Family values, Dharma style

Often in modern Western life, our families and friends are our sanghas. Buddhism has fallen dramatically short at creating family-friendly fellowship among its practitioners. For all the emphasis on the sangha (a group of people who support your practice) in the original teachings, traditional Buddhism has been less than inclusive of family life, at times even outright discriminating against women, children, and family concerns. In her article, Change or Die: American Buddhism When Baby-Boomer Converts Are Gone, Andrea Useem talks about Zen monk Clark Strand’s recent article in Tricyle, “Dharma Family Values.”

Clark asserts that while Buddhism has made a good start in the US and has become part of the lexicon (a subject I’m interested in myself), we haven’t yet figured out how to “get married and buried” as Buddhists. Ritual, family, and ceremony have either been stripped away completely in the name of creating a more agnostic Buddhism or they’ve been copied verbatim, preserved in the form in which they were imported but not adapted to our own modern lives.

This is one of the most important places Buddhism can learn from Christianity (yes, we should be mindfully paying attention!). Christians have summer camps, youth groups, Bible studies, pot lucks, and fellowship after services. Now, I know that many local Buddhist groups often have gatherings and work very hard to be family-friendly. However, I think that overall, Western Buddhism has failed to put together a cohesive system.

I got married yesterday. When trying to research how to have a “Buddhist” wedding, I came up with almost nothing. The choices are either ultra-traditional (robes, precepts, blessing by a monk) or vaguely New Age stuff that was made up by wedding portal websites to target a demographic. Where is the in between where we, as Westerners, often rest so comfortably?

The good and bad news is that we are creating the in between, the new traditions, here and now. Really, it’s a call to action for young Western Buddhists to be mindful of their own actions and take an active role in developing what Buddhism will be in this country. I didn’t have a “Buddhist” wedding ceremony. But I did vow to treat my partner with kindness, compassion and mindfulness, and I believe others in the post-boomer generations will uphold these and other Buddhist family values, no matter how they manifest in ritual and ceremony. A little bit of ceremony wouldn’t hurt, though.

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3 Responses to “Family values, Dharma style”

  1. congratulations on your marriage.

  2. For me Family is Family and Buddhism is Buddhism. If I think of Sangha, I think Osho and temple and the people who attend.

    making any more of the Zen Community will inevitably commercialize Zen beyond recognition -Especially those new to zen and seeking. If Zen is anything it is a solitary journey -If you want those things in your life why not attend Church. Buddism is for everyone regardless of race creed or colour.

  3. I agree with the author on the need to learn from community-minded Christians. Though meditation is a solitary practice, it’s also a practice that unifies one’s soul with all others, and that can lead to profound community-building One could view mindful community-building as one of Buddhism’s highest callings. To Sean’s final comment, which I agree with, I would add that Buddhism is for everyone regardless of race, creed, colour, sexual orientation or parental / householder status.

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