To improve one’s degree of understanding
Do you think that a person with very little understanding can ever reach a level of higher understanding? In other words, when one’s accumulations have conditioned one’s character, is there anything that can be done about it? Is it possible to improve one’s degree of understanding?
Everything can be done about it: wisdom can be developed very gradually and thus one’s accumulations can be changed. Those who have a higher level of understanding can and should help other people to develop a higher level of understanding as well. I shall give an example. Children can become novices. They share the life of the monks in order to learn more about the Buddhist teachings and to make merit for their parents who can rejoice in their good deeds. Many people think that the person who makes merit can literally transfer his own good deeds to other people, dead or alive. This is not the right understanding. It is not possible to transfer merit to other people, because will receive the result of his own deeds. Older monks who have reached a higher level of understanding can help the novices to have more understanding about the wholesome act they are performing. If they could understand correctly the meaning of the merit they make, their renunciation would be even more fruitful. The novices are performing a very wholesome act in renouncing the company of their relatives in order to study the Buddhist teachings and to train themselves in the precepts, which are moral rules. This gives them a good spiritual foundation for their whole life. They will receive the fruit of this wholesome act themselves.
The merit they make cannot literally be transferred to other people. However, other people, no matter whether they are deceased or still alive, can have wholesome states of mind inspired by the good deeds of someone else. Their own wholesome mental states will bring them a wholesome result. So parents, even deceased parents, if they are in planes of existence where they can rejoice in the good deeds of their child, may have wholesome states of mind and these will bring wholesome results in the future. The expression “transfer of merit” is a misleading one, because it does not give us the understanding of the real cause and effect.