1. Religion & Spirituality
Barbara O'Brien

Forever Practicing, Forever Invisible

By October 16, 2012

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More on what I find on blogs -- here is a two-part post called "Forever Young, Forever Invisible," that is supposed to be about children in American Buddhism, but which is actually kind of an unfocused mess that addresses several things, and none from the perspective of practice. Here are links -- Part I: The Forces of Conversion and Part II: Night-Light Buddhists.

My over-arching complaint about the piece is that it assumes two reference points for American Buddhism -- academic literature and "popular representations" of Buddhism. Since neither academic nor "popular" Buddhism generally knows dharma from doughnuts, the blog posts have the quality of a canary discussing what it must be like to be a fish. I'd rather hear it from the fish, thanks.

IMO "the literature" and "the popular representations" both are lagging a few years behind what is actually going on in U.S. dharma centers and monasteries, and some of what is written in the posts was more true ten or more years ago than now. It's odd to me that the voices of practicing Buddhists (and no, just meditating or "being mindful" doesn't count) keep getting left out of discussions of What's Wrong With Buddhism.† We're the ones who are "invisible," never mind the kids.

First -- yes, we know that the children of non-ethnic-Asian baby boomers who converted to Buddhism on the whole did not become Buddhists themselves. This is way old news, and something I've written about several times before.

There are several reasons for this, but in my experience the biggest one is that, ca. 1960s to early 1990s,† dharma centers/ monasteries serving the spiritual needs of non-ethnic-Asian baby boomers (I really need an acronym for that) were mostly headed by male monastics, some Asian and some not, who really didn't give much thought to family and child-rearing issues.

This† created two problems. One, in Zen in those years it was all too common for people to drop out of practice when the babies started coming. Dharma centers, including non-residential centers, on the whole simply did not accommodate family life. The practice/training programs assumed everyone could find quiet time in the day for meditation (hah) and could frequently attend week-end (at least) retreats, without baby. This was not realistic.

Two, we had few models for introducing Buddhism to children. In Asia, Buddhism is highly visible and well embedded in culture. Children can hardly not be exposed to Buddhism, even if their parents aren't much into it. But here, actual practice is invisible. With no support from either culture or the dharma centers, trying to bring Buddhism into family life could feel a bit like trying to raise goats in your living room. Awkward, and messy.

More recently, many dharma centers are making more of an effort to include programs for children and to provide support for parents of small children. This may be partly because a larger percentage of Buddhist teachers are women who have raised children themselves. But it may be two or three more generations before we have the kind of social and community structures that enable children to grow into Buddhism. It really does take a village, you know.

But this is something active Buddhist practitioners in the West need to work out for ourselves. We don't need the advice of academics or of the many dilettantes (or "Night-Light Buddhists") piecing together "popular" Buddhism out of half-digested books and their own imaginations. Thanks anyway, though.

The blog post author also spends a lot of time on the ethnic Asian / non-ethnic Asian division in American Buddhism, which is something we've discussed here a lot also. I think I'll do another post on that, though.

Comments
October 18, 2012 at 5:23 pm
(1) mickeypamo says:

Barbara,
Thank you for this writing. To me, it seems a good thing to keep on expanding the spaces where we have Buddhistic encounters. Those parents who bring their children to teachings are building enormous good karma. To think of a child brought up in America while immersed in Buddhism is a very socially evolving process that can only do good to all.
peace,
mickey morgan
TheKarmaPress.com

October 18, 2012 at 6:13 pm
(2) Phra Ajahn Bill says:

My personal take on problems of Buddhism in the West is; qualified teachers. You can hardly drive thru any city in the US and not find a Zen center. But who’s teaching at these centers.. Someone who spent a couple years in India and now proclaiming he was ordained to teach by Ringo Dhamma Zoester of Mumbai. And for 250 bucks a month, he will teach you Zen Buddhism. C’mon. The Buddha would roll over in his grave if he thought some teacher was charging to teach his message. He probably is.

October 18, 2012 at 6:52 pm
(3) Barbara O'Brien says:

My personal take on problems of Buddhism in the West is; qualified teachers. You can hardly drive thru any city in the US and not find a Zen center. But who’s teaching at these centers.. Someone who spent a couple years in India and now proclaiming he was ordained to teach by Ringo Dhamma Zoester of Mumbai.

The quality of teachers is uneven, but I’m not sure it’s any more uneven than in Asia. From what I see, most people calling themselves Zen teachers in North America are genuine lineage holders. There are some phonies, yes, and a few lineage holders who are clunkers, but they are a minority.

The comment, however, is a bit off topic. Be advised I have little patience with strong opinions from people who don’t know what they are talking about.

October 18, 2012 at 10:05 pm
(4) JoeBuddha says:

Not sure if I know “dharma from doughnuts”, but in the Nichiren world, we seem to be doing OK. I’m more interested in the NEXT generation: Are they going to take the easier route, or are they willing to step up? We’ll see.

October 19, 2012 at 1:51 am
(5) Hein says:

this is something active Buddhist practitioners in the West need to work out for ourselves.

Nothing on silver plates! The Asians came a long way (Zen took something like 500 years after the Dharma arrived in China before it took root) and their “conversion” did not happen overnight. I understand that in Thailand royality was firts converted and then the population had (little choices back then) to follow. Me thinks the Buddhafields will be build one sod at a time and we (the westerners) are the gardeners and our children the seeds.
Keep on practicing.

October 21, 2012 at 4:37 pm
(6) Ian says:

Be advised I have little patience with strong opinions from people who donít know what they are talking about.

Exactly what does that mean?

October 21, 2012 at 6:44 pm
(7) Barbara O'Brien says:

Exactly what does that mean?

Exactly what it says.

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