There are many stories. Some offer wisdom. Some offer different perspectives. Some makes us wonder. Here is a story from Andhra Pradesh in Southern India called “A Pig’s Life.”
One day, a guru foresaw in a flash of vision what he would
be in his next life. So he called his favorite disciple and asked him what he
would do for his guru in return for all he had received. The disciple said he
would do whatever his guru asked him to do.
Having received this promise, the guru said, "Then this is what I'd like you to do for me. I've just learned that when I die, which will be very soon, I'm going to be reborn as a pig. Do you see that sow eating garbage there in the yard? I'm going to be reborn as the fourth piglet of its next litter. You'll recognize me by a mark on my brow. When that sow has littered, find the fourth piglet with a mark on its brow and, with one stroke of your knife, slaughter it. I'll then be released from a pig's life. Will you do this for me?"
The disciple was sad to hear all this, but he agreed to do as he had promised.
Soon after this conversation, the guru did die. And the sow
did have a litter of four little pigs. One day, the disciple sharpened his
knife and picked out the fourth little pig, which did indeed have a mark on its
brow. Just as he was about to bring down his knife to slit its throat, the
little pig suddenly spoke. "Stop! Don't kill me!" it screamed.
Before the disciple could recover from the shock of hearing the little pig speak in a human voice, it said, "Don't kill me. I want to live on as a pig. When I asked you to kill me, I didn't know what a pig's life would be like. It's great! The mud is soft and silky. My mother’s belly is warm and comforting. I truly believe that it is a fair reward for my past life. Now, please let me go."
As the disciple walked down to the river to wash off the filth from the barn, he wondered, “How strange it is that you can know the future and yet not understand it at all.”
Would you want to know what life offers in the future or in the next life, if there is such a thing? How do you think you would respond if you knew? Like the guru perhaps, so afraid of his future existence as a pig, that he asked his student to kill him as soon as he was born as a little piglet. Did you wonder about the disciple’s question: “How strange it is that you can know the future and yet not understand it at all.”
This story touched me in so many ways. When I was a 14 year old, I could not have imagined that I would be living Miami—I always thought I would live in Houston, near my family-- that I would be a Unitarian Universalist minister—at the time I was very clear I was going to be a computer scientist-- that today I describe my belief as a Buddhist—practicing Zazen meditation, mindfulness, non-attachment, and the transitory nature of life—Panentheistic—believing that the divine exists in all things and that all aspects of existence deserves to be treated with love and reverence—Humanistic—asserting the value of humanity, reason, and science, as well as the importance of dealing with issues in the here and now, not waiting for a possible afterlife--and Unitarian Universalist— affirming values and Principles that help guide my choices as I move through an ever-changing spiritual journey. As a teen being anything other than Catholic was unimaginable. I attended Mass regularly; I believed in the wisdom of Jesus, and I was a church and diocesan youth leader and retreat organizer for the CYO. How would I have responded if I had had a flash of what the future offered? A future so different from the future I was working toward, a future completely alien to me. Would I have tried to prevent this future? Would I have just accepted what lay ahead? Would I have tried to understand what lay before me?
This week, I started a group on eldering or perhaps a better way to describe it, is a conscious aging group. In our first session together, I asked those gathered to look backward and forward in their lives. I started the class with this quote by Leon Trotsky: “Old age is the most unexpected of all the things that can happen to us.” And then I offered Hindu guru Eknath Daswaran’s reflections on this quote:
“When the first grey hair appears on our head, it is a critical juncture in life. We go to the mirror with a sinking feeling of dread and try to pluck out the evidence – one here, two there. But the more we pull out, the more seem to come in.
I tease my friends by asking which of them would like to relive their adolescence. It always brings a groan. Youth has a lot to offer, but so does the experience of age. In India we have a joke about a man going to a barber and asking, ‘Do you have anything for grey hair?’ ‘Yes,’ the barber says, ‘respect.’…
This is the paradox of life: when we cling to the body, it loses its beauty. But when we do not cling to the body – and use [the body] as an instrument given us to serve others – it glows with a special beauty...”
