Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Observe cultural norms, be respectful

(5.93) I should not sit alone with another’s partner
In a vehicle, on a bed, or in the same room.
I should observe and enquire about what offends people
And then avoid such actions.

Of course in and of itself, sitting alone with another’s partner is not problematic.  It all depends upon the context, the nexus of relationships and frankly the degree of attachment present in the minds of the people involved.  We basically need to be honest about the situations we find ourselves in.  Is there attachment in our mind towards the other person?  Is there attachment in their mind towards us?  If so, be careful.

In modern society, men and woman can sit alone in a wide variety of contexts and it means nothing more than two men or two women sitting in that room.  The point is we need to be cognizant of cultural norms and personal sensitivities and we should make sure our actions don’t fall outside of acceptable norms.  If our actions are likely to offend or provoke delusions in others, we should not engage in them unless we have a good overriding reason for doing so.

With that being said, there are overriding reasons for sometimes offending people’s sensitivities, namely if doing so challenges deluded prejudice.  Interracial marriage was a big deal before, now no one gives it a second thought.  Soon it will be the same will be with marriage between same-sex couples.  Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Ghandi and the other civil right leaders of our time all made those who clinged to their privilege as some intrinsic right quite uncomfortable – indeed they were offended – but this was the right thing to do.  We see the same thing in religious institutions, such as female priests or lay, western Spiritual Guides.  In short, it is perfectly appropriate to push against the norms of society if those norms themselves are grounded only in delusion.

(5.94) To show someone the way,
I should not point with just one finger
But respectfully use my right hand
With all the fingers extended.

Perhaps this was a thing in Shantideva’s time, nowadays I don’t think people really care.  Even now, I think we can say it does come across as bit rude when we point and less so when we use our whole hand.  But the point is this:  society has certain norms of proper and improper etiquette.  As a general rule, unless we have a good reason, we should err on the side of being too respectful and proper instead of too casual and potentially rude.

(5.95) I should not wave my arms around in an uncontrolled manner,
But communicate with slight movements
And appropriate gestures;
Otherwise, I shall lose my composure.

Of course there are many societies where it is perfectly normal for people to wave their arms around all they want – think Italy!  Most other places, not so much.

Gen-la Losang tells a funny story of one time he took a plane with Geshe-la from the UK to America.  Up until that time, Losang had only really seen Geshe-la in the UK, and in the UK, Geshe-la is always the perfect English gentlemen – calm, reserved, composed, keeping a proper distance and sipping his tea.  This is who Losang thought Geshe-la was.  When they were seen off at the airport, there were many people around, and Geshe-la acted entirely properly.  When they got off the plane in America, once again there were of course a lot of people there to greet him, and much to Losang’s surprise Geshe-la became all gregarious and went around hugging everybody like they were best friends.  This was the American Geshe-la!  There is likewise a video of Geshe-la touring the Brazilian temple, and if one thought the American Geshe-la was affectionate and vivacious, you should see the Brazilian Geshe-la!

The point, again, is we need to act in ways that are culturally acceptable and we should remain in control of our actions.  This doesn’t mean we need to be reserved and hold ourselves back, rather it means we should be mindful that our behavior makes people happy.

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