The Dharma of Trick or Treating

As a Buddhist Sunday School teacher one issue of great importance to me is that my students see Buddhism as part of their lives, rather than a packaged and defined category that exists for a few hours on Sunday morning and then vanishes in a puff of smoke. So when I have the chance to relate Buddhism to something that is already a part of their lives, I take it. Last Sunday I talked about how Halloween secretly teaches awesome Buddhist principles.

Think about it: Halloween is the only holiday celebrated in the US in which we do not give exclusively to our family or loved ones, but to complete strangers. We give unconditionally. This is carried even further in the symbolism of Halloween through the use of costumes, for even if our loved ones arrive at our doorstep to trick-or-treat they would be shrouded in disguise. I talked about how giving was the first thing the Buddha taught as part of the gradual training, and how giving even the smallest thing teaches us how to help others and let go.

The next day no trick-or-treaters came to my door. This bummed me out significantly. Continue reading “The Dharma of Trick or Treating”

Made to Lose: the Red Green Game

I spend much of my time as a Buddhist Sunday School teacher trying to fit my lessons to the specific personalities of the class. For the three years I’ve been teaching each group of students has been so different that I seldom use a lesson twice. One exception, which I eventually try with any and every group is called the Red Green Game. I love it, and there is almost nothing on the internet about it, so I shall describe it for our lovely readership.

I first played the game in a Psychology class at a community college, and its magic works just as will with third graders as it does with back-to-school Moms: It is a game designed for you to lose, and to have no one to blame but yourself. Continue reading “Made to Lose: the Red Green Game”

Project Michelle

This post has little to do with Buddhism, except that Michelle Maykin is a temple kid. She participates in Thai dance at the Berkeley Thai Temple. She also has acute myeloid leukemia.

Michelle MaykingFor a couple years now I’ve been aware of Project Michelle through various emails in the Vietnamese American community. Michelle is an incredible 27-year old who was diagnosed with AML in February 2007. Her amazing husband Van set aside grad school and started Project Michelle to find a bone marrow match. Through Wat Mongkolratanaram’s facebook group, I was recently alerted to the news that Michelle had relapsed after her cord blood stem cell transplant.

This was a reminder for me to sign up for the National Marrow Donor Registry, something I haven’t yet done.

Continue reading “Project Michelle”

Times are Changing – and so should Buddhists

One of my recent general observations about religion is that its role in the lives of the younger generation has been deteriorating. While I do not have the numeric data that my fellow blogger arunlikhati is so skilled in collecting to support my claim (I tried to sort out some PEW stats but gave up…), I think many readers will agree with my claim just through each of their personal experiences with the youth, namely children up until high school. I am well aware that this is not the case for all youth and each of us can easily come up with children who do hold their faith close to their hearts. However, I do think that in a society where people share their latest thoughts and status with Facebook and Twitter more often than God, where money and power have become society’s determining factor for success rather than morality, and where Miley Cyrus has become a more influential icon for children than most religious figures, religion certainly has much more competition nowadays especially in finding a place among the youth.

Continue reading “Times are Changing – and so should Buddhists”

Of Culture and Generations

I recently had a talk with a monk who helped me reconcile a problem I have had with Buddhism for a long time, at least ever since I really started to learn about it.

My exposure to Buddhism started as a child, passed down through temple visits, chanting, praying, incense-burning – all of which can be roughly categorized as the devotional practice of Buddhism. These traditions have been passed down to my parents by my grandparents, and this chain of religious inheritance probably goes several generations back. Many of these practices seemed to originate from culture, meshing with folk traditions and superstitions to create a mixed approach to Buddhism (e.g. burning paper money for ancestors).

Continue reading “Of Culture and Generations”

Next-Gen AsianAm Buddhists

Many thanks to Dan who posted a link to Making the Invisible Visible in the comments from the Angry Asian Buddhist post. (Another worthwhile article is Stories We Have Yet to Hear: The Path to Healing Racism in American Sanghas by Mushim Ikeda-Nash.) I still have a little bundled up stress from the last post, but reading this booklet was a real weight off my shoulders. You hear this all the time, but I have to say it again: It’s good knowing that I’m not alone.

My Angry Asian post was about how I felt a core demographic of the Buddhist community was being ignored. This core demographic is the next generation of Asian American Buddhists.

