Merit-making is regarded as a virtue in Buddhism. In Thailand, making merit is referred to as “Tham Bun,” which means making (Tham) merit (Bun), and it is common to see laypeople offering donations to temples or monks. This practice is a characteristic of Thai Buddhist culture. Yet it is unclear where this practice originated from, and it can be speculated that the establishment of this practice is strongly influenced by one particular type of scripture.
To understand this point, the existence of a non-canonical Buddhist scripture called “Ānisaṃsa: merit, result of good karma, benefit” becomes significant. This scripture, which developed in Thailand, explains the merit-making practice. Ānisaṃsa is a set of literature which describes a concept of karma, that is, that making merit will allow one to be born in heaven in the next life.
Many of the Ānisaṃsa texts have been used by monks while preaching or reading scripture to encourage laypeople to make merit. The content that is preached covers a wide range of topics, including donating daily necessities for monks, or flowers, lanterns, and incense to be used in Buddhist rituals, in addition to donating temple buildings, or listening to preaching.
This paper is based on the Ānisaṃsa literature and will consider the Sabbadāna-ānisaṃsa (The Merit of All Donations), the Pāli text that exhaustively covers the merits of giving donations, yet is rarely introduced in Buddhist studies.
The text was handed down as a palm-leaf manuscript for a long period of time. Some manuscripts are shorter at 18 folios, while there are also longer ones with over 240 folios. What is striking here are the differences between the quotations and expressions from the Pāli Buddhist scriptures, which are the sources that the texts draw from to explain merit. As can be seen from the differences themselves, we seek to clarify the purpose of making the manuscripts.
Based on these considerations, we consider the role of the Ānisaṃsa literature upon donations, as well as the significance of the creation of this type of literature in large numbers.