An attitude of proper respect is a sign of intelligence. As SN 6:2 indicates, it is a requisite condition for gaining knowledge and skill, for it creates the atmosphere in which learning can take place. This is especially true in a bhikkhu’s training, where so little can be learned through impersonal means such as books, and so much must be learned through personal interaction with one’s teachers and fellow bhikkhus. AN 8:2 notes that the first prerequisite for the discernment basic to the holy life is living in apprenticeship to a teacher for whom one has established a strong sense of respect. This attitude of respect opens the heart to learn from others, and shows others one’s willingness to learn. At the same time, it gives focus and grounding to one’s life. SN 6:2 reports the Buddha as saying, “One suffers if dwelling without reverence or deference.” This was why, after his Awakening—when he had nothing further to learn in terms of virtue, concentration, discernment, release, or knowledge and vision of release—he decided to honor and respect the Dhamma to which he had awakened.
However, an attitude of respect benefits not only the individual who shows respect, but also the religion as a whole. AN 7:56 maintains that for the true Dhamma to stay alive, the bhikkhus, bhikkhunīs, male lay followers, and female lay followers must show respect and deference for the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha; for the training, concentration, heedfulness, and the duties of hospitality. If the proper respect and deference were lacking, how would the true Dhamma survive?
In response to these reflections, the Saṅgha has developed an etiquette of respect that is quite elaborate, with many variations from country to country, and Community to Community. A wise policy is to become fluent in the “respect vocabulary” of one’s Community, even in areas not covered by the Vinaya, for the sake of the Community’s smooth functioning. It is also wise to know which aspects of respect are required by the Vinaya and which are open to variation, so that one will learn tolerance for those variations wherever they occur.
Some of the Vinaya’s rules concerning respect—such as duties toward one’s mentors, the proper hospitality to show to bhikkhus newly-arrived in one’s monastery, and the etiquette for showing respect for Saṅgha property—are included in the protocols discussed in the following chapter. Here we will cover the rules concerning respect that lie outside of those protocols. These rules cover five areas: paying homage, respect for the Dhamma, seniority, the proper response to criticism, and prohibitions against improper jokes.
A regular bhikkhu should pay homage to three sorts of people: the Buddha, a bhikkhu senior to him, and a senior bhikkhu of a separate affiliation (see Appendix V) who speaks (teaches) what is Dhamma. Homage here means bowing down, rising up to greet, doing añjali (placing the hands palm-to-palm over the heart), and performing other forms of respect due to superiors. At the same time, a regular bhikkhu is prohibited from paying homage to ten sorts of people: a bhikkhu junior to him, an unordained person, a woman, a paṇḍaka, a senior bhikkhu of a separate affiliation who speaks (teaches) what is not Dhamma; a bhikkhu undergoing probation; a bhikkhu deserving to be sent back to the beginning; a bhikkhu deserving penance; a bhikkhu undergoing penance; a bhikkhu deserving rehabilitation. (These last five are bhikkhus in various stages of undergoing the procedures for rehabilitation from a saṅghādisesa offense. For the duties of respect incumbent on them, see Chapter 19.) However, it is the custom in Thailand for a senior bhikkhu to do añjali to a junior bhikkhu when the latter is bowing down to him. This is an area where the wise policy is to follow the standards of one’s own Community.
The Vinaya-mukha questions the propriety of bhikkhus’ not paying homage to people outside of their own group, but this misses the symbolism of this simple act: that bhikkhus have renounced the benefits and responsibilities that come from the normal give-and-take of lay society in favor of the freedom that comes from living on society’s edge.
Sk 57-72 prohibit one from teaching the Dhamma to a person whose attitude shows disrespect, and other rules also demand respect for the Dhamma. For instance, when in the midst of the Community, the only bhikkhus allowed to teach Dhamma are the most senior bhikkhu or any bhikkhu he has invited to teach. If a junior bhikkhu has been invited to teach the Dhamma, he should sit on a seat no lower than that of the most senior bhikkhu; the senior bhikkhu may sit on a seat equal to that of the bhikkhu teaching the Dhamma or on a lower one.
One is not allowed to deliver the Dhamma with a drawn-out singing voice (sara, the word for “voice” here, also means “vowel” and “sound”). The disadvantages to such a delivery are that one becomes impassioned with one’s voice; others become impassioned with it; householders look down on one; as one desires to contrive the sound of one’s voice, one’s concentration lapses; and people coming after will take it as an example. However, there is an allowance for “sarabhañña”—translated as vowel-reciting. The Commentary notes here that “all 32 techniques of vowel-reciting—such as ‘waves’ (trills? vibrato?) ‘pulling the cow’s teat (!),’ and ‘rough’—are allowable as long as they don’t ‘lose’ the consonants, distort the meaning, or deviate from the etiquette of a contemplative.” What precisely this means is hard to decipher. Many of the sarabhañña chanting styles that have developed in Asia are quite song-like. Different Communities have different ways of drawing the line between drawn-out singing voice and vowel-intoning, and a wise policy for the individual bhikkhu is to hold to an interpretation no less strict than that of the Community to which he belongs.
