Your subtitle is "The Spiritual Experiments of My Generation." What experiments are you referring to?
It's my understanding that the Baby Boom generation developed a kind of spiritual hunger, and that many of the religious institutions that we were born into didn't explain life to us in an adequate way, didn't give us the stories that conformed to what we were learning in school about the scientific revolution, really didn't give us the spiritual tools to deal with the modern world.
We were lucky enough to be given good educations, but we began to see that the worldviews we were being offered in our institutions were very limited. And so we began experimenting with drugs and we began to see some other realities. And we decided to go exploring.
I was part of this great wave of young Westerners in the late 60s, early 70s, who went to Asia. Many of us had been reading in college about Buddhism and Taoism and had been reading the beatniks, who were also exploring. And [in Asia] we found teachers and we studied meditation and various martial art practices, and philosophy and music-and we brought it back. We smuggled these foreign gods into the country and you can see the result today. In every American city there are yoga centers and meditation centers, and Buddhism is one of the fastest-growing religions in America. So we really planted seeds that are now sprouting all over the world.
You point out that some criticize the Boomer generation because they don't think its revolutions succeeded.
There is a lot of criticism of the Boomers having been self-indulgent and unsuccessful in our revolutions-but I don't think we were unsuccessful, at least not in the spiritual revolution.
I heard the Dalai Lama a while back when he was in the United States, somebody asked him about the situation in Tibet and he said, "Well, I think the Chinese will eventually leave us alone and it will be alright. We'll get our independence." And they said, "Really? You think that?" And he said, "Yeah-maybe, two, 300 years." It takes a long time to shift a paradigm, it takes a long time for really deep changes to actually take effect and become part of the social fabric, and I don't think we failed at all.
You say part of Buddhism's appeal was that it offered the concept of "no-self," which in a way was a sort of relief for a generation obsessed with self-improvement.
The emphasis on individualism came to a real head in the '60s, where everybody was supposed to be someone special and sort of shine and prove themselves. We were all pampered, and the burden of being a special individual was really not pleasant. And I think a lot of us were seeking a way out of that intense self-focus, I think through drugs, through communal living, I think even the rock concert was a way of sort of joining a generation, joining something much bigger than yourself.
"Self-liberation" is what the Buddhist path is about; it's seeing through the illusion of a separate self and that, I think, attracted us a lot because we were burdened with too much self-the land of individual license plates and special little monads of selfhood buzzing around.
Well I think my motto now would be "Make love, not war OR money." [laughs]
You know, Thomas Wolfe called the '70s, the "Me Generation," and I thought well I guess that means the '80s was the "Me, Me Generation," and the '90s was the "Me, Me, Me Generation." I think that this whole, capitalist industrial world and the whole idea of the growth economy-that everything has to keep growing and getting bigger and more profitable and more, more, more-it's got a few years left. It has to sort of disprove itself to more and more people as the source of happiness and the way to live. Then some of the seeds that we planted in the '60s, some of the alternative ways that have grown up since then-alternative institutions, people thinking about new economy, new agriculture, new spirituality-will be there to offer an alternative-but definitely not in America. I don't think our people are ready for it yet. America certainly isn't ready for it yet.
You write that in our culture, it's almost subversive to meditate, because it helps you gain control over your desires. Do you see meditation as an antidote to materialism?
Sit-down strike-yes, absolutely, because we're going to have to want different things. We're going to have to find another source of happiness because the limits of nature are dictating that we can no longer consume at the level that we consume here in the U.S., unless we want to live in a gated nation. And meditation offers the alternative kind of happiness, an inner, spiritual happiness based on awe and wonder at life itself and the mysteries of life and consciousness. So I do see it as a real antidote to materialism, an antidote to our consumer culture.