Beginning the day with a sermon has merit: street wise

By Achara Deboonme, The Nation, February 9, 2009

Bangkok, Thailand -- If you're an early bird - or, for that matter, the type who likes to stay up very late - (and you speak Thai), you are invited to enjoy the Buddhist sermons broadcast every morning at 5am on FM102.5.

The broadcasts last about 10 minutes, featuring sermons recorded on various occasions, so the message is different each day. The last time I listened, the topic was Thai perceptions of the Buddhist concept of "making merit". Under this concept, merit accumulated as a result of good deeds, acts or thoughts carries over to benefit the person later in life or in their next life.

The monk was very clear on the point that Buddhists should make merit within their means - if they have little, they may contribute little. "It's a fallacy that one should pay a lot for the purpose of guaranteeing a better next life. Firstly, nobody knows if they will have a next life. Secondly, a better future is not promised only to big-spenders, but to all who follow Buddhist principles," he said.

In short, the monk said, there are various means of making merit available to people.

Certainly, he would approve of Thai Airways International's "Miles for Merit 2009" merit-making campaign for Royal Orchid Plus members, who can donate miles to support the World Tipitaka Presentation, the delivery of 40-volume sets of the "World Tipitaka Edition in Roman Script" - the first complete Great International Council Edition of the Tipitaka - to leading tutions.

The Tipitaka is a Pali-language scripture containing the words of the Buddha. The campaign follows the success of the airline's 2007 campaign to gather donations to fly 80 monks to Buddhist holy sites in India and Nepal to commemorate His Majesty the King's 80th birthday.

Of course, donating free mileage does no damage to Royal Orchid Plus members' own pockets - it merely reduces their chance of getting free tickets.

There are many other ways to make merit. Some give coins to beggars on pedestrian flyovers in the belief that giving something to the underprivileged is a good thing. But how can you be certain the money you give will make their lives easier?

Many people opt to donate money and other items to foundations. Some may wonder whether such gestures really help; others believe that a little help is all the underprivileged need to survive, and that contributing such help brings peace to society. Too bad the monk's sermon was cut short due to time constraints. A little more time and I think I would have a better grasp on the appropriate ways to make merit in line with Buddhist principles.

Still, I believe I made some merit simply by listening to him. At least, it cleared my mind, and for the rest of that day I dared not think a bad thought toward others. After all, "Do good" is one of the three Buddhist principles, isn't it?