Cv.V.33.1 reports the efforts of two brahman bhikkhus who set the Buddha’s teachings to meter after objecting to the fact that bhikkhus who had gone forth from different clans, different nationalities, different families were spoiling the Buddha’s words by putting it in “own dialect.” The Buddha however forbade that his teachings be set to meter, and allowed that they be learned by each in “own dialect.”
There are two controversies surrounding these two rules. The first is over the meaning of own dialect. The Commentary insists that it means the Buddha’s own dialect, and that therefore the Dhamma must be memorized in Pali. The context of the story, however, suggests that own dialect means each bhikkhu’s own native dialect. The original reference to bhikkhus of different clans, etc., was a snobbish one (the same phrase shows up in the snobbish comments of Ven. Channa in the origin story to Sg 12), and the two brahman bhikkhus were objecting to the lowly nature of some of the dialects spoken by their fellow bhikkhus. Otherwise, their reference to bhikkhus of different clans, etc., would make no sense in the context of the origin story: The other bhikkhus would have been just as likely to mangle the Buddha’s teachings in metrical form as they would had they tried to memorize them in the Buddha’s own dialect. Also, it is hard to imagine them making a sneering reference to “own dialect” in the Buddha’s presence if, by that, they meant his own dialect. There is epigraphic evidence showing that Pali was not the Buddha’s original dialect—it was instead related to the dialect of Avanti, the area from which Ven. Mahinda left on his mission to Sri Lanka. If the bhikkhus were required to memorize the Buddha’s teachings in the latter’s own dialect, those teachings would never have been put into Pali. So the allowance must have been for bhikkhus to memorize the Buddha’s teachings each in his own dialect. In showing respect for the Dhamma, there is thus no need to state it in Pali.
The second controversy centers on what is meant by setting the teachings to meter. The Commentary states that it means translating them into a Sanskrit text “like a Veda,” and here the Commentary seems on more solid ground. However, its explanation needs to be further refined for the Buddha’s prohibition to make sense. Meter (chandas) was a Sanskrit term for the Vedas. Thus, to set (literally, “raise”) the Buddha’s teaching into meter meant turning it not just into a text like a Veda, but into an actual Veda, with all the long-term limitations that that would have entailed. After the passage of a few generations, only specialists would be in a position to understand and interpret it. Because the brahmans had made a specialty of mastering the Vedas, the “Buddha-veda” most likely would have become their exclusive possession, subject to interpretations that would have favored their caste. Also, the Buddha’s words would not have easily spread outside of India. Thus, to avoid these limitations, the Buddha forbade that his teachings be turned into a Veda, and instead allowed his followers to memorize the Dhamma each in his own language.
Seniority. A formal hierarchy exists within the Community, in which senior bhikkhus not only receive homage from junior bhikkhus but are also granted other privileges as well. This is one aspect of communal life that Westerners find most difficult to adjust to, largely because they interpret it through assumptions and attitudes picked up from hierarchies in Western institutions.
The Community hierarchy does not entail total obedience. This point is illustrated in the duties of a pupil to his mentor: If the pupil feels that the mentor does not have his (the pupil’s) best interests in mind, he is free to leave his mentor. At the same time, position in the hierarchy is not an expression of personal worth. In fact, the Buddha explicitly made it dependent on a totally neutral factor. This is clear from the origin story to the relevant rule:
(The Buddha:) “Who, bhikkhus, is worthy of the best seat, the best water, the best food?”
Some of the bhikkhus said, “Whoever went forth from a noble warrior family is worthy of the best seat, the best water, the best food.” Some of them said, “Whoever went forth from a brahman family… from a householder family… whoever is an expert on the discourses… whoever is an expert on the discipline… whoever is a Dhamma teacher… whoever has gained the first jhāna… the second jhāna… the third jhāna… the fourth jhāna… whoever is a stream-winner… a once-returner… a non-returner… an arahant… a master of the three knowledges… a master of the six cognitive skills is worthy of the best seat, the best water, the best food.”
