Rebirth and Merit are two important concepts in the Buddhist way of life. The two are intimately attached. Under Buddhism a person tries to end the suffering of rebirth by attaining merit through good works. In Buddhism merit is “the fruit of good actions which can be devoted to the welfare of other beings.” (1) As one accumulates merit he or she expects to attain a higher state of enlightenment through a more desirable rebirth that gets him or her closer to the goal of nirvana.
This concept sounds simple enough. Do good works and be rewarded. Yet there is a catch that many Buddhist, perhaps even you have experienced. How do you know when your good thoughts, feelings, and actions outweigh your bad ones? How can you know if your merits toward rebirth really outweigh your demerits?
Many Buddhists have great private struggles with their merit and demerit, and for very practical reasons. They simply cannot remember all of their good deeds and bad deeds. The answer for many Buddhists has been to dedicate themselves more fully to the Buddhist way of life—meditations, visiting monasteries, making gifts, attending teachings, and performing rituals. Out of a fear of suffering and imperfection they try to do more in hopes of earning a better rebirth. Rebirth, in this sense, is a form of punishment—in other words, a form of justice.
But is the rebirth concept practical, possible, or even just?