Question: I have been photocopying selected pages from a Buddhist book for study and note-taking. In this way, the actual Book is kept clean, placed on my bookshelf at home. Also, bringing the photocopies around during the course of the day (to work, and then commuting to the Buddhist centre) is lighter and convenient. Out of habit, I leave my bag containing the materials on the floor below my work table or on a seat many a times. Is this okay?
Answer: Unless there is no other place to place them, it’s better to place Dharma items higher. It’s not so much that placing them low means there is disrespectfulness, which I’m sure is not the case for you, but placing them higher helps us to cultivate greater mindfulness of reverence to the Dharma. This is linked to the psychology of things placed low (such as shoes) being associated (even if subsconsciously) with being lowly, and things placed higher (such as our heads!) being associated with being more noble.
Question: In the process of photocopying, some pages might not turn out right (slanted or blur) and such defective copies are discarded. A senior Dharma student advised me not to photocopy and that such copies (including defective ones) should not be just discarded, as they should be treated with the same respect as the actual text. He said to treat them with disrespect will give rise to bad consequences. I find this very disturbing. What do you think?
Answer: If the copies are very distorted, to the extent of not being legible, they can be treated as ordinary paper to join the recycling bin. If some of the words on them representing the Dharma are still somewhat discernible, my advice is to fold and/or wrap them (to conceal them from sight) respectfully with other papers before putting them in the recycling bin. It does not make sense to keep them if they are not usable and or not going to be used, while returning them to the elements for renewal is better for all. The concealment above is to not let others (humans and possibly unseen beings like gods and ghosts) who might witness give rise to aversion upon seeing ‘Dharma’ materials discarded ‘carelessly’.
Traditionally, the method is to burn unwanted Dharma materials while chanting respectfully to return them to the elements. However, I feel that, in this climate crisis, the Buddha might prefer us to recycle discreetly! Any possible bad consequences would have to arise from intentional expression of disrespect (which creates negative karma) for what represents the Dharma. If you have no such intentions, it is okay. But now that you understand the above, you can now, instead, express intentional action to better handle such materials. If done reverently, it might even create some positive karma! Note too, that using the workplace photocopier, ink, paper and electricity (if this is the case) without permission is a form of stealing, which breaks the second precept. It is good to ask for permission first, or photocopy elsewhere.
How To Handle Unneeded Dharma Materials
How To Handle Wrong ‘Dharma’ Materials