Merit is a concept considered fundamental to Buddhist ethics. It is a beneficial and protective force which accumulates as a result of good deeds, acts, or thoughts. Merit-making is important to Buddhist practice: merit brings good and agreeable results, determines the quality of the next life and contributes to a person’s growth towards enlightenment. In addition, merit is also shared with a deceased loved one, in order to help the deceased in their new existence. Despite modernization, merit-making remains essential in traditional Buddhist countries and has had a significant impact on the rural economies in these countries.
Merit is connected with the notions of purity and goodness. Before Buddhism, merit was used with regard to ancestor worship, but in Buddhism it gained a more general ethical meaning. Merit is a force that results from good deeds done; it is capable of attracting good circumstances in a person’s life, as well as improving the person’s mind and inner well-being. Moreover, it affects the next lives to come, as well as the destination a person is reborn. The opposite of merit is demerit (papa), and it is believed that merit is able to weaken demerit. Indeed, merit has even been connected to the path to Nirvana itself, but many scholars say that this refers only to some types of merit.
Merit can be gained in a number of ways, such as giving, virtue and mental development. In addition, there are many forms of merit-making described in ancient Buddhist texts. A similar concept of kusala (Sanskrit: kusala) is also known, which is different from merit in some details. The most fruitful form of merit-making is those good deeds done with regard to the Triple Gem, that is, the Buddha, his teachings, the Dhamma (Sanskrit: Dharma), and the Sangha. In Buddhist societies, a great variety of practices involving merit-making has grown throughout the centuries, sometimes involving great self-sacrifice. Merit has become part of rituals, daily and weekly practice, and festivals. In addition, there is a widespread custom of transferring merit to one’s deceased relatives, of which the origin is still a matter of scholarly debate. Merit has been that important in Buddhist societies, that kingship was often legitimated through it, and still is.
In modern society, merit-making has been criticized as materialist, but merit-making is still ubiquitous in many societies. Examples of the impact of beliefs about merit-making can be seen in the Phu Mi Bun rebellions which took place in the last centuries, as well as in the revival of certain forms of merit-making, such as the much discussed merit release.
Source : Wikipedia