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.