Merit (Buddhism)

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Merit (Sanskrit puṇya, Pāli puñña) is a concept in Buddhism/Hinduism. It is that which accumulates as a result of good deeds, acts, or thoughts and which carries over throughout the life or the subsequent incarnations. Such merit contributes to a person's growth towards spiritual liberation. Merit can be gained in a number of ways. In addition, according to the Mahayana Sutra of The Great Vows of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, one can "transfer" 1/7 merit of an act they have performed to a deceased loved one such as in the Shitro practice in order to diminish the deceased's suffering in their new existence. Pariṇāmanā (Sanskrit) may be rendered as 'transfer of merit' or 'dedication' and involves the transfer of merit as a cause to bring about an effect.

Three bases of merit[edit]

The Pali canon identifies three bases of merit (Pali: puññakiriyavatthu). In the Puññakiriyavatthusuttaṃ ("Meritorious actions discourse," AN 8.36 or A 8.4.6),[1] the Buddha identifies these three bases:

In the "Sangiti Sutta" ("Chanting together discourse," DN 33), verse 38, Ven. Sariputta identifies the same triad: dāna, sīla, bhāvanā.[2]

In the Khuddaka Nikaya's Itivuttaka (Iti. 1.22),[3] the three bases are defined as: giving (dānassa), self-mastery (damassa) and refraining (saññamassā).[4] Later in this same sutta, the triad is restated as: giving (dāna), a life of mental calm (sama-cariya)[5] and a mind of good-will (metta-citta).[3]


Buddhist monks earn merit through mindfulness, meditation, chanting and other rituals.

A post-canonical commentary, elaborating on the canonically identified meritorious triad of dana-sila-bhavana (see D.III,218), states that lay devotees can make merit by performing these seven more specific acts:

  1. honoring others (apacayana-maya)
  2. offering service (veyyavacca-maya)
  3. involving others in good deeds (pattidana-maya)
  4. being thankful for others' good deeds (pattanumodana-maya)
  5. listening to Teachings (dhammassavana-maya)
  6. instructing others in the Teachings (dhammadesana-maya)
  7. straightening one's own views in accord with the Teachings (ditthujukamma)[6]


In China, it is believed that merits are quantified in some merit ledgers (功過格) and are able to offset bad karma, such as those in the Jade Record or the Liao-Fan's Four Lessons.[7][8][9][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Upalavanna (n.d.), sutta 6.
  2. ^ Walshe (1995), p. 485.
  3. ^ a b Thanissaro (2001).
  4. ^ The Itivuttaka triad of giving, self-mastery and refraining parallels the Anguttara and Digha Nikaya triads if "self-mastery" is taken as being synonymous with "mental development" (bhāvanā) and "refraining" as being synonymous with "virtue" (sīla).
  5. ^ Thanissaro (2001) translates "sama-cariya" as "a life in tune." However, assuming that there is parallelism between "sama-cariya," "dama" and "bhāvanā," then translating "sama" as "mental calm" (as suggested by Rhys Davids & Stede, 1921–25, p. 681, entry for "sama1") – alluding to concentrative skill – seems preferable.
  6. ^ D.A.III.999 cited in Payutto (1997), chapter 20, "The devotee."
  7. ^ 《太上感應篇》、《太微仙君功過格》等善惡功過說與民俗信仰 蕭登福
  8. ^ 功過格彙集
  9. ^ 功過格匯集1
  10. ^ 地獄行〔之十五〕善惡功過格錄


  • Payutto, P.A. (1997, trans. from Thai by Bruce Evans). A Constitution for Living. Buddhadhamma Foundation. Retrieved 2007-11-09 from "Buddhist Scriptures Information Retrieval" (budsir) at
  • Walshe, Maurice O'C. (1995). The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-103-3.

Lay Theravada Practices: For a Fortunate Rebirth

FAITH (Saddhā) GIVING (Dāna) VIRTUE (Sīla) MIND (Bhāvanā) WISDOM (Paññā)

Buddha ·
Dhamma · Sangha

Charity ·

5 Precepts ·
8 Precepts

Mettā ·

4 Noble Truths ·
3 Characteristics

Based on: Dighajanu Sutta, Velama Sutta, Dhammika Sutta.