Sunday, May 11, 2014

Children, Families, and American Zen

This morning, three of our high school students at zen center gave the dharma talk. Each of them grew up in the Youth Practice program we have, and are now preparing to take jukai along with the adult group this fall. It brought to mind this old post I wrote for Buddhist Geeks a few years ago that considered children and teens (or often the lack there of) in American convert Buddhist communities.

Here's one of the points I made in the post, an issue I feel my own sangha has gone to great strides to not fall into.

2. Uber-Individualism—Buddhists in the “West,” especially convert Buddhists, struggle with building long lasting, sustainable communities. Children and teens aren’t always welcome, let alone considered vital members of the sangha. But beyond Buddhism, community in general is quite challenged in places like the U.S. Whereas in the past, friends, neighbors, and community elders were all to some degree or another considered part of the extended parenting family, today for most children, these people are often viewed with suspicion. Teachers, spiritual leaders, and other community leaders are also viewed as much with suspicion as being potentially good influences on children. Now, certainly there are valid reasons for some of this suspicion, and I think it’s quite important for parents to be careful and minimize risks, but how much of the breakdown in community in general is due to obsession with the nuclear family, and an excessive focus on individuality?

Several years ago, I taught the 2nd and 3rd grade class in our program, and all three of the high schoolers that spoke today were in those classes with me. It speaks volumes that not only were they able to come before us this morning to offer what they have learned on the path, but also that we - the rest of the sangha - provided that space and sought to uphold them as we do our teachers.

Integrations like this haven't always been easy or smooth, but it's been worth it. We aren't the only ones doing this sort of thing, but it's still rare amongst convert communities.

I hope many other lay sanghas follow suit.

And Happy Mother's Day to you all!

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