Then the Blessed One said to the bhikkhus: “Once, bhikkhus, there was a great banyan tree on the slopes of the Himalayas. Three friends lived dependent on it: a partridge, a monkey, and an elephant. They were disrespectful, discourteous, and impolite (§) toward one another. Then the thought occurred to the three friends: ‘Let’s find out which among us is the most senior by birth. We would then pay homage and respect to him, revere him, and honor him. We would then abide by his advice.’
“Then the partridge and the monkey asked the elephant: ‘What ancient thing do you remember?’
“‘When I was young, friends, I used to walk over this banyan tree with it between my thighs, and the topmost buds brushed against my belly. This, friends, is an ancient thing that I remember.’
“Then the partridge and the elephant asked the monkey: ‘What ancient thing do you remember?’
“‘When I was young, friends, I used to sit on the ground and chew off the topmost buds from this banyan tree. This, friends, is an ancient thing that I remember.’
“Then the monkey and the elephant asked the partridge, ‘What ancient thing do you remember?’
“‘Over there in that spot (§), friends, was once a great banyan tree. Having eaten one of its fruits, I relieved myself in this spot. From that, this banyan tree was born. Thus, friends, I am the most senior among us by birth.’
“So the monkey and elephant said to the partridge, ‘You, friend, are the most senior among us by birth. We will pay homage and respect to you, revere you, honor you, and abide by your advice.’
“Then the partridge had the monkey and elephant undertake the five precepts and he himself practiced, having undertaken the five precepts. They—having lived respectful, courteous, and polite toward one another—on the break-up of the body, after death, reappeared in the good bourn, the heavenly world.
“This came to be known as the Partridge’s Holy Life.
They—people skilled in the Dhamma,
who revere their elders—
are praised in the here-and-now,
and have a good destination hereafter.
“Now, if common animals can live respectful, courteous, and polite toward one another, shouldn’t it shine forth that you, having gone forth in such a well-taught Dhamma and Discipline, live respectful, courteous, and polite toward one another?”—Cv.VI.6.2-3
The bhikkhus in the origin-story wanted to make privilege dependent on merit, but the fact that they measured merit in different ways meant that any merit-based hierarchy would have been based on a standard of measurement not acceptable to all. A hierarchy based on seniority, however, is both objective and, in the long run, less oppressive: One’s place in the hierarchy is not a measure of one’s worth. Such a hierarchy also discourages the pride and competition that would come if bhikkhus could fight their way up the hierarchy by outdoing the measurable merit of others. And the fact that junior members in the hierarchy do not take vows of obedience helps keep the senior members in line. If the senior bhikkhus abuse their privileges, the junior bhikkhus are free to leave.
The etiquette surrounding seniority is fairly limited. Junior bhikkhus are expected to pay homage to the senior bhikkhus by bowing down, rising up to greet, doing añjali, and performing other duties of respect (such as scrubbing their backs in the common bath). Senior bhikkhus are entitled to the best seat, the best water, the best food. However, things such as lodgings that belong to the Community or are dedicated to the Community may not be preempted in line with seniority.
Bhikkhus who have more than three years difference in seniority should not sit on the same seat unless the seat is long enough to sit at least three people. (No bhikkhu is allowed to sit on the same seat, regardless of how long it is, with a woman, a paṇḍaka, or a hermaphrodite.)
If one’s preceptor, teacher, or a bhikkhu with enough seniority to be one’s preceptor or teacher is pacing back and forth—e.g., doing walking meditation—without wearing footwear (and within six meters and in plain view, adds the Commentary), one should not pace back and forth wearing footwear. The Commentary interprets preceptor’s seniority as either a friend of one’s preceptor or any other bhikkhu with at least ten years seniority to oneself; teacher’s seniority it interprets as any bhikkhu with at least six years seniority to oneself.
If bathing in the same place, one should not bathe in front of a senior bhikkhu or upstream from him.
The duties of a host bhikkhu to one newly arrived at his monastery are determined by seniority. See the relevant section in Chapter 9.
Exceptions to seniority
There are certain situations where the rules of seniority do not apply.
As mentioned above, one may not preempt Community lodgings on basis of seniority, either for oneself or for others, such as one’s preceptor or teacher.
When two bhikkhus are naked, the senior bhikkhu should not get the junior bhikkhu to bow down to him or to perform a service for him. The junior bhikkhu, even if pressured by the senior bhikkhu, should not bow down to him or perform a service for him. Neither of them should give anything to the other. When these rules were laid down, bhikkhus had scruples about scrubbing or massaging the backs of senior bhikkhus in the sauna or in the water. Therefore—as mentioned in Chapter 2—the Buddha allowed three kinds of covering to count as covering for the body: sauna-covering (i.e., being in the sauna), water-covering (being in the water), and cloth-covering. The Commentary adds that the sauna-covering and water covering count as proper covering for back-scrubbing and massaging but not for the other services mentioned in the above rules. For instance, a junior bhikkhu should not bow down to a senior bhikkhu when both are unclothed in the sauna. Cloth-covering, however, counts as proper covering for all services.
