Transference of Merit has always been a concept debated by many Buddhists. This is because it contradicts with the concept of karma, as it was mentioned in the Dhammapada:
“By oneself is evil alone; by oneself is one defiled.
By oneself is evil left defiled; by oneself alone is one made pure.
Purity and impurity depend on oneself; no one can purify another.”
Research in early scriptures revealed that there is no mention of transference of merits. You can read more about the discrepancies in this article: http://sasanarakkha.org/dhamma/2007/03/merits-can-they-be-transferred.html
Personally, I do believe the transfer of merit is possible. An important book that led me to believe so is the book “How I Became a Temple Healer” by Cornelis Reiman. The author has special healing powers and helps cure patients in a Thai temple. He shares that transfer of merit (boon) to his patients is a major healing component in his work and he uses it all the time. In addition, a Luang Phor has shared his personal encounters of transfer of merit seemingly taking effect. I have republished the article here:
I would like to leave it with all patrons today that transference of merit is not the same as dissemination of merit. Dissemination is the spreading of merit. It is like clearing the area. So, it is said, "Sabbe satta, all beings who have common sufferings of birth, aging, illness and death alike." This is called dissemination. But transference is giving specifically. If one wants to give the merit to oneself, one need not say anything. There is no need to say let me be rich. Let me be good. Let me be free from debt. If you make merit, you will be rich anyway. You are the one who does it. So, you are the one who gets. There is no need to mention the name when you give it to your parents. When the child makes merit and attains wisdom, the parents also receive it because they are close to you. Parents are within you. The more merit you make, the more of it reaches your parents. If you have your own child, who is good and wise, you are automatically pleased. There is no need to say anything. The word n~a-taka-nan~ca refers to all relatives. Whoever is your kin will receive it. Even kin from your past existence, not this existence, also receives it. If you know someone and you like each other, united, acquainted, understand each other and help or depend on each other; then it is called n~a-taka-nan~ca. Kin from all places combined. Sometime, someone may not be your relative in this existence. But you do not know whether he has been your relative in a previous existence or not. If you happen to like each other, thinking the same thing, you may have been relatives in the past existence. Since you have been apart for a long time, just re-united, you may have a vague memory. But you can still be relatives according to the above meaning. The relation of husband and wife in the past existence can be applied in the same way. If you were not relatives in the past, but you support each other now, you can be relatives in the future.
Parents can transfer merit to children.
Recently, a person living in Prompiram, Pitsanulok Province came to the temple telling me that his son has gone for a Master's Degree education in America. He had not written home for three months then. I knew it. The son was going to die in ICU in America. He said, "I would like to make merit on my son's birthday by offering lunch to monks at this temple." I said, "You're welcome. The monks will chant Dhammacakka for you." It is a rare case for monks here to chant Dhammacakka. Both patrons used to meditate. So, they knew what to do. Those who come to make merit just like that, receive like merit. When the ceremony was over, I explained. You have come to make merit today intending to transfer merit to your son in America. Today is his birthday but he has no opportunity to do it himself. See if it works. The parents poured the dedicating water, transferring merit to their son. Today is your birthday. We have come here to make merit for you. We wish you a successful graduation in your Master's degree. At that time, the son was working for his Master's degree. But he had not passed yet. He was required to correct many points in his thesis. He was ill with hepatitis, about to die in ICU. The parents made merit, chanting the virtues of the Buddha, chanting Bahum-Mahaka, and transferred merit to their son in America. It had been 3 months and they had not received any news from him. He did not answer his mother's phone call. In fact, the son could not take any call because he was in the hospital, being between death and life. The doctor said there was no hope. It just happened that they received a letter 10 days after making merit. The son wrote: "Dear parents, I have to apologize for not sending any news because I have been seriously ill. I was in the hospital. Secondly, my Master's degree thesis had not been approved at that time. Since such and such a date and time, I had been recovering in ICU and have got better day by day. I have corrected my thesis. The professor let me pass. I will continue to work for a Doctorate degree." The letter was dated the very date that the parents had come to make merit at this temple, at 11.00 - 12.00. It was night time in America that he woke up, at the same time as the merit making. I would like to leave you with this: that all of this is the law of karma from one's deeds. Parents can make merit for their children. 22nd April 1992
Children can Transfer Merit to Parents
Phra Narongsak Thitapemo is the son of Colonel Prakit Siribandhu in Bangkok. He was ordained at his grandfather's funeral ceremony. Having been ordained, his patrons brought him for meditation training at this temple for 7 days before he left the monkhood. After 7 days of meditation practice, his patron mother came to pick him up. But he told his mother that he would like to stay in the monkhood for another month. He meditated and radiated loving-kindness to his grandfather and parents. Now, he should be congratulated. His father has been promoted in rank - to be a general, and in position to be the Director of the Army Air Defense Office. He came here a few days ago, bringing the Royal Decoration that he had received to be anointed. He said, "Luang Poh! I had not even thought of being promoted to general at all because I have no influential supporter. I am so glad." The son is still in the monkhood. Children can meditate and support parents to be promoted thus.22nd April 1992
