether they were acquainted or not. That was the kindness he spreaded. Eventually, when he wasn’t feeling well, he began to step back, allowing the newer generation to take over the responsibilities.


The wise man’s way of life

About half a month before Khun Thana passed away, Luangpor thought of him. Pra Ajarn Ar also agreed that we should quickly go visit Khun Thana. Normally, whenever Luangpor visited someone, that person would pass away shortly afterward. Maybe it was time to visit Khun Thana, who I always referred to as Pa Thana. (Pa is a slang word for daddy, or someone who is well respected due to his generosity). Khun Thana enjoyed helping people and always provided support. We then went to visit him around mid-month.

Despite not being able to eat anymore and feeling physically weak, Khun Thana’s appearance remained radiant and cheerful. He told Luangpor that at that moment, he had no worries. Everything had been settled. He had handed over his business to his children, no longer managing it himself. There were no lingering attachments or concerns whatsoever. I looked at him and could not agree more. Khun Thana was smart in managing his life. Even when he was still strong, he lived a life dedicated to benefiting others, selflessly. When he became seriously ill, he was wise in protecting and taking care of his own mental well-being.

About a week after I visited him, Khun Thana sent me an email. Even though it’s rare for people nowadays to still use email. Khun Thana wrote an email to me, which I would read later. His email demonstrated that Khun Thana was not an ordinary person. The letter was dated December 24th, and a week later, on December 31st, Khun Thana passed away. This is what he wrote :

“Farewell Venerable Luangpor, all the time while working on propagating Buddhism, I have been very happy. There are many things that I never knew or experienced before that I have discovered through the dissemination of Buddhism. These are things I had never learned before, such as speeches regarding monks and temples. They just pop up in my mind. I didn’t study them; this understanding just came to me naturally. I have seen things that I never thought existed. But after seeing them, I let go.” This demonstrates that he understood dhamma. Many of us, when we know or see something extraordinary, we don’t let go. The more we know, the more we hold onto it. We grab it until the end, it eats away at our mental health.

Khun Thana was wise. He knew, he was aware, and then he let go. Then his letter continued. “I don’t know how many more days I will still be here. So, I’m writing this letter to ask for your forgiveness. If I have done anything wrong to you, intentionally or unintentionally, kindly forgive me.” See? Even when facing death, he bid farewell, and asked for forgiveness. Then he continued his letter in an old-fashioned manner. “I remember the first time I met Luangpor at Lung Chin’s pavilion. I remember it was New Year’s Day, and I handed a card to you where your car was parked and I told you that I was just a foolish disciple. But you are the one who enlightened me and that has brought me so much happiness.”

Then he continued “If there would be an emergency, I have already passed Luangta Ar’s phone number to my wife.” He called Luangta Ar, while I am still Luangpor! Let me read it again because it’s heartwarming. “If there’s an emergency, I have already passed Luangta Ar’s phone number to my wife”. You guys must wonder why? It is because Luangta Ar is the Chairman of Wat Suan Santidham’s Committee. Khun Thana was a committee member. When he passed, he asked his son to call so they would need to change the committee. This committee member is no longer working.

In summary, he continued, “Kindly grant a forgiveness for everything I have trespassed, whether I can remember or cannot remember. I ask for your forgiveness.” Can you see the wisdom in this? Most people would be regret. Oh my, why do I have to pass so quickly? He was just 69, not even 96. Most people would be regretful and remorseful. But not Khun Thana. He didn’t behave like that. He arranged everything completely. He also had instructed his son to allocate a portion of his money to donate to foundations, to temples, to Luangpor, to Khun Mae. He allocated the money to make merit. He’s still making merit even at his final moment. What he has done throughout his life can direct where he’s going next.


The mind that is not tainted by defilements, will go to a high realm

Here’s my response to him. Do you want to hear it? It’s not about Khun Thana. Yes, you do? Alright, following the resolution. Here’s my response. “You have been contributing to all good deeds alongside me for more than 20 years, advancing the work of propagating dhamma to this point. Countless individuals have benefited and found happiness, even to the grassroots level, because you’ve been the one to illuminate the path first. Then others followed and took over. Death is a natural occurrence.” Do you see? I did not sugarcoat anything. I didn’t say, “Oh, you’re not dead yet. I wish you a joyful life until your grandson has grown up.” No, I did not say that either.

What I mentioned was, “Death is a natural occurrence. When it’s time for your journey, I believe firmly in the collective merits of yourself, of mine, of Luangta Ar and also of Khun Mae’s that these would be sufficient to lead you to a higher realm and closer to the shores of Nirvana. Regarding the forgiveness that you asked for, myself, Ajarn Ar, and Khun Mae grant this to you. And likewise, should I, Ajarn Ar, and Khun Mae ever make a mistake to upset you, we ask for your forgiveness herewith.” It’s like closing an account, isn’t it? Closing our accounts so there’s nothing left to hold onto.

