From The Under 35 Project: “Could We Be So Brave?”

“Calling all young dharma practitioners!” writes Jessica Bizub. “The world needs our genuine, open hearts. Could we be brave and allow our practice to unfold into enlightened culture? Could I be so brave?”

I have the privilege of working with high school-aged students in my volunteer life. These young people are full of optimism, kindness, insight, and energy. And it’s not just the young people I personally come in contact with: ask anyone who interacts with youth. They’ll probably smile right before they tell you how hopeful they are for the future because of their experiences with extraordinary youth.

But I have a confession: I am deeply concerned about the future. Believing that young people will continue cultivating their awakened qualities through their transition into adulthood, without a real shift in our adult culture, strikes me as wishful thinking. What we value in children and youth—curiosity, warmth, circumspection, fairness—is not what much of our culture values in adults. Broad swaths of our adult culture emphasize beating the competition at any cost, superficial solutions to challenges, appearance over reality, and comfort over growth. Our culture condones, even encourages, behavior in adults we would never tolerate in children. This contradiction strikes me as a pivot point rich with potential for unlocking enlightened society.

In Shambhala, we talk about enlightened society a lot—in fact, it is the heart of our lineage. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has recently through unpacking three arenas of transformation: personal, cultural, and societal. His teachings on enlightened society are profound and accessible, so I’m not going to delve into the details; I just want to point to the influence of culture. We could think of culture in the same way we think about lineage: it is something we inherent, absorb and make our own, then transmit as legacy.

So I have a special request of all of you, my fellow dharma practitioners under age 35: don’t delay in transforming our culture. If we think of our cultural legacy as only something we leave behind after we’re gone, we’re missing an opportunity. Cultural legacy is something we create every day, through how we interact with others, situations, and the environment; through where we invest our time, money, and energy; through the qualities we cultivate in ourselves and value in others.

Our generation has inherited quite a mess. Previous generations have pillaged resources for short-term gain, poisoning our land, political systems, relationships, and emotions. But to pretend we’re powerless is a grave mistake. When I look around at my peers, I see people in positions of influence—perhaps not in the driver’s seat, but in positions that touch lives in education, health care, business, civic organizations, and dharma centers. Please do not underestimate your ability to impact the world.

As practitioners, we have something powerful to offer because we are intimate with how we regularly cut ourselves off from our awakened qualities out of fear. To the extent possible, we must be brave and allow ourselves to value our own and others’ innate, blindingly brilliant and warm humanity. We must allow ourselves to fall in love with the world without reservation, exposing our tender hearts and intelligent minds without hesitation. We must do this now because the stakes are so high.

I include myself first and foremost in this call to bravery. My practice has shown me again and again where I hold back—revealing all the places and times I doubt human nature. I am also continually learning that I have a unique opportunity to use practice to transform culture organically—in my home, at my workplace, in community settings, and everywhere I go. In the midst of the overwhelming cultural undertow and doubt that haunts my mind, the question forever remains: could I be so brave as to trust basic goodness?

Jessica Bizub is a researcher at a public university and serves as president of a nonprofit organization, Arcos Milwaukee. While she’s not busy with those activities, she can be found happily gardening with her husband at home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin or playing tag with her adorable yet unfathomable cat. Jessica practices and studies at the Shambhala Center of Milwaukee.

To see the rest of our Under 35 Project posts, click here. To read more and submit your own work, visit the project’s website.


  1. Wu Wei says

    Trust comes from first hand experience, and provides a basis rather than a shift. If you are talking about trust in an ultimate sense, it is all-encompassing – nowhere to go, nothing to do, yet nothing is left undone. Bravery is what is required to make the leap from a position of not trusting. The question of "what will happen?" can only be investigated by finding out for yourself – as the basis of personal experience cannot be given, only pointed to.

    Actual trust in basic goodness wears bravery as an ornament – it is no longer a means to an end but a reality in itself. The approach is different once the basis of trust is recognized as a real presence.


    Maha ati teachings talk of enormous space. In this case, it is not space as opposed to a boundary, but a sense of total openness. Such openness can never be questioned. Ati yana is regarded as the king of all the yanas. In fact, the traditional Tibetan term for this yana means "imperial yana." It is imperial rather than regal, for while a king has conquered his own country, in order to be an emperor he has to conquer a lot of other territories and other continents as well. An emperor has no need for further conquests; his rule is beyond conquering. Likewise, ati is regarded as ''imperial'' because, from the perspective of ati yoga, hinayana discipline is seen as spaciousness; mahayana discipline is seen as spaciousness; and the tantric yanas, as well, are seen as spaciousness.

    Ati yoga teaching or discipline is sometimes defined as that which transcends coming, that which transcends going, and that which transcends dwelling. This definition is something more than the traditional tantric slogan of advaita, or "not two." In this case, we are looking at things from the level of true reality, not from the point of view of slogan or belief. Things are as they are, very simply, extremely simply so. Therefore things are unchanging, and therefore things are open as well. The relationship between us and our world is no relationship, because such a relationship is either there or not. We cannot manufacture a concept or idea of relationship to make us feel better.

    From the perspective of ati, the rest of the yanas are trying to comfort us: "If you feel separate, don't worry. There is non-duality as your saving grace. Try to rest your mind in it. Everything is going to be okay. Don't cry." In contrast, the approach of ati is a blunt and vast attitude of total flop, as if the sky had turned into a gigantic pancake and suddenly descended onto our head, which ironically creates enormous space. That is the ati approach, that larger way of thinking, that larger view.

    – Chogyam Trungpa