The Buddhist path has one aim and one aim only – to awaken us to the truth for the ultimate benefit of all sentient beings, and a prerequisite to achieving this goal is the accumulation of merit and wisdom. 

As the merit for devotional and positive acts undertaken on auspicious days is increased millions of times, It offers an excellent opportunity to generate merit by performing wholesome deeds, such as circumambulating sacred objects, engaging in prostrations, and making offerings before images of awakened beings and to the sangha. 

In terms of dedications, people generally offer what they themselves enjoy or feel are appropriate gifts for guests. In ancient India, these were clean water, flowers, food, incense, light, and perfume, which is why, even to this day, these items are found on monastery and household choesums/ alters in Bhutan. 

Had the Buddha been born in recent times, then it is very likely that devotional lyrics sung as rap songs and bowls of cappuccino and bubble tea would be the common offerings, rather than water, flowers, etc. In reality, intention and aspiration are the most important aspects of generating merit, not the style or value of the offerings themselves. So, as long as you don’t disturb others, be imaginative with your offerings.

Here are two tales that illustrate that intention and aspiration are more important than the nature of the offering itself. Once a king invited the Buddha and his monks to a lavish feast. As the meal progressed, the monarch asked the Buddha who had gained the most merit from the occasion. Perhaps expecting the Buddha to say the king himself as he had sponsored the event, he was surprised when the Buddha identified a beggar woman standing near the gate as having gained the most merit. 

When asked why this was the case, the Buddha explained that although she had no means to contribute to the feast, she had fully rejoiced that the Buddha and his monks could enjoy the meal and that the king would gain merit for arranging the banquet. Even though the beggar woman had nothing to offer, her pure, altruistic thoughts were enough to generate more merit than even the monarch who had sponsored the event. 

Another story tells of three men who interacted with a clay statue of the Buddha. The first man crafted the image with great devotion and placed it at the side of the road to inspire passers-by. 

Later, a second man discovered the statue, and, fearing that it would be destroyed by rain, looked for something to protect it. As he could find nothing appropriate, he removed his own boot and respectfully placed it over the statue. A third man passed by and was shocked to see a precious statue of the Buddha covered with an old boot and removed it. Even though the action of the men was totally different, their motivation was pure and so it is said that all three attained auspicious rebirths. 

 In the spirit of these tales, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche has stated that the essence of practice is a benevolent intention to contribute to the liberation of all sentient beings.

“No matter which dharma practice you engage in, from ngondro to offering a single candle, always do so with the intention that your practice will benefit all sentient beings. In this context, ‘benefit’ does not only mean giving practical help, such as offering food or medicine, or feeding people’s emotions, egos and delusions. Here, ‘benefit’ includes aspiring to be instrumental in the enlightenment of all sentient beings; without such an aspiration, it is easy for dharma practice to become self-serving.”

As mentioned above, both merit and wisdom are prerequisites to awakening to the truth. Now, in Buddhism, wisdom is not the possession of knowledge, but seeing the truth. It is to realize that nothing that we see, hear, touch, taste, or think is any more real or permanent than a rainbow or mirage. In short, it can be perceived, but lacks a truly existing essence.  

How do we combine developing wisdom with undertaking meritorious acts? We do so by reminding ourselves that the offering, we as the giver, and the recipient are also no more real than a rainbow. In this way, the deed generates both merit and wisdom.  

The meritorious act is then concluded by dedicating the merit to the liberation of all sentient beings. Making a dedication in this way is similar to adding a drop of water to the ocean – while the power of the ocean acts to preserve the drop for as long as the body of water remains, the strength of the ocean of sentient beings retains the potency of the merit until we, together with all beings, awaken to the truth.    

It would also be appropriate to contemplate the life of the Buddha. Now, we all know that prior to his awakening to the truth in Dorji Dhen, the Buddha was a prince who renounced the comforts and luxuries of his father’s palace to become a barefoot seeker of the truth. 

Many of us are also probably aware that prior to leaving the palace, he had encountered an old man, a sick man, and a corpse. At that time, he asked his servant whether others, including his father, wife, and son, would also become sick and die. After learning that this was the case and that no living being can avoid death, the prince became despondent. 

He recognized that while he could protect his subjects from conflict or hunger, he was powerless against death, sickness, and old age, and this thought consumed his every moment. 

Now, we may consider it naive of a learned young man who was the heir to a throne to ask such questions about sickness and death. In reality, it is us who are naive. Even though we see others grow old, become sick, and die, we never consider the inevitability of our own demise, but instead pretend that we are immune to impermanence and will somehow manage to dodge the bullet of death.

Due to this attitude, we spend our days amassing possessions and wealth without giving even a fleeting thought to the funeral pyre that awaits us. 

Is it morbid to think about death? No, because it is the realization that nothing lasts that infuses our life with a sense of preciousness and pragmatism. 

Think how the time spent with a close friend is transformed when he is taking his final breaths in a hospital. On such occasions, time passes by in a flash and each second is precious beyond words. Now, as we never know when we will meet our own demise, we should bear this truth in mind. It will totally transform our relationship with others and the world around us.  

So, should we abandon our careers and possessions and settle in a cave? No, this is unnecessary, but we should infuse our worldly ambitions with an understanding of reality as explained in the ‘Four Seals of Buddhism’. In this way, we become like a wise sculptor who diligently creates a masterpiece out of sand, but knows that it will be swept away by the incoming tide.

In conclusion, if your deeds and reflections on holy days result in the accumulation of merit and wisdom, then the occasion has been commemorated in the most appropriate and beneficial way.

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