Monday, December 29, 2008

Bodhi Day mention at Joint Base Balad, Iraq

Many holidays, many faith: Chaplains meet servicemembers' religious needs
by Staff Sgt. Don Branum
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

12/29/2008 - JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq -- Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Pagans all observe major holy days in December. Air Force chaplains here spent much of the month making sure everyone in the diverse Joint Base Balad community had an opportunity to worship according to their beliefs.

For the first December since assuming overall responsibility for religious services here, the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Chapel staff and their Army counterparts worked together to ensure observances went smoothly for each the month's holy days: Hajj and Eid al-Adha for Islam, Boddhi Day for Buddhism, Hanukkah for Judaism, the Immaculate Conception and Christmas for Christians and Yule for Pagans.

In order to meet servicemembers' religious needs in December, the Chapel held or sponsored nearly 40 religious services, said Senior Master Sgt. Michael O'Donnell, 332nd AEW superintendent of chapel operations. O'Donnell did not have information about how many people attended December's services but said it was likely to be higher than the approximately 7,500 people who attended services in November.

"We have different setups for each group," O'Donnell said. "Catholic services are pretty much the same wherever you go. Protestant services depend more on the denomination of the chaplain, and chaplains may add their own uniqueness to a service based on how they want things set up."

One challenge the chapel staff had to overcome was the difference in organizational structure between the Air Force and Army, O'Donnell said.

"Army brigades will have a brigade chaplain who works directly for the brigade commander, whereas our chaplains all work for the wing chaplain," said O'Donnell, a native of Marshfield, Wis., who is deployed from Langley Air Force Base, Va. "Because of their missions, Soldiers don't always have the same opportunities to worship that Airmen do, so the chaplain works for his unit."

Another challenge is supplies, said Chaplain (Capt.) Andrew Cohen, the 332nd AEW's Jewish chaplain and the first rabbi to deploy to the wing.

"A military environment always creates its own unique challenges regardless of whether we're stateside or deployed," said Cohen, a Pittsburgh native who is deployed from Andrews AFB, Md. "The main challenge in a deployed setting is almost invariably resource-related -- having adequate usable supplies."

Thankfully, more than 20 donors, including private individuals and communal organizations, have provided "more than adequate" supplies, including menorahs, olive oil, wicks, candles and traditional foods such as potato pancakes for Jewish religious services, Cohen said. The chapel staff likewise has received supplies for other congregations' religious needs.

A third challenge is finding representatives for faith groups that are not directly represented by chaplains. That's where lay leaders, also called distinctive faith group leaders, come in, said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Terese Erickson, the deputy wing chaplain.

"Accommodation doesn't mean chaplains lead all worship services," said Erickson, a native of St. Paul, Minn., who is deployed from Maxwell AFB, Ala. "Accommodation means making sure everyone has an opportunity to worship. In some cases, it means I find appropriate qualified leaders and help them find a facility and resources. Freedom of religious expression is a key right that we have as citizens of the United States, so it's a privilege to support the Airmen and Soldiers who are defending the U.S. Constitution."

Lay leaders conduct services for members of their faith groups. In some cases, they lead worship; in others, they conduct religious studies or fellowships, Erickson said.
Army Spc. William Corum, an operations clerk with the 555th Engineer Brigade's 561st Engineer Company, 5th Engineer Battalion, is one of three lay leaders for a group of Wiccans and Pagans that meets here Thursdays and Saturdays.

"The chaplains here are very supportive," said Corum, a carpentry and masonry specialist deployed from Scofield Barracks, Hawaii. "Chaplain Erickson has helped us with numerous things: getting locations and times (for services), helping us get the word out. They occasionally sit in on our groups and send me e-mails to see how we're doing. They've worked with us to get us the things the group needs, and they've really gone above and beyond."

Erickson also works alongside Army chaplains and said she has a great deal of respect for them.

"Many of these chaplains are on their third deployment," she said. "Some have been deployed almost 15 months. And they've been terrific -- they've shown a lot of goodwill, a lot of enthusiasm, and a lot of teamwork in making the Army garrison chapel program work. I appreciate their dedication and their resiliency and their commitment to their people. It's been a joy working with them."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Zen Sesshin and Basic Training??

Unitarian Universalist Army Chaplain Candidate David Pyle has posted a very interesting (!) comparison between Zen sesshin (meditation retreat) and military basic training on his blog Celestial Lands.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Bodhi Day!

Happy V-M Day Today! Or the "Victory over Mara", which is one way of expressing that today is a traditional date Buddhists commemorate the Enlightenment of the Buddha. In the Japanese tradition it is also known as Jodo-e. It is briefly described in BDK's The Teaching of Buddha:

"It was an intense and incomparable struggle for him. He was desparate and filled with confusing thoughts, dark shadows overhung his spirit, and he was beleagured by all the lures of the devils. Carefully and patiently he examined them one by one and rejected them all. It was a hard struggle indeed, making his blood run thin, his flesh fall away, and his bones crack.

But when the morning star appeared in the eastern sky, the struggle was over and the Prince's mind was as clear and bright as the breaking day. He had, at last, found the path to Enlightenment. It was December eighth, when the Prince became a Buddha at thirty-five years of age." (p.7-8)

Buddha's Enlightenment illuminated the path for all humanity to follow as they were able. Although we may assume some "poetic license" in the traditional stories, we should not assume this was an easy thing to do. We don't often read about blood, sweat and tears in the meditation catalogues (might not match well with the eco-cushions!) but that is the essence of overcoming fear. It it were so easy to accomplish, we should all become Buddhas! Fear and delusion are components of our lives; letting go is not easy. We become so accustomed to living like this, that we mistake them for normality. While it may look simple on paper, and we discuss Enlightenment in terms of "inner peace" and "serenity" this really only obscures our deepest anxieties. We are even fearful of not being "Buddhist" enough!

All this should even more make us appreciate the Buddha's accomplishment. Not only by his Awakening but his subsequent 45-year teaching career to show us how to overcome fear, the forces of Mara the Deceiver. Tradition states that there are 84,000 paths to this Enlightenment. Whether we are able to do meditation practice, or devote ourselves to faith in Amitabha (Amida) or other myriad Buddhas, or other practices, ALL of it originates in Buddha's Victory this day. Let us allow fear and worry to dissipate! Buddha bless all beings!

Namo Amida Butsu

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Books 4 Vets

I'm passing this note along from the military-chaplains Yahoo group. We know Buddhists are big readers - so if you have an extra Dharma text, please also pass this along!

"Anyone who has been hospitalized knows that between visits from family and
friends there is little to do to keep up one's spirits. Books fill that
void by not only filling time but providing education. A wise man once
said, "A man confined to a bed can travel the world through books."

