Question: I was brought up by elders with the traditional idea that I should dress more ‘respectably’ when visiting a Buddhist temple, e.g. keeping my legs covered. I notice some of my friends are comfortable with showing their legs though – wearing shorts and skirts. Am I just old-fashioned in thinking that my dressing is a form of respect to the Buddhas and deities possibly ‘residing’ in temples or who happen to be there?
Answer: What you mentioned is actually simple etiquette out of basic courtesy, which is the preferred in many non-Buddhist religious places too. Some places might be more particular while others more ‘free and easy’. More discreet dressing is less likely to distract or tempt other devotees or even monastics in there, which disrupts peace of mind. This makes it a good practice with relevant rationale; and is not superstitious or such.
The truth is, if it’s a Buddhist temple you are stepping into, any enlightened beings, if present there, would not be bothered by devotees’ dressing, as they wouldn’t be particular about such trivial worldly things. However, if one is deliberately disrespectful to anyone with ill intention in a place of worship, this naturally creates negative karma for oneself; not because the enlightened are displeased.