Meditations by Lama Matthew Rice – Winter/Spring 2019

To Be an Inclusive Spiritual Community in Kansas City

The Rime Buddhist Center founder, Lama Chuck, challenged us as a sangha to be one of the most welcoming spiritual communities in Kansas City. You can see that manifested today in our Service Guild, with our greeters on Sunday mornings, the volunteers in the Gift Shop, and the meditation leaders on Wednesday evenings. It’s wonderful to see sangha members take the time to welcome people to the Rime Center.

However, I wonder whether being the most welcoming spiritual community in Kansas City is enough. Does it go far enough with our intent as a spiritual community? I might be so bold as to say no. Last November I had the opportunity to attend the Parliament of World’s Religions at its 2018 international convening in Toronto, Ontario. The theme was The Promise of Inclusion & the Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation, and Change. According to the organizers, the theme was inspired, in part, by the character of its host city. In Toronto, advancing civic partnerships among faiths and guiding institutions to work for economic, climate, racial, and sectarian justice means solving conflicts in ways that reflect the Parliament’s methods: increasing the roles of the world’s next generations, women and girls, indigenous communities, and minority communities, including immigrants and refugees.

I walked away from that conference both encouraged and inspired to bring that theme to the Rime Buddhist Center. Thinking about this and how it can be applied, I realized that through our programs and outreaches, we have been removing obstacles to inclusion for some time. For example, our Social Justice committee has been challenging us to look at white privilege, and suppressed prejudices, that prevent us from truly connecting to people of color in our community. Our homeless outreach has been challenging us to look at our own negative perceptions of homelessness and poverty in our community. Finally, our prison outreach challenges us to confront our beliefs about punitive justice and how our correctional systems are crippling minority, oppressed, and marginalized communities.

But what other ways can we make the Rime Buddhist Center a more inclusive spiritual community? What can we do to include our neighbors in our immediate community? What can we do to make LGBTQ people feel more included in the sangha? What can we do to welcome immigrants and refugees to our communities? What can we do to bring more awareness to our already active programs and outreaches at the Rime Center? This is our challenge.

We have, in a small way, already taken our first steps, and I appreciate our efforts so far. The immediate need, however, is to ask ourselves, what are some of the things that we can do now that can make us more inclusive? These don’t need to be grand gestures. Small actions also make a difference. The following ideas have been shared with me over the last few months.

  • Inviting the surrounding community to our Losar event.
  • Holding space for people of minority, oppressed, and marginalized communities.
  • Including books in the library for LGBTQ topics.
  • Stating our preferred pronouns during introductions.
  • Doing Tonglen practice on Sundays for minority, oppressed, and marginalized communities who have been victims of violence.
  • Having the Rime Center partner with support organizations for minority, oppressed, and marginalized communities.
  • Support events and festivals in the minority, oppressed, and marginalized communities.

Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are compelled to end the suffering of all sentient beings based on the wishes of those sentient beings, not just to act for the sake of the few that we like when we agree with their wishes. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas do not perform actions for sentient beings based on how they think those sentient beings should be helped, but by holding space and listening so they can provide the help that is needed. To me that is the true model of inclusion and love, and one that can be emulated here at the Rime Buddhist Center.