How Merit-Sharing Works
- How Merit-Sharing WorksTraditionally, it is believed that merit is more effectively transferred to persons alive or who have just passed away, especially within 49 days, in which his/her consciousness will usually take rebirth if he/she is unenlightened. (Unless one lingers on indefinitely, becoming a wandering spirit, before taking finally taking birth.) Because it is hard to tell exactly when one has taken (re)birth within this window period, it is best to transfer merit to the person as soon as he/she has passed away, if not, when still alive. The best gift, however, is not merit but the gift of Dharma to the person - when he/she is well alive or on the verge of passing away - as he/she can truly benefit by turning his/her mind towards the Dharma - which will eventually lead him/her to the ultimate bliss of Enlightenment in good time.
Q: Can one share merit with another person, living or dead? What prayers are the most efficacious?
A: Merits for sharing are usually accrued by chanting sutras and doing charitiable works. Chanting is considered a practice of doing good as it is the sharing of the Buddha's teachings with seen and unseen beings, while reminding oneself of the teachings. Merit-sharing is sometimes mistaken to be be in conflict with the law of karma, as some think it goes against its teaching that one begets the fruits of the deeds (seeds) oneself sowed. This is not true as the complex workings of karma also govern the practice of merit-sharing. For a person to receive merit shared from another person, the first person needs to have some good karma in the first place, to deserve this sharing. This means successful sharing of merit is possible only when the recipient has priorly "invested" in some goodness, which later bears fruit with ripening conditions by harvesting greater goodness. Another common question is how a person's merit, or "force of good karma" can be shared with another when the duo are two "separate" individuals. Here is an analogy as to why this is possible - A loving father can give money to his son, because he sees the welfare of his son as not different from that of himself. In fact, the father sees himself so interlinked with his son that they are not two. Likewise, when we share merit with all beings, we are practising to see all beings and ourselves as one.
Some believe merit can still be transferred to a particular person in mind after he/she has been reborn. It is hard to tell if this is possible as the person would had taken a new life and identity already. However, if we dedicate merit to all beings, they share the merit too. You might worry that sharing of merit with many others might discount merit to the person you initially intended to share with, but merit-sharing does not work by rigid mathematical division. Because if you share merit with all, you are practising generosity to all, triggered by that one person you intially wanted to share merit with. Does this person not share the merit of being related to your great generosity too? Afterall, this person played an important conditioning factor in enabling others' recieiving of "bonus" merit from you. Will this person not recieve more merit then? This is something for you to think about. Karmically, there is always more gained than lost when there is genuine generosity.
What prayers are the most efficacious? The ones closest to your heart, and if possible, closest to him/her too - be they lengthy sutras or even short passages from Dharma books. It is not so much as the prayers themselves, but the attitude we have when praying/chanting - are we full of loving-kindness and compassion to share and help? Even a "simple" mantra, such as the popular "Om Mani Padme Hum" (the mantra of compassion, said to encompass all the teachings of the Buddhas) or "Namo Amituofo" (Homage to Amitabha Buddha) recited over and over again without any other chants or rituals can be very powerful when practised sincerely. One can also, with the merit accrued, wish the person to be reborn in Pureland. If the person's consciousness is present, he/she would be able to know your thoughts, and hopefully, heed your advice and seek birth there, or in another fortunate realm, including the human realm. -shian