Sunday, October 21, 2007
After Action Report: 3rd Annual Buddhist Spiritual Care Symposium
I was fortunate to be able to attend this year's Buddhist Spiritual Care Symposium at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, CA. This is a gathering of professional chaplains, volunteers and interested persons working outside traditional Buddhist settings (temples and monasteries) in order to provide spiritual care and compassion to people in hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, correctional facilities, and the military. The attendees came from many traditions of Buddhism: Vajrayana, Tibetan, Mahayana, Zen, Vipassana, and Pure Land. We all had the same focus, which was to discuss this new and historic chapter in American Buddhism, and the ways in which we could best understand and perform our roles, and how to adapt a 2500-year-old religion and way of life to 21st-century nontraditional settings.
We began with meditation, followed by an opening Dharma talk by Tom Kilts, a CPE administrator of the Vajrayana tradition, who presented an outstanding lecture and discussion on the forms of authority implicit in chaplaincy work. Following his talk, everyone introduced themselves, and then we had a great vegetarian lunch! After lunch, we had a talk by guest speaker Dr. Dhammaratna Rina Sircar, a Dharma teacher of vast experience in pastoral care. She is originally from Burma; everyone was deeply moved to hear her relate her concern for the welfare of her family in Burma. She led us in a beautiful refuge-taking (Vandana Ti-Sirana), followed by a prayer to the 28 Buddhas. Her message was about her experience in care for elderly patients; she emphasized for us to cultivate tolerance, and especially patience. She concluded her talk by leading us through the Loving-Kindness Meditation. After another short break we had simultaneous breakout sessions on current issues in chaplaincy. We wrapped up around 1630, and concluded with Dedication of Merit to the people of Burma and all those suffering in conflicts throughout the world.
Being at this symposium was a great thing for me personally, I enjoy working with all my other Navy chaplain colleages but it is also good to be around other Buddhists again, with whom I share a common language and a "non-theistic theology" (as Chaplain Kilts put it). This was a very good spiritual "self-care." I also enjoyed meeting other Buddhists working in chaplaincy, hearing their stories, sharing our experiences. I was glad to see that the attendees were a nearly equal mix of men and women working in this field. I also saw my Army friend, Chaplain Somya Malasri, there as well! Therefore, this was the first symposium in which we had representatives from Buddhist military chaplaincy! We were received very well. As excellent as the symposium was, it did remind me of the work we all need to still do, which is gaining acceptance for Buddhist chaplaincy, something that is not yet clearly understood by every Buddhist tradition, or welcomed by other, non-Buddhist chaplains. It is still a work in progress. I encourage anyone interested in Buddhist chaplaincy to pursue this path on many levels, whether as a professional or as a volunteer.