Buddhism: The concept of karma and making "merit"

The Thais are a strange bunch, most of them seem to be as poor as church mice and any farang who has spent time in the Kingdom will tell you that they are constantly pleading poverty or asking to borrow your money.

But, when it comes to making donations to local temples, then wads of money will quickly appear and be placed in the ubiquitous envelopes. Hardly a week goes by without somebody in the local community coming to your house asking for "money for Buddha".

In order to understand this behaviour, you have to understand the importance and prevalence of Buddhism in Thai society. The Thais place great importance on the concept of" karma" and "making spiritual merit".

Karma is basically the sum of your actions in this life and in previous states of existence and as Thais believe in reincarnation, this means karma can carry over in to your future lives. The idea of "making merit" is to ensure that your karma is good and that this life and any future lives will be happy, prosperous and without hardship.

This is a useful link , albeit a little long-winded and convoluted, describing the background and reasons for making merit.


I liken the idea of making merit to having a spiritual bank account. You start with zero merit and every time you do a good deed you get a "deposit" but every time you do a bad deed you have to make a "withdrawal". So if you have done more good deeds than bad deeds, you will be "in the black" but if your bad deeds outnumber you good deeds then you are "in the red" or drawing on your "karmic overdraft".

Merit can be accumulated in many ways. For example, by donating money or useful items to the temple, offering alms to monks, praying for the spirits of the deceased or simply by living a good life and being mindful of how you behave and interact with others. It is also just as easy to to lose merit, simply thinking ill of somebody or uttering an unkind word can cause you to lose good merit.

We recently held a merit making ceremony at our house, to pray for my mother-in-law's spirit guardian. We still perform this ceremony every year in July, even though my mother-in-law is sadly no longer with us. The ceremony includes a display of traditional Thai dancing together with offerings of food, fruit, flowers and whiskey. Everyone in the family will pray and thank the spirit for watching over us and then place incense sticks among the offerings.

Here are some photos of the celebrations.......

I hope you enjoyed this post and I look forward to bringing you more from the Land of Smiles very soon. 


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