Whither The Dhamma?
by Rasika Quek
Recently, my wife attended an international conference on engineering held in a neighboring country. It was the first time in twenty years that she set foot in the capital city. Being a much busier city than Kuala Lumpur, she couldn’t help notice how the proportion of young people there was much more than those above the age of forty. Everywhere in the streets, there was an abundance of eateries, pubs and shopping places. It was really a “happening” place.
So it seems that our perception of this neighboring country with its famed Jade Buddha, renowned forest hermitages and meditation teachers, is a flash-back predominantly from the past. In truth, the Gen Y of this nation, often called the “Land of Smiles,” may no longer consider the religion of their ancestors as being particularly relevant to their material pursuits of money and what is trendy.
What seems to have gone wrong is really a worldwide trend where young people no longer find the ritualistic and institutionalized aspects of religion that appealing anymore. Today’s generation know nothing of the economic hardships and social upheavals their parents and grandparents went through. There was a time when religious beliefs and practices gave people security and meaning to their lives, but not now. Gen Y does not understand the relevance of propitiating Buddhas and devas, for they lead sheltered lives and are largely unaware of life’s real problems.
They have very high expectations of wages, over-estimate their contributions and tend to be argumentative and less respectful of authority and elders. Playing Angry Bird games with their i-Pads seem more appealing than offering spoonfuls of cooked rice into the alms bowl of monks as asked by their parents. We have become quite disconnected from Gen Y that we fail to realize that the ways of our parents and grandparents will not work for them anymore. Sunday schools everywhere face real challenges in filling their classes. Do not expect Gen Y to sit obediently through another class on Sunday when their week
days are filled to the brim with school and tuition classes.
Perhaps our traditional way of imparting dharma is too “preachy” and “top-down” (only one way communication). How do we bring the dharma to them when they don’t feel like attending Sunday school anymore? We have to lead, not so much by forcing good values onto them, but by being living examples. Despite all our good intentions, we do not have any real control over another’s choices and preferences. For transformation to take place, Gen Y must see that their elders are exemplary and that they really do care for them. Gen Y people do not like being reminded that they are “bad” or that they possess unwholesome attributes. So, if we do not accept Gen Y’s way of thinking is like that, we should not expect them to give us the respect we think we are entitled to.
Exemplary living offers others a demonstrable model for wholesome living and hopefully inspires them to mould their own lives accordingly. As parents, we may think that we know it all and what’s really good for our children. On the contrary, many parents have become “disengaged” with their children. Meaningful conversations do not take place because of career pressures, etc.
Our own constant pursuit of money and the nice things life can offer only make our exhortations sound “hollow” when we beseech them to be “contented”, “grateful”, “humble” and so on. They do not need our constant lectures but they need to feel that we are there for them when it counts most. It is ironic that many of us have not learned how to establish emotional trust first but prefer to logic things out with them, thinking that to be the most effective way. As parents, we have to develop our EQ skills too and not act as headmasters to our own children. We have to mentor, not preach.
There is nothing wrong about being able to provide material comforts well but our children need to feel our warmth and love too, expressed adequately through kindness in words and deeds. Only when we ourselves can show that we are embodiments of love, compassion and understanding is there hope that Gen Y can be transformed by our benign influence. The best teachers are not preachy but are simply living examples unto others. When we are kind and understanding, others will also feel motivated to do the same.
In other words, there must be emotional buy-in before the desired behavior can be nurtured. Dharma is imparted through exemplary living, not by asking children to attend Sunday schools alone.
We should become the change we wish to see in the world (Mahatma Gandhi). EH