Sunday, September 6, 2009
I've been reading the book Blue Jean Buddha,a collection of essays written by young Buddhists about their experiences as practitioners. BJB ed. Loundon It's already eight years old, but many of the issues presented in it, from lack of young adult practitioners in Buddhist sanghas to how the practice exists differently in the lives of younger adults, continue to be very pertinent.
Having just returned from Sunday morning service at my zen community, I was reflecting again on how, even with a small influx of people from 20-40 years old in my community, the majority by far of active members are of the Baby Boomer generation. I have heard that even in Asian dominant Buddhist communities in North America, this gap still exists to some degree. And I know that we Buddhists are not alone - I have friends in Christian communities who are experiencing similar issues.
Now, age in and of itself, isn't too important. However, what is important is an awareness of how the dharma unfolds differently in people lives at different stages. And also how some people never fit into the conventional stages of life, and thus manifest a practice in different ways than the rest of the practitioners.
What am I talking about? Well, I am talking about the issues that come up when you are young, not married, financially unstable, and still finding a direction in life, just to name a few. You know, issues of right livelihood, for example. Or issues about relationships, for another example.
When you hear yet another dharma talk filled with comments about 401k's, retirement, and spending weeks on end in meditation retreats, you begin to wonder how it applies in your life.
Now, I've gotten used to this feeling, and don't have too much trouble finding ways to apply teachings to my life, regardless of examples and context. I can take Dogen's Instructions for the Zen Cook and apply that careful attention and preparation without attachment to outcome in other areas of my life beyond cooking. But I've stuck it out. I've made my commitment and am willing to be part of the minority of younger adult practitioners.
At the same time, I have watched so many young adults like myself pass through the doors of the zen center and never return. Or others who stayed for awhile, and then faded off. Clearly, some of this is the basic attrition that occurs when people are trying things out, and either don't take the practice seriously, or, more likely, just find it doesn't fit for their lives. However, now that I'm slipping out of young adulthood, and getting closer to middle aged, I really am wondering how many people simply left because they didn't feel what was being said included their experience. That this practice, somehow, didn't apply to them. That it was for older people, struggling with different issues, yet somehow more settled in their lives.
In addition to reading the book I mentioned above, I have also been listening to some recent podcasts from the Buddhist Geeks, including this one Episode 132, a dialogue with Reverend Danny Fischer that touches heavily on some of the challeges and opportunities for young practioners.
I have asked a few teacher about this lack of young adults before. One said to me what I have heard a few other older practioners say "Oh, they're busy establishing their lives. They will be back when they get older." Yeah, that's a nice story, but is it true? And what about this 15-20 year period when many major life decisions are being made? Is is really intelligent to just assume that many young people are too busy to care enough to have a spiritual live?
Clearly, the number of younger Buddhist bloggers, as well as the attendance at young adult retreats at places like Spirit Rock suggests otherise.
This is sort of a preliminary post, and I'd like to really dig into these issues more in the future. It seems to me vital that we learn to go beyond simply inviting all people into our practice, and actually start looking at what skillful means might be necessary to truly open to the doors of practice to anyone who might arrive at the doorstep, or virtual doorstep for those who are primarily on-line.
Otherwise, we might start looking like the barn in the photo above - kind of stately, but basically a structure in slow decay.
Posted by Nathan at 9:44 AM