(3.9) May a rain of food and drink descend
To dispel the miseries of hunger and thirst;
And during the great aeon of famine,
May I become their food and drink.
(3.10) May I become an inexhaustible treasury
For the poor and destitute.
May I be everything they might need,
Placed freely at their disposal.
We all know that it is better to dedicate our virtues and make prayers towards enlightenment because only that will provide lasting help for all living beings. We correctly say it is more beneficial to meditate on bodhichitta than to help living beings in worldly ways. But sometimes we misunderstand such comparisons to mean it is somehow not good to help others in worldly ways, that we are doing something wrong when we help in a homeless shelter or pray that somebody feel better because it is worldly. This is totally wrong. A bodhisattva works for the benefit of living beings in this life and in future lives, in worldly ways and in spiritual ways. Just because the spiritual ways are better doesn’t mean the worldly ones are somehow bad. One is good; the other is even better. But both are worthwhile.
Of course we pray that somebody be healed of their cancer as we simultaneously pray that they are able to transform their having cancer into a cause of their enlightenment. We do both, always.
The reality is this world is filled with the poor, the destitute and the infirm. We should do everything we can to help them, both in terms of giving them fish and in terms of teaching them how to fish. We should do everything we can to help living beings, both in this life and for all their future lives. It is true meditating on bodhichitta is more beneficial, but what stops us from helping those in need with a bodhichitta motivation? Surely that is the best of all.
Our dedication functions to transform our merit into pure karma which ripens in pure results. If we generate contaminated virtues (virtues mixed with delusions), but we subsequently dedicate that merit towards pure spiritual ends, then it functions to transform what was contaminated virtue into completely pure virtue. It is worth recalling if we don’t dedicate our merit it will be destroyed by our subsequent anger, so it is as if we never engaged in the good action to begin with. If we don’t protect our merit, it is guaranteed our anger will soon destroy it. The only reason why we have anything good is because in the past we dedicated. So every time something good happens we should thank our past self for dedicating. If we do this, then it will not be long before we establish a clear connection in our mind between our practice of virtue and our good fortune.
Dedication works because the goals we are dedicating for don’t exist outside of our mind, so we are essentially directing the merit to ripen in a particular way. Sometimes we can think, how can my mentally wishing my merit ripen in certain ways actually function to bring about that outcome? We think this only because we still grasp at things existing outside of our mind as something more than mere imputation by mind. The more we understand emptiness, the more we realize dedication and prayers not only can work, essentially only they can work.
Dedication protects the virtuous imprints in our mental continuum, and allows for growth. As its nature is a virtuous intention, it acts as a cause directing our virtue to the effects that we’d like. As they are dedicated, intended for particular goals, the virtues in our mind will increase until they ripen as the effects that we’d like. As Bodhisattvas we must primarily direct our virtue to attaining enlightenment and the freedom and happiness of others. This is our final aim and purpose towards which we direct all of our virtues. But again, this does not mean we do not also dedicate and pray for temporary happiness and freedom from suffering.
We cannot keep whatever merit we have gained for ourselves. Miserliness with respect to our material possessions is a delusion; miserliness with respect to our inner wealth of merit is truly misguided. Externally, it may seem like when we give something away we lose it and it is not entirely clear how we will get more in the future. But merit, unlike outer wealth, is almost immediately replenished within our mind as soon as we give it away. We must dedicate ours to others. Dedicating our merit to enlightenment is actually giving away our merit to others. Perhaps dedication is an aspect of giving that we overlook. Giving away even the cause of one’s own virtue and happiness — what a mind! It is the complete opposite to self-cherishing.