Puñña Kamma – Dāna, Sīla, Bhāvanā

Revised March 24, 2016; September 14, 2017; major revision with title change April 27, 2018; edited February 14, 2021; December 21, 2021

1. Here, we discuss the ten types of puñña kamma (doing meritorious deeds). These are in 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 ten types of micchā diṭṭhi before being able to comprehend the Tilakkhana and start on the Noble Eightfold Path; see, “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart.”

2. A previous post discussed the differences between kusala/akusala kamma and puñña/pāpa kamma: “Kusala and Akusala Kamma, Puñña and Pāpa Kamma.”

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

  • One needs to do both. However, the ability to do kusala kammā is vastly improved when one starts comprehending Tilakkhana; see, “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta.”
  • Puñña kammālead to rebirths in “good realms.” Furthermore, one will be born with long life, good health, comfort, and wealth (āyu, vaṇṇa, sukha, bala) to be able to comprehend Tilakkhana and pursue Nibbāna with ease. The following Dhammapada verse emphasizes that:
    Abhivādanasīlissa,
    niccaṃ vuḍḍhāpacāyino;
    Cattāro dhammā vaḍḍhanti,
    āyu vaṇṇo sukhaṃ balaṃ.”
  • Āyu, vaṇṇa, sukha, and bala mean the length of life, beauty, happiness, and strength.

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

Puñña 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 (pattānumodanā)

Sila (Morality) group includes:

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

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 (diṭṭhijukamma)

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 to remove hate (dosa) from one’s mind.
  • The “bhāvanā group” helps to remove ignorance (moha) from the mind by learning Dhamma and getting rid of the wrong views (micchā diṭṭhi).

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, one can experience the “cooling down” or “niveema“; 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 usually involves intoxication with alcohol or drugs, but it also includes 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:

  • To avoid breaking the five precepts, most people 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 human life has much more weight than 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 micchā diṭṭhi) can lead to frequent immoral actions. Thus, one needs to understand this clearly; see, “Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala).”

9. This is why learning Dhamma is prominent in the bhāvanā section. As one keeps learning deeper concepts of Dhamma, wrong views will gradually fade away. It is not enough to 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. When one starts on the Path, the feeling of the nirāmisa sukha will make it easier to remove wrong views; see, “Three Kinds of Happiness – What is Niramisa Sukha?“.

The High Value of Puñña Kamma Done with Understanding

1. If one performs a wholesome deed with the knowledge of kamma and its effects and anicca, dukkha, anatta, then the wholesome roots will be associated with understanding. Then one’s actions will be based on 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, performing a wholesome deed without knowing the laws of kammā will dilute its effects on future outcomes (vipāka.)  Then one’s intention will not have wisdom or paññā (true 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 in “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 essential to realize that the strength of the kamma vipāka for a given meritorious act will vary depending on the level of understanding. For example, just writing a check to charity will have some results. But more substantial results will materialize if it was done with a good understanding of the laws of kamma.

3. To engage in this type of superior kamma, one should think of the moral action in advance. After the deed, one should reflect on it and contemplate on it. Furthermore, one can gain more merits by doing a puñña anumodana or pattidāna (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 afterward, then the moral volition of giving to charity will be surrounded by other unwholesome intentions (cetana). Consequently, its results will be weaker. The wholesome kamma acquired, in this case, is inferior.

Thus is the importance of learning Dhamma to grasp such details and realize the full benefits of 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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