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Lions Roar : March 2006
is a fine volume, and a solid successor to the generally ac- claimed Blue Jean Buddha. My students' criticisms aside, there is certainly a place for narratives by people who share even a very broad definition of "being Buddhist"; in fact, for many beginning Buddhist students, this book might be one of the few places they hear about Buddhist traditions other than the "biggies" (Soto Zen, Tibetan, and Vipassana/Insight Medi- tation). But I'm troubled by the idea that teens and young Buddhists can only find a sense of community in the pages of a book or the pixels of a beliefnet.com "young Buddhist" discussion page. The main thing we can learn from this book is the impor- tance of older practitioners-and entire sanghas-adopting a different approach to young practitioners. Young people in our society are tokenized and condescended to, forced to attend boring high schools, misunderstood by their parents, subject to power differentials based on ageism, and generally not taken seriously as whole people. For these reasons, getting into the dharma can be challenging, and we need to adapt our communities to help mitigate these challenges. But we should take care that our adaptations do not repro- duce the very structures we're working against. For example, we don't need simplified dharma talks, forced references to Jack Johnson, or programs that assume young people can't sit for as long as "adults." We do need teachers and admin- istrators to see that we are all apprentices of the Buddha, whatever our age, and that the Buddha heart beating in a fifteen-year-old's chest is ripe for enlightenment. I'm think- ing of an appreciation of young practitioners that doesn't as- sume that their practice is any worse than an older person's, or their commitment more flighty. Rather, we can respect the possibility that young people have a clearheaded analysis of suffering, are serious about their path, and have the men- tal resources to engage practice deeply. Conversely, young people aren't necessarily more special than older people, nor are they the only hope for the future of Buddhism in North America. (I can't count the number of times I've been told I'm special simply for being young, or the number of times I've been characterized as a young Buddhist by someone who was running a Buddhist organization or retreat center when they were my age.) Ultimately, I'm hoping that the young people who are finding their way to the dharma-and those of us who really aren't so young any more-are understood not as the "next generation," or the "older generation," but as part of a present generation, growing, and living the buddhadharma together. . ALE X I S S HOT WE L L is a Ph.D. candidate in the history of consciousness program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Committed and Sincere KATIE ZDYBEL talks with Sumi Loundon about today's young Buddhists. As someone who's had your finger on the pulse of the young Buddhist world, do you think this is a group that will stay Buddhist? Sumi Loundon: Yes, I think the young Buddhist population-though smaller than the baby boomer Buddhist genera- tion-is dedicated and their commit- ment will endure. And I do think there's going to be a successful passing-on from one generation to the next. They're very sincere about their commitment. There's nothing superficial about it. Sumi Loundon Are there any events or trends that particularly shape the young Buddhist today? In terms of how young Buddhists have formed their attitudes, I would say that they're far more influenced by the baby boomer Buddhists and the way that generation has under- stood dharma and practiced it than they are by current events. By separating Buddha's Apprentices into three sections-teens, twenty- to thirty-somethings, and longtime practitioners-you make a distinction between age brackets. What do the three groups have in common? In a way, all of them are longtime Buddhists. None of the writers are real beginners. In the book we've got a fifteen- year-old who was raised Buddhist from birth. So in a way, she's got fifteen years of practice under her belt. If you could do one thing for the young Buddhist community today, what would it be? We need to make a place for young people where they feel like they belong. We need to provide roles for them within the com- munity. And we need to work on addressing the specific devel- opmental needs of young people and do that in dharmic ways. The Buddhist teachings are universal and apply to all. Are you suggesting that young Buddhists require teachings that are tai- lored to them? No, we need to be careful not to infantilize young people. We have to be careful not to dumb things down. When young people reach for a dharma book, they're not looking for teenage-looking, hip, glossy, give-it-to-me-in-a-sound bite dharma teaching. They're looking for something substantial that treats them as mature, reflective persons. SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2006 87