Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dedicating Merit

I have just returned from a weekend fundraiser for Tibetan earthquake victims slightly sleep deprived and my face warm from spending most of the last 2 days outside. We were treated to teachings by 8 generous Tibetan teachers, tasty meals of dahl and soups prepared by the Tibetan community and a local Sangha.

We were an eclectic gathering of tie dyed 10 yr olds, roly poly babies, many heads of flowing grey locks (both genders) and willowy teenaged girls with fashionably wrapped scarves. We sat meditation under an outdoor canopy at 6 in the morning as the sun rose and the chant master intoned his deep, throaty song. We ate oatmeal in the sunshine and buttered our toast with slippery questions about how to fit issues of the environment, investing and politics into a Dharma framework.

And as the ceremony opened on Saturday I dedicated the merit of the weekend to my mother who died a year ago today. I became acquainted with the concept of "dedicating merit" in the Zen Sangha I belonged to. My understanding of "merit" is undoubtedly incomplete but I will take a stab at explaining it. Perhaps you have something to add?

The idea stems from the fact that certain actions "accumulate merit"; things such as acts of kindness and compassion, sitting meditation, giving alms to monks. Many positive actions, large and small are considered to accumulate merit and often merit from meditation sessions is dedicated to all sentient beings. I can remember at Sangha, people often requested the merit of a meditation evening be dedicated to a sick or dying friend, someone undergoing surgery or someone suffering in some way. We even had a merit board where you could tack up a little dedication for a loved one or friend.

There is a wonderful generous sense in dedicating merit. And it's not one of those things that when you give it away, you have lost it. I think merit increases in volume, like an expanding, rising loaf of bread, as it is shared with those in need.

So it seemed auspicious to be in the presence of numerous lamas and a gathering of dedicated Dharma practitioners on the first anniversary of my mother's death, a meaningful way to remember her. It was through my involvement with the Dharma that I finally found a way to make peace with my mother, with the encouragement of my teacher to never give up on her. Through my mother's willingness to meet both me and the Dharma at a deep level I think she made some great discoveries about her life in her last year on earth. And the two of us learned to do a dance that allowed her to die in peace with me holding her hand. Yetta Leslie 1915-2009. If you feel so inclined, you can read the post I wrote the day after she died here.


  1. May I place your mother's name on our altar? She'll be in good company with Daido Loori, Robert Aitken, and a dear friend's daughter. I've always thought of sending merit like throwing a kiss. Well wishes for a lovely journey sent from the heart. Thank you for this beautiful post. I'm always humbled to learn about experiences people have gone through just before our paths crossed.

    My mother is in a longterm care home living with dementia. Through the Dharma I learned as you did to make peace with who she was, see her for who she is now, and never give up. We are blessed with good teachers. :-)


  2. That would be truly amazing if you would place her name on your altar! I thank you for this amazing offering. Yes, my mother was one of my great teachers!!

    And I know she stayed around as long as she did, to come to the wonderful understanding that she had in the last year of her life as we got more honest with each other. She said "I always knew why I was, the way I am (difficult to express love and appreciation, hard outer shell, very reactive) but I didn't see the effect it had on others." Is that not an amazing realization for someone who is 94 and not practicing the Dharma in any formal way? An excellent lesson on not giving up on anyone!

  3. Carole, I just nominated you for the Blogisattva Awards . . .

  4. It sounds like "dedicating of merit" is like an offering, a selfless gifting - indeed "generous" as you mentioned. And what a event in which to honor your mother. It also feels like you've been gifted with peace by gifting your mother - giving without concern for benefit, and yet the benefits is the peace. Beautiful

  5. Thanks Marguerite! What a generous & kind gesture. I am honoured. I will have to check them out.

    MeANderi - It is an offering- I liked Genju's description: "it's like throwing a kiss". Interesting how the retreat event just happened to coincide with the date of my mother's death?!

  6. Interesting post and thoughts about merits. Your story about your mother's passing was beautifully written and hit very close to home with me tonight.

  7. I just had the chance to read your post about your mother's passing. It is so wonderful that you had that quality of time with her. It occurred to me as I was reading that we must have been blessed by someone's dedication of merit to have been able to transform our mothers' suffering so that it didn't continue in us. It was like that for me with my father's passing. with Mum it's been a difficult road bearing witness to the suffering as she is taken by dementia. But one day, after her regular Sunday outing for lunch, she took my hand and said, "You're such a good friend." It's more than I could have asked for.

    Thank you, Carole!


  8. I went immediately over to read your post of last year and am so moved by the presence and eloquence, the clarity and compassion of all that you convey immediately following your mother's death.

    I am always touched and enriched learning 'every day dharma' from you and thank you for the many ways in which you remain constant and connected to your practice as you selflessly allow us to travel along with you.

    An honor.


  9. Eva - Nice to see you here! Yes merit is a wonderful way to offer something, without knowing exactly what.

    Genju - What a lovely thing for your mother to say and somehow there is a deep sincerity when it comes from that dementia place of "not knowing" And yes as you express, it felt like a very big gift to be able to make peace in that rocky relationship. After that we could just sit together quietly and be happy.

    Merci33 - Good to see you back! Looking forward to hearing about your "changes" and process. Thanks for the kind words. It is strange and people found it hard to believe that I felt so peaceful following my mother's death but that was the true felt sense! A great blessing.

  10. My mother's name is Carole, too. A strange relationship I have with mine, to be sure, but thanks to the Dharma, much improved. How wonderful that you made peace with yours before she left this plane.

  11. I remember your post from one year ago. This post is just as beautiful and deep as the one a year ago.

    I think alot of us are at this same crossroad with our parents.