I can still remember my very first practice in Mysore at the KPJAYI. I had been sitting outside the corridor for a while, when my turn came to go in and practice. But when I stood up Sharath told me to sit back and wait until everyone who is ’senior’ to me goes in to the practice room. ‘Everyone, who arrived one day before you is senior to you.’ So I kept on sitting and waiting until everyone went in, and then I could also start my practice. It was easy to be the last one, but after a month the situation became more complex, when other first-timers arrived. The roles changed, for them I was the senior, and I felt quite uncomfortable every time I was called in before them. When I started to learn Hindi, one of the first example sentences in the book was „Respect your elders.” So it seemed to me that the Indian culture values respect above all, and it made me wonder: what is respect, why should we respect the elders, what difference does time and age make in this regard?
If I recall the persons I really respect I can see one thing in common: I trust them completely. So I think respect is strongly connected to trust, which means that you recognise and appreciate that person’s values and you are ready to listen to them whenever you are in doubt and confusion. You might call me naive but I strongly believe that trust is not something that should be gained, but rather it should be given unconditionally to everyone in the beginning of a relationship, otherwise we are led by our prejudices (of course unfortunately it is possible to loose it by undesired reasons). We should always look for the values in everyone, otherwise we would not have the chance to really get to know them. Therefore, if trust and respect is in close relationship, we should apply the same principle when it comes to respect: initially respect should be given to everyone and everything without any regards to age, gender or social status. And our respect should be expressed according to the particular relationship between the individuals and the social conventions. Respect the elders, by listening to them and following their advices based on their experiences, the younger, by protecting them and giving them guidance, respect the animals by providing them living space and not enslaving them, respect the nature by making sustainable choices in our everyday lives.
So respect should be given to everybody unconditionally, not because we expect something from them. Do not respect your teacher only BECAUSE he gives you knowledge, but respect him BY willing to learn from him. Respect should not come from expectations, and similarly we should not expect anyone to respect us. I should not require respect from the younger only because of my age, but I should protect and guide them all the same, because I respect their youth. And when respect radiates back, I should not think that the recognition I receive belongs to me, there have been so many teachers and guides who led me in my life, the appreciation actually belongs to them. Without my primary school teachers I would not even be able to write down my thoughts. And when respect is being offered higher and higher in this lineage of family and teachers, finally it reaches the origin of the whole creation, and returns back to where it really belongs. So that we do not have to feel intimidated when someone expresses respect towards us, we should simply offer it forward to our teachers without becoming attached to it. This is the main purpose of respect, not to build our ego, but to make us grateful for all the gifts we received in our lives. Respect connects us to all the ancestors and great teachers of the past, present and future, respect is a prayer to the original Teacher, to the source of all knowledge.