Q: A part of many practices is ‘the dedication of merit’. I find accumulating merit a strange idea – it feels like collecting the opposite of sin. I didn’t think Dharma included these sorts of concepts.
NN: The Tibetan word that roughly equates with ‘sin’ is digpa15. Interestingly this is the same as the word for scorpion. Ngak’chang Rinpoche once told me a story about a scorpion that you might find helpful with regard to the word digpa.
A scorpion sits by the side of a river wanting to get across. It spies a frog and asks the frog most politely,
Dear Frog – would you be so kind as to carry me across the river on your back? The frog—aghast at the proposition—replies,
Dear me. No, you are a scorpion – you’d sting me and I would die. The scorpion then points out the logical problem with this,
Dear Frog, it would not be in my best interests to sting you – for if I did I would drown. The frog being an eminently logical creature saw the sense of this and agreed to let the scorpion climb on its back. The frog started out across the river, but no sooner had the frog reached the middle of the current than the scorpion arched its tail and stung the frog.
With its dying breath, the frog asked,
Why? to which the scorpion replied in a resigned tone, ‘I do regret it, dear Frog, but I couldn’t help it. It is my nature, you see.
The concept of digpa is not encumbered by connotations of guilt or penance. Digpa is, as Ngak’chang Rinpoche describes it, ‘dualistic derangement’ – rather than badness or evil. Even deliberate badness is regarded as confusion rather than an act perpetrated in the full knowledge of non-dual reality. Overcoming digpa involves the simple recognition that it is not possible to hurt others without hurting yourself.
Q: And merit?
NN: Merit accumulation is a Sutrayana approach and based on the idea that the path to enlightenment is a long and difficult task. Skilful action—action that moves in the direction of enlightenment—is continually developed, while unskilful action—action that moves away from enlightenment—is continually renounced. Recognition of skill, and celebration of skilful actions, strengthen the view of renunciation.
15. Digpa (sDig pa) (Tibetan)