Continue reading “Next-Gen AsianAm Buddhists”

Sad Teen Writes Dukkha-themed Poem

I was asked to speak to a group of teenagers later today at a ‘Buddhist Family Night’ and, for a good long while, I was long about what to talk about.

Though I have worked with a few different programs targeted at Buddhist Youth, I have found a good number of roadblocks along the way. It seems that the concerns of Buddhism, that life is fundamentally unsatisfactory, that living a good life requires restraint and patience, are counter to a lot of what being young is about. I wondered if Buddhism really is applicable to young people, or if the role of these programs is instead to integrate people into the community so that, when problems do arise, they know where to turn to.

…Then I remembered, “Wait, being a teenager sucked.”

Continue reading “Sad Teen Writes Dukkha-themed Poem”

Asian American Buddhists

I don’t want to sound like the Angry Asian Man, but I’ve had a hard time finding articles about Asian American Buddhists.

This is one of the classic issues for Asian Americans. The underrepresented minority caught between two worlds. Asian Americans born and raised in North America must continually confront a mainstream perception that they aren’t American enough. At the same time, Asian Americans face pressures from both within and outside the Asian American community of not being Asian enough.

The real issue for young Buddhists in the Asian American community is that there are very few Buddhist communities that they can go to without having to suppress part of their identity. Culturally Asian temples emphasize language and culture, which can be really intimidating for Asian American youth who feel excessively high cultural expectations placed on them. There is probably no coincidence that the virtually all Asian American Buddhists who are active in their communities are also fluent in their parents’ native language and culture.

But on the other hand, culturally American Buddhist centers often feel impersonal when stripped of culturally Asian (but maybe spiritually-lite) practices. And it’s hard for these American centers to understand the perspective of young Asian Americans, who may be intimately familiar with Buddhist symbolism and ritual, but don’t know what it all stands for. An iconoclastic emphasis on philosophy often smacks of inauthenticity.

Then again, there are organizations like the BCA that have really, in my opinion, managed to forge a unique Asian American identity. But cultural divisions in the Asian American Buddhist community continue. BCA Youth are more likely to play basketball with Japanese Methodists than with GĐPT youth (who also have basketball teams).

So is there a place for Asian American Buddhists in today’s Buddhist community? Maybe this is why the Pew study said that 50% of Buddhists choose not to keep the faith…

Buddhist Americans

Ven Jian Dan giving a lecture
Ven Jian Dan giving a lecture (from Awakening Mind Zen blog)

The Pew Forum recently published a survey of American religion, and this sparked an interesting discussion in the Buddhist community. If you want to see PhDs analyze it to death and tear it apart, go visit H-Buddhism. I’m going to refrain from tossing in my opinion on the survey. I’m primarily interested in the Buddhist (blogging) community’s reaction on two points, and what this says about the community.

Many people took the survey at face value. Charles Prebish seemed keen to note some surprises. For some, this survey was proof that American Buddhism is in decline, even dying out, especially due to a lack of children. Some found particular interest in the fact that the Pew survey reported more non-Asian Buddhists than Asian Buddhists in America, and vastly more converts than heritage Buddhists.

The first reaction is one that I’ve heard a lot over the past eight years: American Buddhism is getting old. In fact, Sumi Loundon found her inspiration to compile Blue Jean Buddha based on her experience in a retreat kitchen as the lone twentysomething among a crowd of Baby Boomers. Of course, she eventually found young Buddhist voices. But the reaction on these blogs suggests that Boomer Buddhists still get together in groups where active young Buddhists are a tiny minority, if they’re even there at all.

The second reaction — more of a surprise — is nested in the notion that American Buddhism is predominantly Asian American. According to the Pew survey, it’s not. Some bloggers expressed a bit of satisfaction in this result (see here and here, but also note there is some methodological controversy.) The bloggers’ emphasis on this particular result suggests that the division between Asian and non-Asian Buddhist America is just as real as ever. For me, the force of this reaction means that many Buddhists out there still have a strong insecurity with regards to their American Buddhist identity.

These two reactions are often framed as American Buddhism’s two great challenges. How do we perpetuate our community? How do we cross the cultural divide?

I’d like to think that these questions don’t need answering. Maybe I’m overly optimistic. If John and I (your humble “dharma bloggers”) are a representative slice of Buddhist America, then we have already solved both the issues. We are active young Buddhists, of Asian and non-Asian heritage, who work together in the Buddhist community.

There are many more out there like us. But for some reason, we aren’t noticed.