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.”

I’m not sure how I forgot that one, or how I forgot that it was my teenage years when I actually started becoming interested in the Dharma. Of course teenagers understand the first noble truth, that’s where we get terrible poetry and sad, atonal music! [That being said, years later, I still enjoy Our Lady Peace. It was a different time.]

I think one of the problems is that we tell our children, many times at different ages, the life is broken up into perceivable stages, with each having greater responsibility, greater freedom, and greater permanence. Most teenagers are still caught in the trap of waiting and preparing for the next part in life which will be better and different from this present moment. So many of the Buddhist teenagers I talk to, just like all teenagers, are pushing through high school towards college with the ideal that if they get into a good college, their life will be set. I am sure that some of them will enter college and select a major that is the flavor-of-the-month [remember when it was Political Science and not Bio-Medical anything?] with the assumption that they can push through four years of drudgery for a good job.

While I understand the role that those assumptions play, and I will hardly be giving this shpeel in front of a bunch of parents, perhaps one of the most ennobling qualities of Buddhism is that there is an infinite possibility for personal change – that you can start being the person you want to be now instead of simply preparing to be that person in some uncertain future.