Introduction by Dr. Snjezana Akpinar, President of Dharma Realm Buddhist University:
The first Education Symposium sponsored by Dharma Realm Buddhist Association and Dharma Realm Buddhist University was held in memory of the Most Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. The topic of the symposium was "Education and Youth." Both of these were held in very high priority by the Venerable Master. That is why he established kindergarten, elementary, and high schools at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, in Ukiah, northern California, as well as at other Dharma Realm Buddhist Association Way-places.
The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas was established to function as a learning institution, where ancient traditions come face-to-face with the contemporary world in a way that both can act as a mirror to each other and reflect each other's weaknesses as well as each other's strengths. This is a process which can make us aware and help us formulate issues of our present-day world in a way that we can start looking for some solutions. It is not an easy process. It is certainly not a process that will allow anyone to be lazy. Nor is it a process that can afford a lack of effort or a lack of good will.
Not only is our world a very complicated one these days, it has always been so. And that is why we can benefit from ancient experience and ancient wisdom. However, ours is also a dynamic world, with changes coming quickly. Because our human species is tremendously creative, often new solutions can be found to improve old situations, and these should also not be disregarded.
Dharma Realm Buddhist University has as its task to stand on the cutting edge of Modernity and Tradition. Those who have left behind ordinary social life to become monks and nuns have distanced themselves from worldly distractions in order to get a clearer picture of the world, a better perspective. And those who lead the life of a householder are attracted to the monastic tradition in order to find some wise solutions to these complex puzzles.
It is in this vein that this Symposium was planned and conducted. The speakers were nuns and monks, as well as
professionals whose feet are firmly planted in practical issues. Our first speaker will be Professor Martin Verhoeven, who is an old friend and faculty member of Dharma Realm Buddhist University. His specialty is history of the United States and its potential to absorb Buddhism.
Dr. Martin Verhoeven (former Dharma Master Heng Ch'au, Ph.D. in History, University of Wisconsin, Madison) is a Professor at the Dharma Realm Buddhist University and is also working very closely with the Institute of World Religions in Berkeley. He is now teaching a course through the Pacific School of Religion of the Graduate Theological Union and at the Institute of World Religions as an outreach of Dharma Realm Buddhist University to both the University of California and the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. He is attempting to bring Buddhism into Western society on the philosophical, scientific, and religious levels. Much of his past work, including his doctoral dissertation, had to do with how Buddhism and Eastern thought have been affected by being in the United States. Thus he is the appropriate person to begin this morning's discussion. His topic is, "Burning Out in the Melting Pot: Adolescence and the Asian-American Dilemma."
I first want to thank everyone here in Los Angeles who has worked so hard to support this event. I would encourage you to keep up this extremely important work. Not enough discussion along these lines is taking place. People are so busy making a living that we seldom have time to sit down and ask what is the actual meaning of living. This is a particularly important question as we address the up-coming generation.
First, perhaps, I should explain somewhat the title of my topic, "Burning Out in the Melting Pot." America as a melting pot is a metaphor that's long been in use to describe the phenomenon of people from many different cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and political persuasions immigrating to the United States and turning it into a "pot," in which, ideally, they blend together into one, homogeneous, mellow, cooperative, unified society.
However, it does not always work that way, particularly now in the 20th century, when, more than ever before, this image is being strained. I do not think this strain is necessarily a harmful thing. In fact, as an American and as a historian, I think it is important to emphasize that when new cultures are introduced to a country, they contribute as much to the ongoing culture as they derive from it. Unfortunately, these messages often get lost in the rush to assimilate.
The term "burning out"—in other words, breaking down from extreme stress and strain in this "melting-pot" experience—does not only refer to immigrant parents and their children, but could be applied across the board to almost everybody living in contemporary society.
Let us begin with a quote from The Daodejing:
There is no vice greater than excessive desire.
There is no disaster greater than not being content with what one has.
There is no misfortune greater than being covetous. (Verse #46)
Be content with what you have, and no one can ruin you.
Who stops in time, nothing can harm. (Verse #44)
This passage from The Daodejing is cautioning against avarice, against greed, against getting caught up in a consumptive lifestyle—going too fast and not knowing when to stop. As teachers and parents we usually think of dangers and troubles and harm to youth in terms of loss. We think of loss in terms of not getting enough. But perhaps another kind of harm lies in always wanting more and not knowing when to stop. This message from the ancient past is probably more relevant than ever before.
Perhaps a growing category of "troubled youth," and one of the greatest and probably least examined threats to young people, especially young Asian Americans, lies not among those who face limited opportunities, nor dysfunctional families, nor even drugs or gangs, but rather among those enjoying socially-sanctioned lifestyles and who are, in a sense, drowning in opportunities. The problem is more psychological and spiritual: specifically, the constant desire to get more and not knowing to stop in time.
The young people I am referring to comprise, perhaps, a majority of the Asian-American population. They don't come from bad families. They are not a product of underparenting, nor neglect, nor abuse. Quite the opposite, in fact: they come from good families. They are the product of what we call "over-parenting." They are highly attended to; they are very well behaved; they are high achievers—in today's parlance we would say they are over-achievers. They do not act out, they do not rebel, nor are they desperate for attention. They are not lacking in self-confidence, nor are they idle. They are not anti-social; in fact, they are exceedingly conformist and very compliant. They are industrious to the point of almost being, what we call, driven. They do well by most external standards and indices: they excel in school, they win the trophies, they have nearly perfect GPA's, they do well on the SAT's and the GRE's, they get accepted into the best schools, and so on. This sounds like the ideal child, right? Despite all of that, these young people are troubled, and I would maintain from my observations, they are in trouble. This "trouble" is an internal problem, not as evident as involvement with gangs, or crimes, or violence, yet it is no less a matter of deep concern.
I actually do not know much about gangs. I don't work with gangs. Nor do I work with people living at risk because of drugs, or unsafe sex, or violence, or family malfunction. I read the litany of numbing statistics in this area and it deeply concerns me.
To be continued