Are good deeds useless except for creating merit?

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Boomerang
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Are good deeds useless except for creating merit?

Post by Boomerang » Fri Nov 16, 2018 10:49 am

In the secular world there are many initiatives to make the world a better place, like environmentalism for example. Bodhisattvas are supposed to practice generosity, and giving protection is a form of generosity, so Buddhists can participate in these initiatives and consider it part of their dharma practice. But since human birth is rare and sentient beings become ever more afflicted in the age of dharma decline, isn’t the idea of making the world a better place futile from a Buddhist perspective? We can’t stop things like global warming, famine, and poverty as long as sentient beings have unpurified karma.

We can make karmic connections with a certain number of sentient beings in this lifetime, creating the cause for their eventual liberation. And that’s all there is, isn’t it?

Basically what I’m asking is, can you truly believe in making the world a better place through secular means if samsara is nothing more than a burning house? How much can a Buddhist be emotionally invested in something like environmentalism? Is engaged Buddhism merely a performance that we do, going through the motions, in an attempt to create merit on the path to Buddhahood while scooping up sentient beings along the way?

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Grigoris
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Re: Are good deeds useless except for creating merit?

Post by Grigoris » Fri Nov 16, 2018 11:41 am

Boomerang wrote:
Fri Nov 16, 2018 10:49 am
In the secular world there are many initiatives to make the world a better place, like environmentalism for example. Bodhisattvas are supposed to practice generosity, and giving protection is a form of generosity, so Buddhists can participate in these initiatives and consider it part of their dharma practice. But since human birth is rare and sentient beings become ever more afflicted in the age of dharma decline, isn’t the idea of making the world a better place futile from a Buddhist perspective? We can’t stop things like global warming, famine, and poverty as long as sentient beings have unpurified karma.

We can make karmic connections with a certain number of sentient beings in this lifetime, creating the cause for their eventual liberation. And that’s all there is, isn’t it?

Basically what I’m asking is, can you truly believe in making the world a better place through secular means if samsara is nothing more than a burning house? How much can a Buddhist be emotionally invested in something like environmentalism? Is engaged Buddhism merely a performance that we do, going through the motions, in an attempt to create merit on the path to Buddhahood while scooping up sentient beings along the way?
Bodhisattvas take vows to remain in samsara until all beings are liberated. Sentient beings are infinite in number. Are Bodhisattva vows futile?
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde

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Boomerang
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Re: Are good deeds useless except for creating merit?

Post by Boomerang » Fri Nov 16, 2018 1:05 pm

Grigoris wrote:
Fri Nov 16, 2018 11:41 am
Boomerang wrote:
Fri Nov 16, 2018 10:49 am
In the secular world there are many initiatives to make the world a better place, like environmentalism for example. Bodhisattvas are supposed to practice generosity, and giving protection is a form of generosity, so Buddhists can participate in these initiatives and consider it part of their dharma practice. But since human birth is rare and sentient beings become ever more afflicted in the age of dharma decline, isn’t the idea of making the world a better place futile from a Buddhist perspective? We can’t stop things like global warming, famine, and poverty as long as sentient beings have unpurified karma.

We can make karmic connections with a certain number of sentient beings in this lifetime, creating the cause for their eventual liberation. And that’s all there is, isn’t it?

Basically what I’m asking is, can you truly believe in making the world a better place through secular means if samsara is nothing more than a burning house? How much can a Buddhist be emotionally invested in something like environmentalism? Is engaged Buddhism merely a performance that we do, going through the motions, in an attempt to create merit on the path to Buddhahood while scooping up sentient beings along the way?
Bodhisattvas take vows to remain in samsara until all beings are liberated. Sentient beings are infinite in number. Are Bodhisattva vows futile?
Accumulating merit and creating seeds for future liberation isn’t futile, and that doesn’t have to be separate from secular good deeds. Good deeds are a means to an end. For a secular person the end is making the world a better place, but can a Buddhist believe in that goal in the age of dharma decline? Today there’s global warming, and in 100 kalpas there will be a different problem. But the real root of all these problems is ignorance; excessive CO2 emissions are a byproduct of ignorance, greed, and anger.