If you have an old (or new) book you've read that is now only taking up
space you can make a very appreciative veteran. To make a book contribution
mail a used (or new) book (or two, or three) to The American War Library.


Books For Vets
The American War Library
16907 Brighton Avenue
Gardena CA 90247-5420

[Please use the United States Post Office's low cost "Media Mail" shipping
rate to mail your book(s) to The War Library.]

Friday, November 14, 2008

Congratulations General Ann Dunwoody!

LTGEN Ann Dunwoody is promoted to become nation's first female 4-star general! Bravo Zulu!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Good Readings...

Here's a great thank you to the troops message posted at the Hardcore Zen blog:

Thank you Brad!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

Do not forget to offer incense for our brothers and sisters in uniform today. Welcome them into your sanghas. Do not disparage them. Assist them in finding peace.

Namo Amida Butsu

Monday, November 10, 2008


Blessings! Semper Fi! Happy Birthday, Marines!!!

Namo Amida Butsu

Thursday, November 6, 2008

"In His Service and Yours"

When I was on leave last week I attended the American Academy of Religions annual conference in Chicago. This is primarily an academic conference, not a gathering of clergy (although some clergy are also scholars) and I noticed that there were a number of Buddhist monastics in attendance. A friend of mine, Chaplain Danny Fisher, occasionally blogs about what goes on in these conferences, since he is involved in this type of scholarship. I'm mostly an observer (I've never presented a paper): I've been a member of the AAR since my graduate school days - it's interesting to hear all the different lectures, even if some of them tend to be much on the heavy postmodern jargon density side! I recommend anyone who is interested in military chaplaincy and/or getting their graduate degree in Buddhist Studies to keep abreast of the scholarship in the Buddhist Studies field.

While at the AAR, I had the fortunate opportunity to meet Ms. Lee Lawrence, a journalist who is currently co-producing an independent documentary on military chaplains. She and Terry Nickelson also wrote a series of articles on the subject military chaplains for The Chistian Scientist Monitor newspaper. They interviewed a number of Army, Air Force, and Navy Chaplains. I thought these were very well written. The documentary looks to be on the same level, although I have not seen it: it is in post-production I think, or somewhere around there, so it is not out yet, but I'm looking forward to viewing it. The link can be found here:

Hopefully, these articles and the documentary will help the public in understanding the roles of the military chaplain, which I think is probably one of the least-understood professions in our society. I would probably add that it is possibly one of the most difficult - and least-palatable - for most people, even clergy, for what are obvious reasons. So the fact that it is rarely discussed or brought up, even in study by religion scholars for example, is pretty surprising to me, and what is out there tends to lean towards the polemical. I hope this trend will change.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Our New Commander-in-Chief

History has been made tonight. Barack Obama will be our nation's first African-American President and Commander-in-Chief of of its Armed Forces. This is a tremendous moment! He may not have been who some of us voted for, but as members of the military, he is our Number One guy now!

I only hope that, with this victory, that President Obama will listen to the advice of his generals and admirals, and the troops on the ground and sailors at sea. I hope that he will remember the voices of those who voted for him on this day. I hope he will be mindful of the people of Iraq and Afrghanistan. Most of all, I hope that we, as a people, remember that our leaders are but human beings like ourselves, neither "saviors" nor "devils" - though by reading in the media in the past weeks that idea certainly didn't come across very well. It's amazing the pressure that this man will be under.

Sakyamuni Buddha, we should remember, did not live in a democratic society, and so we do not know what he may have thought of the concept of "one man one vote" (or one woman one vote for that matter) and even less what his opinion would be of the current American electoral college. Any speculation about who he would have "voted" for must remain just that -wishful speculation (just as all the nonsense also written about who Jesus would have voted for)! However, it would be good just now to be reminded that the Buddha regarded all as capable of the greatest path a human being could undertake - not running for President(!) but for Awakening, which was not dependent on being born into a good family (caste) but by exemplary living. Anyone could do this. So perhaps, after all, there are similarities between ancient, oligarchic India and present-day America!

We have the karma to be residents of a country in which a person like Barack Obama can become President through open and free elections. This is a blessing to recognize, even if we did not vote for President Obama. This is a winning situation for all! Now, may we be able to continue this reality (no longer just a dream), and go on with our duty to defend this great nation.

Namo Amida Butsu

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Port Visit to Phuket

Phuket is one of the southern provinces of Thailand, a predominantly Theravada Buddhist country. US Navy ships occasionally make port visits there, or up north to Bangkok. Recently our deployed ship made a port visit, and so I had the fortunate opportunity to see some of the Buddhist sites on the island. I took a small group of Sailors with me who were also interested in seeing some of the local sites (in between shopping for souvenirs and suits)! There are some particularly interesting places: the largest Buddhist temple in Phuket is Wat Chalong. It is a temple complex of several large buildings, very beautiful and imposing. It was probably first built in the 19th-century, and houses a relic of the Lord Buddha that was brought from Sri Lanka. You can view the reliquary easily. Also prominent in the main hall are statues of Phuket's most famed monks, Luang Pho Chaem (1827-1908), and Luang Pho Chuang (1875-1945). You can purchase amulets with his image on them (although I didn't); many Thais believe such amulets are auspicious for the wearer. Unfortunately there are very few signs in English, though we did see a large number of visitors, both local Thais and foreigners.

Another site we visited was the Phra Puttamingmongkol Akenakkiri Buddha, more commonly known as the "Phuket Big Buddha." It is destined to become one of Phuket's major attractions! It's actually a new structure (many of our Sailors assumed it was ancient) and is not 100% completed yet, but it is easy to visualize how it will look once construction is finished. It's 148 feet high, and we were actually able to see it from our ship as we were anchoring off the coast. It is on the summit of a small mountain; on the road up, there were signs with a quote from Buddha's last sermon: "Whoever sees the Dhamma sees me." The statue is of a seated Sakyamuni Buddha. Scaffolding is still all around the statue, and the outer marble casing still needs to be added before it is complete; visitors can donate 100 baht to write an inscription on a marble tile that may (or may not!) be used on the Buddha. (Nishi Hongwanji-ha did the same fundraising to replace the roof on its Goeido or Founder's Hall in Kyoto). There is a smaller gold statue of the Buddha sitting atop Mucalinda that is already finished. The construction is being funded mostly by donations. There is a warehouse-type building near the construction site where you can donate for the construction, read about its history, and buy amulets and books (there are some in English and other languages). Also you may give offerings and receive a blessing from the one monk on duty. I hope to come back and see the Phuket Big Buddha when it is complete.

