Virtuous deeds are said to produce merit, which will bear the fruit of happiness in the future. Much Buddhist practice is devoted to the production of merit, and to the protection of that merit once it has been produced. It is important that merit not be destroyed, as can happen in a moment of anger, especially directed at an exalted being like a buddha or bodhisattva It is also important that merit not be wasted, by bearing fruit in a fleeting form of happiness. A traditional way of guarding the merit produced by a virtuous deed is to dedicate it to a specific goal. In this way, the merit is said to be protected from destruction and is directed towards a higher purpose. In the Mahayana, there is no higher purpose than the liberation of all beings from suffering and their achievement of buddhahood. By dedicating the merit of any virtuous deed to that end, the merit is said to be not only safeguarded against destruction, it is said to be multiplied by the number of beings to whose benefit it is dedicated. Thus, prior to delivering a discourse, a teacher might recite, *Until I attain enlightenment, I go for refuge to the Buddha, the dharma, and the supreme community. Through the merit of speaking the dharma, may all beings attain buddhahood.’ Prior to listening to the dharma, the members of the audience might recite,
*Until I attain enlightenment, I go for refuge to the Buddha, the dharma, and the supreme community. Through the merit of listening to the dharma, may all beings attain buddhahood. ’ A similar dedication might precede the performance of any virtuous deed.
Buddhist texts often conclude with a dedication by the author, in which the merit accrued through the writing of the book is directed towards an aim beyond the author’s own benefit. The dedication may take the form of a perfunctory sentence or an elaborate poem. A particularly famous example of the latter is the tenth and final chapter of the Bodhicaryavatara (Introduction to the Bodhisattva’s Career) by the eighth-century Indian monk Santideva, translated below. It takes the form of a series of statements in the form of a pranidhana, a word difficult to translate into English, that carries connotations of a prayer, a promise, a vow, an oath. Santideva is certain of the merit he has gained by composing his text, and now both declares and requests that it bear fruit in specific ways.
He begins with a spectacular harrowing of hell (4-16), in which great bodhisattvas, including Mahjusri (called here Mahjughosa), Avalokitesvara, Vajrapani and Samantabhadra descend into the depths to rescue the beings tortured there, transforming the hells into heavens that ‘resound with the song of sandpipers, drakes, wild ducks and wild geese, and [are] filled with ponds adorned with perfumed lotus blossoms’. Their compassionate power is so great that even the wicked workers of the Lord of Death, the prison guards of hell, are also saved.
He turns next briefly to wish for the welfare of animals and ghosts, before turning to humans (19-31), where he wishes for relief from all manner of the ordinary fears and sufferings that have beset humans.
He requests long life, beauty and wealth for all, and protection for the feeble-minded, the mad, the drunk, the very young and the very old. And he adds, it must be noted, ‘May all women in the world be reborn as menThe next section (32-50) includes more specifically Buddhist hopes, for a world in which monks and nuns live in harmony, keep their vows and receive abundant offerings; where the dharma is easily available to all; and where all practise it and easily achieve enlightenment.
Only in the final section (51-56) does Santideva ask for anything for himself, but even here he asks that he progress on the bodhisattva path, advancing to the first of the ten stages, and that he be protected by the bodhisattva Manjusri and emulate his deeds. In the end, he asks to take on the sufferings of all beings, that they may find happiness, *Let all the sufferings of the world come to an end in me; and let the whole world achieve happiness through the virtues of the bodhisattvas.’
May the merit I have obtained by composing this Introduction to theBodhisattva’s Career transform all sentient beings so that the bodhisattva’s conduct will be their ornament. (1)
Those who in every corner of the universe suffer torments of mind and body, may they find oceans of joy and happiness, through the power of my merit. (2)
May these living beings never lose this happiness for as long as they remain in the cycle of transmigration. May the world enjoy without interruption the bliss of the bodhisattvas. (3)
May all embodied beings in the different hells in all the world realms enjoy the happiness and the joys of the Land of Bliss. (4)
May those who suffer cold be granted warmth. May those who suffer heat be refreshed by streams of water that pour down from those prodigious clouds, the bodhisattvas.
