The Legacy for Our Children American Buddhism Judith Simmer-Brown
 My topic is Buddhism in the 21st century, the legacy we are leaving our
 children. My first concern is a housekeeping concern. Have we set the
 American Buddhist house in order? Specifically, if our children wish to
 continue the traditions of Buddhist practice, what are we doing to make
 that possible? Have we created the ground of a truly American Buddhism
 which can sustain practice, community, and culture into the new millennium?
 Have we, the baby boomer generation, created a legacy which will nurture
 the hearts of the practitioners who are to follow?
 Almost 30 years ago, in graduate school, I was introduced to what
 seemed arcane then, but relevant to me now. They were four classic 
 criteria developed by Western Buddhologists, which predict the resilience of
 Buddhism in a new cultural setting. Specifically, what factors must be present 
 if Buddhism is to survive beyond a single generation? While these
 criteria were developed from observation of Buddhism moving through Asia,
 with certain adjustments they may be of relevance for an
 assessment of American Buddhism.
 These are the four criteria-elements of Asian Buddhist tradition
 necessary to assure the continuation of Buddhism in an
 American setting.
 The first is, have the key sutras, commentaries, teachings,
 practices and liturgies been translated into English? And
 are these translations usable for the practice communities themselves?
 Excessively scholarly translations will not do - and translations which
 strip away all tradition dilute the richness of our Asian heritage. Access
 to these texts is a priority, and we must continue to work on this
 monumental task. The Tibetan tradition, for example, is most fragile: the
 situation in Tibet itself shows little improvement, and the great exiled
 masters of the traditions grow old and pass on. We know that we cannot
 translate these texts without their supervision and commentary. I must ask
 you this - have your communities worked with this? Are you training and
 supporting your translators and their translation projects?
 The second criterion is, have the essence teachings been
 transmitted to American dharma heirs and students? Are these
 heirs trusted and respected by their Asian lineages, and have they
 received everything, with nothing held back? We must realize the incredible
 auspiciousness of our place in history. To receive these teachings requires
 sincere, heartfelt practice, fervent and sustained devotion, and
 unfailing communication. My teacher, Ven. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche,
 passed on 11 years ago. I and others have dedicated ourselves to carrying
 on his heritage, his transmissions, his instructions. Do we
 understand the preciousness of human life, that our teachers will not live
 forever? How might we more fully receive the transmissions which they
 offer us?
 The third criterion is, has a strong base of American patrons been
 established? In Buddhist history, this was accomplished by
 royal patronage, for if the king supported the dharma the people would as
 well. Obviously, it is somewhat different in 21st century America, but we
 need financial support and cultural sympathy in order for the dharma to
 thrive. Here, we court Hollywood, Washington, and Silicon Valley.
 Rockefeller, Ford, and Lilly. Patronage is an important chance to communicate
 something fundamental about the dharma and it is an acknowledgment of
 the ordinary practicalities of power, influence, and prestige. Without
 American patronage, there can be no sustained American Buddhism. What
 are we doing to ensure the future of the dharma through appropriate
 And the fourth criterion is, has monastic ordination been
 fully passed to American monks and nuns? This category
 also reflects Buddhism's Asian history, in which monasteries
 served as preservers and propagators of the tradition. Where the
 monastery did not continue, there was no place where dharma could remain
 powerful outside of the whims and intrigues of cultural and political life. For
 the American context, we must preserve and nurture the monastic  traditions 
 which have fostered Buddhism in this way. But in the American context,
 the lay tradition is destined to play a major role in the continued
 development of Buddhism. Are there also strong places of practice for lay
 people, for the yoginis and yogis of our culture? Can we preserve the
 tradition, established in our "boomer" generation, of strong commitment
 to practice for everyone, both monastic and lay?
 All of these criteria merely suggest the heart of our dharma
 connection. As first generation American Buddhists, we made
 practice our link, and it is practice which brought us here today.
 Practice has given us a new lease on life; practice has conquered the
 hopelessness and depression of our generation; practice has opened us to 
 the suffering of the world without embittering or hardening us. Do we have the
 fundamentals of our practice established so that we can continue? Do we have the
 texts, the transmissions, the financial support, and the institutions
 and places of practice? And can we, above all, commit ourselves to
 continue to practice? Can we commit ourselves to teach our children, so that they
 can practice as well?
 We must always remember, our practice is not just for
 ourselves. Of course, we practice for our teachers, out of gratitude and
 devotion for the precious jewel they have given us. We practice for our
 children, for all children, for all people in the next seven generations. We
 practice because this is how we are most alive. We practice because we don't
 know how not to practice. It is the only way to be who we are.
 Most importantly, we practice so that we do not remain
 merely Buddhists. We cannot solidify our identities as Buddhists.
