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Buddhadharma : Winter 2008
43 winter 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Sumi’s first book showed me that many of the younger Buddhists aren’t following the model of their parents’ generation by becoming a Zen priest or a committed Vajrayana practitioner or what have you. Instead, they’re attending retreats, going to dharma centers, even establish- ing eclectic meditation groups on their own. They’re putting together a unique package for their lives. If you look at it that way, you see a very large flowering of Buddhism in the culture of the next generations. At the San Francisco Zen Center, which has two residential practice centers where people can come and work and not have to pay anything, there’s an influx of young people who spend significant time there before they move on. They may not be counted in the Buddhist community per se, because they’re not formally affiliated with any center, but the prac- tice has had a tremendous influence on their lives. As they get Buddhadharma: The Buddhists in North America referred to as “convert Buddhists”—those who did not inherit it as a part of their ethnic background—are largely baby boomers. Are enough younger people coming up through the ranks to sustain healthy Buddhist communities? Sumi Loundon Kim: The next generations of Buddhists make up a very small proportion of the current self-named Buddhists. I’d estimate that less than a fifth of all convert Buddhists are under forty. I don’t think that’s going to grow too sig- nificantly over the coming decades, so the Bud- dhist community is going to shrink considerably. But it’s still going to be large enough to sustain well-established groups long into the future. Communities will also be very well- funded, because the baby boom Buddhists are going to gener- ously donate their life savings to their favorite dharma center. So our communities may end up being smaller for a while, but they’ll be very well-resourced. And those resources might help with outreach and support programs that will draw more people in. The traditions that have taken root in America will not die with the baby boomers. norman FiScher: To get a handle on this question, you really have to change the framework. If you use the framework of convert Buddhists, you’re talking about people who take vows and who are loyal members of sanghas. In that case, what Sumi said applies. But if you change the framework and count all the young people who’ve been influenced by Buddhism; been to Buddhist centers and meditated; who are in dialogue with their friends about Buddhist ideas, concepts, and values; who are hooked into a website like Rod’s that is at the nexus of popular culture and Buddhism, you may end up with a very different picture. TaTToodesignByTashimannox,www.inKessenTiaL.com