Teens are getting more attention these days, especially in dharma circles. There are teen retreats, teen meditation classes and teen daylongs. The rise of interest could be because many senior teachers now have kids who are teens, or because leaders in the community want to find a way to pass on the teachings to teens, or because people see a sangha without a strong presence of young people—or a combination of all these. Just as many senior Western teachers, on returning from Asia years ago, wondered how best to offer the dharma in the West, many people are now asking, How do we bring the Buddha’s teachings to the youth of today? Enter Wide Awake, by Diana Winston. This new book aims to answer the question—and does so marvelously.
Winston’s offering is gleaned from many years of personal study and practice, along with numerous interactions with teens. In fact, it is the inclusion of teens’ own voices as they grapple with the dharma that I found most refreshing about Wide Awake. One girl talks about the challenges of avoiding drugs and living the fifth precept; several youth speak about trying to work with sexual energy and attraction; a boy shares his first experience of metta; and while others share the lessons they have learned from meditation practice. We learn in this book the ways teens are using the teachings and how doing so affects their lives.
It would be easy for such a book for teens to come across as too hip, without imparting the wisdom of the teachings, or to be so precise that the material becomes dry and unrelated to teens’ concerns and issues. This is where Winston succeeds the most: she skillfully offers very in-depth teachings and meditation practices while sticking to the issues that teens face, such as dating and sex, the pressure to get good grades, and keeping friends. Wide Awake does not hold back the juicy material for “when they are older.”
The book includes exercises and meditation instructions and covers basic Buddhist teachings, such as the Four Noble Truths, the Five Precepts, karma, the hindrances and right livelihood. The chapter on the precepts is particularly well written. Woven throughout are Winston’s personal challenges: dealing with mosquitoes while practicing as a young nun in Burma, struggling to find right livelihood after college, and trying to balance inner work with activism. What we get is a clear and honest account of a path that Winston has clearly walked herself—and her willingness to pass along wisdom and stories from her journey.
Teens will find the approach engaging and insightful. Reading of the experiences of other teens alongside Winston’s introduction to Buddhism will give them a good understanding of how to integrate the teachings into their lives. This powerful book is equally accessible to the young punk who wears only black and is never without her headphones; to the athlete who lives, breathes and talks basketball; and to the young computer enthusiast who spends all his free hours designing Web pages and surfing the Internet. I can see all of them with a worn copy of Wide Awake in their backpacks. Likewise, adults will find the material helpful in providing an understanding of the issues teens face and ways they can bring dharma principles to the young people in their lives.
This is a timely and beneficial book for today’s generation of youth as they face a world of growing violence, environmental degradation and materialism. We can all be thankful for such a useful resource to guide them on their path.