November 14, 2007
Clark Strand, a contributing editor to Tricycle, has raised some hackles with his recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, "Buddhist Boomers," which more or less follows up on his piece "Dharma Family Values" from the pages of Tricycle. Strand argues that Buddhists in America (referring primarily to converts from the Baby Boom) are getting older and Buddhist ranks are not being filled by young people. Buddhists should emulate other religions in getting children involved, he argues. This means using whatever churches and synagogues and mosques use to get young people involved: youth camps, holidays, home altars, and the rituals that bring us to our holy places, instead of silent meditation retreats and reading esoteric sutras.
Tom of the Progressive Buddhism Blog interprets Strand's latest piece as an out and out attack on Buddhism. I think this is wide of the mark: Strand genuinely wants Buddhism to survive the Boomers. Diana Winston, speaking to Buddhist Geeks, says there are plenty of young people interested in Buddhism so the issue is more or less moot.
I think many Western Buddhists, being converts, believe that it is wrong to force religion on your children, and Strand's arguments seem to sidestep this concern, or else he is interested in getting children at a slightly older age, when they have some choice and agency. But in that case why not wait until they are adults, when our society generally says people are entitled to make their own choices and mistakes in terms of intoxicants, sex, and other big issues, with religion being the biggest issue of all? But there's no denying his point: The Shakers were celibate, and no sex means no children, and no children eventually means no more Shakers. (They filled their ranks through adopting and converting orphans, but many of these orphans left the Shaker communities once they grew up, or so it seems, since Wikipedia says there are four Shakers left.) So maybe Buddhism should provide more enticements to young practitioners so it doesn't go the way of the Shakers, but it may never become as efficient at producing new Buddhists on these shores (that is, among the convert community) as Christianity seems to be.
- Philip Ryan, Web Editor