Points of Controversy

7.5. Of Utility

Controverted Point: That merit increases with utility.

Theravādin: By your thesis you imply that other mental experiences are increasing quantities: that contact, feeling, perception, volition, cognition, faith, energy, mindfulness, samādhi, understanding, can each keep growing—which you deny… . And that merit keeps growing just as a creeper, a liana, a tree, grass, or brushwood grows—which you deny… .

Again, in affirming it, do you also admit that a giver acquires merit when, having given his gift, he does not consider it further? You do. But this is to imply, in other words, that merit accrues to one who does not consciously advert to, reflect upon, consider, attend to, deliberate, anticipate, aim. Is not the opposite the case? You assent. Then it is wrong to say that merit goes on growing with utility.

Again, in affirming your thesis, do you also admit that a giver may acquire merit who, on giving a gift, entertains sensual, malevolent, or cruel thoughts? “Yes you reply. Then have we here a combination of two contacts, feelings, perceptions, volitions, cognitions? No? Think! “Yes,” you now reply. Then you are maintaining that good and bad, guilty and innocent, base and noble, sinister and clear mental states, can co-exist side by side at the same moment. You deny. Think again! “Yes,” you now reply. But was it not said by the Exalted One:

“There are four things, bhikkhus, very far away one from the other. What are the four? The sky and the earth, the hither and the yonder shore of the ocean, whence the sun rises and where he sinks, the Dhamma of the good and that of the wicked.

“Far is the sky and far from it the earth lies;
Far too the further shore of ocean, say they;
And whence the radiant sun at day dawn rises,
And where he goes, lightmaker, to his ending.
Yet further than all these asunder, say they,
The Dhamma of good men’s lives and that of bad men.
Co-operation of the good can never perish,
True to its nature while it yet endureth.
But swift dissolves the intercourse of bad men.
Hence far is Dhamma of good from that of evil.”

Therefore it is wrong to say that good and bad, etc., mental states, co-exist side by side in anyone.

Rājagirikas, Siddhattikas, and Sammitīyas: But, if your rejection is right, was it not said by the Exalted One:

“Planters of groves and shady woods,
And they who build causeway and bridge,
And wells construct and watering sheds,
And to the homeless dwellings give—
Of such as these by day and night
For ever doth the merit grow.
In righteousness and virtue’s might
Such folk from earth to heaven go.”

Therefore merit goes on growing with utility.

Again, was it not said by the Exalted One:

Bhikkhus, there are these four streams of merit and of good, sources of happiness and blissful fate, resulting in happiness, conducive to heavenly life, conducive to that which is desirable, agreeable, and sweet, to welfare and happiness. What are the four? When a bhikkhu, enjoying the use of robes, or of alms-food, or of shelter, or of medical requisites given him, is able to attain to and dwell in infinite samādhi of mind, to the giver each of these four gifts is an infinite stream of merit and of good..”

Therefore merit goes on growing with utility.

Theravādin: You still affirm your proposition. Now, does a giver who has given a gift acquire merit when the acceptor, having accepted the gift, throws it away, abandons it? “Yes,” you reply. But you cannot possibly say of that giver’s merit that it goes on growing.

Or if, when the gift is accepted, kings, or thieves, take it away again, or fire burns it, or water bears it away, or hostile heirs take it back? The same holds good. Hence merit is not dependent upon utility.