American Buddhists have yet to deal with the lack of structures and rites of passage that can socialize young people into the religion, writes Clark Strand in the Buddhist magazine Tricycle (Fall). He writes that the problem is that in most cases, “children aren’t ready for the kinds of rituals that adult converts have mastered– like meditating, going on silent retreat, or reading difficult Buddhist texts. Buddhism has also a “self-help rather than a “religious” model in that it has functioned mainly as a tool to the meet the needs of the individual.” But as a result of these patterns, “Buddhism in America will face a serious crisis over the next few decades, when it will be forced essentially to start over, bringing new Buddhists to the fold instead of making them,” Strand writes.
The largest Buddhist group, Soka Gakkai International (SGI), is doing better than most in keeping Buddhism within the family and in involving teenagers. SGI’s twice-daily chanting practice and home-based (rather than temple- or monastery-based) meetings more easily include children in the broader religious community than Zen, Vipassanta or Tibetan Buddhisim. But even SGI hasn’t integrated rites of passage, such as marriage and burial, into its teachings. While Strand acknowledges that most Buddhist groups have marriage, birth, and funeral ceremonies, he adds that they are not seen as rituals that welcome people into the Buddhist community, leaving even many members still seeking these services in Christian and Jewish contexts.
(Tricycle, 92 Vandam St., New York, NY 10013)