No Merit

A scroll hanging in the entrance hallway at our Temple reads “No Merit”. It recalls the conversation of Bodhidharma, who brought Zen to China, with the Emperor Wu. When the Emperor asked Bodhidharma what merit he had accumulated through his support of monks and building monasteries, Bodhidharma replied: No merit.

One of my initial attractions to Buddhism was, in fact, the possibility of accumulation of merit, the idea that through diligent work in this life, I could earn merit that would propel me towards eventual release from suffering. The idea provided me concrete and tangible comfort from my fear of loss and annihilation. There was something I could do, after all.

And so Bodhidharma’s words and this idea in Zen initially came with a sense of loss. I came to the practice for the promise of comfort, because I thought (in an interesting connection to my family’s Puritanical roots that will someday make a separate topic for writing) that I could earn my way out of my fears. As the years go by, it doesn’t feel as much like a loss anymore, and more like an example of what simply is. No loss. No gain. Loss and gain. No idea.

I’ve been thinking about this tonight because two fellow bloggers have written to recognize this blog. Yesterday, hillbillyzen wrote to say she had nominated the blog for the Reality Blogger Award. And today, Linda at mayandseptember wrote to say she was giving a nomination for the Leibster Award. I know well that none of it makes me a better blogger or writer or more worthy of reading. But I think we blog because we’re interested in sharing what we think and notice and feel, but perhaps a lot of us (or, speaking for myself) don’t otherwise know exactly how. Recognition might mean that we have met our intention.

And so I will accept the kindness, badges or not, offered by hillbillyzen and mayandseptember (you should visit their blogs), and may try to recognize some fellow bloggers (perhaps in this space). As for the rest, I still don’t know how I feel about the whole process. Neither accepting, rejecting, nor ignoring the awards quite feels right. That not-knowing does feels just about familiar, though.

14 thoughts on “No Merit

  1. tickertapemind

    No Merit… I have two stories, hopefully they won’t take long, but they may be of service? 1) I used to follow Tibetan Buddhism, go to the weekly meditations and talks… In the very early days of my practice I asked about Karma, how it works etc. A girl that had been practicing for some time said that through religious devotion you could bank karma and that would insure you against future negative karma via misdeeds. I asked about praying for personal benefit (something I have always and still do feel uncomfortable about) and she said that it was all about the way you went about it. Her example, was that she could pray for a car so that she could give people lifts. I was confused at first and then struggling not to laugh, as only minutes before our teacher had described an elderly monk donating a car he was gifted to the temple he was staying at. Then I caught site of our teacher, who was literally sat with his head in his hands… I learned a lot from that vignette.

    2) 12 years on and I still refer to my Idiot’s Guide to Buddhism. I am often frustrated with my practice. Rarely meditate by sitting, but do more through working or cleaning, and struggle with choices that I make, and the reasons why I make them. Which in a round about fashion is all about merit. Anyhow, my dad was telling me about a conversation with a neighbour… He has a slipped disk that was operated on years ago and recently, he has been in a lot of pain with it. His neighbour said “It must drive you mad”. Dad said, “Oh well you just have to get on with it don’t you. Lad up road lost a leg, at least I can still walk.” “Oh I know, imagine that”, said Neighbour. Dad replied, “Well, he’ll walk again soon enough. Not like this fella here.” He pointed to a man going past in a wheel chair. “Aye”, said Neighbour, “makes you think doesn’t it?” And off they went about their business. After I closed my mouth my dad, who is as Yorkshire as they come, said what’s up? I told him that he had just relayed quite a well known Buddhist teaching and he shrugged and asked me if I wanted a cuppa. I’ve only been brought up by the bloody Buddha himself hahaha I just thought, I might as well pack up now. I felt like I had learned nothing.

    And so really, all I have for you in the end is, the more I learn the less I know. Be content with your Buddha nature and the world will continue to turn the way that it did before. In your being, you are reaping seeds sown. All you can do, I suppose is be wise, and continue to be. Do nothing 😉

  2. hillbillyzen13

    Once again, Gassho, you’ve made me smile and feel humbled. In nominating you for the “award”, my perception of it was not one of fanfare or banners, but offering a gift in return for the quiet, thoughtful gifts that your posts bestow. Your response is a gracious one. Thank you.

    1. bussokuseki Post author

      And I see it in just that way, as a gift of kindness. As I sat down to look through the materials, I noticed the feelings it was bringing out, especially in the context of my practice. It was just the type of thing that, in many ways, my old habit would have been to push aside. Which usually means I need to write about it… I am truly grateful.

  3. seeingm

    We each write for unique reasons, reasons I believe shift and change from one moment to the next depending on our awareness and presence in the present moment. I often find I am writing to myself celebrating with a past all she has created in her now. A friend once said that we should speak often to the past self so that we can learn to hear our future self speaking to us now. Lovely way to think about intuition and inspiration.

    Those who find our writing or those who we find offer the gift of a mirror of understanding on where we were are currently at by showing where we were, are and sometimes even where we are going. I think we draw to ourselves in the written word what we ask to see and understand in our own lives. Growth through the experience of the others eye becomes only a click away and this little machine the ultimate temple web of sorts.

    You in particular also document a deeper understanding of “Dad” with an additional verbal record layer during a time when things are felt, but not expressed in the same way by your children. They have deep wisdom without the words. We adults got educated with the words and in the process forget the wisdom. We are teaching and sharing with each other here on an expanded timeline. One day your precious children will cherish this record from their paternal parental unit…and oh what a sublime one you are as you work on wisdom now.

    What happens to the suffering when we are ok with deeply feeling it… when we make fear a friend? Thank you for sharing you and your family experiences.

    1. bussokuseki Post author

      Beautifully written and conceived, thank you for your kind words. I do truly hope that one day my children can read what I have written, sitting curled up with me, as we look back together on their childhood… With much appreciation~

  4. grevilleacorner

    yes the important thing is to watch our intentions. The sharing on the blog is intended as a gift to others -dana – this is right intention. To write in order to seek merit is less skilful. You are receiving merit without the intent I would think…so enjoy it and be grateful that others are getting benefit from your gift of sharing. congrats! 🙂

  5. Ashana M

    We are all in this together–trying to scrape together words that mean something, and hoping when we’re finished we have something worthwhile to say, something that will help someone else or that will matter. Giving an award or a nomination for doing it is a generous, kind act, and it’s also a recognition that at least some of the time you’ve succeeded. What’s on the table is encouragement to continue. I would accept it. It’s not about merit–lots of people have great blogs that don’t get noticed. It’s about taking that helping hand and letting someone encourage you, and acknowledging that all of us need that. Needing notice and encouragement is part of being human, and being human is what it’s about.

    1. bussokuseki Post author

      Beautiful comment. The generosity of the givers is what I love about the awards, and I agree that there is nothing wrong with the good feeling that arises from a gift…it is as human as this not-knowing that fills our lives… Thank you for the generosity of your vist & comment. Be well~

  6. skydoos

    Perhaps the act of writing is another way to comprehend what we think and feel. To see the words concretely, to tweak the words til they represent what we mean, to see – sometimes in amazement – that what we thought we thought is different than what we imagined we thought. Perhaps consider the nominations not as accolade, but rather as affirmation that your words are water offered to other sentient beings, presented and served in the unique way that only you can manifest. Keep writing.

    1. bussokuseki Post author


      Writing, for me, is definitely a way to help understand my own experience. The gift of water and our own unique manifestations is a beautiful way to describe what we are trying to do in sharing our words – thank you. Be well~


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