May the forest of sword-leafed trees of hell acquire the splendid qualities of the heavenly Nanda forest, and the thorn bushes of hell turn into Indra’s wish-fulfilling trees. (6)
May the very centre of hell resound with the song of sandpipers, drakes, wild ducks and wild geese, and be filled with ponds adorned with perfumed lotus blossoms. (7)
May the burning coal mounds of hell turn into mounds of jewels, the red-hot pavements into cool crystal, and the grinding mountain millstones of hell become heavenly palaces worthy of adoration, the abode of so many buddhas. (8)
Let the rain of red-hot stones, coals and swords turn into a rain of flowers. Let the sword battles of the asura demons turn into playful jousts with swords of flowers. (9)
May the merit I have gained serve those who, as their bodies lose their flesh turning to blanched skeletons, descend into the boiling currents of Vaitaranya, the river of hell. May each one of them gain a celestial body in Mandakini, the Ganges of the heavens, and live there in the company of celestial nymphs. (10)
Let the servants of Yama, and the terrifying jackals and vultures that accompany them, tremble upon seeing that the darkness of the nether world everywhere vanishes miraculously. Let them wonder then, ‘Whose is this soothing light that brings such bliss and joy?’ Then, as they look upwards and see, descending from the sky, the flaming Vajrapani, let the force of their joy make them abandon their wickedness, that they may then leave with him. (11)
Let a shower of red lotuses, mixed with perfumed water, rain down to extinguish the fires of hell. ‘What is this?’ will say the denizens of hell, suddenly cooled by joy, as they gain sight of Vajrapani, the one who holds the lotus in his hand. (12)
‘Come, come at once, my brothers. Do not fear. We have come back to life. This youth, wearing a triple band, blazing with light, chases all fear away. By his power all sufferings vanish, joy overflows, and one is able to give rise to the thought of awakening, motivated by compassion, which is the mother that rescues all living beings.’ (13)
‘Look at him, the crowns of hundreds of gods stoop before the lotus of his feet; his eyes show the tears of compassion; over his head rains a shower of different kinds of flowers, descending from the towered palaces of heaven, where one can hear the praises of hundreds of singing goddesses.’ May the denizens of hell also praise the bodhisattva Manjughosa in this way when he appears before them. (14)
And in this way let them, through the power of my merits, accept and rejoice at the clouds of bodhisattvas that now surround them, with the bodhisattva Samantabhadra at their head. From these clouds descend fresh, perfumed breeze and a rain. (15)
Let the intense pains and terrors of hell disappear, and let those who are in evil rebirths become free of them. (16)
Let the animals be free from the fear of being devoured by others, and let the hungry ghosts reach satisfaction equal to that of the human beings in the land of Uttarakuru. (17)
May the hungry ghosts be sated and may they be able to bathe and refresh themselves in the rivers of milk emanating from the hands of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. (18)
May it be that everywhere the blind will see shapes and colours, and the deaf be able to hear. Let expectant mothers give birth without pain, like Queen Maya. (19)
May all humans have clothing, food, drink, garlands, sandalwood powder, ornaments – may they obtain as much as they desire of everything necessary for their well-being. (20)
May those who are afraid lose all their fears. Let the grieving find joy, and the anxious become serene and even-minded. (21)
May the sick find health; prisoners, freedom; the weak, strength. May [all] have loving thoughts towards each other. (22)
May all localities be friendly to those who travel through their roads, and may these travellers meet success in the enterprise for which they have set out on their journey.
