It's a great old tradition to sponsor a single tile or a shingle on the roof of a temple. One tile alone does not provide much in the way of shelter, but working together and combining our efforts a huge building can be covered. Can you catch the deep metaphor here?.. ;-)
According to our traditions, providing buddhist monks with the basic necessities of food, clothing, medicine, and shelter is an act of 'great merit'. By providing the sangha with the necessities of daily life we ensure that the Triple Treasure of Buddha Dharma and Sangha will continue today and into the future. By continuing into the future, we are also insuring that the Buddhas and ancestors are alive in the past! This may be hard to believe, but imagine a world without a living and vital Sangha... Shakyamuni Buddha, Bodhidharma, and Suzuki Roshi will all be mythical dusty old ghosts. By ensuring the continuity of a living breathing Sangha, the warm blood continues to course through the veins of our ancient lineage. Assuring the wellbeing of the Triple Treasure in this present place and time also assures the possibility of the Tripple Treasure in the past and future, in every direction. In this way, the merit of offering even a single blade of grass is incalculable.
But, when asked by the Emperor, didn't Bodhidharma say that there is no merit gained by making such offerings?.. Yes! and that is true. Because to gain merit, or to have merit, implies a separate individual self to do the 'having'... it implies a zero-sum equation of definitive gain and lose. But our world doesn't work that way. our world is a world of interdependence and constant change. Our wealth is not permanent and not really our our own.
Our material wealth is impermanent, it can be lost, burnt, eaten up, or taken by thieves; and our wealth is not our own, as it relies on the support and function of myriad other beings and conditions. People of ancient times could see this quite easily. farmers in the old days knew well that their wealth depended on cooperative effort with earth, sun, seed, rain and other people. The work of soil, seed and life is directly observable. Wise rulers in the old days knew that the wealth of nations depended on the labour of people and the benevolence of nature. Today it is too easy to forget that our wealth is a function of interdependence. Who could blame an IT-technician or an investment banker who labors all day punching numbers into a glowing screen in an air-conditioned glass office and believes that their paycheck is a result of their own personal genius... Our technologies make all the people and nature that support us almost invisible. In the post-industrialized countries we can rarely encounter the truth of soil and excrement, we rarely appreciate the hard labour that supports our basic needs. It is as easy to believe an individual creates their own wealth as it is to believe in a separate self-existence.
But what of creating good merit?
An ancient teacher said "give your treasure to the poor and store up your riches in heaven, for where your treasure is there will your heart be also."
While I don't believe we can individually store up merit in some cosmic bank account, I do know we can do good work that makes the whole world brighter and more peaceful. Caring for each other and all beings, providing shelter, wisdom or support. As all things are interdependent, like shining one jewel in a jeweled net, doing a good dead in our little corner of space-time brightens up the whole network.
The vows of the Earth-store Bodhisattva suggest that when we do good and constructive work we should dedicate the merit to all beings throughout the 'Dharma realm.' I believe that this is possible because merit is a verb, and functions like love. The one sure way to have love is to give it away. The more we give it away, the more there is, and the more we have! This is true of wealth love and merit, because everything is interdependent. There is a silly saying "you can't have your cake and eat it too" but really, who wants an old rotting cake sitting around?! I prefer the notion that the proof of the pudding is in eating it with friends and neighbors...
But back to the roof tiles. If you are someone who has made the efforts and met with the circumstances that brought you plenty of cake and money, I hope you will consider sponsoring a tile to cover the roof on our new temple building. I can promise we will put it to good use when it is built.
Perhaps a single roof tile is beyond your present means?.. then I encourage you to offer even a blade of grass and kind wishes.
Perhaps your circumstances would allow you to cover a building in blocks of gold and platinum?.. then let's also talk about a few other projects we have in the works ;-)
Whatever good works we do, may the merit benefit all beings in the past present and future in the ten directions.