The idiom familiar to many of you, “Virtue has its reward, evil its retribution”, is also true from the Buddhism perspective. Kind deeds and thoughts refer to having good behaviours and notions, all of which will be recorded and when the right time comes, there shall be recompense. The same goes with evil thoughts and deeds which will also be recorded and appropriate punishments shall be served. As the phrase goes, “retribution will be served unfailingly”. What is worth knowing is that the recompense from kind deeds and thoughts are not able to counteract the evil retribution brought about by our evil deeds and thoughts. In other words, if someone who has performed numerous kind deeds has also committed one serious evil deed, he will receive his kind retributions but will not be able to escape his evil retribution either. That explains why some acclaimed kind-hearted men suffer in hell when they pass on.
Meritorious deeds is a highly emphasised element in Buddhism. What is meritorious deeds? Only kind deeds and thoughts which had been vowed upon in front of Bodhisattva are considered as meritorious deeds. In the absence of such a gesture, our kind deeds and thoughts, regardless if they are from one’s own intention or done under the influence of Buddhist teachings, shall remain at the level of self-expression. For example, a person has been practising vegetarianism for ten years. However, if they did not make a vow in front of Bodhisattva, this practice can only be regarded as their personal preference. Therefore, we must make a resolution in front of Bodhisattva in performing all kind and charitable deeds, be it in helping others, filial piety towards our parents, or affection towards our siblings. Kind deeds and thoughts are only considered to be meritorious if a resolution has been made and witnessed by Bodhisattva. However, there is an exception, i.e. kind deeds performed at Buddhist places of worship such as the temple and Guan Yin Hall. Deeds performed at these places are naturally considered meritorious, hence making a separate resolution is unnecessary.
Extracted from: Using Ingenious Methods to Help Sentient Beings and Establish Kind Affinities with All – A Collection of Best Discourses by Master Jun Hong Lu (Section four, topic 15, Difference between kind deeds and meritorious deeds)
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