Phuket was a great place to visit. It's a very religiously diverse place; we saw several mosques on the way to and from town, and there are a few Christian churches, and Chinese temples. Phuket was devastated by the 2004 tsunami, and although all the debris has since been cleated, you can tell it is still in the process of recovery.

If you are able to visit Thailand, make Phuket's Buddhist sites one of your destinations!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Buddhist reading material donations to Military Personnel

Recently I spoke to a representative at Tibetan Treasures and they are interested in assisting Military personnel with free Buddhist texts. This is a great opportunity to help the Buddhist Military Community whether stationed state side, overseas, or deployed. Being able to receive reading materials with an array of Buddhist schools, authors, and subjects is an auspicious blessing. Tibetan Treasures has an extensive collection in which they will donate as long as they have a point of contact to send the books to and that the shipping costs are covered. If you represent the Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines or any Buddhist community in the military then they are willing to help. For more information, contact Tibetan Treasures at

Monday, September 1, 2008

Not Necessarily the News

   I apologize in advance, but this isn't necessarily a news story as much as it is an announcement. But then again, I suppose announcements count too! Today was day one of the processing period for my first trip to Iraq as an RP (Religious Program Specialist). I arrived in San Diego this afternoon, checked into my room, and am now preparing to be up and at em' by 0530 in order to get fitted for my NEW UNIFORMS! I'm actually very excited to be wearing the Desert Camouflage. Let's face it, who wants to look like a milk man right?!?! Just kidding!

   Being that I have only ever worked at a Chapel I am really looking forward to stretching my wings and flying in a more challenging assignment. It's something I have no experience in but am very much looking forward to. I'll admit, I went a little over the limit in regards to luggage due to the fact that I wanted to have plenty of buddhist books and materials with me while there. It's very easy to find bibles, daily bread's and other religious materials related to pretty much every group represented in the Navy, but not so much on the Buddhist end of things. My intent is to change that at some point and I fully plan on cornering Chaplain Shin to help with that when the time comes.

   But, what ARE some good things to bring along in that regard? There isn't really a buddhist bible (although there are a lot of published scripture), so what things are needed?

   My list...

1) A small statue of The Buddha - There are numerous sizes available that you can easily pack and take with you.
2) A small Bell - Again, there are several sizes available and the smallest ones will do the trick just fine.
3) Malas or Ojuzu - Most Buddhists will most likely have their prayer beads of choice with them, but it never hurts to bring along a few for the ones that didn't and want them.
4) A Buddhist Bible, edited by Dwight Goddard - I am sure a lot of you are familiar with this work, and it is a wonderful resource to have for Dharma discussions. It is also fairly inexpensive to get.
5) The Dhammapada - A superb source for Dharma talks and discussions. It is the essential teachings of the Buddha.
6) The Tao Te Ching - This may seem odd to some of you, but in my own practice it has been an excellent source of wisdom for me and very applicable to everyone, regardless of their religious preference or background.
7) Sitting: A guide to buddhist meditation - An excellent source for those not trained in meditation but would like to know how. It is also a very practical guide for us to use in order to explain some of the most basic principles involved with meditating.

I have several other books by many great teachers, but most of them are of the Zen flavor and deal more with Meditation. 

I know many of you have your own sources that you utilize and I highly encourage you to post them for the rest of us. I definitely want to be prepared and for the most part, I feel that I am. But my biggest obstacle is yet to come and that is meeting my new Chaplain and working with him, side by side, to meet the needs of all of our brothers and sisters in uniform that are serving in Iraq. I look forward to sharing my experiences with all of you!

Monday, August 18, 2008

WASC approves new University of the West Buddhist Chaplaincy Program

[Encouraging news here for those who want to pursue Buddhist chaplaincy education!]

WASC approves new University of the West Buddhist chaplaincy program
Los Angeles Chronicle, August 14, 2008

ROSEMEAD, CA (USA) -- University of the West President Dr. Allen Huang announced on Thursday the interim approval of its Buddhist Chaplaincy Program by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
UWest will immediately begin recruiting students to the three-year program for the training of chaplains, who would work at hospitals, prisons and in other distressing environments for the spiritual care of suffering individuals. UWest has set a target date of spring semester 2009 for the start of the program, however no official start date has been set.

"This highly anticipated program will be affordable and above excellence in quality," Huang said. "We are working diligently to make University of the West the preeminent location for the academic study of Buddhism."

Huang said there is a high demand for an affordable Buddhist chaplaincy program that is accredited.

"The development of the Inter-Faith Master of Divinity program at UWest is the product of intense collaboration with hospital-based clinical pastoral education programs, Christian and Buddhist denominations and eminent theologians from the United States and abroad," said Dr. Kyle Matsumoto Burch, as Assistant Dean of Enrollment at UWest, formerly of San Francisco Theological School and the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. "We are looking forward to a new way of meeting the ministry needs of a new generation."

University of the West is now one of three American schools offering an accredited Buddhist chaplaincy program.

"The significance of WASC approval means other institutions are far more likely to recognized the program, and employers as well," said Dr. Ken Locke, Chair of UWest´s Department of Religious Studies. "Anybody can give out degrees. Accreditation affirms that our peers in the world of academic learning and professional training have recognized us."

It took professor Locke nearly two years to develop the Buddhist chaplaincy program and guide it through the accreditation process. He was assisted by Danny Fisher, a well-known Buddhist chaplain who played a crucial role in developing the class and training curriculum.

"One of the obstacles for Buddhists seeking certification as professional chaplains is the lack of accredited graduate training programs," Fisher said. "The program here at UWest is important because it helps to solve this problem and encourage the professional development of Buddhist chaplains."

Students in the chaplaincy program will be required to live on UWest´s campus for two years. "A two year on-campus residency requirement is vital for chaplaincy training," Locke said. "Since an indispensible part of being an effective chaplain is good interpersonal skills, this residency requirement will allow UWest to evaluate and help students develop these skills."

The academic side of the program will focus on developing an understanding of Buddhism, comparative religious study, psychology and some management skills. The training side focuses on communication, counseling, meditation and spiritual exploration," Locke said.

Interestingly, the program grants a Master of Divinity degree, even though the concept of God is not necessarily central to Buddhism. Locke explained. However, University of the West backed away from calling the degree a Doctorate of Buddhist Studies. "If we called it a DBS no one would know what it is. ´M.Div.´ immediately tells everyone you´ve studied chaplaincy."

