Buddhist Studies Review, Vol 30, No 1 (2013)

Evolution of the Theravāda Buddhist Idea of ‘Merittransference’ to the Dead, and its Role in Sri Lankan Buddhist Culture

Soorakkulame Pemarathana
Issued Date: 7 Oct 2013

Abstract


The practice of merit-transference in Sri Lankan Theravāda Buddhism has evolved over three important stages of development, namely, assigning of dakkhiṇā, giving of patti, and direct transferring of merit. These stages are generally understood as similar practices but are significantly different from each other. It is not the merit but the meritorious act that is dedicated to, or shared with the departed ones in first two stages. Pattidāna, in this context, does not strictly mean giving merit or giving what is obtained or achieved, as it has so far been interpreted, but giving a share of or stake in the ownership of a meritorious act. It is in the third stage that the idea of merit-transference appeared in Buddhist practice in Sri Lanka. Understanding this historical development is important for interpreting Buddhist texts in their historical contexts as well as for realizing the larger role assigned to the living in the contemporary practice of merit-transference (puṇyānumodanā/ pin anumodan-/ pin dīma) and its influence on other arena of social and cultural life in Sri Lanka. This idea of merit-transference transformed mourning and sorrowful funerals into merit-making events. Practices related to this idea of merit-transference also successfully fulfill the psychological needs of the living to assist departed relatives and to maintain some form of relationship with them. It also allowed local beliefs to be assimilated into the Buddhist fold and shaped the social structure of the living, particularly the lay-monastic relationship.

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DOI: 10.1558/bsrv.v30i1.89

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