Bhikkhus arriving at a toilet should use it in order of arrival, and not in order of seniority.
If a senior bhikkhu arrives late to a meal and finds a junior bhikkhu in his place in the line-up, he should not get the junior bhikkhu to move as long as the latter has not finished his meal. If he deliberately ignores this rule and tells the junior bhikkhu to move, he is automatically classed as having refused an offer of further food from a donor, which means that after he has finished his meal he falls under Pc 35 for the rest of the day. Also, the junior bhikkhu may tell him, “Go fetch water” (for the junior bhikkhu to rinse out his mouth and bowl)—one of the few instances where a junior bhikkhu can tell a senior bhikkhu to perform a service for him. If this can be arranged, well and good. If not, then the junior bhikkhu should swallow whatever food he has in his mouth and then get up to give the seat to the senior bhikkhu. Under no circumstances should he preempt the senior bhikkhu’s seat.
Finally, there is the case of a Community in which none of the bhikkhus knows the Pāṭimokkha or the proper transactions for the uposatha (see Chapter 15). If a learned bhikkhu comes along, the Canon says that the members of the Community should “further, help, encourage, support” him with chunam, clay (soap), tooth wood, and water for rinsing the mouth/washing the face. If they don’t, they incur a dukkaṭa. The purpose of these services, of course, is to encourage the learned bhikkhu to stay so that he can pass on his knowledge to the other members of the Community. The Commentary adds that the members of the Community should offer other forms of help to the learned bhikkhu as well, such as speaking politely to him and providing him with the four requisites. If no one helps him, all the bhikkhus in the residence—senior and junior—incur a dukkaṭa. If a schedule is set up for looking after him, the offense is incurred only by a bhikkhu who doesn’t fulfill his scheduled duties. If one or two of the resident bhikkhus are capable and volunteer to take over all the duties, the rest of the bhikkhus are freed from any responsibilities. As for the learned bhikkhu, he shouldn’t consent to having more senior bhikkhus perform services such as sweeping his lodging or bringing tooth wood to him. If he already has an attendant traveling with him, he should ask his hosts not to burden themselves with looking after him.
Responding to criticism
Pc 54 requires that a bhikkhu show respect to anyone who criticizes him, regardless of the status of the person, as long as the criticism deals with rules in the Vinaya or with standards of behavior aimed at being “self-effacing, scrupulous, or inspiring; at lessening (defilement) or arousing energy.” For more details, see the explanation of that rule in BMC1.
The Vibhaṅga to Sk 51 prohibits a bhikkhu from making a joke about the Buddha, Dhamma, or Saṅgha. The Vibhaṅga to Pc 2 imposes a pācittiya on making insulting fun of another bhikkhu’s race, class, nationality, or any of the other akkosa-vatthu. It imposes a dubbhāsita for joking about the same things with no insult intended. See the explanation of that training rule in BMC1 for further details.
“These ten are not to be paid homage: one accepted (ordained) later is not to be paid homage by one accepted earlier; an unordained person; a senior (bhikkhu) of a separate affiliation who teaches what is not Dhamma; a woman; a eunuch; a bhikkhu undergoing probation; a bhikkhu deserving to be sent back to the beginning; a bhikkhu deserving penance; a bhikkhu undergoing penance; a bhikkhu deserving rehabilitation.”
