Buddhism 102: Why Do Buddhists Dedicate Merit?

“Again, O Noble-minded Man, what signifies “Turning over all one’s merits (to benefit all sentient beings)”? This means that all one’s merits acquired from commencement of paying the highest homage to all Buddhas, and serving the needs of all beings, shall be transferred to all beings throughout the Dharma-worlds and immeasurable spaces of the universe, wishing them to be happy and free from affliction or illness. All their evil projects will fail, and all their virtuous intentions will be quickly achieved….”

–The Flower Garland Sutra, chapter 34

The emptiness of all phenomena, as we have seen, also means that all things are connected with one another directly or indirectly. As for Buddhists and all sentient beings, a noble deed can help make the world that much better, while a moment of selfishness can degrade it too. It is up to us to decide what world we want to shape.

With this in mind, a tradition that began in early Mahayana Buddhism and continues to this day is the dedication of merit. While this originally started in the Flower Garland Sutra quoted above, it has become an almost universal practice. The idea is simple: whatever good karma or merit we accumulate, we dedicate it to the benefit of other beings, even those we despise, thus making the world that much better.

This practice is not required in Buddhism, but is an expression of interconnectedness of all beings, and Buddhist goodwill. Just as the Bodhisattvas seek to liberate and rescue all beings out of goodwill and compassion, the dedication of merit is a small, but time-honored gesture along the same lines.

Back: How Does Emptiness Apply to Buddhism?

Next: Conclusion