Dennis Gira: Buddhism for Youth

- through Fabrice Groult

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Almost twenty years ago, researcher and theologian Dennis Gira published Buddhism for my daughters. Why does this tradition remain essential for today's generation? He is answering our questions.

After a major media success in the 90s, Buddhism became more discreet, perhaps more demanding. Is it still audible to young people?

I have noticed their constant interest in my courses at university and during talks in high schools. They are sensitive to the notions of impermanence, interdependence, compassion and non-violence. They were able to hear about it elsewhere and these notions join those they discover with the approach of philosophy. The interest of the most captives in Buddhism can also be explained by a certain dissatisfaction with the world as it is, by the difficulty of accepting a discourse on God as an absolute sometimes conveyed in their religion of origin, by the importance given to experience and the incentive to take charge of one's spiritual destiny or to integrate the dimension of the body into a practice... However, it is not easy for them to get a precise idea of ​​this plural tradition , and we cannot really speak of Buddhism, but rather of Buddhisms, as there are so many schools, many of which are present in France.

How can they discover the heart of this tradition?

Perhaps starting simply with the life story of gautama, this young prince one day confronted with suffering, with finitude, with death, who decides to leave everything to free himself, that is to say, to achieve enlightenment and become Buddha. It marks the minds of the little ones, teenagers and adults alike and charts a course. All the steps make sense and it is a good introduction to the Four Noble Truths of Dharma: Dukkha, Samudaya, Nirodha, Magga. In the first, we point the finger at the deep dissatisfaction that ruins the life of every human being. In the second, we identify the origin of this dissatisfaction, namely the desire that stems from the erroneous vision that everyone has of what they are, because human beings have difficulty accepting a fundamental truth: they are also impermanent than everything else. They therefore live in illusion and constantly try to find lasting happiness, forgetting that what they seek is based on the quicksand of a fundamentally ephemeral world. And, with the third truth, we envisage healing: it will be the dissipation of this ignorance that plunges individuals into self-centered behavior. Once it is dissipated, their desires will go in the right direction, their passions will be uprooted and they will gradually approach Enlightenment and liberation from samsara. Finally, in the fourth truth, the Buddha gives the diet that allows everyone to heal: the Noble Eightfold Path, or path with eight branches.

Isn't it too complicated?

They follow this reasoning very well. And since everything starts from experience in the Buddhist tradition, why not try one very soon after the holidays? How do children feel the day after Christmas, after being so spoiled? A vacuum, a dissatisfaction? We can help them put words to this emotion to facilitate the realization that the desire is illusory and unfounded. The most difficult thing is to make them feel that what is only relative is often taken as absolute truth, the ego also being based on illusion. Understanding that the notion of person actually covers that of “non-self” and that nirvana is nothing other than “the extinction, or the dissipation of the illusion of self”, is not immediately obvious. But this is precisely what leads to happiness for Buddhists.

Not easy to hear by young people in the process of building their personality... and their ego!

This approach does not call into question the reality of their talents, their emotions, their life experiences which structure their balance. But they can feel that this sum of often changing elements is not the whole of their being and of the reality of the world. At the most immediate level, recognizing it allows you to put many situations into perspective and to give yourself the possibility of discovering what wisdom could be.

How can we help them discover this wisdom?

Buddhism is very pedagogical and the eight-pronged path can be summed up by a three-pronged approach. On the one hand with the mental training which consists in trying to identify "associative thoughts", those which are based on illusions and which distort reality, thus leading to seeing things as we wish them rather than as they are actually.

“Whether young people eventually commit fully to this path or remain in their original religious tradition, this interior approach can only help them grow in wisdom. »

On the other hand, through the ethical discipline which consists in decentering oneself, in seeing the other first, in not doing to others what we do not want them to do to us, in not killing , or lie… Let's take a closer look at these two essential precepts. The first shows us that Buddhism is a school of non-violence. We see very easily that we should not kill human beings, but for Buddhists, the principle of non-violence invites us to respect all living beings, even those we consider unsympathetic (snakes, spiders) or without importance (ants). Indeed, the one who arbitrarily kills animals, insects, shows by this very fact that he feels superior to them, to the point of having the right to suppress their life. He will find it difficult to enter into the heart of the Buddhist experience. As for lying, you should know that for Buddhists “the right word” does not simply mean that you should not lie. It is imperative to be careful never to say words that are unnecessary, hurtful, divisive, or inaccurate and carry the “fake news” so prevalent today. We see how the precepts are demanding, important for everyone and allow the development of Buddhist compassion. What better education could we wish for our children and for the world? Whether young people commit themselves fully to this path in the long term or remain in their original religious tradition, this interior approach can only help them grow in wisdom, which generally corresponds to the third part of the path.

What did understanding Buddhism ultimately do for your daughters?

You would have to ask them this question, each of them would give a different answer. They have at least understood that Buddhism is greater than the somewhat simplistic images that may have circulated. I'm sure they (and the readers) are ready to work with Buddhists to work for a better world. Ultimately, that's one of the reasons I wrote this book.

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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