“These three are to be paid homage: one accepted (ordained) earlier is to be paid homage by one accepted later; a senior (bhikkhu) of a separate affiliation who teaches what is Dhamma; the Tathāgata, worthy and rightly self-awakened.”—Cv.VI.6.5
“Bowing down, rising up to greet, greeting with hands raised palm-to-palm over the heart, or performing other forms of respect due to superiors are not to be done to a woman. Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing.”—Cv.X.3
“Dhamma is not to be spoken in the midst of the Community by anyone who is not invited to do so. Whoever should speak it (uninvited): an offense of wrong doing. I allow that the senior bhikkhu speak Dhamma or that he invite another to do so.”—Mv.II.15.5
“I allow a junior bhikkhu explaining Dhamma to sit on an equal seat or a higher one, out of respect for the Dhamma; and a senior bhikkhu to whom the Dhamma is explained to sit on an equal seat or a lower one, out of respect for the Dhamma.”—Cv.VI.13.1
“There are these five disadvantages for one who sings the Dhamma with a drawn-out singing vowel-sound: He himself is impassioned with the vowel-sound. Others are impassioned with the vowel-sound. Householders look down on him. As one desires to contrive (§) the vowel-sound, one’s concentration lapses. People coming after will take it as an example (§)… The Dhamma should not be sung with a drawn-out singing vowel-sound. Whoever should sing it: an offense of wrong doing.”—Cv.V.3.1
“I allow vowel-reciting.”—Cv.V.3.2
“The speech of the Awakened One is not to be raised into meter (a Veda) (§). Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing. I allow that the speech of the Awakened One be learned in one’s own dialect.”—Cv.V.33.1
“I allow, in accordance with seniority, bowing down, rising up to greet, greeting with hands raised palm-to-palm over the heart, performing forms of respect due to superiors, the best seat, the best water, the best food. But what belongs to the Community should not be preempted (§) in accordance with seniority. Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing.”—Cv.VI.6.4
“I allow you to sit together (on the same piece of furniture) with those entitled to an equal seat”… “I allow you to sit together with one within three years of standing”… “I allow (you to sit) three to a bed, three to a bench (§)”… (The bed and bench broke) “I allow you to sit two to a bed, two to a bench”… “Except for a paṇḍaka, a woman, or a hermaphrodite, I allow you to sit together on a long seat with one not entitled to an equal seat”… “I allow one sufficient for three people as the shortest (§) long seat.”—Cv.VI.13.2
“When one’s teacher, one with a teacher’s seniority, one’s preceptor, (or) one with a preceptor’s seniority is pacing back and forth without wearing leather footwear, one should not pace back and forth wearing leather footwear. Whoever should wear it: an offense of wrong doing.”—Mv.V.4.3
“One should not bathe in front of the elder bhikkhus or upstream from them.”—Cv.VIII.8.2
Exceptions to Seniority
“But what belongs to the Community should not be preempted (§) in accordance with seniority. Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing.”—Cv.VI.6.4
“Whatever is dedicated (to the Community) should not be preempted (§) in accordance with seniority. (In the origin story, this refers to spots that aren’t dwellings per se, but can be used as dwellings.) Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing.”—Cv.VI.7
Following the Burmese and PTS editions: “One who is naked should neither bow down to nor be bowed down to by one who is naked. One who is naked should not cause another to bow down (to him). One who is naked should not be caused to bow down. One who is naked should not do a service (parikamma) for one who is naked. One who is naked should not be caused to do a service for one who is naked. One who is naked should not be given anything by one who is naked. Nothing is to be accepted by one who is naked. Nothing is to be chewed…. eaten…. tasted… drunk by one who is naked. Whoever should (chew… eat… taste…) drink: an offense of wrong doing.”—Cv.V.15
Now at that time bhikkhus had scruples about back-scrubbing/massaging (piṭṭhi-parikamma) (§) in the sauna and in the water. “I allow three kinds of covering (to count as covering for the body): sauna-covering, water-covering, cloth-covering.”—Cv.V.16.2
“One should not defecate in the toilet in order of seniority. Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing. I allow that one defecate in order of arrival.”—Cv.VIII.10.1
“When (his) meal is unfinished, a bhikkhu should not be made to get up [following the Burmese and PTS editions; the Thai edition says, “When (his) meal is unfinished, an adjacent bhikkhu should not be made to get up”]. Whoever should make him get up: an offense of wrong doing. If one makes him get up, one counts as having been invited (and having refused further food—see Pc 35) (§) and is to be told (by the junior bhikkhu), ‘Go fetch water (for me).’ If that can be managed, well and good. If not, then having properly swallowed his rice (i.e., the food in his mouth) he (the junior bhikkhu) should give the seat to the more senior bhikkhu. But in no way should the seat of a senior bhikkhu be preempted (§). Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing.”—Cv.VI.10.1
“There is the case where many bhikkhus—inexperienced, incompetent—are staying in a certain residence. They do not know the uposatha or the uposatha transaction, the Pāṭimokkha or the recital of the Pāṭimokkha. Another bhikkhu arrives there: learned, erudite, one who has memorized the Dhamma, the Vinaya, the Mātikā (the headings that were eventually developed into the Abhidhamma). He is wise, experienced, astute, conscientious, scrupulous, desirous of training. This bhikkhu should be furthered by those bhikkhus, helped, encouraged, supported with bath powder, clay (soap), tooth wood, water for rinsing the mouth/washing the face. If they do not further him, help, encourage, or support him with bath powder, clay (soap), tooth wood, water for rinsing the mouth/washing the face: an offense of wrong doing.”—Mv.II.21.2