 We know that to hide in Buddhism is not the way to honor our teachers and to
 nurture our descendants. If the three refuges remove us from the
 suffering of the world, we have not understood them. American Buddhism must
 serve the world, not itself. It must become, as the 7th century Indian master
 Santideva wrote, the doctor and the nurse for all sick beings in the
 world until everyone is healed; a rain of food and drink an
 inexhaustible treasure for those who are poor and destitute.
 Social Engagement in the World
    This leads to the next level of reflection about my children
 in the 21st century: the importance of socially engaging in the world.
 My children, Owen and Alicia, will increasingly encounter suffering; we
 can only imagine the kinds of suffering our children will encounter. Even
 now, we see the poor with not enough food and no access to clean and safe
 drinking water; we see ethnic and religious prejudice that would extinguish
 those who are different; we see the sick and infirm who have no medicine
 or care; we see rampant exploitation of the many for the pleasure and
 comfort of the few; we see the demonization of those who would challenge the
 reign of wealth, power, and privilege. And we know the 21st century will
 yield burgeoning populations with an ever-decreasing store of resources to
 nourish them.
 Fueling this suffering is the relentless consumerism which
 pervades our society and the world. Greed drives so many of the
 damaging systems of our planet. The socially engaged biologist Stephanie Kaza
 reminds me, in America each of us consumes our body weight each day in
 materials extracted and processed from farms, mines, rangelands, and forests-120
 pounds on the average. Since 1950, consumption of energy, meat, and lumber
 has doubled; use of plastic has increased five-fold; use of aluminum has
 increased seven-fold; and airplane mileage has increased 33-fold per
 person. We now own twice as many cars as in 1950. And with every bite,
 every press of the accelerator, every swipe of the credit card in our shopping
 malls, we have left a larger ecological footprint on the face of the world.
 We have squeezed our wealth out of the bodies of plantation workers
 in Thailand, farmers in Ecuador, factory workers in Malaysia.
 The crisis of consumerism is infecting every culture of the
 world, most of them emulating our American lifestyle. David Loy, in
 The Religion of the Market, considers whether consumption has actually
 become the new world religion. This religion of consumerism is based on two
 unexamined tenets or beliefs:
 1) growth and enhanced world trade will benefit
 everyone, and
 2) growth will not be constrained by the inherent
 limits of a finite planet. Its ground is ego gratification, its path
 is an ever-increasing array of wants, and its fruition is expressed in
 the Descartian perversion - "I shop, therefore I am." While it recruits new
 converts through the floods of mass media, it dulls the consumer,
 making us oblivious to the suffering in which we participate. "Shopping is a
 core activity in sustaining a culture of denial."
 Now that communist countries throughout the world are
 collapsing, consumerism is all but unchallenged in its growth. As
 traditional societies become modern, consumerism is the most alluring path.
 Religious peoples an communities have the power to bring the only remaining
 challenge to consumerism. And Buddhism has unique insights which can stem
 the tide of consumptive intoxication.
 How do we respond to all of this suffering? How will our
 children respond? It is easy to join the delusion, forgetting our
 Buddhist training. But when we return to it, we remember-the origin of
 suffering is our constant craving. We want, therefore we consume; we want,
 therefore we suffer. As practitioners, we feel this relentless rhythm in
 our bones. We must, in this generation, wake up to the threat of
 consumerism, and join with other religious peoples to find a way to break its
 grip. We must all find a way to become activists in the movement which
 explores alternatives to consumerism.
 Three Kinds of Materialism
    As American Buddhists, we must recognize the threats of
 consumerism within our practice, and within our embryonic communities and
 institutions. From a Tibetan Buddhist point of view, consumerism is just the tip
 of the iceberg. It represents only the outer manifestation of craving and
 acquisitiveness. Twenty-five years ago, my guru, the Vidyadhara Chogyam
 Trungpa Rinpoche, wrote one of first popular dharma books in America, Cutting
 Through Spiritual Materialism. Its relevance only increases each
 year. He spoke of the three levels of materialism which rule our existence as
 expressions of ego-centered activity. Unchallenged, materialism will co-opt
 our physical lives, our communities, and our very practice.
 Physical materialism refers to the neurotic pursuit of
 pleasure, comfort, and security. This is the outer expression of
 consumerism. Under this influence, we try to shield ourselves from the daily
 pain of embodied existence, while accentuating the pleasurable moments. We
 are driven to create the illusion of a pain-free life, full of choices
 which make us feel in control. We need 107 choices of yoghurt in a supermarket
 so full of choices we feel like queens of our universe. We go to
 24-Plex movie theaters so that we can see whatever film we want, whenever
 we want. We need faster pain relievers, appliances to take away all
 inconvenience, and communication devices to foster immediate exchange. All of
 these create the illusion of complete pleasure at our finger-tips, with none
 of the hassle of pain. When we are ruled by this kind of physical
 materialism, we identify ourselves by what we have.