May all those who travel by sea reach their desired destinations, returning safely to shore to rejoicing with their families. (24)
Let those who are lost in the jungle find a caravan. Let them continue in their journeys free from fatigue and the fear of bandits and wild beasts. (25)
May friendly deities protect from disease, the dangers of the jungle and other ills all those who are feeble-minded, mad, or drunk, and those who are unprotected, children and the aged. (26)
May all humans be free from conditions unfavourable to following the path. Let them have faith, wisdom and compassion, positive attitudes and good conduct, constantly remembering their past lives. (27)
May they come to possess inexhaustible treasures equal to those of the bodhisattva Gaganaganja. Let them not be tied to the pair of duality. Let them be free from coercion, acting in complete freedom. (28)
May those hermits who lack vigour acquire energy, and deformed sentient beings become beautiful. (29)
May all women in the world be reborn as men. May those who are small and insignificant achieve greatness, without pride. (30)
Let this my merit help all beings, without exception, to stop sin and practise the good (31)
Let no one lack the thought of awakening. Let them be totally devoted to the conduct of the bodhisattva, guided and protected by the awakened ones, having renounced the works of Mara. (32)
Let all sentient beings have a long life. Let them live in eternal happiness. Let even the word ‘death’ vanish for ever. (33)
May all regions of the universe be filled by the presence of the awakened and the sons of the awakened, and may these regions be adorned with parks where wish-fulfilling trees grow, and may the parks be filled with the melody of dharma. (34)
Let the earth become soft everywhere, free of roughness, flat like the palm of the hand and covered with beryl. (35)
Let the large assemblies of bodhisattvas everywhere sit in circles; and may they adorn the whole earth with their resplendent majesty. (36)
May all embodied beings hear incessantly the melody of dharma as it is sung by birds, trees, the sun’s rays and the sky. (37)
Let them always walk in the company of the awakened and their sons. Let them worship the Teacher of the World with infinite clouds of adoration. (38)
Let the sky god bring rain in proper season, giving abundant crops. May the people prosper, and may the king be just. (39)
Let all medicinal herbs and all the curative mantras of the healers effectively heal. May all dakims, raksasas, and other demons become compassionate. (40)
May there be no sentient being who is unhappy, evil, ill, scorned or rejected – may not one among them be heavy hearted. (41)
Let monasteries be a refuge for those devoted to the study of the teaching. Let there be harmony in the community, and may the goals of the community be fulfilled. (42)
May all monks succeed in keeping their life of solitude, and may they love the precepts. May they practise meditation with alertness and without distractions. (43)
May nuns receive abundant offerings. May they avoid quarrels and jealousy. May all sages and hermits observe all the precepts. (44)
Let those monks who are careless in their morality become aware [of their faults] and apply themselves to the destruction of these faults. May they all attain a favourable rebirth, where they will be able to keep their vows. (45)
May the truly wise receive honours, offerings and alms; may the truly pure achieve universal renown. (46)
May all beings achieve buddhahood through a single rebirth in the heavens, without further suffering in the unfortunate rebirths, and without having to engage in the difficult practices of the bodhisattvas. (47)
May all beings pay homage to the awakened in a variety of ways, and that they may thus become happy many times over by acquiring the inconceivable bliss of awakening. (48)
Let the bodhisattvas’ wishes for the well-being of the world become reality. May everything that these protectors intend be realized for all sentient beings. (49)
May solitary buddhas and mere disciples attain to happiness, venerated with the greatest honours by gods, asuras and humans. (50)
May I, by the grace of Manjughosa, become capable of renunciation and the recollection of past lives, that I may reach the first stage, the stage of Joy. (51)
May I bring to all my enterprises effort and vigour, and obtain the conditions necessary to lead a life of solitude in all my rebirths. (52)
May I be able to see and speak to the protector Manjughosa whenever I wish to do so. (53)
May I be able to follow by myself the conduct practised by Manjusri, which effects the goals of all sentient beings in the ten directions, to the very end of space. (54)
For as long as the vastness of space remains, and as long as the world exists, may I too subsist that long, destroying the suffering of the whole world. (55)
Let all the sufferings of the world come to an end in me; and let the whole world achieve happiness through the virtues of the bodhisattvas. (56)
May the teachings of dharma, the only medicine for the world’s ills, the cause of all perfection and happiness, long endure in this world, worshipped with offerings and honours. (57)
I pay homage to Manjughosa, by whose grace my mind has come to settle on the good. I salute this friend in the path, whose grace increases this thought of the good. (58)
Translated from the Sanskrit by Luis. O. Gomez, based on the edition of Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya [et al.], Bodhicaryavatara. Bibliotheca Indica, no. 280 (Calcutta: The Asiatic Society, 1960), pp. 229-44.
Source: Lopez Donald S. (2004), Buddhist Scriptures, Penguin Classics; First Edition.