March 24 : Monastic Form — Showing Respect
There are several things in the monastic form where we show respect, and there are, in general, several things in Buddhism where we do that. It is very easy for our Western mind to think that this is all about hierarchy, authority, and oppression, and we do not like that very much in our culture. This type of etiquette and form are practices of mindfulness and introspective alertness. They do not really have anything to do with hierarchy and power trips. Rather they help us to look at how our mind is functioning and how our body and speech follow along after that.
For example, when worldly people walk into a room, they think, “Where can I sit so that I’m most comfortable?” That is kind of our natural thought. In fact, it is so natural that we almost do not think about it, or we are not aware that we are thinking about it. When we enter a monastic form or even a Buddhist form as a lay Buddhist practitioner, our introspective alertness becomes more refined, and we notice our way of thinking and acting. We come to understand that all these manifestations or forms of showing respect are ways to help us subdue the self-centred mind that thinks only of our place or our comfort. Instead, the Dharma mind asks, “How can I make somebody else comfortable? Can I set up somebody else’s seat? How can I do something for others?” Monastic form turns the mind towards that and pulls us out of taking care of our own comfort.
We see that when we sit higher than others, or when we sit in a more prominent place, it is very easy for our ignorant minds to start feeling more important. When we look down on others physically, we may also tend to look down on them mentally. When we look down on them, or when our mind does not have any special respect, it becomes very difficult for us to learn anything from them. We see that the way we sit in relationships with our teachers and those we respect facilitates our Dharma practice and facilitates the way that we learn from others. From the side of those sitting higher, they see that their place is because of their role, not because of who they are. There are several practices they do to ensure their humility. It is important to understand the reasoning behind these protocols and how they benefit our practice and how they make us more aware of our body, speech, and mind and thus enable us to train and transform them.
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