 But this is just the beginning. On the next level,
 psychological materialism seeks to control the world through theory,
 ideology, and intellect. Not only are we trying to physically manipulate
 the world so that we don't have to experience pain, we do so
 psychologically as well. We create a theoretical construct which keeps us from 
 having to be threatened, to be wrong, to be confused. We always put ourselves in
 control in this way. "As an American I have rights. As a woman, I deserve to
 be independent from expectations of men in my society. I earn my own
 salary, I can choose how I want to spend it. As a Buddhist, I understand
 interdependence..." Psychological materialism interprets whatever is threatening
 or irritating as an enemy. Then, we control the threat by creating an
 ideology or religion in which we are victorious, correct, or righteous;
 we never directly experience the fear and confusion which could arise
 from experiencing a genuine threat.
 This is particularly perilous for the American Buddhist. In
 these times, Buddhism has become popular, a commodity which is
 used by corporations and the media. Being Buddhist has become a
 status symbol, connoting power, prestige and money. His Holiness' picture
 appears on the sets of Hollywood movies and in Apple computer ads;
 Hollywood stars are pursued as acquisitions in a kind of dharmic competition.
 Everyone wants to add something Buddhist to her resume. Buddhist Studies
 enrollments at Naropa have doubled in two years, and reporters haunt our
 hallways and classrooms. Conferences like this attract a veritable parade
 of characters like myself, hawking the "tools" of our trade. What is
 happening is that our consumer society has turned Buddhism into a commodity like
 everything else. And the seductions for the American Buddhist are clear. We
 are being seduced to use our Buddhism to promote our own egos,
 communities, and agendas in the American marketplace.
 This still is not the heart of the matter. On the most
 subtle level, spiritual materialism carries this power struggle
 into the realm of our own minds, into our own meditation practice. Our
 consciousness is attempting to remain in control, to maintain a centralized
 awareness. Through this, ego uses even spirituality to
 shield itself from fear and insecurity. Our meditation practice can be used
 to retreat from the ambiguity and intensity of daily
 encounters; our compassion practices can be used to manipulate the sheer
 agony of things falling apart. We develop an investment in ourselves as
 Buddhist practitioners, and in so doing protect ourselves from the
 directness and intimacy of our own realization. It is important for us to
 be willing to cultivate the "edge" of our practice, the edge where panic
 arises, where threat is our friend, and where our depths are turned inside
 What happens when we are ruled by the "three levels of
 materialism"? The Vidyadhara taught that when we are so
 preoccupied with issues of ego, control, and power we become "afraid of
 external phenomena, which are our own projections." What this means is that when
 we take ourselves to be real, existent beings, then we mistake the
 world around us to be independent and real. And when we do this we invite
 paranoia, fear, and panic. We are afraid of not being able to control the
 situation. As Patrul Rinpoche taught:
 Don't prolong the past,
 Don't invite the future,
 Don't alter your innate wakefulness,
 Don't fear appearances...
 We must give up the fear of appearances. How can we do this?
 The only way to cut this pattern of acquisitiveness and
 control is to guard the naked integrity of our meditation practice. We
 must have somewhere where manipulation is exposed for what it is. We
 must be willing to truly "let go" in our practice. When we see our racing
 minds, our churning emotions and constant plots, we touch the face of
 the suffering world and we have no choice but to be changed. We must allow
 our hearts to break with the pain of constant struggle that we experience
 in ourselves and in the world around us. Then we can become engaged in
 the world, and dedicate ourselves to a genuine enlightened society in which
 consumerism has no sway. Craving comes from the speed of our minds,
 wishing so intensely for what we do not have that we cannot experience
 what is there, right before us.
 How can we, right now, address materialism in our practice
 and our lives? I would like to suggest a socially engaged practice
 which could transform our immediate lifestyles and change our
 relationship with suffering. It is the practice of generosity. No practice
 flies more directly in the face of American acquisitiveness and
 individualism. Any of us who have spent time in Asia or with our Asian teachers
 see the centrality of generosity in Buddhist practice.
 According to traditional formulation, our giving begins with
 material gifts and extends to gifts of fearlessness and
 dharma. Generosity is the virtue that produces peace, as the sutra says. Try
 it. Every day give something to someone. Notice what happens. Give
 something which is hard to give. Give money or gifts. Was it hard, and what was
 hard about it? Give emotional support or comfort. What happens when we
 genuinely make ourselves available to others? Generosity is a practice
 which overcomes our aquisitiveness and self-absorption, and which benefits
 others. Committing to this practice may produce our greatest legacy for the
 21st century.
 Judith Simmer-Brown is professor of Religious Studies at The
 Naropa Institute. This article was adapted from her keynote address
 given at the Buddhism in America Conference in San Diego in 1998.
 Updated April 18, 1999,