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Puñña (meritorious action) is a type of action in Buddhism classified as wholesome action by acting via Puññakiriyā - vatthu 3 (three bases of meritorious action) and Puññakiriyā - vatthu 10 (ten bases of meritorious action). When Paṭicca - samuppāda (the dependent origination) is classified into Vaṭṭa 3 (triple rounds of rebirth), i.e. Kilesa - vaṭṭa (round of defilements), Kamma - vaṭṭa (round of kamma), and Vipāka - vaṭṭa (round of results), with Kilesa (defilements) being the mobilizer of life and action via the intention for action, Puñña (meritorious action) is classified as belonging to Kamma - vaṭṭa (round of kamma) leading to Vipāka - vaṭṭa (round of results) and then leading further to Kilesa - vaṭṭa (round of defilements) in the new cycle. The only persons who can escape from this Puñña cycle are the Arahantas (persons who have attained Nibbāna).
The meanings of Puñña at the lexicon level, which are the meanings based on word spelling, are happiness, the purification of innate character, source of dependence, Bhava (existence), merit, and meritorious behavior, all of which are the meanings at the Lokiya level or the worldly level. As for the meanings of Puñña at the connotation level, they are the renouncement, wisdom, supreme happiness, and Nibbāna, all of which are the meanings at the Lokuttara or generally called Dhamma level. However, the meaning of Puñña as happiness is the only meaning that covers both the meaning at the lexicon level and the meaning at the connotation level. It is also the meaning at both the Lokiya and Lokuttara levels in Buddhism. On the other hand, the meaning of Puñña as the purification of innate character is the meaning at the Lokuttara level only. The level of meaning of Puñña depends on the intention of the person who commits the Puñña action either for the Lokiya (worldly) way or for the Lokuttara (Dhamma) way.
As for the Puñña (merit) making phenomenon at present, it is found that people prefer to make merit by Dāna (giving) rather than by committing Puññakiriyā - vatthu 3 action to achieve all of its three components of Dāna (giving), Sīla (moral conduct), and Bhāvanā (mental development). The results of Dāna (giving) and Sīla (moral conduct) are the attainment of happiness, success, and various Sampatti (wealth) such as heavenly wealth and human wealth. It is also found that there is the setting of intention in making merit for the expectation of achieving happiness, success, and wealth. So, the meaning of Puñña as interpreted from the merit making phenomenon at present is the accumulation of Bhava (existence), Jāti (birth), Kilesa (defilements), Taṇhā (craving) and Upādāna (clinging) rather than the renouncement of all those entities. This is in agreement with the phenomenon in the past that was the change in the Buddhist society showing the trend that the Thai society is gradually weaning from the ideology of Nibbāna attainment. Therefore, it is found that people at present give importance to Dāna (giving) while neglecting the behaviors of Sīla (moral conduct) and Bhāvanā (mental development) that are the paths leading to Nibbāna attainment.
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