Don’t Walk Over a Sutra!

A Dharma friend recounted the first time she stepped into a Chinese Buddhist temple out of interest to learn chanting. The chanting session was probably about to start, and there were rows of prayer cushions for kneeling. While navigating around, she straddled over a cushion with a Sutra chanting text on it, without even being aware it was there. (In many Asian cultures, not really of Buddhist origin, placing one’s feet towards or over a person or item worthy of respect is deemed rude, as the feet are the lowest and dirtiest part of the body.)

An old lady devotee spots her doing that and sends torrents of scoldings in her direction… and it doesn’t just stop. She rants on and on… probably in a dialect. Thankfully, despite this, this friend was wise enough to discern the difference between the valuable teachings of Buddhism and a mere example of an overly uptight and conservative Buddhist (who was not at all conservative with her scoldings). She was not forgiven but she forgave her begrudging nature. She thus strove on to learn chanting. That said, there are several things very ironically wrong with such an incident:

1. Who is more wrong? The one who accidentally ‘shows’ lack of respect via not mindfully observing a custom, or the one who purposely hurls much abuse?
2. Who deserves more respect, the one who calmly acknowledges a mistake and takes in abuse or the one who complains relentlessly for proper respect?
3. Why did the devotee not extend welcome to a newcomer and explain the custom to her, instead of almost casting her out?
4. Who is real devotee? The one devoted to learn despite the obstacle created by that devotee, or that obstacle-causing devotee?
5. How could the devotee be so unforgiving, if she really practised the Buddha’s teachings of compassion as an ‘old-timer’?
6. Something is deemed morally wrong only when there are ill intentions involved, and the one with ill will was the devotee!
7. The custom of not walking over sacred objects is still just a custom. The Buddha would discourage such unhealthy attachment to rites and rituals.