Encountering Buddhism for the first time can be a lot like learning to ride a bicycle.
But imagine if none of your friends or relatives had the knowledge of how to ride one. Instead, the first time you would have seen anyone riding around on a two-wheeled contraption was when you happened to catch a glimpse of someone gliding down the street on one. Mesmerized by what you saw, you suddenly want to go out and try it for yourself. But where would you start? Where would you get a bike? How would you get on? Do you know how to steer and stop?
Without the guidance of experienced family and friends, the novice biker is completely dependent on instructions off of random web sites, a well-studied set of YouTube videos, and an incredible amount of bravery. With enough falls, scrapes and a concussion or two, it’s amazing that there is anyone foolhardy enough to stick it through.
While this thought experiment may seem a bit contrived, this experience is exactly the experience most Americans have when encountering Buddhism and sincerely trying to practice, but without the community or support structure to help.
What the poor cyclist needs – what the new Buddhists need – is a community that can help them through the learning process, by providing peers who have been through the same process and can provide experience and guidance to help each other . This role of providing communal support and experience is why an organization like the Dharma Realm Buddhist Young Adults (DRBY) is so important, particularly because new and young Buddhists inevitably have many more questions and difficulties than wondering how to stay upright on a bike.
When I first encountered Buddhism in college, I was fascinated by the philosophy and really wanted to learn more about the Dharma. But having no friends who knew anything about Buddhism, let alone how to cross their legs and meditate, I was forced to set out on my own. Let me just say that from personal experience, one realizes quickly that trying to attain enlightenment from a few (questionable) web sites is an impossible task, and my determination naturally started to wane.
I feel very fortunate then, that a few years later, I met a fledgling group of fellow Buddhists sincerely trying to cultivate together. It was through this primordial version of DRBY that pushed me further into my practice than I could have ever imagined.
I first started by attending their weekly roundtable discussions, where we had lively and insightful discussions with the Dharma Masters and experienced teachers, and greatly expanded my understanding of Buddhism and its practices. Because we had a group of peers also trying out the precepts and paramitas, I found it was much easier to work through the difficulties of concepts like vegetarianism and giving. Later that year, I participated in the DRBY Spring Conference, where the intensity of the monastery schedule and the ceremonies, in combination with the quality of the lectures, further propelled me in my exploration of Buddhism.
The DRBY community has cultivated and matured together over the last few years, and in reflecting back on our experiences, we have realized that having this community of young practitioners is extremely rare and special, and most of all, we really want all Buddhists to share in the same joys and experiences as they learn to cultivate the Buddhadharma. We sincerely want all young Buddhists to feel welcome in a community of cultivators, to grow spiritually, and to empower them to lead new generations of Buddhists. Most of all, we want all new Buddhists to know that they have the support to transform themselves and others.
To this end, we want to develop a set of new programs, events, and other ventures, and we invite all of you to help us with your energy and ideas to help DRBY become one of the leading organizations in aiding and transforming all young people along the path of cultivation.
How can we get there? We see four ’foundations’ for reaching these goals:
Online and printed content:
With easy access to the treasury of Buddhist texts, a trove of recorded lectures on topics particularly relevant to young adults, and a plethora of young Buddhists willing to share their experiences in cultivation, we have the key components for creating an innovative online resource for Buddhist practice and living that is relevant and accessible to all young adults.
Events and Programs:
Besides our annual Spring Conference, summer program, and various practice retreats, we want to develop a comprehensive set of programs and classes that help Buddhists of all levels. At the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, DRBY recently completed a six-week program designed for new Buddhists called the Basics of Buddhism, which we plan on re-running in the spring. By creating similar reproducible events for all levels, we can develop curriculum that can be packaged and run at all way-places, thus creating a safe and proven space for new Buddhists to learn and cultivate together.
We want to develop a strong, vibrant community where cultivators of all levels of experience can comfortably join and contribute. Cultivation is very much like riding a bike. Whether you’re riding alone or with a group, you still have to pedal yourself to get up the mountain. But ask any experienced rider to choose to ride alone or with a group, and not surprisingly, the rider would always pick a group. Community is essential to the journey, and makes it easier, both mentally and physically.
We aspire to provide opportunities and spaces for young adults to grow as leaders who are selflessly dedicated to cultivation and bringing the Dharma to others. Now more than ever, we need capable and committed young people in the world to serve the Dharma and the needs of society. Our vision is to help young people empower themselves by developing essential leadership and life skills that are grounded in precepts, concentration, and wisdom, and then using these skills to transform and benefit people and society, one mind at a time.
DRBY today stands to play a major role in helping Buddhism grow in America. We hear from many new Buddhists wishing that they had a similar community in which to practice together. We hear from many young adults who wish to learn more about Buddhism but don’t know where to start. Together we can fill this critical role. Together we can be this bridge into Buddhism.
Think about the thousands, maybe millions of people, armed with shiny new bikes, sitting in their driveways having no clue how to even start to ride. Imagine if we, as a group could inspire a few of them, and they in turn could inspire a few more, and then a few more. Think about the impact we would have as this knowledge spreads outwards. Buddhism may be a much more difficult subject to learn, but with a lot of hard work and contributions from many, think how much more of an impact it would have on the world.
We’re excited about the future of DRBY and for the hard work it will take to get there. We can’t get there alone, but with everyone working together, we’ll be that much closer to reaching it.
We hope you can join us for the journey.
How to help: firstname.lastname@example.org