University of the West is was founded in 1991 and accredited by WASC in 2006. It is one of three accredited Buddhist universities in the United States and the only one of the three offering a Master´s in Business Administration degree. It´s current enrollment is approximately 260 students. UWest is located at 1409 N. Walnut Grove Ave., Rosemead, CA 91770.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

An Appeal for Stones from Iraq

Hello, I'm a student of His Holiness the 17th Karmapa of the Tibetan Buddhism's Karma Kagyu School. Considered by most to be the second most important Tibetan Buddhist leader after the Dalai Lama, His Holiness is a progressive Buddhist teacher who express his compassion toward all sentient beings and the world by incorporate in His teachings issues like global warning, renewable energy, and vegetarianism. Every year His Holiness will conduct the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo, a prayer and blessing ceremony, in order to spread the seeds of loving kindness and pure motivation, to activate their power, and hence bring about genuine peace, love, happiness and well-being in the world.

Early next year, a special ceremony will be conducted during the Kagyu Monlam, in which a Stone Altar will be constructed using small stones collected from every country in the world. This is a way in which His Holiness will establish a physical connection with our planet while bring blessing and merit to everyone in the world. Although many countries have already contributed to this Stone Altar Project, we would really like to have a few stones from Iraq. If there are any Buddhist soldiers stationed in Iraq reading this, we would like to ask for your help in sending us a few small Iraqi stones; even a single stone would be considered auspicious. Please e-mail if you're interest in more details. Thanks!

Recent Time article on His Holiness the 17th Karmapa:,8599,1807103,00.html

Details on the Monlam Stone Altar Project:

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Airman Initiates Buddhist Group

[Great article today on the Buddhist Channel Web site! Also great to see a chaplain facilitating for this group!]
Airman initiates Buddism group
By Gabriel Monte: CNJ Online, Aug 12 2008

Clovis, NM (USA) -- Tech. Sgt. Chris Porter said he is often asked how he resolves being a Buddhist and being in the military.

Tech. Sgt. Christ Porter, right, and his wife Marisila, left, run a Buddhism discussion group at the Cannon Air Force Base chapel. Chris Porter said he and his wife are new to Buddhism having formally adopted the religion in June.

Though Porter works as a bioenvironmental engineer at Cannon Air Force Base, he said he believes the use of force is acceptable as long as his motivation is rooted in compassion and love. Buddhist philosophy emphasizes pacifism and self control.

Porter and his wife, Marilisa, run a Buddhism discussion group at Cannon to invite other base personnel to share their experiences with Buddhism, according to Porter.

“We felt like we were the only Buddhists in Clovis,” he said.

The weekly discussion group has met five times and Porter said attendance has been one or two people. He said he also receives phone inquiries.

David Porter, who grew up Methodist, said he and his wife became Buddhists after learning about the religion for years.

“I was just drawn to it, started studying and reading about it and liked what I read,” he said.

David Porter said since adopting the Buddhist lifestyle, which includes meditation, he is calmer.

“I always have a better day when I mediate in the morning,” he said. “My interactions with people are a little bit better.”

Porter’s wife Marilisa, who was raised as a Catholic, said her temper has subsided since practicing Buddhism.

The Porters attended an event at the University of New Mexico in June where a Buddhist teacher was speaking. At the end of the event Porter said the teacher held a ceremony for people who wanted to join the religion.

Capt. Eusebia Rios, a base chaplain, said the Air Force provides venues, either on base or in town, for airmen of all religions.

“This is our goal: Where there is a religious or spiritual need, we want to accommodate that,” she said.

She said airmen who want to conduct services on base for a particular religion can make a request to a base chaplain.

The Buddhism discussion group will meet at 7 p.m. Monday at the Cannon chapel.

Information: 784-2912 or 784-2507.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Requirements to Become a Buddhist Chaplain in the US Armed Forces

I've gotten many inquiries from individuals inquiring to the process of becoming a chaplain of Buddhist faith in the U.S. military. I'd like to post some basic requirements here, that are based on military requirements (which also can be found here: Hopefully you will be able to get good information!

•Bachelors and Masters Degrees
Most Buddhist clergy are not required to have academic degrees to be ordained; however, this is a must for ALL United States military chaplains. A bachelors degree typically involves 120 semester hours or 180 quarter hours and a graduate degree 72 credit hours in an accredited institution. Not less than 36 hours must be in theological/ministry and related studies, consistent with the respective religious tradition of the applicant (Buddhism in this case). A graduate degree in Buddhist Studies would be highly recommended.
• Ordination
Together with the graduate degree requirement, this is also a potential obstacle for many applicants. Ordination means recognition that you are considered clergy in your particular Buddhist tradition. This does not include lay teacher status. The number of years you have practiced Buddha-dharma as a layperson also cannot be considered as qualifying for ordained status. You MUST be ordained AS a clergyperson. A big plus is at least two years' experience in a religious environment, as a temple minister, or monastic, for example. The US Armed Forces cannot ordain people, and the Buddhist Churches of America cannot ordain in the Jodo Shinshu tradition solely for purposes of chaplaincy. It is UP TO YOU to find a track to ordination.
• Endorsement from the Buddhist Churches of America
The Buddhist Churches of America is the ONLY recognized endorser for Buddhist U.S. military chaplains. An official form known as a DD2088 - Statement of Ecclesiastical Endorsement - is signed by our abbot. Without this signed endorsement, you cannot become a military chaplain. Receiving a signed DD2088 is dependent on whether you can demonstrate completion of a Master’s Degree program and provide proof of ordination from an authentic Buddhist tradition. A personal interview will also be required.
• US Citizenship, Security Background Check, and Age Limits
These are requirements of all service branches (Army, Navy, and Air Force). The age limit is usually in the early forties by the time of commissioning, but there may be age waivers on a case-by-case basis. This may be determined by the branch of service, and your chaplain recruiter.
• Physical Condition
The military is a very demanding physical and mental environment. You will have to pass a physical exam as part of your chaplain application package. There are yearly physical tests you will have to pass (runs, pushups, situps, pull-ups), and the expectation is that you will physically exercise frequently on your own, and with your command, as a group (even in the Air Force)! Also, you will definitely be going on overseas deployments, which may involve living aboard a naval warship, or living in the field for months on end. If you have any physical conditions that cannot permit you to do this, military chaplaincy may not be a good choice for you.
• Ability to Work in the Deparment of Defense(DoD)Directed Religious Accommodation Environment
What this means is that all military chaplains by necessity work in an interfaith environment, and may not discriminate or proselytize (although unfortunately these are certainly known to happen). What "ability to work" means is that you will very frequently encounter and work with non-Buddhists: can you work with Christians every day, even having a Christian – or Jewish or Muslim - chaplain as your boss? As a chaplain, you will definitely counsel people of other faiths, or no religious affiliation. Most people will look at you as a spiritual person, a chaplain, whether they are Christian or Wiccan (which there are many of in the military). This also means encountering Buddhists from traditions different from your own, even ones you may personally disagree with. However, your purpose as a chaplain is to provide for the free exercise of religion - it is not to convince a Soka Gakkai Buddhist that his/her teaching is false and that Theravada Buddhism is the real deal, or vice versa, for example. You may have disagreements but you may not try to convert or proselytize yourself, anymore than it is ethical for Christian chaplains to try to convert the Buddhists in their command. Military chaplaincy is genuine interfaith work. In addition, being a military chaplain means working IN a military environment, not outside of it. Living in a military environment 24/7 means participating in the culture and camaraderie of military life, as well as dealing with the annoying illogicities that also are part of military life! As a military officer also, you support the mission of your command.

