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Book Review: Buddha In Your Backpack: Buddha In Your Backpack by Franz Metcalf

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The practice of Buddhism has been around long enough in America to fill shelves with books on mindfulness, meditation and Eastern solutions for the suffering life imposes on us. Most of these works are for seeking adults dissatisfied with the direction of their spiritual paths. As a Buddhist parent, I have been eager to find books for children and teens that support a Buddhist worldview. So, I have begun to purchase a few. First up–Buddha In Your Backpack by Franz Metcalf.

In many ways, Buddha In Your Backpack is practical and straightforward. Written for teens, the tone is neither childlike nor degraded by forced “hip” language that would be perceived as fake to a real teen. Nonetheless, it is conversational in its tone and therefore a pleasant read.

After providing a brief overview of the history of Buddhism and its major tenets, Metcalf specifically addresses a variety of aspects of life that are important to teens, e.g., “School Issues,” “Your Body,” and “The Opposite Sex and You.” The book concludes with some basic meditation instructions and mindfulness exercises to try.

A strength of this book is that the author gives a very clear, concise explanation of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. There is often confusion about Buddhism as a practice in regard to many Americans thinking that Buddha is a God to be worshiped. Right away, Metcalf outlines this core concept of Buddhist belief to lay the groundwork for the rest of the book.

In addition, Metcalf doesn’t shy away from using traditional Sanskrit words such as dukkha and skandha when he introduces a topic. This will make it vastly easier for a teen wishing to deepen their understanding of Buddhist practice to follow through with their own research.

There is one significant way in which I feel Buddha In Your Backpack goes astray. This is in the prominence of the language of individualism without enough communication of the interconnectedness that is at the heart of Buddhist philosophy. Given that American society does not encourage recognition of interconnectedness, an emphasis on it in the book would have done a great service to teens. Instead the author emphasizes the personal journey. Parents and teachers are maintained as outsiders who don’t understand the inner “you.” We get enough of this message in the mainstream media and it is responsible for an enormous amount of suffering on the part of teens.

Ultimately, I have mixed feelings about Buddha In Your Backpack. It fills a hole in the American Buddhist mindfulness literature by addressing teenagers and their experiences directly. It provides a good basic overview of the fundamental premise of Buddhism. Nonetheless, there were not enough opportunities taken to challenge our cultural blindness to interconnectedness and the way in which the ego clinging they are sold daily brings to them so much pain.

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