Joyfully Sharing the Merit
June 21, 2007
Dear Still Water Friends,
Recently I noticed that after many years of meditation, my sitting practice wasn’t particularly enjoyable. I was spending the entire time thinking about things or trying very hard not to think about things. Even when I managed to calm down enough to follow my breath, my sitting was functioning more as an anesthetic than a way of focusing concentration. As I started to get frustrated and disillusioned, I decided that if sitting wasn’t working, then I should try something else. After all, the touchstone of mindfulness practice is experiencing what works for us, not blindly following a script. So during my normal sitting period I journaled, did walking meditation, or read poetry or a dharma talk instead. That helped. I needed activities that worked with the energy I found present in myself at the moment. After a couple of weeks, I started to miss sitting, and now I’m back on the cushion finding sitting very fruitful again.
I was experiencing a common issue in sitting practice—using sitting as a placebo or tranquilizer. Mindfulness and meditation have wonderful qualities of helping to develop calm, equanimity, and centeredness. These are necessary first steps, but they are not the path itself. We use the calmness, equanimity and centeredness to nourish the many good seeds, to use Thay’s language, within and around us but also to look at the knots in ourselves and our lives, to approach our anxieties, unwholesome habits, and troublesome emotions and to be with them with an energy and concentration that encourage transformation. It’s this transformation that lets us to walk the path toward enlightenment.
There’s a chant in the Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book called “Joyfully Sharing the Merit” in which we recognize our past and present mistakes, take count of our past and present good deeds, and offer these good deeds to all beings with the hope that they will benefit. It’s a wonderful practice of rejoicing in the positive deeds and achievements that occur along the path and of also recommitting ourselves to ensuring our practice contributes to the collective good.
This Thursday, we’ll listen to a version of the “Joyfully Sharing the Merit” chant from a Plum Village recording, offer our collective merit to help all beings reach enlightenment, and share about the benefits of our practice and why we practice.
I hope you can join us in this celebration.
From an April 2, 1998 dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh:
Say that one of our friends has been in the hell of sorrow for these past months and today she is able to smile. That is paradise, the opening of the door of paradise. Why don’t we celebrate that? Why don’t we celebrate our friend’s transformation? Then we will be able to protect our friend. Now you have been able to get out of these days of darkness, and I am so happy for you. And our brother is learning Chinese and is praised by the teacher. Even though my Chinese is not praised by the teacher, when I hear that my friend’s Chinese is praised I feel very happy. My brother’s success becomes my happiness, and that gives me energy, the energy of sharing the merit. All these happinesses, all these successes, of myself and of those around me, I bring and I transfer. I direct to a very beautiful goal called transferring the merits. Each step, each smile, every Chinese character I am able to learn, every affliction I am able to transform, all these things are merit. We should not offer up the merit of these things to something which is not worthy of it being offered to. We should find the most wonderful thing to offer up the merit to, and not offer it to small goals. We have to find the goal of our merit. There is a lot of merit, and the merit that we produce every day, that our brothers and sisters produce every day... what are we to offer it up to, transfer it to? It must be something worthy. This is the teaching of this chant.