Again, these requirements are NOT established by the Buddhist Churches of America, but by the Department of Defense. There aren't any special exemptions for Buddhists; these are guidelines that Christian, Jewish, and Muslim chaplain applicants also have to follow. For anyone who meets these requirements and would like to apply to become a chaplain, the first step would be to contact a chaplain recruiter, which can be done by going to one of these sites.

Navy/Marines/Coast Guard:
Air Force:

Monday, July 21, 2008

Letting Go of Unnecessary Attachments

[This is a copy of an article I wrote for our ship's Ombudsman newsletter and the NW Navigator, a regional Navy chaplain publication]

There is an old Zen story about two traveling monks who were preparing to cross a shallow river. A young and beautiful woman was also traveling in the same direction, but she was in tears because she had injured her foot, and no one was willing to help her across the muddy and rocky riverbed. The older of the two monks said, “I am willing to help you across the river.” Picking her up in his arms, they crossed the river safely; the monk set her down, and the young woman thanked him with a smile and went on her way. The younger monk was shocked that his master had carried the woman across, since as a monk he was not supposed to even touch women. Although he said nothing at first, the incident kept replaying itself in his mind throughout their day’s journey until they reached their destination, the monastery. Finally the young monk could not bear it any longer and blurted out, “Master, why did you do that at the river?”
The older monk replied, “Oh, you mean that woman? I put her down a long time ago. Are you still carrying her?”

The moral of the story is that we sometimes we dwell unnecessarily on things that belong in the past. Whether they are positive or negative actions, we can develop unhealthy attachments to them that eventually hurt our lives in the present. We think too much about how we were wronged by others, which may turn into long-standing grudges, or we think about past accomplishments too much, which then turn into “resting on our laurels.” Another moral is that we can also worry excessively about how our actions may look to others, even if it has good results; we think, “What will others say? What will they think of me now?” This may cause such worries that we forget the original intent of our act, and become discouraged from doing anything that may cause such worries.

All these worries cause stress and depression in our modern society. Often, we try to forget our worries through self-medication, or alcohol, or other diversions, but ultimately they only provide temporary relief. However much we try to forget unpleasant things, they always come back to remind us. The best way to relieve our pain doesn’t lie in the act of forgetting but rather in the act of letting-go. Others may define this as forgiveness, or we may also call it letting go of attachments. Much like cleaning out the garage and home of unwanted and unnecessary material clutter, we need to clean out our emotional and mental home of unneeded burdens that only serve to create obstructions.

Whenever we volunteer our help to others, we should also remember that volunteerism should be done out of true selflessness, a genuine will to assist others. We may like to be recognized and commended for our volunteerism, but like the old and wise monk in the Zen tale, our help may be misunderstood as only ego-serving. If help is given from a sincere heart, we accomplish the goal, and then we move on to the next mission. We may like to keep carrying the burden, but we will need to let it go one day!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Just Your Average Airplane Conversation

I would like to share a recent experience I had returning from a vacation in Arizona. As I sat on the last leg of the flight to D.C., I had a window seat next to a woman who glanced over at my left wrist containing sandalwood mala beads. After the third time of glancing, I looked at her, made eye contact, and smiled. This gesture definitely broke the ice. She then proceeded to ask me what the bracelet meant. I told her they are prayer beads. She replied, “I am a devote Roman Catholic and I collect rosaries from all over the world. What kind of prayer beads are those?” I stated they are Buddhist prayer beads. I bought them in Hawaii at the Honolulu Dharma Center when I was in the military. Somewhat shocked by my answer, she asked, “I thought Buddhism was a peaceful religion. Pretty strange to have a pacifist go to war.” I quickly replied, “Well if more Buddhists went to war then I guess there would be no need to fight over anything and then there would be no wars and everyone would be happy!”
We both joined each other in laughter.

After a short moment of silence, we were served our meals. When I was asked by the flight attendant if I wanted chicken or beef, I responded chicken. My fellow flight mate could not resist to make another comment about my choice. She said, “How can you be a REAL Buddhist if you eat meat?” I could tell this was the beginning of a long conversation in which would occupy the rest of the flight; but I gladly accepted. I love conversing with people on anything from philosophy to different cultures. I responded that not all Buddhists are vegetarian. In fact, throughout Tibet, a devote Buddhist country, their diet consists mainly of meat coming from Yak, milk, and other high protein foods such as chicken and sheep. By her expression, she thought this was interesting. I followed by saying that I always say a short prayer before eating meat so it tastes that much better! After smiling at my humorous nature, She then asked, “What makes you a Buddhist?” I answered, well I was hoping you could tell me because I’m a meat eater that served 10 years in the military and I don’t fit your description of what you think a Buddhist should be.

While enjoying our lunch meal, I begin to dive deeper into explaining my view of Buddha nature. What mainly makes an individual a Buddhist would be accepting the four truths. Meaning that life involves affliction, one should live to rid oneself of attachment, the cessation of anguish is attainable, and the way to end suffering is through the Noble Eightfold path. She said “Well basically your saying that life is filled with pain, so don’t attach yourself to anything, just accept it and you will rid yourself of suffering? Well, that doesn’t seem that hard.” I responded well either are the Ten Commandments but many practitioners have issues with them also. “So the Eight Noble thing is like the Commandments?” she asked. I said, Well that is a lesson for another flight. I’m getting off in D.C. so maybe the next time we sit together on some other flight you’ll get an answer. We laughed again.

Actually the Noble Eightfold Path pertains to wisdom, personal conduct, and mind development. It focuses on having the correct view, intentions, speech, actions, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. She responded, “Interesting. How can a person have the right intentions or actions in the military?” I stated that being pure of heart and living towards cherishing all life is a prime universal concept. She said that if more people just followed that concept, then the world would be a better place. I stated that one doesn’t have to be a Buddhist to believe that. She added that her son is in Iraq right now and he was always curious about Buddhism. But being raised in a Roman Catholic Family, she steered him away from it. He started to meditate to clear his mind from dealing with the hardships of being in Iraq. She also mentioned that the next time she writes to her son, she will tell him about me. I stated to tell him that there is a Buddhist Chaplain in the Navy and soon there will be one in the Army. So not to worry, the Buddhist Community is well on its way to clearing up misconceptions and serving those Buddhists in the Military.

