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2019-09-26

From the Minister, Thu Sep 26

Dear Ones,

Everything we do interacts with other people in two opposite ways: modeling and niche-filling.

When we model, we display a way of being that we invite others to adopt. Bad behavior encourages others to act badly; good behavior encourages others to act well. There's a voice in each of us that is always saying, "Look at what that person is doing. Maybe that's what I should do."

When we fill a niche, we encourage others to gravitate toward a different role. Your job is an example: the fact that you have that job means that no one else has it. Even if your job helps create other jobs, those are other jobs. Should you resign, a replacement might be hired, but as long as you're there, the niche is filled and any would-be replacements must seek other employment.

Every family has patterns of interaction with certain niches in the family system filled by different members of the family. If one member stops carrying out a given role -- whether it's a positive role like "primary meal planner," or an unhappy role like "chief complainer" -- others in the family are likely to shift to fill that role.

Another voice that's in each of us is always saying, "Look at what that person is doing. Since they're doing it, I'll find something else to do."

Your minister aims to be a helpful model -- an example of a spiritually reflective life, thoughtfully engaged with the big questions of our human meaning-making enterprise. That's what I try to do, and what Rev. Kimberley will be aiming to do for the next six months with our congregation. But we ministers are also mindful that we might be taken as filling that niche. With clergy, theologians, gurus, and spiritual writers doing the wrestling with religious questions, maybe that leaves you free to focus on other things. Not that "free to focus on other things" is a bad thing. That the social eco-system has many niches -- and is continually creating more -- allows us collectively to be a much more diverse and complex society.

Anyone concerned with transmitting knowledge, skills, outlooks, or attitudes to others -- which would include ministers, scholars, teachers, parents, and, indeed, any nonsociopath, at least occasionally -- faces this model vs. niche-filler conundrum. The best we can hope for is that some of what we model will be picked up (though it may not be the part we would have chosen) and be helpful to other people as they work out their own niche.

A minister's role is to do some of the spiritual, meaning-making labor for you. That's what modeling entails, and we hope our model helps offer you a platform from which to launch, or boost, your own spiritual work. But we can't do all the spiritual labor for you. Ministers, TED talkers, and spiritual writers do not entirely fill the niche for reflective, holistic, meaning-making. In fact, spiritual growth and development is not a niche. There's room for everyone.

Consider, for instance, questions like these: What religious questions are "alive" for you? From which of our 6 sources do you find the most hope and healing? What do you imagine spiritual growth and faith development might look like for you? As a spiritual seeker, what can you say about what you are seeking? What are you yearning to do more of to develop peace and wisdom? Engaging with questions like these is a part of the spiritual work before us all.

Yours in faith,
Meredith

The Liberal Pulpit

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Practice of the Week: Roller Derby Yes, Roller Derby can be a spiritual practice. It might not be for you, but reading Dawn Cooley's inspiring account (with video!) may help you think about what could be a spiritual practice for you. READ MORE.
Your Moment of Zen: Greed, Hatred, and Ignorance
When Raven was just starting on the path, she visited Moose Roshi -- as well as Jackrabbit Roshi and Prairie Dog Roshi -- before settling down under the tutelage of Brown Bear Roshi. In #93, we learned that, "Raccoon was a student of Moose Roshi at Cedarford, but he visited the Tallspruce community occasionally."

Set aside for now the possibility that in the present case Raven is being snide, arch, or mordant. Assume that she deeply respects and admires the elder roshi.

Buddhist literature identifies "three poisons": raga (greed, lust, desire, attachment), dvesha (hatred, anger, aversion), and moha (delusion, ignorance, confusion). These three are the root of all other kleshas (mental states that cloud the mind and manifest in unwholesome actions). Their opposites are dana (generosity), metta (loving-kindness), and prajna (wisdom).
  • The Sangiti Sutta (Digha Nikaya 33), lists sets of three things, including: "Three unwholesome roots: of raga, dvesha, moha."
  • In the Sammādiṭṭhi Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 9), Sariputta says, "And what is the root of the unwholesome? Greed is a root of the unwholesome; hate is a root of the unwholesome; delusion is a root of the unwholesome."
  • In the Itivuttaka Sutta 3.1 (Khuddaka Nikaya), the Buddha says, “Monks, there are these three roots of what is unskillful. Which three? Greed as a root of what is unskillful, aversion as a root of what is unskillful, delusion as a root of what is unskillful. These are the three roots of what is unskillful. Greed, aversion, delusion destroy the self-same person of evil mind from whom they are born, like the fruiting of the bamboo."
  • In the Titthiya Sutta (Angutara Nikaya 3:69), the Buddha explains that raga arises "for one who attends improperly to a beautiful object;" dvesha arises "for one who attends improperly to a repulsive object;" and moha arises "for one who attends improperly to things."
So how is it, as Moose Roshi says, that greed, hatred, and ignorance are themselves Buddha-nature? "Buddha nature pervades the entire universe, existing right here, now," (as Sutra books in Zen Centers throughout the English-speaking world declare), so where else would greed, hatred, and ignorance come from? Our task is to "attend properly" to them, appreciating that all things have their place. Properly attending immunizes us from their poisonousness.

Case
Moose Roshi said to his students, "Greed, hatred, and ignorance are themselves Buddha-nature."
On one of his visits, Raccoon asked Raven about this.
Raven said, "Moose oughta know."
Verse
"Loving makes lovely"

I thought I overheard
someone on the morning subway say.
The way she said it,
and the glance I had of her
and her companion,
Told me this was not a beauty tip.
She meant the beloved is lovely.

Visible through the window, the high rises sang,
"With this power you have,
How does your life admit of unloveliness?"
Case by Robert Aitken; introduction and verse by Meredith Garmon
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