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Comments are for the page: “Buddhism is for boomers”
This is a great little summary of the Boomers problem - it is something that certainly concerns the Triratna Order. 30 years ago 80% of us were under 40, now 80% are over 40. I had already noted that we continue to draw on the Boomer generation (which at 45 I do not identify with btw) but I had not been able to get such clarity on the problem as you express it here. The lack of coherent religious/social/political systems is certainly an interesting feature of our landscape.
I would add that at the same time families have been increasingly broken up, and the institution of marriage is breaking down. Families no longer live in the same town as we seek work where we can find it. Also old political certainties like ‘left’ and ‘right’ have become clouded. Politics now focuses on individuals not policies and policies themselves are seen as contingent and subject to revision with no warning (and no seeking of a new mandate). Fragmentation and confusion of old values seems to be happening at many levels. I think this may also explain why people vote for vapid politicians with dominant personalities but no intellect - they want structure and clarity.
I’ve noted on my blog that a person’s ‘community’ now consists of the numbers in the cell-phone, and online ‘friends’.
What will be interesting for the Triratna Movement is that our centre of gravity is slowly shifting to India where the new Buddhists are mostly from down-trodden classes who absolutely see the value of Buddhism, and flock to it in their thousands. They have the coherence of Hinduism and the caste system as a model to rebel against. But then if you are right, they may well face the same problems as us in a generation or two.
Nice to see you here; thank you for the comment!
Some in the Aro lineage used to refer to Aro as “the geriatric sangha”. We wondered what we were doing wrong. But then when we looked around, we found that most (not all) other Buddhist groups have the same problem. It’s not Aro that is geriatric, but Buddhism overall. The FWBO posted some statistics online, which were very helpful in persuading us that we were not unusual. We don’t have comparable statistics, due to lack of records, but the general conclusion is the same: new sangha members are mostly coming from the same cohort as 30 years ago, i.e. those born roughly 1945-1960.
The fragmentation of culture and society is a disaster in many ways; but it also presents some new opportunities and benefits. I think it’s probably here to stay and inevitable, so worrying about the disaster may be mostly a dead end. I’m trying to focus on possibilities it enables instead.
There are some teachers and groups who attract younger students. I’m continuing to try to understand what they are doing right (if that counts as “right”). My “Buddhism for Vampires” project is an attempt to put some ideas into practice. (Unfortunately, it has been on hold for four months, but I hope to get the serial Tantric Buddhist historical romance novel back in track soon.)
Of the Aro sanghas, I do not find at least Lama Rig’dzin’s sangha (in which I belong to) particularly geriatric. There are of course some quite old people, but many apprentices seem to be in their thirties - and there are even some (me included) that are in their twenties. At least that it is how it looks like to me. I have met people also from other Aro sanghas, but not enough to have a coherent mental picture.
I do agree with you in that the people born before 1970 does not seem to really understand the fragmentation of culture and society, as how it is experienced by the people born later. This is actually a question I am very interested in - and I believe that my personal input to the whole thing could be useful. I have approached Aro from a background that has been very eclectic, iconoclastic and crazy (at times :D) - but the same background has also been very innovative, creative and practical. I cannot cover the thing in this comment, but hopefully I have more time to write about it in my blog.
[rant] Because a lot of the Buddhist sanghas are composed mainly of baby boomers, it creates also a somewhat negative feedback loop. This is something I have experienced at personal level (considering also other than precisely Buddhist groups). You know, if you are a twenty-something who goes to visit to a Buddhist group, and you notice that everybody attending are even older that you own parents (my parent were born in about the year 1960), it can be very alienating and lonely experience. You notice that you have very little to share with those people, because the generational gap is so wide, and you might not be even welcomed and noticed. No wonder if some people just leave. I think that many young people would actually like to have a some kind of a community, but many have not felt their presence to be welcome.
Also, some older people with very little practice experience look down on younger people that may have even a lot more practice experience. That is rather nasty thing to happen. People assume their superiority by the virtue of being older - and even try to seem like some pretentious father/mother-figure, who tries to give “advice” with an authoritative tone. Spiritual groups in general seem to gather up some nasty people - and I personally have experienced that more than once. [/rant]
Sorry about the neurotic rant here, but it paints a picture about certain problems that young people face when approaching many spiritual/Buddhist groups. Also, I am not saying that everything is wrong “because of the boomers”. There are lot of other complex variables involved.
