"All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil intention, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure intention, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him."
According to the Buddha, our intention is the most powerful and creative tool that we posses, using which we build our own future. We are the makers of our own destiny as in Buddhism there is no Almighty God to pledge allegiance to who will guarantee our salvation or get rid of our negative karma because we worship Him or do many elaborate rituals.
In fact, according to the Buddha, he too is incapable of lifting someone out of suffering. All he can do is to show the path, as can be seen in the following statement that he spoke to one of his disciples, Cunda.
"What should be done for his disciples out of compassion by a teacher who seeks their welfare and has compassion for them, that I have done for you, Cunda. There are these roots of trees, these empty huts. Meditate Cunda, do not delay or else you will regret it later. This is our instruction to you."
It is precisely because of this reason that making merit for oneself becomes so much more important. By performing meritorious deeds we can rid our minds of defilement. The good becomes internalized and part of our true nature. Only then can we hope to reach the shore of Nirvana. Merit, accumulated through good deeds, acts or intentions, the Buddha declared, is one thing that cannot be destroyed. Neither may fire burn nor water drown its effect.
In Buddhism, there are three ways in which we can make merit, namely, giving, morality, and mental development.
The observance of morality requires us to restrain our thoughts, speech and actions, and to exercise non-greed and non-hatred. Mental development, which includes getting rid of all our defilement and gaining wisdom into the true nature of reality, is not the easiest thing to accomplish. However, even though it is very difficult only it has the capacity to lead a being to the final destination.
Of these three, the practice of giving seems to be the easiest. The only catch is that the pure intention and the pure conduct of the giver as well as the receiver of the gift makes it much more effective and fruitful. The practice of giving to charitable causes or to the Sangha of monks and nuns practicing the perfect way shown by the Buddha, is one of the most common practice among lay Buddhists.
"The doer of good delights here and hereafter; he delights in both the worlds. The thought, 'Good have I done,' delights him, and he delights even more when gone to realms of bliss."
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