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One of Buddha's four ways of training the mind for Sampajañña ("clear comprehension") is to know the suitability of an action. From an anecdote given by Joseph Goldstein, his meditation master was haggling with a seller. When asked why, he replied

The path of the Dhamma is to be simple, not a simpleton.

The following are two situations which I deal with on a daily basis, and I still am unsure what is the suitable or correct action to take.

  • Two people are walking towards each other on a narrow path, do you yield first and let the other pass?
  • Two people both make eye contact, who should avert their gaze first to avoid a staredown contest?

The more abstract problem here might be described as, the correct action to take when you and another have conflicting interests. An answer to that is appreciated as well, but I really do mean to ask, how do you deal with the two concrete situations given above?

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'Sampajañña' means to be clearly cognizant in the application & use of various kinds of 'pañña' (wisdom; discernment) that relate to giving up craving & the cessation & suffering. The scriptures state:

The monk ardent (ātāpī), clearly-comprehending (sampajāno) & mindful (satimā) puts aside covetousness & distress with reference to the world.

MN 118

Despite Joseph possibly often having secular audiences, sampajañña does not relate to haggling for goods in the marketplace, which simply requires 'worldly shrewdness'.

When people are walking towards me on a narrow path, I generally always yield & let the other pass since I am generally walking without a particular craving (unless there is an inherent danger that must be decided on, such as when walking on a narrow path near a cliff).

Similarly, sampajañña would generally not be used stare-down contests because using sampajañña to apply the 8 fold path results in abandoning hostility & egoism.

And what is the faculty of discernment (pañña)? There is the case where a monk, a disciple of the noble ones, is discerning, endowed with discernment of arising & passing away — noble, penetrating, leading to the right ending of stress. He discerns, as it has come to be: 'This is stress... This is the origination of stress... This is the cessation of stress... This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.' This is called the faculty of discernment.

Indriya-Vibhanga Sutta

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I really do mean to ask, how do you deal with the two concrete situations given above?

I am inclined to "yield first", although it doesn't often (or hardly ever) happen in practice that I'm walking on a path that narrow.

When I'm on a bicycle on a shared footpath, pedestrians are usually inclined to yield to me, and then I allow them to yield (they walk on one side of the path and I cycle past them); or you could say I yield i.e. I cycle around them. I slow, slow to a stop, or dismount when necessary (e.g. on a single-lane footpath under a bridge, when passing small children or off-leash dogs, or on a pedestrian side-walk).

Sometimes I drive a car on a single-track road. There is a (unwritten?) convention for which car is supposed to yield in that case, i.e. it's supposed to be whichever car is able to yield the most easily:

  1. The car which has a lay-by in front of it, which it can pull into
  2. The car which is closest to the lay-by behind it (i.e. the car which has most recently passed a lay-by) into which it can reverse
  3. The car which can most easily reverse (e.g. the car which will be reversing down-hill rather than up-hill, or the smaller car)

Sometimes I stop for 4 ½ seconds to see whether the other car (which is probably driven by someone who's more familiar with the road than I am) goes into reverse, and if not then I start to reverse.

The more abstract problem here might be described as, the correct action to take when you and another have conflicting interests. An answer to that is appreciated as well ...

I don't see this as a conflicting interest. I want to get around in a friendly and more-or-less cooperative way, I want to be non-aggressive and I don't want to frighten people. I assume (and my experience has confirmed) that these ambitions are socially acceptable and not a "conflicting interest".

When one car yields to another is conventional for both drivers to do a small hand-wave to the other as they pass each other (each to acknowledge the other's politeness and savoir faire perhaps).

On foot if I make eye-contact with someone (outside a city) then I'm likely to say "Good day!" to them (and vice versa, they do too). Someone said once that according to the older and more formal rules of politeness in this country it's conventional that it should be the more junior person who should be the first to say "Good day!"; but I'm happy ignore that and wish a good day to anyone, older or younger.

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A true disciple of the Supreme Buddha is humble by nature as he/she has gotten rid of arrogance in its entirety. On the other hand a person who is not sincere, humble and innocent enough to surrender to the true Dhamma, has a greater degree of arrogance. So when two people are walking towards each other on a narrow path…, it is the one who has the alertness and awareness ( sampajañña), and who has true humility that will give way to the other.

Then to the question about two people both make eye contact, who should avert their gaze first to avoid a staredown contest?… it is the one who has the alertness and awareness ( sampajañña), that would give in as he/she is one who practises the five Sekha strengths. He/she lives in association with the five Sekha strengths and does not abandon them. What are these Sekha Dhamma? They are… Saddha (Confidence), Hiri (shame), Ottappa (fear), Viriya (energy) and Panna (wisdom). Such a person is humble enough to see what’s going on in that present moment, that would lead to a staredown contest, and to understand the eventual pain that would come as a result.

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