Truth, Power and Sharing the Merit
by Tarchin Hearn
How does the power of truth operate?
How does truth as a factor of power work?
How can its power, as power, be realized?
– Vaclav Havel
Let’s begin by exploring the idea of power. The current New Zealand government is partially privatizing the power companies. In the news we hear of consumer power, grey power, military power, nuclear power, fossil fuel power and alternative power. In sports we have power plays and in psychology we discover power games and the power of positive thinking. Politicians are elected into power, where, as we suspect, “all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. In some schools of Buddhism we have empowerment ceremonies and in the course of business restructuring, people are often left feeling disempowered. In the midst of, all these goings on we can have power surges, power shortages, and power black-outs. Power seems to be something we can consume, generate, run out of, be envious of and afraid of. It is something we celebrate, idolize, worship and denigrate and, if we get exhausted with all of this, we can have a power nap! It seems we are living in a culture that is both obsessed and fascinated with power.
In all this muddle, we could identify two basic expressions of power. Power that creates and power that destroys. Looked at with care and discrimination, these two are revealed as faces of a seamless continuum, similar to the way metabolism is an unbroken flow of anabolism and catabolism –– the biochemical processes involved in assembling complex substances and breaking them down into simpler ones. Things come into being and pass away. Beings are born and eventually die. All form is trans-forming. How I live and die, moment by blessed moment, is a contributing part of the environment for others, just as their living and dying is part of my environment. In truth, we live in and through each other, and this is a great mystery.
I looked up the word ‘power’ in the Thesaurus and came across hundreds of alternatives. Power as ability, vitality, strength, potency, authority, governance, driving force, competence, capacity, attribute, energy . . . and more. We humans seem to be fairly developed and diversified in our abilities to coerce, restrict and destroy but when it comes to creation, we can feel only humbleness and sometimes awe. For example, we may take pride in being good gardeners, but actually we are just transient participants in a dynamic that joins seed and sun and rain and earth and DNA linkages; all of these and more, dancing together, manifesting as corn and bean and wheat and berries and well fed farmers who can then continue to cultivate. We may feel we have the power to create all sorts of things but from the point of view of nature unfolding, our taking credit for a birthing into the world that involves a collaboration of so many, is a conceit and a delusion of ownership that ends up diminishing everyone.
In everything that we do we are facets of a vast inter-becoming that has been in process long before we even entertained the thought of participating. The real power, the ability and potency to bring forth universes, eco-systems, living individuals and integrated collectives, belongs to the whole system. In our human eyes, it sometimes seems more akin to magic. Seeing the vast magnitude of even the simplest act of creativity can throw us into states of open-eyed wonderment!
We need to widen our sense of ‘being’; appreciating that each one of us is a unique and meaningful contributor to this dancing suchness. In realizing that my beginnings and ends, day by day, year by year, from micro to macro – all my beginnings and ends – are mingling and merging with the whole of the world, I experience moments of true empowerment, moments of feeling, in my very bones and marrow, a broad, uplifting exhilaration of life affirming possibilities and positivity. A sense of belonging to and with a world of nature that is mysterious and awesome in its power and presence. At this very moment, each and every one of us is playing an essential part in this dancing – this powerful (punya) universe-creating activity (karma). What I do matters. What you do matters.
At the conclusion of many Buddhist practices, there is a section of meditation called ‘sharing the merit’. Punya is a Sanskrit word that is often translated as merit though, in essence, it means power. To share the merit is to share the power, to share in the power, to celebrate our participation in the flowing creativity that we are, and in which we find ourselves. To share the merit is to live in truth. In contrast, we might live in a lie, a delusion, or fantasy. We might try to claim the merit, take credit for the merit, or hoard the merit. By choice or by circumstances we might live in ways that deny the non-negotiable sharing that makes up everything. To not share the merit becomes the equivalent of living in the lie and living in the lie is ultimately life denying and ecologically unsustainable; in short, a disaster!
What might it mean to live within the truth? What is real merit/power? Ask yourself this question. “Is my moment to moment living a sharing of the merit?” Hold this question in your heart of hearts and allow space for intuitive wisdom to guide you.
Many of us aspire to live within the truth and yet continue to support life-denying delusions. Here are some examples. I love my children while I participate in a livelihood that is destroying the nature base of my children’s future. I want peace and happiness while I pay taxes that build armies, prisons and support the weapons industry. I am concerned about the environment while I spray herbicides and pesticides from the air, killing countless numbers of unknown beings. I want the well being of other humans while I shop for the cheapest deal, thus supporting sweatshops. I want community while I insulate myself with material goods that make walls between myself and others. I want individual freedom while supporting an authoritarian political system.
Sharing the merit is much more than a moment of reflection that finishes a period of wholesome activity. As we mature as human beings, it becomes a huge statement of aspiration and confidence, both to ourselves and to the world. It is a realization of the true state of affairs and a powerful commitment to live in ways that are in accord with our understanding. More than a quiet pious moment of wishing others well, sharing the merit in its full grandeur is a call to revolution – a call to recognize the great cycling of life and to participate richly and fully in this mystery we were born to.
By the power of these wholesome activities
May our lives be rich with awakening.
Living thus may we abandon all unwholesomeness.
Through the endless storm of birth, illness, old-age and death,
May we live in ways that help all beings to realize their true nature.
© Tarchin Hearn May, 2012