How do you see old age? From the perspective of the guru from our story seeing his future--- as an awful lowly existence, as a pig. Or from the perspective of the guru when he actually became a piglet, experiencing it as comforting and quite enjoyable? The Conscious Aging group is about exploring aging, trying to understand our past and how it has impacted who we are today. It’s about understanding the present, what life offers now. And it’s about looking forward, considering what life still has to offer. I remember hearing someone in the class say that what we were exploring were things they had not thought about in a long time.
I called this sermon a Yes/And Faith because life offers us many things, at different times in our lives, and we are different in each stage, responding to what life offers in very different ways depending on our life experiences and our hopefully ever-growing understanding of who we are and how we change. Aware that we are not static creatures in a consistent, never changing world. When I was 14, and probably at other times in my life, I was not to keen on change. For me, life was about yes or no. I said yes to things I was familiar with, that kept me close to home, family, friends, church, and didn’t push me toward being different. I reflect back now on that nerdy, anxious, mama’s-boy teenager who really didn’t look at life too deeply, and marvel at how I became the person I am today.
I invite you to take a moment and think about how you were when you were 14 years old. How did you interact with life? How did you view your spiritual journey? What was important to you? What were your goals and the things you desired?
Perhaps you wouldn’t have been as open when you were 14, but how about 30? Did you say Yes/And to what life offered? Yes to new and different experiences? And--being open to the changes within you that a “yes” might offer? Have there been times you’ve answered “Yes/And” to what life offered? What was the result? As you look forward to the future, what might be some opportunities you could answer “Yes/And’ to?
At certain points in our lives, Yes And might seem inevitable. For instance, when we leave home, when we start a job or career, get married, or start a family. Sometimes we might be excited about Yes And, sometimes not so much. Sometimes we might feel ready for Yes And, and sometimes, very much not. I look out at you all, and I wonder if you approach Yes And opportunities like I do, with a little hesitation, a little or a lot of reflection, some trepidation, and a little or a lot of excitement. That anxious 14-year-old is still part of me, warning me not to do too many different things and not to change too much. And that 14-year-old has gotten a little louder as I have gotten into my 60’s. Do I listen to him? A little? But I want to continue my life by answering Yes/And to life.
And so, I wonder about my self-described faith. I have been very comfortable as a Buddhist, Panentheist, Humanist, Unitarian Universalist. I wonder how I would respond to an opportunity, a “Yes/And” opportunity, that might alter how I describe and live my faith walk.
Let me stop for a moment and ask you all can you describe your faith in one word? Raise your hands. How many of you when you try to talk to someone about your faith use a lot of descriptors and qualifiers? Like you try to explain how you accept these practices or truths from this religion, but you don’t accept the rest. Or you find yourself wanting to hold onto certain aspects of your childhood religion, but find some or many of its teachings untenable for you today. Let’s say I give you a survey about how you identify your beliefs and the choices are:
Atheist, Pagan, Agnostic, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Theist, Jew, Naturalist, Humanist, Wiccan, Unitarian Universalist, Zoroastrian, Baha'i, Taoist, Confucianism, Shinto, Sikh, seeker, unsure, in process, none of the above.
How many categories do you identify with in some way or another? You can shout them out or answer in the chat. Most Unitarian Universalist don’t identify themselves as one specific faith or belief system. And for each belief system they offer as an answer, they qualify it with Yes/But.
What happens when you answer Yes/And? With Yes/And, you are willing to explore all parts of a belief system, and sit with all these parts—even the ones that you’re not immediately drawn to—for a period of time. You are willing to be open to being changed by the belief system. I have offered this advice to many Unitarian Universalists, advice that I have found challenging, but enriching in my own life. Take on a belief system and live it fully for a period of time—let’s say at least 6 months. Let yourself delve deeply into its texts, beliefs, and traditions. Let it influence your decisions. What are you feeling as I describe this task? Anxious, scared, bored, excited, joyful, angry, impatient? Are you willing to try this Yes And experiment? If not, what are you doing to ensure you don’t become stagnant in your belief system? How are you challenging yourself spiritually?
I leave you with this thought. Beware the faith walk that does not cause you some discomfort, anxiety or unease, as well as joy and peace, that does not call you to look within to discern who you were, who you are, and who you will be, that asks you to look at the world through a different lens and see it as if for the first time. On any faith walk, it is easy to reject an idea, a belief, or a tradition. It is much harder to say and live Yes/And. And as Unitarian Universalists, saying “Yes/And” is really what we’re all about, isn’t it?