Thanks for allowing me to share!


Visit to HMAS Stuart

Hello all!
Recently I had the opportunity to cross-deck over to the HMAS Stuart, an Australian ship also here with us in the Persian Gulf. I was only there for a few hours as the guest of Chaplain Russell Smith, the Stuart's chaplain, but it was a great chance to see how another ship operated (the men have beards! the women can wear their hair down!) Also it was an opportunity to share the Buddha-dharma with some of the Stuart's sailors - Buddhism is one of the fastest-growing religions in Australia. Most knew about Buddhism through the Dalai Lama's books (especially "The Art of Happiness") so it was a good discussion.

I also regularly visit the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN72) carrier which we are attached to. Navy chaplains at sea usually cross-deck in what is called a "Holy Helo" meaning we get transported via helo to different ships in order to provide services and counseling, especially when it comes to providing different faith services. We have a good-sized active Buddhism study group; some are raised Buddhists in their families, or married into a Buddhist family, and others are simply curious about Buddha-dharma.

In both situations, there is a definite interest in Buddhism worldwide, and in what most people would probably think as most unlikely places - the warship. But Western militaries are drawn from cross-sections of its society, so it is really no surprise that Buddhists and those interested in Buddhism would turn up there! It also proves a need for more military Buddhist chaplains to provide services and instruction.

Namo Amida Butsu

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Welcome New Author to Buddhist Military Sangha!

Welcome to RP1(SW) Jerry Benson, currently stationed in the Norfolk, Virginia area. He is a U.S. Navy 1st Class Petty Officer who works as a Religious Program Specialist; they assist the Navy Chaplains. I have known RP1 for some time due to his interest in Jodo Shinshu and Japanese Buddhism, and hope that we will see some great contributions from him in the future.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Honor, Courage, Commitment: For Buddhists, Too?

Hello all!

It's been awhile since I've written a howa, and this topic will be about what we in the Navy cite as our Three Core Values: Honor, Courage, Commitment. These are required for every Sailor. I am writing about these today because I have recently been reminded of them in a couple of ways. Awhile back, I was at a chaplains' training conference and was in a discussion about these values, which had come up. I remember one chaplain stating clearly: "Unless you believe in God, how can you have Honor, Courage, and Commmitment?"

I was more recently reminded of this again when I encountered a Sailor who asked me if I had any salvia, or knew where to buy some. I said I had no idea what that was (I later found out it was a legal - as of this writing! - type of smokable herb). The guy then said, "You're Buddhist, right? Don't Buddhists get high during their services?"


Calmly (assuming he was for real), I explained, that no, Buddhists typically don't smoke anything during services (citing the precept against intoxicants!) and calmly sent him on his way out of my office. However, my mind was buzzing. Why would he assume that of Buddhists? Why not indeed, when almost every "head" shop or smoke shop sells those tacking-looking Buddha images (or other tchotkes) alongside bongs? So, why wouldn't a Christian think non-Christians have a problem with values, as many of them obviously believe that we are only a footstep away from crazy behavior? Don't they see that on E! all the time?

I am also reminded of something I read in the posthumously published autobiography, Combat Chaplain, by US Army Chaplain Israel Yost, who was a white Christian chaplain assigned to a segregated Japanese-American combat unit from Hawaii during WWII (I would like to take the time to review it more thoroughly later, since I don't have the book with me). In this book about his wartime service, he doesn't so much dwell on the religious identities of the soldiers as focus on how he could care for them: clearly, they were all equally important in his eyes (as should be for a military chaplain), but there was only one paragraph in the book where he mentions that some of his soldiers were Buddhist. He was complimenting one of his soldiers for something he did, and then was surprised when the soldier said he was Buddhist - this realization surprised him because as he had assumed, from knowing his good character, that the soldier was a Christian. The fact that Buddhists could possibly be of good and moral character is something that is just generally not assumed, perhaps.

Perhaps it is not as discussed as often as it should be, but the Buddhist teachings are implicitly concerned with morality and values. I am not speaking of a simple list of dos and donts and or-elses, but of what ought to be an acceptable standard of behavior, thought, and action. The Buddha at many times emphasized the importance of these, as a preliminary to even beginning to understand his teachings. Even if others do it, and get away with it (sometimes) should we? Are we accepting Buddha-dharma just because we think we can now do anything we want, unlike the Christians for example?

There is an interesting story that can be found in the Sumatidarika-pariprccha-sutra. Sumati, the daughter of one of the Buddha's great lay followers, the merchant Anathapindika, became married into a non-Buddhist family. The custom of her new family required an invitation to the wedding banquest of brahmin ascetics. These brahmins happened to be naked ascetics. Sumita's new family asked her to go out and greet them and pay respects, but she refused. Her father-in-law demanded to know why she refused, saying that these naked ascetics were wearing "clothes of Dharma." Sumita rejected this:

[Sumita said] 'To be naked cannot be being clothed in the clothes of the Dharma. My teacher, the World-Honored One, has taught that there are two things that are most sacred in this world. They are shame and modesty, and if these are lacking, the difference between mother and father, elder and younger brother, elder and younger sister, and among relatives will also be lacking. There would be no difference between oneself and a chicken or dog. These people here are without shame and modesty and are naked...How can I go and pay respect to them?' Her husband repeatedly tried to persuade her to go out and greet them, but she said that she would not fall into such a false doctrine even if they were to tear her from limb to limb; and thus she refused.

There are similar stories like these in the various sutras, all illustrating the point that as Buddhists we are guided towards living morally, and not expected to simply accept "anything goes" even if society allows it (maybe). Probably we are not in any danger of being forced to give offerings to naked ascetics, but at times we will be encouraged to do things we feel and know are not right, or even to assume that we are free to do whatever we want. But Buddha-dharma provides us with teachings to guide us away from harmful actions, towards living a truly blissful life. This attitude not common just to Buddhism, but in many other religions and philosophies today. Even though we may assume we are on the path to Enlightenment, we are still meant to be examples to others, as Sumita was, of what it means to truly live a moral life (the story later ends with Sumita eventually convincing her family to follow Buddha-dharma). We need honor to abide by what is proper, courage to live by it and demonstrate it to others , and commitment to keep to it and not simply be swayed by the "anything goes" mentality of samsara.

