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Buddhadharma : Winter 2008
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 08 42 next-gen buddhism The future of Buddhism in a post-baby boomer world introduction by diana winston forum • norman fischer • sumi Loundon Kim • rod meade sperry • iris BriLLianT • I n 1990, attending my first three-month meditation retreat, I had the dubious distinction of being one of three people—in a room of one hundred—under the age of thirty-five. I felt isolated, wondering why there were no others in my age range, but also a little bit proud and “special.” I bemoaned missing the seventies, when all the teachers and practitioners were my age—just starting out in their twenties and thirties. (I also whined about missing the interesting gurus and teachers who had died long before I ever started practicing.) In an earlier era, it was part of the zeitgeist to go off to Asia to find oneself. But my generation (X), growing up in the Rea- gan years, was not encouraged to deviate from money-making careers. Spiritual searching seemed so, well, seventies. The generation of young people after me seemed to pick up steam in the dharma halls, but never quite took to it in the all-embracing way you see in the sheer numbers of baby- boomers. Over the years, the dharma has become grayer, seeming more relevant to older generations, and often intently focused on those heavenly messengers (old age, sickness, and death), most of which seem a little distant from teenagers and twenty-somethings. As centers age, young people often do not see their experience reflected back to them. And affordability (discussed significantly in the panel) has become more of an issue for young people as well, as dharma has become more expensive along with everything else, with prices that are more appropriate to well-established older people. Nevertheless, there has been a small but important demo- graphic shift. There are more young people at dharma cen- ters than in the late eighties and nineties. Teen and young people retreats have contributed to broadening the dharma, as have a series of books, websites, and communities target- ing young people. There is now a teacher-training program at Spirit Rock where many of the trainees are under forty. Young people are practicing, undeniably, but as Sumi Loundon Kim points out in the panel, they still account for a small percent- age of the total population of practitioners. So, here we are. Forty or fifty years after the big influx of dharma to the West, we have a small but active and growing population of young practitioners. But what of the future, when the baby boomers are gone? What will become of the dharma with a relatively small number of young people wait- ing in the wings? To increase the numbers of young students, does the dharma need to become more relevant to younger people? If so, what will that look like? This forum offers a dynamic and lively exploration of these questions by a panel that encompasses a wide age range and a diverse set of experiences. It’s clear from what the panelists have to say that the dharma is not dying, but it is morphing. The panel explores new forms that dharma is taking within younger circles, forms that may deviate from the style of practice in their parents’ generation, including more social and environmental engagement. The panel looks at questions of innovation versus tradition. Will technology draw youth in or alienate them from the dharma, and how can its power be harnessed? The panelists offer perspectives on dharma’s integration into the American culture and what will speak loudest and most significantly to youth. They ques- tion identity—are Buddhists Buddhist? And they look care- fully at issues of inclusivity and affordability, offering some thoughtful suggestions on how to bring more youthful energy into dharma practice and centers. Finally, community features big in this panel, as it is here that young people are finding the most relevant applications to their lives. Twenty years after my first retreat, I can say that the dharma is absolutely relevant to young people, as this panel shows us. And the inclusion of youth in the future of the dharma will only create a vital, exciting new form of Buddhism(s). The dharma is far from dying out, but its future expressions may take us by surprise. I can’t wait to see what it looks like! TaTToodesignByTashimannox,www.inKessenTiaL.com Diana Winston is a member of the spirit Rock teachers Council and the author of Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens. she is also the director of education of UCLa’s Mindful awareness Research Center.