In 2008 the Development team, responding to the lack of young people entering our community, ran a weekend exploring how to inspire more young people in the Dharma. Out of that weekend the Triratna Young Buddhists’ project emerged, with the setting up of retreats and events at Buddhist centres specifically for young people, facilitated by young Mitras and Order Members. The project has grown significantly over the last 6 years with Young Buddhists’ activities now thriving at many of our centres, and with single sex retreats and our large mixed retreat each year. This spring Singhamati began work as the Triratna Young Persons’ Coordinator, working with the Development Team, to help further this important work of inspiring young people in the Dharma.
In preparation for this new role, Singhamati undertook some research exploring: Why is the Triratna Young Buddhists’ Project valuable? What is going well and not? How could we attract more young people and help them go deeper?
Below is a summary of the findings of this research which included: an extensive online survey of 250 young people (18-35) who have had some contact with Triratna; 3 focus group and 5 individual interviews (with people of all levels of experience who had had some contact with Triratna).
Triratna Young Buddhists’ Activities: “I might not have stuck around if it wasn’t for contact with young people - it made all the difference.” 73% of those surveyed attend young persons’ activities, a great reflection of the success and popularity of Triratna Young Buddhists’ events.
So why are they important? The top rated reason for attending young persons’ activities was to explore the dharma with people their own age, followed by making friends, and providing an alternative social contact:
Exploring the dharma with other young people is important: “the topics discussed at Young Buddhists’ events seem different, more relevant”.
The community of young people provides an important alternative social contact which is essential to going deeper: “if there weren’t a community young people, I don’t think I would be as far down the path as I am, because I would have stayed with my old friends and way of life, rather than developing friends and my practice in the Sangha.”
Young Persons activities, led by committed young Buddhists’, are invaluable in helping young people really commit wholeheartly practicing the Dharma: “things really took off when I met other young Order Members as I saw it was for Young people too”
Initial Engagement The majority (61%) of young people initially engage with Triratna at a Buddhist centre or group. It was exciting to note a significant increase in those first engaging with Triratna through a Young Persons’ group, in the younger people surveyed. This highlights the value of young persons’ groups at initially attracting young people to our community; this was also demonstrated during the interviews: “I started going to different meditation and Buddhist groups but the people were all much older. Then I heard about the Young Buddhists group and the prospect of having a group of young people I could share life ideas with is what drew me here.”
Overall, young people mainly come to either learn how to meditate (32%) or to pursue an interest in Buddhism (25%), though searching for meaning in life, difficult life experience or looking for friendship and community were also motivating factors. 16-25 years olds were more interested in Buddhism than meditation and a need to ensure we offer drop in Buddhism classes, as well as meditation was highlighted.
Sangha Activities 90% of those surveyed who attend the centre regularly and go to young person activities also attend sangha activities. This indicates that the majority of those going to the centre for young peoples’ events are integrated into the main Sangha, demonstrating that the Young Buddhists’ project is adding to the life of the main sangha rather creating a separate young Sangha.
Going Deeper 95% of young people surveyed felt they had gone deeper through their contact with Triratna, which indicates that we are not only attracting young people to Triratna but we are also helping them go deeper. This is supported by statistics from the Tiratanaloka and the London Buddhist Centre where there has been an increasing number of young Women going deeper and becoming Mitras and asking for Ordination in recent years since the beginning of the Young Buddhists’ Project. Going on retreat, learning about Buddhism, friendship and meditating with others were the most crucial activities for helping young people to their deepen practice.
Today’s young people are known as the technological generation, with the majority of them growing up with computers at home and in the classroom. The research showed that the internet had been an essential gateway through which young people initially found the Buddhist centre and then kept them in touch with what events were on. Many noted how the Triratna websites they found were attractive, friendly, and approachable and how that was important as it enabled them to feel clear and confident about what they were turning up to. However, in terms of going deep and learning, the survey demonstrated that the internet and technological apps were less crucial than activities that gave personal contact at a centre.
Of those young people who had had experience of Team Based Right Livelihood (TBRL) the vast majority had found it crucial to deepening their practice: “It’s thanks to TBRL and community that my practice is effective and that’s why I got ordained.”
The greatest interest from young people in TBRL would be in working with Buddhists using Professional skills, which is not surprising given that 55% of those surveyed and 74% of those surveyed aged 33-35 are working as professionals. This could be important information for the future of TBRL projects in Triratna, where we may want to seriously consider supporting initiatives to establish TBRL where people can use their professional skills, if we want to engage the younger generation in TBRL.
Work (65%) and lack of money (52%) were the most likely barriers for people to engage with TBRL or intensive projects, though concerns about professional qualification, not earning enough money and the want for financial security were also evident.
What we could do better to attract and support Young People: A whole range of projects were identified that would be beneficial in attracting and supporting young people to practice in Triratna. There was significant interest in more events for young people, as well as projects and TBRLs that they could engage with. Increasing the visibility of young Buddhists was seen as crucial: through having more young people working at our centres or supporting classes and through having a presence at places where young people are, such as festivals, colleges, and universities. An interest in material on Buddhism that was socially relevant and addressed the younger generation was identified. The need to target 16-25 year old was highlighted and ideas for doing this included: events specifically for 16-25 year olds; summer holiday events, and gap year projects.
Who are Millennials? The younger generation, aged 14-32 today and born between 1980 and the early 2000s are known as Millennials, such named due to the link with the millennial year (they are also known as Generation Y). According to generational theory and research Millennials are a hero generation, focused on actions, community, and institutional life. Far from being antisocial hoody-clad riot-mongers, they are actually highly concerned with social issues, keen to volunteer, and take fewer drugs and drink less alcohol than previous generations. In fact Millennials are said to be: optimistic, community minded, technological, team players, with strong family values, liberal political views and the desire to build and support institutions.
75% of Triratna young people reported that either contributing to society or have a fulfilling spiritual practice is the most important thing to do in life, and also rating friendship and being part of a spiritual community as either very important or important to them. Whilst making money, owning your own home, securing a pension and partying were strongly rated as not very important or not at all important by the vast majority. This can give us confidence that young people coming into Triratna will be keen to engage with being part of a spiritual community, building friendships and contributing to our institutions.
For further information about this research or Triratna Young Buddhists’ please contact Singhamati on youngtriratna [at] gmail.com