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Mark Power is a certified Buddhist chaplain who has been a key leader in Nalandabodhi since its inception. He has studied intensively with Vajrayana teachers in the West for more than thirty years and calls on this experience to impart the Buddhist instructions for bringing wisdom and compassion into daily life.

Buddhism has been around in the West for about sixty years now, and it feels to me a little like we’re entering another level of maturity in our communities. In the early days, as brand-new, child Buddhists, I think we simply looked up to and admired our parents. We tried to be like them or like we thought they wanted us to be. But now we’re entering our adolescence and starting to feel a little feisty—with our parents and each other. You can see signs of independence, of testing the limits of what it means to be “Buddhist,” a child of this ancient family lineage.

I think these are good indications that we’re growing up. At the same time, we can be a little self-righteous in our teen mode. Anybody who remembers that period of life (or has had the pleasure of raising teenagers) knows what I’m talking about: You feel like your parents are holding you down, holding you back, and you really want to resist, to push back. That place of adolescence is really worth exploring, especially if we can tap into the vitality it unleashes.

Not that we’re all rebellious teenagers—I’m just sharing some of my personal experiences and observations here.  So from that point of view, if it’s true that we’re at this adolescent stage, we can choose go into it, to welcome the rebelliousness, welcome the resistance, the “I’ve -got-a-better-idea” feeling that comes up. We can invite that into our experience. We can test and question until we make our own discoveries and develop the self-confidence and independence that will allow us to fully grow up.

That doesn’t just automatically happen with age, as we all know. Sometimes it actually gets more difficult the longer we’re on a spiritual path.  We find ourselves gradually moving away from the sharp edges of uncomfortable experiences. We can get lukewarm, content to just hang around, be part of a community and do no harm.  If we get stuck in the shoulds and woulds, if we get stuck in a this-is-how-we-are loop, then the living dharma is not so available to us. Sometimes that’s all we can do, right? But we don’t have to stop there. We can bring that rebelliousness back to shake up our complacency.  We can challenge ourselves to make our path as deeply personal and urgent as it can be when we’re fully engaged.

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Laura Kathryn McRae, Ceci Miller. Ceci Miller said: Welcome to your rebellion, Western Buddhists! http://bit.ly/df0t2y #rebelbuddha [...]

  2. avatar Bill Schwartz says:

    Mark,

    Is the Karma Kagyu lineage ready for our adolescence? Or, will it be confused, and dig in its heals, determined to stay the course?

    At present, it has dug in its heals with the zeal of a neo-con in response to our desire for transparency and accountability.

    They want nothing of what we want. It’s their way or the highway, a familiar refrain from adolescence living under my father’s roof.

    I’ve been a Buddhist rebel for over thirty years. It has been a lifetime of being shunned, marginalized, and attacked by those I love.

    Is that ever going to change? I have stage II congestive heart failure. In 2008 when I saw HHK17 I was hopeful.

    In 2010 I am as hopeless as the day I accompanied HHK16′s body from Zion, IL to O’hare airport; I don’t see it happening in my lifetime.

    Bill

    • avatar Mark says:

      Bill, I am sympathetic to the struggle you describe. I have found that the challenge becomes one of listening deeply – so that we can identify what part of the conflict belongs to “me” and what to the other party. Ponlop Rinpoche has taught of the necessity of holding in creative tension the culture of origin and the culture of transplantation, i.e. the elixir is poured from one cup to another – it’s important to appreciate both cups. Cultural friction is bound to happen, and, to risk a cliche, that friction becomes an opportunity for practice. I don’t want to try and change your mind, however I can say that in my experience there is a more subtle approach we can take to examining the conflicts on our path. We must also be willing to examine the rebel – with kindness and insight. The issue you raise is probably both a cultural and personal one – I wish you strength and humor in your exploration. Mark

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