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Buddhadharma : Winter 2015
many structures within Tibetan Buddhism make it difficult for Western teachers to be fully authorized and supported. Western Tibetan Buddhists are still very tied to what we call the “culture of origin”; we are deeply reliant on the support of Tibetan lamas and institutions. The only way Tibetan Bud- dhism will survive in America is if Western teach- ers become fully authorized and empowered to continue the teachings. The work is underway to develop a form of the tradition that Westerners can truly embody, so I’m optimistic we’ll get there. NINA LA ROSA: I agree, many of the Western Buddhist traditions do have very long paths to becoming a teacher. My tradition offers different ways for people to enter into teaching. One option, our facilitator role, offers a peer model of training to any practitio- ners who are interested. It gives people an opportu- nity to share what they know with a degree of struc- ture but without the assumption of expertise. every- one is expected to be transparent about where they are in their development as a teacher. In traditional Zen and Tibetan models, it can take decades to get to the point where they’re actually teaching. I think those requirements can be barriers to people sharing valuable insights about their practice along the way. DAVE SMITH: Actually, I do think there are a lot of younger teachers. Buddhism is still very young in the U.S.; it’s largely taken off in the past forty years, and it seems to have grown very fast within the last ten or fifteen. Against the Stream, an offshoot of Spirit Rock/Insight Meditation Society (IMS), where I teach now, draws a lot of young people. Like a lot of people in Against the Stream, I have a background of drug addiction and drug abuse. A lot of us got the message very quickly that there is suffering in life and saw that the dharma offered a very pragmatic, realistic way to turn it around. Many people are just dissatisfied with their life or the world and are looking for a place where they can come and practice with like-minded people. There seems to be a pretty big cultural appetite for dharma right now. BuDDHADHARMA: The majority of Buddhist practi- tioners, too, would seem to be in their sixties and beyond. In some sanghas, it’s a serious concern. What are the factors that make a community feel accessible to younger people? ROD OWENS: Tibetan Buddhism struggles to be acces- sible because people walk in the door and are presented with a whole mythology, one that I hear over and over is an obstacle for newcomers. I’ve shifted my teaching style to lead with the essence of dharma rather than with our whole system of ritual and mythology. And since the attention span of younger practitioners is pretty short, the goal is to get to the heart of the matter and help them work with overcoming the intense discomfort that brought them to our door in the first place. TENKu RuFF: Also, younger teachers tend to draw younger crowds, which in some respects makes sense. A lack of young people in sanghas is not something I’m hearing from teachers who are younger; I’m hearing that from teachers who are older. Buddhist communities should make serious efforts to offer the dharma from teachers of different ages. DAVE SMITH: I think there’s been a shift in why people are drawn to the dharma. In the sixties, many people were going to India or centers here looking for enlightenment, for an esoteric spiritual awakening. Now people are coming more through the door of the first noble truth; they’re not looking for enlightenment so much. They’re experiencing a lot of pain and suffering, whether on a personal or global scale. People are disillusioned with capital- ism, with the state of the world, and they want to find a better way to manage that. photos | (oPPosITe) koshin paley ellison, (ABoVe) shundo david haye