Honor-Courage-Commitment? Not a problem for Buddhists!
Namo Amida Butsu

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

US Warships to Leave Burma

[From today's New York Times (subscription req'd)]

June 3, 2008
U.S. Warships to Leave Myanmar After Aid Refused

Filed at 11:48 p.m. ET

BANGKOK (Reuters) - U.S. warships will soon leave waters near Myanmar after the ruling military junta refused permission for the delivery of aid supplies to the cyclone-stricken Irrawaddy delta, a top U.S. commander said on Wednesday.

Admiral Timothy Keating said the USS Essex group will sail away from the former Burma on Thursday but leave several heavy-lift helicopters in neighboring Thailand to assist in the relief effort.

"Should the Burmese rulers have a change of heart and request our full assistance for their suffering we are prepared to help," Keating, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, said in a statement.

Myanmar has been promised millions of dollars in aid from the United States, other governments and aid organizations.

But the junta has refused to allow the U.S. military to help distribute aid to affected areas, appearing due to fear that a large-scale international relief effort would loosen the grip the generals have held since a 1962 coup.

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej told visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Bangkok on Sunday that the junta had rejected foreign military help in delivered cyclone aid because it feared it could be seen as an invasion.

Keating said they had made 15 attempts over the past three weeks to convince the regime to allow in U.S. helicopters and landing craft, "but they have refused us each and every time."

The United States had delivered more than 2 million lbs of relief supplies on 106 airlifts to Myanmar since the first U.S. military aid flight on May 12, Keating said.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What path to choose?

Well it's been a while since I last posted. No excuses- Chaplain Shin is deployed on a ship and she posts all the time! First, I really enjoyed the Memorial Day articles. This tells me that Buddhists in the military are a much larger force than I thought.

I have been wrangling a lot lately over which "brand" of Buddhism I most identify with. As if I really have to belong to any one of the groups! I'm finding that once the Buddha's teachings left India way back in the day, they changed in all sorts of ways, possibly to fit the various cultures scattered across Asia. When I first seriously studied this path of life I was immersing myself in the Theraveda teachings, which is more or less the "original" words of the Buddha. I'm probably a little off on this. I met Chaplain Shin a few months back and she told me about her background in the Jodo Shinshu tradition, of which she is an ordained priest. Last week I attended a meditation session and service at the Vista Zen Center in north San Diego County. I had known a bit about Zen but wasn't too keen about it. I truly enjoyed my visit to the center and will be going back. Look at if you are ever in the area. There was a zazen meditation session, a Dharma talk and a service of which I had no idea what the purpose was (yet). I'll take a look at this stuff and post to this blog what I'm thinking.

I've found out that Buddhists all agree on the basic precepts, Eightfold Path and such. Exploring the various sects and traditions could take a while. San Diego County is very rich in Buddhism I'm finding out. I'm pretty lucky to be stationed here. I've been reading a book. It's called Hardcore Zen, Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth About Reality. It's a very straightforward, written in plain English, and really entertaining book. Written by an American living in Japan and who is an ordained Zen master. Amazon has it.

Until next time...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Those We Remember Today Include Buddhists

Those We Remember Today Include Buddhists

Memorial Day is set aside to honor Americans in the military who died in service to their country. Those so honored today include Buddhists. The photograph at right is of a Buddhist funeral at Arlington National Cemetery of a soldier killed in Iraq.

I do not know how many Buddhists are currently serving in the U.S. military. However, last year the Army began training its first Buddhist chaplain, Lt. Somya Malasri. According to Lt. Jeanette Shin, who blogs at Buddhist Military Sangha, during World War II the Buddhist Missions of North America petitioned the then-War Department to commission a Buddhist chaplain, but this request was denied. She says approximately half of the troops in World War II Japanese-American units such as the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Infantry were Buddhists.

Photo Caption: Buddhist Monk Thich Kien Khai prays in front of the casket of US Army Sgt. Yihiyh Chen at Arlington National Cemetery April 23, 2004. Sgt. Chen was killed in Baghdad.

Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Monday May 26, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

As Buddhists we are taught that death is an inevitable aspect of life, therefore we should not be surprised when death occurs. No matter our profession, or our skill or our knowledge, death comes to young and old alike. In Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, Rennyo Shonin (the "second founder of Shinshu Buddhism" who lived in the 1400s), composed a letter specifically addressing this - it is read during every funeral and memorial service. The text is below. May all beings be able hear the Dharma and take refuge in the Three Treasures.

In attentively contemplating the fleeting nature of life, nothing is more fleeting than our journey through this world. It is an all too short dream. Has anyone lived for 10,000 years? Life swiftly passes, and how many have lived for even a hundred years?

Whether I am first or whether others are first; whether it is to be today or whether it is to be tomorrow, who is to know? Those who are sent off before us are countless as the drops of dew.

Though in the morning we may be radiant with health, in the evening we may be of white ashes. When the winds of impermanence blow, our eyes are closed forever. And as we breath our last breath, our face loses its color. Our beloved ones gather and lament to no avail. The body is carried to an open field and disappears in smoke which smolders through the night, leaving only the white ashes. Is there any expression for such a sad plight?

The fragile nature of human life underlies both the young and old. We should therefore, all the sooner, turn our hearts to the singularly important matter of True Life. We should recite the Nembutsu upon having completely entrusted all that we are to the Buddha Amida.

In gratitude do we acknowledge these words...

Excerpted from Rites of Passage: Death, by Revs. Arthur Takemoto, Masao Kodani, and Russell Hamada, ISBN 0-912624-07-8

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Happy Vesak 2552!

Happy Vesak Day to all our Buddhists in uniform, wherever they may be in the world. May you be happy and well, and at peace.

"In the country of Magadha, til now, the impure teaching of people who were stained was expounded. World-Honored One, may you open the door of immortality. Like a man who stands atop the summit of a hill and surveys all that lies below, the wise one ascends to the palace of the Dharma and frees himself from sorrow. O Wise One, turn your eyes now to those who, drowning in sorrow, are overwhelmed by birth and old age. O Heroic One, conqueror in battles, leader of caravans, debtless one, begin your travels throughout the world. If the World-Honored One expounds the Dharma, surely there will be those who will attain Enlightenment."
-The god Brahma's entreaty to Buddha, Lalitavsitara

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Interview with US Army Buddhist Chaplain 2ndLT Somya Malasri

There's a nice interview w/Chaplain Malasri that UWest student and civilian chaplain Danny Fisher did on his blog. You can read the entire interview here:

Monday, May 12, 2008

Admiral Keating To Burma, Offer of 4000 Marines for Help

[From May 12 Washington Post]
U.S. Tries to Persuade Burma to Accept Aid
Military Offers to Deploy Up to 4,000 U.S. Marines

By Amy Kazmin and Howard Schneider
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 12, 2008; 1:14 PM

BANGKOK, May 12 -- The United States stepped up diplomatic efforts Monday to persuade Burma's reclusive ruling generals to accept American military help for struggling cyclone relief efforts, as a top U.S. admiral met his Burmese counterpart in the highest-level military talks between the two countries in decades.