I guess I just feel kind of fake as a Buddhist in a world of non-Buddhist. My confidence in karma and rebirth make me relate to the world different than how a secular person would, and constantly having that view in the back of my mind makes me feel like I’m playing pretend as I communicate with non-Buddhists. On the outside I seem like I believe in making the world a better place, but inside I believe whatever change I create is impermanent, and I can’t really help people until I become a Buddha.
Last edited by Boomerang on Fri Nov 16, 2018 1:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Grigoris
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Re: Are good deeds useless except for creating merit?

Post by Grigoris » Fri Nov 16, 2018 1:09 pm

Boomerang wrote:
Fri Nov 16, 2018 1:05 pm
Accumulating merit and creating seeds for future liberation isn’t futile, and that doesn’t have to be separate from secular good deeds. Good deeds are a means to an end. For a secular person the end is making the world a better place, but can a Buddhist believe in that goal in the age of dharma decline?

I guess I just feel kind of fake as a Buddhist in a world of non-Buddhist. My confidence in karma and rebirth make me relate to the world different than how a secular person would, and constantly having that view in the back of my mind makes me feel like I’m playing pretend as I communicate with non-Buddhists. On the outside I seem like I believe in making the world a better place, but inside I believe whatever change I create is impermanent, and I can’t really help people until I become a Buddha.
Eating leads to a temporary feeling of satiation. Does that mean you will never eat again?

Turning on the heating leads to a temporary sensation of warmth in winter. No more heating then?

We live in relative and ultimate reality concurrently, so we must act for individual and collective benefit in both.
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde

narhwal90
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Re: Are good deeds useless except for creating merit?

Post by narhwal90 » Fri Nov 16, 2018 1:12 pm

I suggest volunteering in a soup kitchen or food pantry to gain perspective on good deeds vs merit and their utility.

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seeker242
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Re: Are good deeds useless except for creating merit?

Post by seeker242 » Fri Nov 16, 2018 1:45 pm

Boomerang wrote:
Fri Nov 16, 2018 10:49 am
isn’t the idea of making the world a better place futile from a Buddhist perspective?
No, alleviating suffering, no matter how small, is never futile from a Buddhist perspective.
One should not kill any living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should one incite any other to kill. Do never injure any being, whether strong or weak, in this entire universe!

jmlee369
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Re: Are good deeds useless except for creating merit?

Post by jmlee369 » Wed Nov 21, 2018 10:00 am

From the Avatamsaka Sutra:
I will accord with and take care of all these many kinds of beings, providing all manner of services and offerings for them. I will treat them with the same respect I show my own parents, teachers, elders, Arhats, and even the Thus Come Ones. I will serve them all equally without difference.

I will be a good doctor for the sick and suffering. I will lead those who have lost their way to the right road. I will be a bright light for those in the dark night, and cause the poor and destitute to uncover hidden treasures. The Bodhisattva impartially benefits all living beings in this manner.

Why is this? If a Bodhisattva accords with living beings, then he accords with and makes offerings to all Buddhas. If he can honor and serve living beings, then he honors and serves the Thus Come Ones. If he makes living beings happy, he is making all Thus Come Ones happy. Why is this? Because all Buddhas, Thus Come Ones, take the mind of great compassion as their substance. Because of living beings, they bring forth great compassion. From great compassion, the Bodhi mind is born; and because of the resolve for Bodhi, they accomplish Equal and Proper Enlightenment.
source

Lama Zopa Rinpoche has said something along the lines of our main goal is to benefit sentient beings, that is the top priority. It just so happens that Buddhahood is the best way to accomplish that. So we do our best to benefit beings, and it just so happens that we can dedicate the merit towards Buddhahood.

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