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The Big Bang, the Buddha, and the Baby Boom: The Spiritual Experiments of My Generation 

Two studies in naked self-absorption

Wednesday, Jul 30 2003
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By Wes "Scoop" Nisker

HarperSanFrancisco (2003), $24.95

Silence and Noise: Growing Up in America

By Ivan Richmond

Atria (2003), $13

Two Bay Area authors -- a fiftysomething and a twentysomething -- have written memoirs about being Buddhists, American-style. Both books focus on the authors' attempts to reconcile cravings for spiritual enlightenment with a longing to possess consumer goods. Both are studies in naked self-absorption.

Bay Area radio personality Wes "Scoop" Nisker tells us that his generation of affluent, white baby boomers was "mad at the world for not being the paradise we had been promised by our parents and the Advertising Council." Rebelling against his folks' materialism, Nisker discovered Buddhism along with the beatnik poets of the 1950s. In the '60s, he protested the Vietnam War and chewed acid with the Haight-Ashbury hippies. Depressed by imperialism and bad drugs, he slid into self-flagellation at est seminars. Along the way he became a teacher of Buddhist meditation. Still unhappy, he took the hashish tour of impoverished Third World countries, searching for personal salvation and low exchange rates. Finally, beaten down by pervasive consumerism, he entered late middle age as a self-described "sell-out," doing radio commercials for cell phones.

The book is amusing to read, if you're interested in the devolution of a petty-bourgeois rebel, but don't pick it up for enlightenment about the ethic of Buddhist nonviolence. Nisker's neo-nirvana includes cutting 90 percent of the military budget to pay for universal health care, "with enough funds left over to keep a few Trident submarines in operation -- just in case the Azerbaijanis or North Koreans get some crazy wild idea about attacking us."

Ivan Richmond, 27, spent his early childhood at Green Gulch Farm, a Zen retreat in Marin County. When Richmond was 10, his Buddhist parents took corporate jobs and bought a house in Mill Valley. Poor Ivan never got over it. Seventeen years later, he remains in awe of the "hypersensuality" of American movies, rock music, 401(k)s, and TV. "Recently, I replaced my television with a new one, just because the new one was bigger. ... I don't think having a bigger TV really does make me much happier than when I had the smaller one, but it was easy to think it would at the time I bought it."

Infatuated by his own boring life story, Richmond has assumed the heavy burden of explaining to the world what it means to be a "second generation Buddhist in America." That doesn't mean you should assume the even heavier burden of reading about it.

About The Author

Peter Byrne

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