In my opinion though, Aro sanghas do not have those negative attitude problems, which is one of the reasons why I have liked about them. And as a do not find my sangha particularly geriatric, I do not have a problem with a generational gap either. However, Aro is just a small group within a lot of larger body of western Buddhist practitioners.
Read your comment re: “our centre of gravity is slowly shifting to India where the new Buddhists are mostly from down-trodden classes who absolutely see the value of Buddhism”. Could you elaborate on that? In the US, it requires fairly significant time and money to be a serious student of Buddhism.
We have a few hundred members of our Order in India and a few thousand keen to join - mostly (all?) from the lower strata of Indian society, sometimes called Dalits. They are often very poor - well below the poverty line. But their numbers are growing and I think they are often more serious as students than Westerners who have more options and relatively luxurious lifestyles. At some point in the next generation the Indian side of the Order will outnumber all the rest of the Order put together. At present this is true of the UK where we started off - the it’s shifting. So the majority of our Order will be poor Indians.
“In the US, it requires fairly significant time and money to be a serious student of Buddhism.”
Yes? The time I can understand. What do you spend money on?
In the US, the cost of attending teachings, like a weekend workshop, is around $125-$300. A week-long retreat is usually over $1000. A month-long residential retreat can be $3000 or more.
Thank you for this!
Yes, when I visited the Finnish Aro sangha a few months ago, I was greatly heartened. It is younger than most, diverse, and highly energetic and enthusiastic and determined. (I’m afraid the situation in the USA is not quite the same.)
I think your ideas about generational experience and Buddhism will be useful. I hope you do write more about them, or talk about them within the Aro sangha. (Are you on the “Aro communications” email list? It is mostly dormant, but has been used internally to discuss these sorts of issues before.)
Because the conversation is going on about this matter, I will probably write soon (meaning within one month for me) something at least on my blog about approaching Buddhism as a young person. It is a complex subject though, so it may be a series of articles over time. Hopefully, also writing those things, I might be able to clear up my thoughts to myself, so I might be able to say something more specifically within Aro.
I am not in the “Aro communications” mailing list and I do not know how to subscribe to that.
Here is by the way a fun and informative article written by Lama Rig’dzin about the Finnish people.
Dear Kundrol - I am looking forward to reading your articles. If we don’t get more young people in the US, we will soon die out.
It is always difficult to say how much I can generalize about the young people. Finnish culture and general attitudes are somewhat different compared to people on US. However, I can suppose that thanks to globalization certain attitudes and ideas are commonplace in the whole western word. However, I have a certain feeling that Finnish people are “easier” in some respects, because we tend to be very faithful if we find something that we like.
Couple of things come to my mind:
Young people have to know about Aro. If they have never heard of it, they cannot decide that are they interested in it or not. Good thing with Aro is its rather extensive webpage, so finding information that way is easy - but you have to know what name to google beforehand to find it.
I feel it is useful to actually meet those kind of young people who are interested in spiritual matters and talk with them. I am not referring to “spreading the word” or “converting people”. I am not even talking about especially Buddhist people - I am quite sure that there are eclectic pagans and people interested of such things as shamanism that could be actually quite interested. I have to illustrate maybe later why I think like that. For example, I am actually the vice-chairman of the Finnish Pagan Network (http://www.pakanaverkko.fi/english). I meet with those people often and sometimes I talk about what I think concerning spiritual matters. I do not meet them especially to talk about dzogchen or whatever, because they are my friends and I meet them for that reason.
Completely Liberated Lord of the Skies
Hi Kundrol - Do you have any suggestions for podcast topics (for ‘Aro Buddhism’ podcast on iTunes) that might be of interest to younger people? I have been trying to come up with interesting interview topics, related to the Aro gTer teachings and Vajrayana. I will be recording 2 new interviews of Ngak’chang Rinpoche in a few weeks.
How old are you, by the way?
I am 26.
I would have a couple of questions in mind for Rinpoche, that might be interesting to younger audience. I will send them to you by email within a couple of days. I assume that you are the same gChedrol who posts to the Aro Sangaha mailing list?