Now, the issue that people are interested in is where does one go after death. Do you want to know? Lord Buddha once said “The mind that is stained by defilements, will go to a low realm. The mind that is not tainted by defilements, will go to a high realm.” The high realms include the human realm, the realm of devas (celestial beings), and the realm of Brahma (the highest deity). And if it’s higher than that, it’s the realm of non-returners. Khun Thana has always declared that he has not yet attained the fruit of enlightenment. Because he wants to help others, not for anything in return. This is a tremendous act of merit, done with a pure heart like this.

As a result, we don’t need to worry about Khun Thana. No need to be concerned about where he will go. He has done beautiful deeds selflessly. This merit is immense, extremely immense. Those who do good deeds but want to stand out, want to be famous, want recognition receive just a tiny bit of merit for themselves. Khun Thana, on the other hand, accumulates merit. He may not be wealthy, but he kept doing merit in countless ways. He did it little by little, but with a pure heart. His merit is immense.

When you attend funerals, you see examples. When you go to funerals, you witness the cremation process. The descendants come to read the eulogy, praising the deceased’s virtues. Some are true, some are not, because our tradition doesn’t speak ill of the dead. We criticize the living because they are still our opponents. We would not want them to be better than us. We tend to get rid of our competitors. But when someone dies, we keep praising them. Some people have nothing to admire, yet we still find something to praise.

As for Khun Thana, he has virtues that should be admired by his own merit. He doesn’t need anyone else to admire him. So we see some examples from him. The first example: being born and dying is inevitable; there’s no escape. The second example: before dying, he has created numerous good virtues, and the result will surely be good. As Lord Buddha mentioned “The mind not accompanied by defilements, happiness is to be expected.” Like Khun Thana’s acts of charity, helping others, he did it without expecting anything in return. That’s a high merit. When people were to perform a merit like this, they would raise their hands above their heads and pray “may wealth come whenever needed and may this life be filled with wealth.” This is tainted with defilements. Doing charity in this way only results in small merits. It’s not a lot of merit because it’s mixed with unwholesomeness.

Therefore, when you do meritable things, make it truly pure. When making merits, it has to diminish your selfishness. Khun Thana has set an example for us. When you do good deeds, you must do so to diminish your selfishness. Always hold on to this principle. For example, when you free the lives of cattle and buffalos on a charity project just so that your health will become as strong as them, not from a pure heart. That is really unwise. But if you do it because you really want to give those animals a chance to continue living, then this merit is much superior to those who do it and expect a result.

Therefore, from now on, learn to perform merit genuinely. You can perform meritable things without having to spend money. When you see someone doing good deeds, you can rejoice in their actions. For example, there’s a former actor who now works as a corpse collector voluntarily. When I heard the news about this individual, I felt delighted. When we feel delighted seeing others doing meritable things, it is called felicitations. Expressing felicitations isn’t just about words; it is felt in the heart. However, when we see someone doing good, we express our felicitations, but deep down, we harbor jealousy, that’s not merit at all. So whether you gain merit or not depends on your own hearts. Simply expressing sincere felicitations already generates a lot of merit.

Let me tell you a story about a lady named Visakha. Ms. Visakha was a special person and an important attendant to Lord Buddha. Once Visakha built a huge sanctuary, which had metal roof and many rooms for the monks to reside in. Her friend wanted to join her and make merit but her friend didn’t have much money. She only had a piece of cloth to offer. When Ms. Visakha saw that cloth, she was unable to decide where to place it. This cloth was the best that her friend could offer. So, Ms. Visakha told her friend to go up on the sanctuary and decide where would best fit for her piece of cloth.

Visakha’s friend then went up and she found that everywhere and every corner where there was supposed to have been cloth, like foot towels or any other cloth, already equipped with one. Visakha had done it well. Finally, she descended to the staircase. This staircase is leading up to the temple. She then spread the cloth on the floor so that when the monks washed their feet, they could step on the cloth before ascending the temple. Do you see? She didn’t have much money, she was not very rich, yet she didn’t feel disappointed that she couldn’t fulfill the merit-making. She did not feel that Visakha had taken all the opportunities to make merit. She didn’t feel that way.

On the contrary, this woman felt delighted that her friend Visakha had such meticulous thoughts and actions that she didn’t know where to place her good cloth. She just laid it as a foot towel. It turned out that this woman passed away soon. Maha Moggallana, who is the left Apostle of Lord Buddha met this woman as an angel. This angel lived comfortably, with abundant wealth and treasures from the donation of just one piece of foot towel cloth.