Wife Transfers Merit to Husband
There was a civil servant of C7 level who worked in Lopburi, whose name I will not mention. Now she has moved. Her husband was also a civil servant of C8 level. The husband was a womanizer and a gambler. He returned home at midnight every night. The wife was in despair and came to me crying. She said her husband had become involved with a girl called Miss Wassana at the Province Administration Office. I said, "All right madam, I will correct this by way of the wife. Can you take 7 days leave to meditate here?" So, she came. After each meditation session, she radiated loving-kindness to her husband, wishing him happiness. Just this much! It is a kind of penance. When she returned home, she kept the habit of chanting prayers and paying homage to the Buddha. When the husband came home, she did not scold him. She prepared meals for him every day, no matter if he ate or not. She performed her duties as housewife very well and did not say more about the girl. I would like to inform you that when you want to correct any issue, do not talk about it. Do not scold the husband about flirting or gambling. You cannot solve the problem that way. It will hurt both parties and will go beyond repair. It is like irritating the wound repeatedly until it becomes cancerous. Then the problem cannot be solved. In the end, the husband reformed. He stopped going out in the evening and looked after the children more. He even chanted with his wife. And Miss Wassana at the Province Administration Office came to see this lady saying, "I have not done anything." The lady said, "I haven't said bad things about you at all. It's all up to you. I have radiated loving-kindness to wish you happiness." So, bad things turned around to be good.Miss Wassana had an elder brother, who was a doctor in America. He supported the children of this family to study in America. It can become of assistance like this. But they had not been husband and wife as explained. The husband's family home was in San Pa Khoi, Chiangmai Province. The husband had never been ordained up to that time. So, he consulted his wife, saying that he would like to become a monk at Wat Ambavana. He requested 120 days leave from work. The wife could influence the husband to become a monk. The penance method is not clinging to vengeance. Forgive! And every party will live happily. 22nd April 1992
Transference of Merit to Ancestors
Today is Person Worthy of Reverence Day. It is the day that we have made merit transferring to ancestors, such as parents, grandparents and those to whom we are indebted - like spouses and relatives from past existences to present. Parents from previous existences have the opportunity to obtain merit too. We have had parents for many existences. In this life, we do not know if they are yet our parents once again or not. There is a story told by religious teachers in the past. Sometimes parents or relatives are reborn as dogs, cattle, buffaloes, horses or elephants. We do not know that they are our relatives because they have passed away as our relatives many existences ago, through many aeons. For example, in Pichit Province, there is a family that I have been acquainted with. I have noticed one thing about them. I used to visit them before I was ordained. After I became a monk, I visited them again. This family makes merit and transfers it to their ancestors every year. Family members who live elsewhere also come to join. There was one young man who came up from Pattani Province to live in Pichit. He earned a living as a stevedore on cargo barges going to the central part of the country and as a farm worker. He had bought a cottage to live in but had no family. He lived in the neighbouring area of the family that I know. The family had many children and grandchildren. On the day that they made merit to their ancestors, they brought out the containers of their ancestors ashes and performed the pamsukula rite. This young man always came to help this family. I misunderstood, thinking that he came to help because he loved one of the daughters or nieces. After becoming a monk, I visited this family again and saw this man had come to help again. He had no family yet. After the monks had taken food, the laity had their meal. But this young man did not take any food. I asked, "Patron, why don't you eat anything?" He replied, "I am so full, when it's merit making time like this. I don't know why. But I'm full all day and all night." I knew the reason after I had become a monk and had meditated. Then I knew who this young southerner really was. He took care of this family well. He walked the children of this family to school and back. Neighbours were of the same thought as mine that this man loved one of the girls in this family, though later, he still had not married. He earned money and bought 500 rais of land and had a large house. But when this family had special events, he always came to help. Later, he helped the children. After the daughters and nieces were married, he continued to help the next generation. Now this man is old. Yet he still comes to help wholeheartedly. When the family makes merit, he is always full and pleased. I have come to understand why after I had taken up meditation. "Oh! This young man was the father of this family in his past existence." This is a true story. I would like to announce this so everyone knows. Thus, not only in one existence, but we have fathers and mothers for many lives. We do not know if our husband in this life was our husband in a past life or not. But our wife in this life may not be our wife in every existence. Enemies that once tried to kill each other in one life can become spouses in this life. One couple I know, the wife killed the husband. This means that they have been enemies, not spouses in every existence. There was only one couple who had been a genuine man and woman, respectable elderly persons. That was the couple of the Buddha, in every existence until he was born as Vessantara Bodhisatva. 15th April 1992