Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Being mindful of your impact on the world around you

(5.91) I should keep places clean and not throw litter
But dispose of it correctly.
Moreover, I should not defile
Water or land used by others.

“Out of sight, out of mind, right?”  Well, no.  Nothing is out of mind.  Most of the inconsiderate acts of others stem from not thinking (or not caring) about the impact our actions have on the world around us.  This can take many forms, but here Shantideva focuses on the rather obvious “don’t make a mess that others have to clean up or suffer from.”

At its most basic form, this means we need to always make a point of cleaning up after ourselves.  At home, we shouldn’t leave our mess around for the simple reason that other people live with us and don’t want to have to see and/or climb over our mess.  Sometimes we just forget to clean up our mess, but then we also tend to forget to thank those who cleaned up our mess for us.  Other times we cynically leave our mess, knowing that others will come along and do the job for us.  When we are at other people’s houses, we should take our own plate to the kitchen and clean up whatever mess we might make.  If we damage the property of others, we should replace it not try childishly hide or deny our responsibility.

At work, we need to clean up our desk and our surroundings.  Nobody wants to see our mess and it erodes the professionalism of the entire office.  If we leave for another office, please clean up the food and coffee stains left on the keyboard so the next person doesn’t have to break out the sanitizer.  We should put our trash in the bin, not leave the photocopy machine or printer jammed and broken without doing what it takes to get it fixed, and of course we should keep ourselves and our clothes clean so others don’t have to smell us.

In our Dharma centers, we should make a point of cleaning the gompa, shrine and common areas.  These places don’t belong to us, they belong to all living beings.  Leaving our mess in these places creates the karma of leaving our mess in the living room of all living beings.  Some people think the most important job in the Dharma center is the Resident Teacher, Admin Director or Education Program Coordinator.  I would say it is the person who quietly cleans the toilets.  If we live in a Dharma center, we should keep our own room clean as well.  We might think it is not a public area, but our own private quarters.  Sorry, the Buddhas are our roommates and occasionally people will walk by our open door shocked at what they see within.

It goes without saying we shouldn’t be the person who throws their cigarettes or trash out their car window, or spit our gum out where someone might step on it.  If we have a dog, please use a doggie bag.  If we have young children, don’t leave poop diapers lying around on top of trash bins for all to see – no one wants to see that.  Don’t change your children on top of public tables where people eat.

At a broader level, Shantideva is encouraging us to be environmentally conscious.  All forms of pollution are us imposing the negative consequences of our choices on others.  Global warming is the inevitable result of our collective inconsideration of others.  Our industrial and consumer society that can’t accept anything warmer or colder than room temperature has a cost to it:  sea level rise, species destruction, drought, famine, environmental refugees and civil war.  Most of the developed world doesn’t see much pollution anymore, but that is only because production has shifted to China where 1.3 billion people live in an omni-present cloud of smoke, affectionately called, “living under the dome.”  Chinese children are choking on the smoke of our consumerism.  Hundreds of millions of some of the world’s most vulnerable people live on coastal areas that, if we don’t start thinking about others, will be flooded.  What do we care, not our problem, right?

In the end, it is not enough to just clean up after ourselves, we should also make a point of cleaning up after those who fail to clean up after themselves.  Yeah, they should be doing it and if our doing it will obstruct them from assuming responsibility for themselves, then, yes, we should leave their mess.  But most of the time that is not the case.  Just clean it up, even if you aren’t the one who made the mess.

(5.92) I should not eat with my mouth full,
Noisily, or with my mouth open.
I should not sit with my legs outstretched,
Nor rub my hands together meaninglessly.

I don’t think this requires any commentary.  The point is don’t act in disruptive, inconsiderate or culturally inappropriate ways.  With moral discipline, we are trying to create beauty.  Not just a beautiful mind, but behavior that others find beautiful.  A lot of our actions are still quite rough. We should try to become more graceful, elegant, noble even with our actions.  This doesn’t mean we should become uptight, but it does mean we should generally try be the most considerate person in every room we enter.


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