Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Buddhism by Numbers: 6 Kinds of Reverence

As a Buddhist, there are six kinds of reverence (garavata) that one should endeavor to develop. These forms of deep respect have practical positive results in the context of Buddhist practice as being a more appreciative person gives rise to positive mind states. Normally, the mind can react to the various phenomena that we encounter in both wholesome and unwholesome ways. This includes such important aspects of Buddhist tradition as the Triple Gem - the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Having negative views towards the Awakened One (Buddha), for example, creates negative thoughts and attitudes that arise out of human arrogance and opinions. Being reverent towards the Buddha, on the other hand, helps to create a freer, happier, more loving mind, which is an important tool in Buddhist development. The six kinds of reverence are:
  1. Satthu-garavata – reverence for the Master
  2. Dhamma-garavata – reverence for the Dharma
  3. Sangha-garavata – reverence for the Sangha
  4. Sikkha-garavata – reverence for the training
  5. Appamada-garavata – reverence for heedfulness
  6. Patisanthara-garavata – reverence for hospitality
The Master (Satthu) in Buddhism is the Buddha. He is the Master or Teacher of all Buddhists, as the entire tradition, whether Thai, Japanese, Tibetan or whatever, ultimately derives from the Awakened One’s realization of enlightenment and his subsequent teachings. Being reverent towards the Master is an act of recognition that acknowledges the debt of gratitude that Buddhists should have for the man that discovered the way things are and then shared this knowledge with others. All Buddhists should know this: Without him, no us.

Reverence for the Dharma, the Buddhist teachings, is another form of appreciative awareness that any Buddhist will develop in time. Cultivating this approach to the Buddha Dharma encourages the realization of such knowledge in us all, for when we are more respectful of the Teachings, we’re more likely to put them into practice. And in the end, it’s in putting the Teachings of the Buddha into practice that will truly benefit us.

The third garavata is reverence for the orders of Buddhist monks and nuns, or Sangha. Although the order of nuns died out in Theravada Buddhism many centuries ago, we can still be grateful to those enlightened nuns, as well as monks, that have taught the Dharma to both Buddhists and non-Buddhists, assisting us to develop wisdom and compassion in our own hearts and minds. Moreover, if we accept the reestablishment of the nun's order as is happening in the world right now, we have the chance to pay respect to these modern female renunciants. The community of enlightened people (Ariya-sangha), ordained or not, is also an example to us, and is a source of great inspiration that shows that ordinary human beings realize the Buddhist Path and its fruits, not only spiritual supermen and superwomen. 

The training (sikkha) comprises the rules and guidelines that Buddhists use to further practice. For monks, there are a total of 227 rules that they should (in theory) adhere to. Laypeople have it somewhat easier, with only five basic precepts to keep to, unless they choose to follow eight or even ten precepts of a semi-ascetic. I use the five precepts as a foundation for my practice. In training this person here to behave in ways that are conducive not only to personal development but also to the benefit of society, mindfulness and meditation have a more stable base from which to grow wisdom and compassion. 

Reverence towards appamada, heedfulness, is a crucial element in Buddhist practice, as well. In the Dhammapada, probably the most famous piece of Buddhist scripture worldwide, it is said that, “Heedfulness is the path to the Deathless, heedlessness is the path to death.” (Dhammapada, verse 21) The Deathless is the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice, also known as nirvana. It is a freedom from all greed, hatred, and delusion, where life is seen as it is, without the interference of the ego that normally distorts our understanding of life. Being heedful of the Buddhist teachings and their application to our lives is so important for Buddhists. Otherwise, we can get caught up in all kinds of worldly and unwholesome activities, losing sight of the Path. 

Being reverent of hospitality (patisanthara) is the sixth form of reverence that Buddhists are encouraged to cultivate. We can be hospitable to bhikkhus & bhikkhunis, of course, inviting monks & nuns to eat at our home, paying respect to them by giving them a good meal. Being a good host to everyone that comes our way is a fuller way to leave out this particular kind of reverent behavior. Seeing everyone as my guest, to whom I should be a generous host and make them feel comfortable and happy. Sharing the teachings with others is also an important way to be hospitable. Being reverent towards the hospitable acts of others towards ourselves is a positive state of mind as well, for in recognizing the welcoming actions of other people, we make ourselves better people.


Anonymous said...

Dear G, there is a typo in the cited Dhammapada verse. It should read: Heedfulness is the path to the Deathless, heedlessness is the path to death.
Thank you for your posts and insights.

G said...

Anonymous - thanks for the crucial correction!. Should have been more heedful!

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