Punna Kamma – Dāna, Sīla, Bhāvanā

Revised March 24, 2016; September 14, 2017; major revision with title change April 27, 2018

1. Here we discuss the 10 types of punna kamma (doing meritorious deeds). These can be divided into three groups: dāna, sīla, bhāvanā.

  • Those are essential for progress in one’s mundane eightfold path.
  • One must cultivate the mundane path and remove the 10 types of micca ditthi before being able to comprehend the Tilakkhana and start on the Noble Eightfold Path; see, “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart“.

2. The differences between kusala/akusala kamma and punna/pāpa kamma were discussed in a previous post: “Kusala and Akusala Kamma, Punna and Pāpa Kamma“.

3. As discussed in the above two posts, kusala kamma (getting rid of raga, dosa, moha) eventually lead to Nibbāna. However, punna kamma (meritorious actions) help set the background to attain Nibbāna, and thus are also critically important. 

  • One needs to do both. However, the ability do kusala kamma is vastly improved when one starts comprehending Tilakkhana; see, “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta“.
  • One not only will be born in “good realms” with punna kamma, but also one will be born with good longevity, health, comfort, and wealth (ayu, vanna, sapa, bala) to be able to comprehend Tilakkhana and pursue Nibbāna with ease.

These ten meritorious actions (punna kamma) are divided into three groups: däna (generosity), sīla (moral behavior), and bhāvanā (meditation).

Punna KammaDāna, Sila, Bhāvanā

Dāna (Generosity) group includes:

  1. Dāna (giving)
  2. Transfer of merits to others (pattidāna)
  3. Rejoicing (accepting or participating) in other’s merits (pattanumodana)

Sila (Morality) group includes:

  1. Sila (morality), i.e., observing 5, 8, or 10 precepts
  2. Reverence to elders and holy persons (apacayana)
  3. Pay homage to religious places, take care of such places, etc (veyyavacca)

Bhāvanā  (meditation) group includes:

  1. Meditation (bhāvanā)
  2. Listening to Dhamma discourses (Dhamma savana)
  3. Teaching Dhamma (Dhamma desana)
  4. Correcting one’s wrong views, especially on kamma (ditthijukamma)

On the last one, see, “What is Kamma? – Is Everything Determined by Kamma?“.

6. Therefore, dāna, sīla, bhāvanā constitute the “base” of a life of a moral person.

  • The “dāna group” helps one overcome one’s greed (lobha).
  • The “sīla group” helps removing hate (dosa) from one’s mind.
  • The “bhāvanā group” helps removing ignorance (moha) from the mind by learning Dhamma and getting rid of the wrong views (micca ditthi).

7. Since Nibbāna is removing greed, hate, and ignorance from one’s mind, it is clear how these ten actions pave the way for Nibbāna. As one engages in these activities more and more, the “cooling down” or “niveema” can be experienced; see, “How to Taste Nibbāna”.

  • In the sīla group of activities, one starts by observing the five precepts, i.e., abstaining from killing living beings intentionally, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and getting intoxicated. This last one is normally taken to be intoxication with alcohol or drugs, but it also includes intoxication with money, beauty, power, position, etc.

8. It is always a good idea to keep in mind why these are to be moral actions: Because they help purify one’s mind:

  • Most people, in order to avoid breaking the five precepts abstain from drinking, but do not hesitate to show off their wealth, beauty, power, etc.; they are “drunk” too.
  • Others pay a lot of attention not to lie, but do not hesitate to gossip, slander, or verbally abuse others.
  • Also one should realize that a human life has much more weight compared to an animal life; see, “How to Evaluate Weights of Different Kamma”.
  • Most of all, the tenth one is the most potent one that most people neglect to consider. Having established wrong views (niyata micca ditthi) is a very potent immoral action, and thus one needs to understand this clearly; see, “Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala)”.

9. This is why learning Dhamma has a prominent place in the bhāvanā section. As one learns the deeper concepts of Dhamma gradually, wrong views are gradually removed. It is not enough to just say, “I will not have these views anymore”, even though making such a determination is good. The mind needs to see evidence to get rid of the wrong views it has. The feeling of the niramisa sukha when one starts on the Path will make it easier to remove wrong views; see, “Three Kinds of Happiness – What is Niramisa Sukha?”.

The High Value of Punna Kamma Done with Understanding

1. If one performs a wholesome deed with the knowledge of kamma and its effects and also of anicca, dukkha, anatta, then the wholesome roots will be associated with understanding. The volition is accompanied with all three wholesome roots: non-greed, non-hate, non-delusion. So three-root (tihétuka or “ti” + “hetu“) wholesome kamma is acquired.

  • On the other hand, if one performs a wholesome deed without any knowledge of Kamma and its effects or the basic unfruitful nature of this world, he is doing it without any understanding. Then the volition will not be accompanied by non-delusion, but only the two roots of non-greed and non-hate. So two-root (dvihétuka = “dvi“+ “hetu“) kamma is acquired. These are less meritorious compared to the three-root (tihetuka) kamma.

2. A detailed discussion can be found at, “A Simple Way to Enhance Merits (Kusala) and Avoid Demerits (Akusala)“. We will discuss these effects in detail in the Abhidhamma section too.

  • But it is important to realize that the strength of the kamma vipaka for a given meritorious act will vary depending on the level of understanding. For example, while just writing check for charity will have its results, much more stronger results will be gained by someone who spends the same amount of money but involves more with giving by thinking about it before and afterwards, and “getting involved” in the process, for example preparing meals for the hungry etc.

3. To acquire this type of superior kamma, one should think of the moral action in advance and feel glad for having the chance to do it. Again after performing the action, one should reflect on it and be full of joy thinking about the good aspects of the deed. Furthermore, one can gain more merits by doing a punna anumodana or pattidana (transfer of merits to others, #2 kusala kamma above) because this amounts to paying off sansaric debts; see, “Kamma, Debt, and Meditation”.

  • On the other hand, if one feels lazy or reluctant or jealous or stingy before a moral action such as giving charity, and regrets doing the moral action afterwards, then the moral volition of giving to charity will be surrounded by other unwholesome intentions (cetana) and consequently its potentiality will be weakened. The wholesome kamma acquired in this case is inferior.

Thus is the importance of learning Dhamma in order to grasp such details and to realize the full benefits one’s meritorious actions. Plus, it is interesting to see how all these details “fit into the big picture”; see, “The Importance of Purifying the Mind”.

Next, “The Five Precepts – What the Buddha Meant by Them”, …

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