Buddhist-Christian Studies 23 (2003) 187-189
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Blue Jean Buddha: Voices Of Young Buddhists. Edited by Sumi Loundon. Foreword by Jack Kornfield. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001. xxi + 234 pp.
Blue Jean Buddha is not the name of one of this year's short-lived pop sit-coms nor is it a trendy apparel statement. You will not find low-rise, hip-hugging jeans and navel-studded co-eds in this collection of lively and articulate essays by young American Buddhists in their late twenties and early thirties. (But then again you might have found them if today's teen Buddhists were represented!) Blue Jean Buddha is highly readable and mind-opening to those unfamiliar with the growth of Buddhist communities and practitioner networks in North America as well as for text and church-bound academicians of Buddhist-Christian discourse.
Blue Jean Buddha:Voices of Young Buddhists is a medley of twenty-nine upbeat and down-home personal testimonies of mostly Westerners who were raised as Buddhists in the United States or who converted early on in life. The book is divided into four parts: Lessons, Life Stories, Livelihood, and Reflections. Refreshingly immediate introductory pages (really a series of questions!) and the concluding Reflections are offered by editor Sumi Loundon, an artist and graduate of Harvard Divinity School and former chair of the Harvard Buddhist Community. Sumi herself was born into a small Zen community in rural New Hampshire, practiced vipassana for years and is now committed to the Buddhist traditions of Korea, where I first met her at a temple in Seoul. She is planning to come out with a second volume of essays by more representatives of America's fertile Buddhist garden in 2004.
The essays in Blue Jean Buddha are a cornucopia of commentary and questions about the reception of Buddhism in the West, the spiritual odysseys of exceptional young seekers, and thoughtful ruminations on the transformative effects of dharma practice for personal and social change. These are the voices of American Buddhism at its grassroots, in the lives of young Buddhists as they are actually living it. One contributor, Elijah, age twenty-eight, was recognized as a tulku by the Dalai Lama when he was eight; another voice is Hanuman, twenty-four, a musician and proud "Bu-Hin-Chris-Jew" whose senior performance was called "The Mind Is a Belligerent Puppy—Easy to Train, Difficult to Discipline." Yet another contributor is Liane, a Japanese American Jodo Shinshu follower, thirty-three, whose faith was tested after she became paralyzed from the neck down in an automobile accident when she was twenty.
Blue Jean Buddha is one of those versatile books you can recommend to almost anyone you meet to introduce them to the living practice of Buddhism in contemporary America. The personal vignettes are short, compelling, and easy to read on a plane, on a bus, or at your bedside. College students at all levels will enjoy it because of the open spirit with which it is presented. It asks many leading questions about [End Page 187] Buddhism and the nature of spiritual life in general. Readers will be happily surprised, remarking, "Hey! I was there, too! That's what I was thinking!" You can read and reread it many times and still get some new personal insight out of it. I certainly did, assisting my wife, Jinsuk Lim, preparing a Korean translation of the book. A best-seller among Eastern spiritual titles distributed by Amazon.com and Shambhala, the Korean version sold very well in Buddhist and more intellectually progressive circles. Those conversant with Buddhist studies in general as well as meditation and transpersonal psychology will recognize a few familiar surnames; candid and compassionate offspring of illustrious parents have contributed to Blue Jean Buddha. I will leave it to SBCS members in the know to seek out and identify them!
As for the interface of Buddhist and Christian beliefs and interfaith practice of concern to our seasoned readers, let us allow editor Sumi Loundon to offer her musings from her own youthful experience:
The essays in this book...