The Enemy Within

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Springer, an entering senior at Woodrow Wilson High School, was raised Buddhist but only began to seriously practice it two years ago as a way to manage his rage and bouts of depression as well as cope with his father's illness.

In lay terms, Springer says when something pisses him off, the challenge is to watch his mind and not react--like when the neighbor let his dog crap on the lawn.

"What immediately flashed in my mind was me jamming an ice pick into this guy's head," he says. "I'm exaggerating, but I was furious."

The thought was grimly comedic, but it only fueled his anger, he says.

"Suffering is hatred," he says. "It's those little thoughts in your mind that you feel. Suffering is giving into desires and lusts. Suffering is the Western world."

Buddhism has grown 170 percent in the last decade, according to the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) produced by the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. In addition to its startling growth, the study finds, it has one of the youngest demographics of all religions with the bulk of its members under 30 years old.

ARIS attributes this growth, in part, to the unprecedented drop in the number of people who identify themselves as Christian and a spike in the number of folks who switch religious identification (about 16 percent of the population)--and not to the nation's burgeoning Asian immigrant population.

This growth is remarkable because most Buddhist groups operate in relative silence; they don't proselytize, canvas neighborhoods or rent out stadiums for mass conversions.

For 24-year-old Nicolas Copeland, the idea that he could change the way he responded to the world was revolutionary.

Not long ago, Copeland was a kid in trouble. He spent a few years after high school in a kind of stupor--getting drunk, fighting and dropping in and out of college. While working at a pizza parlor, Copeland met a kid who was everything he wasn't: calm and open.

Then one day his friend played an audio book of the Dalai Lama. Copeland started reading books on Buddhism and meditating. "I had a lot of anger and insecurity, and I was really impatient, so I'd punch walls," he says. "Through meditation I learned to calm myself down and stay focused."

Copeland, who is politically active, says he has to pay attention to how wrapped up he gets in the election-year issues and coverage of the war in Iraq. If anything, the war has given a certain urgency to his meditation practice, he says.

"Since September 11, there's been a lot of violence--but it can happen anywhere," he says. "It's important for us to realize that it's happening around the world. We need to take advantage of our time here."

While teens and young adults struggle with the difficult and sometimes contradictory emotions that are stirred up during wartime, the ripples of war reach the very youngest at the center.

Every other Sunday, Yolanda Barner-Thomas leads a children's class at the Buddhist center for about a half-dozen young students of the dharma.

While most of the children talk about their teachers and how other kids treat them at school, Barner-Thomas says, some of the kids seem confused about the war and why people are hurting each other.

"I don't try to give them any answers," she says. "We talk a lot about peace, tolerance and especially religious tolerance and the importance of not hurting anyone.

"I try to teach them compassion for all sentient beings--whether it's an ant crawling toward your sandwich or a driver in a car that just cut you off or a kid bullying you at school," she says. --J.D. Sparks

Fat Chance

KIDS WHO GRADUATE in the top 10 percent of their high school class get automatic admission into the state university of their choice. It's called the 10 percent rule. Been around since '97 when the U.S. Court of Appeals struck down affirmative action at the University of Texas. But now some people say it's a flawed law. Last Thursday, the Texas Senate held a hearing on whether it should be modified. If nothing else, it'll be an item next year for the Legislature.

Within some high schools--mostly the large, suburban high schools--the academic competition is fierce. So fierce, many kids with stellar grades culled from rigorous curriculum have GPAs that fall just short of the golden 10 percent. For instance, of the 849 kids who graduated this year from Plano West, one-third graduated with honors, says registrat Karen Upham. "There's no comparison between the top 10 percent of the smaller schools and the top 25 percent of larger schools, in terms of the academic rigor involved," Upham says.

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