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puṇya (P. puñña; T. bsod nams བསོད་་ནམས་; C. fu 福), commonly translated as merit, refers to the accumulation of wholesome karma that results from wholesome actions of body, speech or mind. Puṇya (merit) carries over throughout one's life or into future lives, and contributes to a person's growth towards spiritual liberation.

The accumulation of merit through the practice of giving (dana) and so on, is emphasized in all Buddhist traditions.[1]

Accumulating merit

Generally speaking, puṇya (merit) is accumulated through any positive action of body, speech or mind.

Three bases of merit

The Pali tradition empahisizes three bases of merit (Pali: puññakiriyavatthu). In the Puññakiriyavatthusuttaṃ ("Meritorious actions discourse," AN 8.36 or A 8.4.6),[2] 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.[3]

In the Khuddaka Nikaya's Itivuttaka (Iti. 1.22),[4] the three bases are defined as: giving (dānassa), self-mastery (damassa) and refraining (saññamassā).[5] Later in this same sutta, the triad is restated as: giving (dāna), a life of mental calm (sama-cariya)[6] and a mind of good-will (metta-citta).[4]

Activities for monks

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

Activities for lay people

A Pali commentary, elaborating on the three methods of dana-sila-bhavana (see D.III,218), states that lay devotees can generate merit by performing these seven more specific acts:

  1. Giving alms (Dāna)
  2. Observing virtue (Śīla)
  3. Developing concentration (Bhāvana)
  4. Honoring others (apacayana-maya)
  5. Offering service (veyyavacca-maya)
  6. Dedicating (or transferring) merit to others(pattidana-maya)
  7. Rejoicing in other's merit. (pattanumodana-maya)
  8. Listening to Teachings (dhammassavana-maya)
  9. Instructing others in the Teachings (dhammadesana-maya)
  10. Straightening one's own views in accord with the Teachings (ditthujukamma)[7][8]

Ten Wholesome Actions

The Sanskrit tradition emphasizes a list of ten wholesome actions:

  1. In giving up the taking of life, one will accomplish ten ways of being free from vexations
  2. In giving up stealing, one will attain ten kinds of dharmas which can protect one's confidence
  3. In giving up wrongful (including sexual) conduct, one will attain four kinds of dharmas which are praised by the wise
  4. In giving up lying, one will attain the eight dharmas which are praised by the devas
  5. In giving up slandering, one will attain five kinds of incorruptible dharmas
  6. In giving up harsh language, one will attain the accomplishment of eight kinds of pure actions
  7. In giving up frivolous speech, one will attain the accomplishment of the three certainties
  8. In giving up lust, one will attain the accomplishment of the five kinds of freedom
  9. In giving up hatred, one will attain eight kinds of dharmas of joy of mind
  10. In giving up wrong views, one will attain the accomplishment of ten meritorious dharmas[9]

Transfer of merit and rejoicing in other's merit

Two common practices within Buddhism are:

  • Dedicating (or transferring) merit to others, and
  • Rejoicing in other's merit.

These practices are believed to help develop a generous state of mind in the practitioner. Contemporary scholar Rupert Gethin states:

The practice of the transference of merit—the giving of one’s merit—is an ancient and extremely widespread and common Buddhist practice. What it indicates is that spiritual practice is to be entered into in a generous spirit, not for the sake of acquiring merit exclusively for oneself but for the benefit of others too. Indeed, only acts undertaken in this spirit are truly meritorious in the first place. The rejoicing in the merit of others also indicates that, in undertaking meritorious acts, it is one’s state of mind that is crucial: thus if one gives grudgingly, with an ungenerous heart, the auspiciousness of one’s acts is compromised; on the other hand, if one gives nothing at all but is deeply moved by another’s act of generosity, then that in itself is an auspicious occasion, an act of merit. Thus for many Buddhists it is customary at the end of Buddhist devotions and rituals to offer the merit generated during the ceremony for the benefit of other beings—either specific beings such as dead relatives, or all sentient beings—and in so doing to invite all present (whether they have directly participated in the ceremony or not, whether they have physical presence or are unseen ghosts or gods) also to rejoice in the merit of the ceremony.[10]


  1. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. puṇya.
  2. Upalavanna (n.d.), sutta 6.
  3. Walshe (1995), p. 485.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Thanissaro (2001).
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. D.A.III.999 cited in Payutto (1997), chapter 20, "The devotee."
  8. Dasa Kusala Kamma & Dasa Akusala kamma or Wholesome Deeds and Ten Unwholesome Deeds
  9. Bhikkhu, Saddhaloka. "The Discourse on the Ten Wholesome Ways of Action". Buddhistdoor. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  10. Gethin 1998, pp. 109-110.


External links

  • Rangjung a-circle30px.jpg Merit, Rangjung Yeshe Wiki
  • RW icon height 18px.png Merit, Rigpa Shedra Wiki
This article includes content from the December 2014 revision of Merit (Buddhism) on Wikipedia ( view authors). License under CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikipedia logo