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A Guide for Laypeople

Etiquette

The Buddha allowed several ways of showing respect to others for the beauty and good of the community (of both monks and lay people). These include:

vandanaa — bowing or showing reverence with the five points, i.e., the forehead, two forearms, and the two knees[1]

Vbowing
Vandanaa Thai style.
Note that the male and female movements start and finish slightly differently.

u.t.thaana — standing up to welcome[2]

anjalii — joining the palms together in respect

saamiicikamma, any other ways of showing respect that are beautiful and good. (See EV,II,p.78)

Another ancient way of showing respect is circumambulation or walking around the object of veneration three times in a clockwise direction — so that ones right shoulder is towards, for example, the cetiya, bodhi tree or pagoda.[3]

In many parts of Asia it is considered extremely rude to point ones feet at anyone[4] or any religious object [see End Note 122]. An example, is found in the Confession Rule 51 (Paac. 51) where a highly gifted bhikkhu is made drunk and in his stupor turns and points his feet at the Buddha.

Bhikkhus use these ways of etiquette to show respect to those who have been bhikkhus for longer than themselves, irrespective of their actual age.[5] A younger bhikkhu may call another bhikkhu, "Bhante," ("Venerable Sir" or "Reverend Sir"), and, similarly, a lay person may use this as a general form of address to bhikkhus. Each country will have its own way of addressing older, more senior bhikkhus appropriate to their age and experience. (See below.)

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- Footnotes:

1.

"...there is the custom of bowing to the shrine or teacher. This is done when first entering their presence or when taking leave. Done gracefully at the appropriate time, this is a beautiful gesture that honors the person who does it; at an inappropriate time, done compulsively, it appears foolish. Another common gesture of respect is to place the hands so that the palms are touching, the fingers pointing upwards, and the hands held immediately in front of the chest. The gesture of raising the hands to the slightly lowered forehead is called anjalii. This is a pleasant means of greeting, bidding farewell, saluting the end of a Dhamma talk, concluding an offering." (from: A Lay Buddhists Guide to the Monks Code of Conduct)

"To bow correctly, bring the forehead all the way to the floor; have elbows near the knees which should be about three inches apart. Bow slowly, being mindful of the body. As nearly as possible, the buttocks should be kept on the heels,... (from: Advice for Guests at Bodhinyanarama Monastery)

2.

In NE Thailand, the people will more often squat down to welcome with respect.

3.

The cetiya (or stupa, chedi, sometimes pagoda) is one of the most ancient objects used as a focus of recollection and devotion towards the Lord Buddha. Buddha ruupas (statues of the Buddha) came later through, probably, Bactrian Greek influence. Thus there are several traditions and practices:

"It is a tradition of bhikkhus that whoever enters the area around a cetiya, which is a place for the recollection of the Master, should behave in a respectful manner, neither opening his umbrella nor putting on sandals nor wearing the [robe] covering both shoulders. They should not speak loudly there or sit with their legs spread apart with their feet pointing (at the cetiya), thus not showing respect for that place. They must not stool or urinate, spit upon the terraces of the cetiya (or) before an image of the Exalted Buddha, their good behavior thus showing respect for the Master." (EV,II,p.82)

Sanskrit renditions of the Paa.timokkha Rule contain extra Sekhiya Training rules often concerned with ways of showing respect. For example, Rules 60 to 85 are all concerned with Buddha Stupas:

Rule 63: "Not to wear leather shoes into a Buddha Stupa is a rule I will observe; Rule 77: Not to carry a Buddha image into a privy is a rule I will observe; Rule 84: Not to sit with my feet stuck out in front of a Buddha Stupa is a rule I will observe." (Shaikshas from the Pratimoksha Precepts)

4.

Also one of the Sanskrit Sekhiya Rules (Muulasarvaastivaadin Saika) disallows "sitting on a seat stretching out the feet in a public place." (Buddhist Monastic Discipline p.99)

5.

"In Asian society old age is highly respected. The Buddha adapted this tradition for the Sangha by recognizing seniority according to ones age in the Sangha counted from the day (and time) of receiving the Upasampada. This is of course simply a practical conventional hierarchy and not an absolute hierarchical structure. In the functioning of the Sangha this would be offset by the principle of consensus democracy where every bhikkhu, regardless of seniority, has a voice, and by the power of wisdom (not to be confused with conviction) exhibited by the more highly realized members." (HS ch.22)

"The theme of a hierarchy of respect first came up for serious consideration in regard to obtaining lodgings. One time the Buddha set out from Savatthi with a large following of bhikkhus. The bhikkhus who were pupils of the group of six bhikkhus went ahead and appropriated all the [lodgings] and sleeping places for their preceptors, teachers and for themselves. Venerable Sariputta, coming along behind, was unable to find a suitable lodging and sat down at the foot of a tree. The Buddha found him there and, finding the reason, asked the assembled bhikkhus:

Bhikkhus, who is worthy of the principle seat, the best water, the best alms food?"Some bhikkhus said that one gone forth from a noble family was most worthy of these things; some said one gone forth from a brahmana family... a merchant family... one versed in the suttas — a Vinaya expert... a teacher of Dhamma... one having the first jhana... the second... the third... the fourth jhana;... a stream enterer... a once returner... a non returner... an arahant... one with the Three fold Knowledge... one with the six Psychic Powers. The Buddha then related the story of a partridge, a monkey and a bull elephant who were friends and agreed to respect and heed the advice of the eldest. The Buddha concluded by saying:"Well then, bhikkhus, if breathing animals can live mutually respectful, deferential and courteous, so do you, bhikkhus, shine forth so that you, gone forth in this well taught Dhamma Vinaya, live likewise mutually respectful, deferential and courteous." (HS ch.22)

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