Act of merit with pure intentions, it becomes significant merit

Therefore, when you engage in acts of merit-making, it depends on whether your intentions are virtuous or sinful. Performing acts of merit with a virtuous heart ensures true merit. Even if you have little or no money, it can still be a great act of merit. Conversely, having a lot of money but performing acts with impure intentions might result in sin rather than true merit. Therefore, the success of merit-making lies in our minds. If we act with pure intentions, it becomes significant merit. However, if our actions are driven by greed, anger, or delusion, it amounts to only minor merit. From now on, let’s strive to perform merit correctly.

Or sometimes, we see others doing good deeds, and we admire and felicitate them, but we don’t do anything ourselves. Just like me, I am old now. I won’t be able to help with funerals or lift heavy loads. Even when I walk, it is already a bit wobbly. Yet, when I see others doing good deeds, I admire and felicitate them. Oh, there are people doing good deeds! On my birthday, I didn’t ask my disciples to bring me anything. This year, I forgot about it. But in previous years, I would ask my disciples to go out and do good deeds, whether it’s donating blood, supporting the Red Cross Society, helping various charities, feeding orphaned children, or providing meals for the elderly. Do whatever they are capable of and then report back to me. I then would admire and felicitate them, saying how pleased I feel that they have gone out to create great virtues. It’s not necessary to bring me anything. If you bring me things, I will just have to distribute it further anyway.

Therefore, when there is an opportunity to do good deeds, grab it. If you wait until you are lying on your deathbed, the opportunity to do good deeds will diminish. All that remains is the mind. If we don’t have a physical body, only the mind remains. Can we still do good deeds? Yes, we can do a lot. We can pray, cultivate virtues, keep the precepts, develop wisdom, and practice insight meditation. These are the greatest merits of all. Merit that is accompanied by mindfulness and wisdom is great merit, while merit that lacks mindfulness and wisdom is minor merit.

Therefore, after you pass away, if you have trained and cultivated your minds well, you can continue to progress. Suppose you are reborn as celestial beings and you are not heedless, then you can still continue to cultivate wisdom and progress until you attain enlightenment. Now, to continue progressing, you must have a good foundation. So, start by practicing dhamma. The first step is to observe the five precepts. Observing the five precepts is sufficient. Every day, have a homebase and as you engage in any action, observe your own mind. For example, when you inhale, know that you are inhaling, and when you exhale, know that you are exhaling. If the mind is restless, acknowledge that it is restless without trying to force it to calm down. If the mind is calm, acknowledge that it is calm without becoming attached to it. Learn to observe and understand your own mind. With mindfulness, concentration becomes easy. Then, once concentration arises, your mind will remain steadfast.

When it comes to cultivating mindfulness, sometimes you struggle to grasp the concept. Therefore, I have introduced a new term with the same meaning: “training the mind to be present.” Do you understand this concept? This is what mindfulness means. Mindfulness is a firm determination. If we go by its literal meaning, it’s the unwavering state of mind. It’s when the mind doesn’t wander or get distracted elsewhere but remains present. People in this world are often distracted, so you have to train yourself so that the mind is present and attentive.

The practice involves having a homebase that the mind is comfortable with, and then continuously being aware of one’s own mind. When the mind is drifting into thoughts, or the mind keeps focusing on the breath, hands, feet, or abdomen, be aware. Continuously observe the behaviors of the mind. Then, the mind will become present. After that, start to learn the truth about the body and mind. This is the concept of practicing the foundations of insight meditation. It is the ultimate form of merit-making. While other forms of merit-making may lead us to become celestial beings at best or even Brahma gods, practicing the foundations of insight meditation allows us to ascend from being human to celestial beings, Brahma gods, or even attain enlightenment. The karmic results of practicing the foundations of insight meditation elevate us even further.

Now, what to do? I suggest you go watch the videos of my teaching that the team has uploaded on YouTube. There are quite a number of them. There are also clips that Luangta Ar and Khun Mae Nuch have taught. Try listening to those too. I cannot give a sermon all in one day. Today I have focused especially on Khun Thana. So, here is an assignment for those of you who love yourselves and fear death, hurry to watch those video clips. Not just what I mentioned but there are many teachings of other masters too. They’re all useful. Listen to them and start practicing. Then your lives will improve more and more.

Well, that’s all for today. No need to give you any blessing. Blessing is just a trick. I’d rather give you encouragement. May all of you be good citizens.

Luangpu Pramote Pamojjo
Wat Suansantidham
8 January 2024