Every morning Abbey residents—and sometimes the guests—take turns leading a morning motivation before we begin our meditation practice. These can be especially rich during retreat. Ven. Thubten Jampa offered this reflection, based on the advice we received from Venerable Master Huimin of Dharma Drum Institute in Taiwan.
Each year when the sangha at Sravasti Abbey enters our annual winter varsa retreat, we must rely on a bhikkhu (a fully ordained monk) Vinaya Master. Ven. Master Huimin from Dharma Drum has kindly served in that role. When we make our annual request to him, we also ask for his advice. This year he advised us as follows:
“Did you remember? Last time [we met], I shared the greatest thing that I ever learned: to respect everybody, no matter whether they respect us or not. I want to share this. Have a nice retreat.”
Why is having respect so great?
For one thing, if we don’t have respect towards our teachers we will not learn much and improve on the path. Respect develops through recognizing the kindness of our teachers in helping us so compassionately and selflessly along the spiritual path.
Take for example the practice of Shungsep Jetsun Rinpoche, who was known as Lochen in her early training years. She was a remarkable female Buddhist practitioner in Tibet. She lived from about 1850 and died in 1953. She eventually became the spiritual guide of Shungsep Nunnery in Lhasa, but before she came into this position, she practiced hard under her teacher Pema Gyatso. Lochen had great faith and respect for him.
One day her lama said to her,
“’You have three faults. You criticize the Ani Umzey (the chant leader), you lie by pretending to be the incarnation of Dorjey Phagmo (Machig Labdron), and you accused your friend of stealing. I cannot have you here any longer. You are not fit to be given these precious teachings.’ He then stamped her forehead with a seal representing a dog and ordered her to leave both the nunnery and the locality immediately and go to a place called Pomdra in Nepal.” (The Story of a Tibetan Yogini)*
She was stunned. She remembered doing none of these things, but others had made up stories and talked behind her back. Still, Lochen’s faith and respect for her teacher were unwavering, so she went to Nepal for several months. When she returned, she told her master that she had done as instructed and asked if she could now stay and receive teachings. He accepted her.
Some time later, Lochen traveled with her teacher, Pema Gyatso, to visit holy sites in Ngari and view the many stones adorned with mantras. At a cave,
“Pema Gyatso instructed Lochen to strike a large boulder with her staff. She obeyed and to everyone’s surprise, excrement came pouring out. The lama then struck it and a large piece detached itself, revealing a natural image of Avalokiteshvara’s mantra. More and more pieces fell off, creating a shower of naturally formed mani stones. Lochen gathered them up and built a mani wall. As they performed the consecration ceremony she realized that her lama was clairvoyant.“ (The Story of a Tibetan Yogini)*
But Lochen did not need this presentation to have respect and faith in her teacher, as it was already unshakable. Due to her great faith and respect she was diligently able to progress along the path and became one of the greatest female masters in Tibet.
Here’s another reason respect is important.
It’s essential when we meditate on the development of bodhicitta, for example, and apply the Seven Fold Cause and Effect Instruction. In that method, we first recognize all sentient beings as having been our kind mothers in previous lives. They have shown us tremendous kindness many times. If we don’t recognize the kindness others have shown us it will be very difficult to develop heartfelt respect towards them. We will have obstacles to further develop the qualities of love and compassion and, therefore, bodhicitta.
However, when we recognize the kindness others have shown us—even in this life—it will be easier for us to develop respect. For example, one morning Ven. Tsepal in her motivation shared how she recognized the kindness of our senior nuns having served the Abbey for so many years through various tasks such as developing the Abbey’s infrastructure, taking care of the forest, inviting generosity, and so forth. When we see the kindness in those activities, we will develop great respect. This in turn will help us to be open to what they may share with us—their teachings, reflections, experiences—and we will learn and progress along the path.
So why is respect so great? In brief our spiritual development depends on it.
I think this is important for everybody to reflect upon on their own. Without respect—without being able to see the kindness in our teachers, in our spiritual friends, in those who live in this country, this continent, and so forth—we will miss out following in the footsteps of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Without being able to cherish others we will never become a Buddha, not even a high level bodhisattva.
* Quotations are taken from The Story of a Tibetan Yogini, prepared by Kim Yeshi & Acharya Tashi Tserin, with the assistance of Sallie Davenport & Dorjey Tseten. You can read the full text here.There’s also a nice summary here.