issue 21 autumn 03
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Truth Hits the Pan

As Buddhist images and meditation spread through modern culture, the Dharma is striking a chord with young people. Now there's a flush of new books geared to the txt generation.

'For me it was this: Turning away from an overflowing toilet in a crummy basement in the middle of an Ohio winter with a bunch of apes in leather jackets outside shouting in unison as some other ape in a pair of stretch pants from the Salvation Army thrashes away at an imitation Les Paul guitar running through a busted Marshall amp. The lights, the noise, the girl by the bar in the sweaty T-shirt that I can just about see through. All of a sudden I'm struck with the sheer overwhelming weirdness of it all. What is this place? This existence - the very fact of my being - what is this? Who am I? What is this thing, this body, its ears ringing from the noise, its eyes burning from the smoke, its stomach churning from the pissy-tasting swill that passes for beer?' (from 'Hardcore Zen')

There's a boom in books on Buddhism aimed at teens. Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen tells how his own path to the Dharma started with the existential crunch he describes above. Until then he was in the '80s hardcore punk scene, and he now combines work on Japanese monster movies with life as a Zen priest.

That's one kind of youth encounter with Buddhism. Another comes from people who grew up as Buddhists. Noah Levine is the son of the well-known meditation teacher Stephen; but he took a long detour through a drug-and-punk-filled adolescence in Santa Cruz that saw him in jail before he found his own spiritual awakening and came back to the Dharma. The Path of the Dharma Punx describes his journey. It's hard for Ivan Richmond to compete with that. He just grew up at Green Gulch, the monastery connected with San Francisco Zen Center, an experience he reflects on in Silence and Noise.

The trend towards Buddhist teen books started in 2001 with Sumi Loundon's much praised Blue Jean Buddha, an anthology of accounts by young people of their experience of Buddhism and how it affects their lives. Then came Buddha in Your Backpack, a more straightforward introduction to Buddhism in a humorous, pithy style that really has been appearing in the backpacks of young seekers. And Wide Awake by the Buddhist practitioner Diana Winston promises guidance to the young on 'discovering truth in a world of hype'.

With four of these titles published this summer, we'll see which one hits the spot, and whether young people are more grabbed by in-your-face accounts of discovering the Dharma, or gentler explanations of Buddhist experience. Do these latest books mean that teens are getting interested in Buddhism? Or just that publishers of Buddhist books are getting interested in teens?