Buddhist Children, Cultural Buddhists, and Buddhist Stakeholders

Khyentse Foundation is a platform to help propagate and preserve the authentic buddhadharma. When we talk about propagation and preservation, traditionally we are always talking about study and practice. Of course, study and practice are very important, but there are a lot of other elements to consider as well. 

For instance, to propagate and to preserve the buddhadharma, it’s important to have a population of Buddhists. As you know, there are slightly fewer than 500 million Buddhists in the world. That’s not so many, relatively speaking. And apparently the population of Buddhists is declining, by something like 25 million every 10 years. 

Even though we may not be able to help increase the population of Buddhists, at least we can help Buddhist children who are already there. That’s very important. When we think about study and practice, we should really be thinking about the next generation of Buddhists. We forget this quite often. 

Another thing, when we talk about the preservation and propagation of dharma, and when we talk about study and practice, it always seems to serve the purpose of people who belong to the class of intellectuals—studying, reading books, or even better, having time to meditate, chant mantra, do retreat, and so on. We should also be thinking about cultural Buddhists. They may never have the time or the enthusiasm to read a book, let alone go on to deeper study, such as Prajnaparamita or Madhyamika. But they go to temples, like in China, with their joss sticks; they do pujas. Those who are grassroots Buddhists. Those who are not necessarily following buddhadharma because buddhadharma is logical or reason oriented. Those who are following buddhadharma just because they happen to be Buddhist for many generations, or they happen to be born in a Buddhist family. These people are very important, we need to think about them. 

In the West, many of you have come to Buddhism through intellectual study and analysis. And many of you have children. Like many children, they may end up doing the opposite of what their parents want them to do. But they may not, also! They may feel very close to what their parents do. Like thangkas, butter lamps, or even the sight of parents doing meditation, on a subliminal level it builds something in their minds. And these generations of children need to be taken care of. These emotionally connected, culturally connected Buddhists are so important. If you look at Muslims and Christians, I think one of the reasons why they are important is not because there are so many thousands and millions of intellectual Muslims or Christians. Most of them are emotionally bound and feel they belong. This is something we should not forget—the emotional connection. 

Another thing is that when we talk about propagation and preservation of the dharma, there is the dharma itself and there is also the tenzin ji chebu, we call it in Tibetan, which means the stakeholder or preserver, people who are doing the preservation and people who are doing the propagation. 

Traditionally, we always think that they are monks or lamas. I think that’s not good. Lay people, men, women, different colors, different generations—all are important. Khyentse Foundation needs to think of a way to generate tenzin ji chebu—the stakeholders. Of course, we should help the young generation of lamas and tulkus; but also, the fathers and mothers of the youngest generation. We never know who will actually do the stakeholding job. We need to train them; we need to groom them, with a much more far-sighted vision, even right after they are born. 

For a relatively young foundation, we have done a considerable amount of work, like establishing Buddhist chairs in the academic world, translating the words of the Buddha, and helping individual practitioners and students. And of course, we will continue. But in the back of our minds, we need to also think about stakeholders or next-generation lineage holders. And helping emotionally connected, not necessarily “smart” or intellectual Buddhists. Just Buddhists, helping them. And the children. 

Excerpt from Address at the KF Board Meeting, December 2019, 

by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Chairman of the Board of Directors, 

Khyentse Foundation