When I Think About the Future of Buddhism

I see inclusivity, change, kindness, and community, says Tara U. I see “Namo amida butsu.”

Tara U.
4 December 2019
Photo by Ganesh Kumar B N on Unsplash.

From minister to lawyer, social worker to construction worker, artist to accountant, age zero to 104—we are each here because of infinite causes and conditions. We are who we are because of our interactions with other people, our upbringing, our culture, and our experiences.

Anyone can be Buddhist, no matter their race or ethnicity or gender or sexuality or socioeconomic class or ability or language. But because of these differences, we also have different perspectives that impact the way we interact with everything around us, including Buddhism.

When I think about the future of Buddhism, I see inclusivity.

With this diversity, we need to be aware that we don’t really know other people’s experiences, values, and perspectives. You are talking with a new person after service and their eyes keep flickering to their phone sitting on the table.

Are they fearful of being in a new place? Anxious? Shy? What brought them to the temple? Did something happen to them before coming to the temple? Are they waiting to hear back from a loved one who is in another country?

When someone does something we disagree with, we need to remember that they have experiences we may not know about that affect their perspective and actions. We also need to remember that we are all human beings and Amida Buddha accepts us as we are. By having this understanding, we can be more inclusive.

When I think about the future of Buddhism, I see change.

Everything is constantly changing. This is a core Buddhist teaching. Buddhism itself has a history of change. It has adapted over time as it moves from one country to the next, one city to the next, one home to the next, one teacher to the next. With each change, each adaptation, it is not quite the same as it was.

Today, our environment is changing. Our political climate is changing. There is increasing diversity, and at the same time fear and ignorance of diversity. There is more and more technology, and with that comes both opportunities for us to connect and also new challenges: distraction, isolation, cyberbullying.

Today, youth face different types of stressors, pains, and suffering than those of past generations. Not better or worse, just different.

And, like everything else, the Buddhist community is constantly changing. Buddhism needs to adapt to meet the new needs of its ever changing members. By listening to the sangha and coming generations, we can change to meet their needs.

When I think about the future of Buddhism, I see kindness.

I was yelled at by multiple people at work. Despite knowing it was not my fault and that I had done all I could do, I kept thinking, “I have failed, I have messed up, I have made a mistake.”

After work that evening, I walked onto the temple grounds, where a fellow member caught my eye. A huge smile stretched across her face and she lifted her hand to wave hello, saying, “Hi, Tara! Good to see you!”

In an instant, I could feel the anger and frustration and stress disappear, and instead I was filled with warmth and kindness and courage.

When I think about the future of Buddhism, I see community.

Whether it is deepening my understanding of the dharma, giving me a job at the bazaar fundraiser, inviting me on the camping trip, offering me a ride home, or simply listening, the temple has made me feel part of a community.

When the roof leaked, many members came out to catch the water, move the carpets, and work together to ensure the service could still happen. When a temple member fell ill, members came together to donate money, write cards, and reach out to make sure they felt supported. The community has been a constant support through the changes and struggles members have faced. It will continue to be there for others facing life’s challenges.

I have had a positive experience of sangha, and not everyone has this. I met a young professional who wanted to join the community. She joined a committee but could not make the meetings because they were scheduled during work hours. This youth didn’t feel included.

At a youth panel at a Buddhist conference, the majority of the time was taken up by a non-youth telling their story. These youth didn’t feel heard.

This shows we have room to grow. In Buddhism, we learn that everyone has the potential to change and be better. We must be intentional about including each person who comes through our doors. We must be prepared to adapt and meet the needs of the new generation. I hope that we all can make that effort every day to continue to learn and change and do better.

When I think about the future of Buddhism, I see inclusivity. I see change. I see kindness. I see community. I see Namo amida butsu.

Read the rest of the series, “Buddhism’s Next 40 Years: The Next Generation”

Tara U.

Tara U. is a member of the Berkeley Buddhist Temple and the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist community, where she helps with youth programming and community outreach activities. She just started her career in social work.