Yes, that’s me. Thanks.
One of the differences between Aro and the Triratna Buddhist Order is that, with one recent, experimental exception in Bristol, we have no public centres. That means individual retreat costs often include venue hire. In the UK, that’s been inflating over the last 10 years. The retreat costs also cover Lamas’ travel expenses. In the USA, normally that means covering costs for air fares to and from the UK.
Relative to other Buddhist groups in the UK, I think our retreat costs are high because we have a smaller number of attendees. I know that SN Goenka’s UK retreat groups are regularly 60 or more, for example. I don’t know how that compares to Triratna numbers. Our public and apprentice-only retreats rarely have more than 25 attendees. It’s not unusual for us to have a retreat with, say, a small group of 10.
Most retreat attendees travel to meet the Aro Lamas for a retreat. Often that includes an air fare or a long journey. We’re not big enough for that to be otherwise.
That combination of circumstances makes our retreat attendance more expensive than for other Buddhists. You would imagine that leads to Aro apprenticeship being financially exclusive, but that’s not how it works out in practice. Partly that’s because it’s explicit that cost should not be prohibitive to any apprentice (so there are practical solutions for those who haven’t got much money, like paying in kind, or subsidies from other apprentices).
Our low cost or free events have always relied on committed, experienced apprentices running local practice groups, usually from their home. Because, in the Aro worldview, practice is commensurate with keeping jobs and family life, the reality is often that committed practitioners don’t have the circumstances to run local groups other than sporadically. (There are a few notable exceptions, such as Cardiff in the UK.)
High cost for retreats has had the kind of consequences you would expect: we have fewer attendees, but they rarely attend in passing or out of mild curiosity. Usually they have already read books by the Aro Lamas and quite often they have had personal contact with them or apprentices via email.
Over the last 5 years we’ve devised some ways to try to bridge the gap between mild curiosity and attending a public retreat. The online email course and the membership programme are part of that attempt. Also, we’ve opened a public centre in Bristol, so there are regular weekly classes and groups at no cost and shorter events that people can attend for a reasonably small sum on the door.
More information than you asked for, but useful background for others too, I hope.
“These are not just hobbies, as music or sports enthusiasms would have been in the 1950s; they are ways of life.”
Disagree. They are not ways of life, they are lifestyles. They have no rites in place for birth, marriage, death, i.e. they lack any means of transmitting themselves across generations. There will never be a Star Wars funeral that is held because the parents of the deceased had Star Wars funerals.
None of the lifestyles you mention will survive a serious collapse.
Yes… in the five years since I wrote that, I’ve come to the same conclusion. I’ve started writing about that at and http://meaningness.com/meaningness-history and http://meaningness.com/modes-chart . There will be a page just on subcultures upcoming, Real Soon Now, I hope. In the mean time those give some sense of why I think the era of subcultures has already passed.
Its too bad westerners have to turn everything into their conceptualization instead of understanding the concept. Buddhism is a sub-culture, its not a religion, its not a way of life. Its a philosophy of understanding and acceptance. Westernism, turn everything into a business structure, selling, marketing. dare I say it, profit.....instead of build it and they will come.
Maybe the problem is the younger generation has no values and thus have no interest in anything that makes them think and question themselves and their place in the universal order.
sorry, buddhism is not a sub-culture, not a religion......
Its because of this no-soul no-self BS they’ve recently invented that Buddha did NOT teach. Buddha taught that the body (i.e. the khandas) is not-self, i.e. nothing physical is the self because the self is the soul. But all these idiot big wig Buddhist teachers now days insist that we don’t really exist at all, so of course Buddhism is declining!!!! People interested in Buddhism are getting fatigued fighting the bullshit of the vaunted teachers claiming to represent Buddhism.
I am not convinced that baby boomers were more prone to become buddhists than young people nowadays, because they had a mainstream culture and they rejected consumerism.
The spread of Western Buddhism, has been too intense in too short a time frame for that explanation. If it was the real cause, it would have happened before, and would still continue.
For me, the real underlying cause was the availability of psychedelics, and the liberality with which people could experiment with them. As soon as they became illegal, fear of transcendence took over again. I’d be really interested in the proportion of western buddhists that actually started with psychedelics. I know I did, and a significant portion of my friends too.
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