Over at the blog Dhamma Musings, Shravasti Dhammika writes today on the decline in Buddhist affiliation amongst younger folks in Singapore. What's interesting to me is that some of the reasons I, and others, have suggested as to why younger folks North America and Europe aren't coming into Buddhism at the same levels as their older counterparts appear to be at play in parts of Asia:
Sorry to say statistics from Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan show a similar trend. Buddhism is failing to speak to young, well-educated, modern people. A visit to a good number of temples and Buddhist societies will show the reasons for this trend; commercialized spirituality, absence of Dhamma education, lack of social engagement, poor leadership, etc. The almost complete absence of networking between Buddhists also doesn’t help either. ‘You do your thing. I’ll do mine’ is the norm for Buddhist groups, temples and organizations.
I made a comment on David Chapman's blog related to the Maha Council conference that fits in here. In part, the comment went as follows:
I currently am the board president of a Zen sangha in the Midwest, and am also amongst the Gen X practitioner crowd, for whatever that’s worth. My experience as part of the leadership here is that for the most part, each sangha is on it’s own. We had a teacher scandal several years back. Got help from some teachers of other sanghas, but the lion’s share of debate, discussion, policing, and moralizing was internal. It was a much smaller version of what happened with Trungpa, Baker, Shimano, Genpo, Maezumi, etc.
My point in mentioning this is that I don’t think there’s ever been a strong collective effort to do much of anything in Western Buddhism. We don’t have a large-scale ethics body to appeal to when teachers abuse power. We don’t make collective public statements about anything, political, social, or otherwise. In fact the “we” has always – in my view anyway – been largely about individual groups that are loosely associated with each other, partly in religious name only, and partly through some form of teacher lineage.
Furthermore, when I think about some of the major natural disasters in North America in recent years, I'm hard pressed to come up with any significant Buddhist-driven aid and/or support effort. At least amongst Certainly, individual Buddhists have helped, and certainly individual sanghas have done things like given money to the Red Cross and whatnot. However, the kinds of efforts that regularly come from, for example, teams of Christian churches working in tandem to raise money, bring in supplies, and help people rebuild houses and other structures just isn't easily found amongst convert Buddhist communities.
Why bring that up? Well, because we don't seem to be to good with being part of a larger community. And this plays out internally, where groups of individuals sanghas can exist within 50 miles of each other, and yet rarely, if ever, collaborate on major projects and endeavors. And it exists externally, where a given sangha might be located within a particular community, but has membership that primarily is from outside of that community, and also doesn't do a whole lot of connecting with others in that community, regardless of their affiliation.
Now, from what I have seen, organized religion in general is tottering on the edge of oblivion. It might be a slow death, but it is possible that holding this stuff together may be like practicing on a sinking ship. However, at the same time, there are plenty of people longing to be a part of more vibrant communities, ones that acknowledge and even aid in uncovering the deepest, richest parts of our lives. So, there's kind of a push-pull going on between individualism and community, one that seems to offer the best of each side (while condemning the worst of the opposite side), but which fails to bring any fruitful reconciliation.
I don't know where any of this is going to go in the future. It does seem though that those statistics from Asian nations about Buddhists are linked, in some way, to the some of the struggles sanghas are having here in North America and other parts of the "West." And certainly, whatever the goals of the Maha Council (and other meetings like it), there's a desire to address said struggles.