Adm. Timothy J. Keating, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, and Henrietta H. Fore, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, arrived in Rangoon Monday from Thailand's U-Tapao air base on an unarmed American C-130 military cargo plane carrying about 14 tons of water, blankets, mosquito nets and other supplies for survivors of Cyclone Nargis.

The officials conducted what were described as "cordial" talks at the Rangoon airport with Vice Adm. Soe Thein, the Burmese naval chief, and other officials to discuss relief work and the potential of U.S. military forces to help.

The United States has offered to deploy up to 4,000 Marines, six C-130 planes and a large number of heavy-lift helicopters in what would be its largest disaster relief effort abroad since the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004. The United States could also have three naval ships, with helicopters on board, positioned off Burma's southwest coast within 48 hours.

Keating said he briefed the Burmese officials on the U.S. military's relief capabilities in the region. All that was missing, he said, was permission from the Burmese government for the United States to provide assistance.

"We have a broad array of personnel and equipment, and we are ready to respond as soon as the Burmese give us permission," Keating said. "We did not get that permission today," he added. "They will take it under advisement."

The Burmese authorities did clear two more C-130 relief flights, and Fore expressed hope for deepening cooperation as time goes on.

"We left this morning with the hope that we could lay the groundwork for a broader U.S. assistance, and I believe our discussions were a good first step," she said.

No new commitments were made by the Burmese government during the roughly two hours that U.S. officials spent on the ground, never leaving the Rangoon airport. Fore announced that the United States had pledged an additional $13 million toward the relief efforts, bringing the U.S. total to $16.25 million. She said there would be two more American aid flights Tuesday, both previously scheduled.

Burma's military rulers are highly wary of Western governments, and especially of Washington. President Bush has previously called Burma "an outpost of tyranny," and the generals have accused Washington of trying to overthrow them by supporting Burmese dissidents, both inside and outside the country.

The U.S. diplomatic offensive comes as Western governments are retreating from talk of invoking a "right to protect" and trying to deliver aid directly to cyclone survivors, with or without clearance from Burmese authorities.

While the pace of relief flights into Rangoon airport is accelerating, U.N. agencies say that major logistical bottlenecks are still hampering the distribution of much-needed food, water and medicine to the stricken areas.

Military authorities are now sealing off the disaster zone to foreigners, who are being turned back at checkpoints on the roads. Transport is also in short supply, although the Burmese military is now using seven of its own helicopters to ferry supplies from the airport into the affected areas.

Terje Skavdal of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said United Nations agencies are also urging Burma's neighbors "to influence the situation" and try to secure greater access for international aid workers, including logistics experts. The World Food Program said it is not even able to deliver 20 percent of the estimated 375 tons of food needed in the area each day.

Burmese authorities, meanwhile, announced that the confirmed death toll has risen to nearly 32,000, with nearly 30,000 other people still missing. U.S. and U.N. officials have said the death toll ultimately could reach 100,000.

Earlier, international officials warned that conditions in the disaster zone could worsen dramatically in the days ahead.

As survivors of Nargis poured out of the devastated Irrawaddy Delta into regional towns in search of water, food and other help, the British charity Oxfam on Sunday warned that an estimated 1.5 million Burmese are on the brink of a "massive public health catastrophe."

Burma is facing a "perfect storm" of conditions that could lead to an outbreak of waterborne disease, said Sarah Ireland, Oxfam's regional director.

"The ponds are full of dead bodies, the wells have saline water, and even things like a bucket are in scarce supply," Ireland said.

The struggling relief efforts suffered another setback when a boat ferrying rice, drinking water, clothing and other aid sank in the delta early Sunday, apparently after hitting a submerged tree, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

Residents were able to salvage some of the supplies, meant for more than 1,000 survivors, but river water contaminated the food, the organization said. All of those aboard made it safely to land. The boat was carrying one of the first international aid shipments.

"This is a great loss," said Aung Kyaw Htut, who is supervising the distribution effort. "This would have been our very first river shipment, and it will delay aid for a further day."

The cyclone and powerful tidal sea surge ripped across the low-lying delta a week ago.

With conditions in the delta increasingly desperate, survivors began besieging small towns, searching for help. In the town of Laputta, which lost 85 percent of its buildings, about 28 makeshift camps have sprung up. But supplies are limited.

The World Food Program, which on Friday accused authorities of impounding planeloads of emergency food, said cargo and materials sent since then had been released and sent to disaster zones. The International Committee of the Red Cross also sent a planeload of supplies Sunday, including body bags.

Yet a week on, most survivors have not yet received any help, because of the lack of supplies and logistical difficulties.

"Beyond the main arterial roads, it's a massive challenge, not only because the floodwaters are still there, but also because even when they are not, it's extremely difficult to navigate," said Marcus Prior, a WFP spokesman.

The Burmese army insists that it can manage the massive relief operation and has rebuffed offers from the United States, its longtime critic, and countries in the region for military assistance to distribute aid.

But for years, Burma's military has struggled to feed its own. Vegetables are often grown alongside the runways of army airfields, and chicken coops are usually kept behind barracks across the country, which the ruling junta calls Myanmar. Troops in far-flung places have long been ordered to "live off the land" because the army command has been unable to reliably supply its 400,000-member force with the food it needs.

"The logistical system in Burma is so shaky that in the 1990s, they told regional commanders and bases outside Rangoon [the country's main city] that they had to take care of their own logistics" for basic needs, said a Western analyst who has studied Burma's military.

Military analysts warn that Burma's army has neither adequate equipment nor training to cope with the crisis, and its insistence on going it alone -- or through its own "strenuous labor" as state media call it -- could cost many lives.

"Disaster relief operations, like any military operation, require training, practice and equipment," said Robert Karniol, a regional defense writer. "Even if they were well practiced, they would have difficulties responding because of the scale."

Humanitarian groups are reluctant to cooperate with foreign militaries in disaster response. But the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan showed how foreign militaries could use specialized transportation equipment to move large quantities of supplies to hard-to-reach areas.

The Irrawaddy Delta presents the type of logistical challenge best suited for military hardware. Vast areas remain submerged, accessible only by boat or helicopter, and the region's ports are inaccessible to civilian ships as a result of the damage.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Buddhist Military Sangha Wins 2008 Blogisattva Award!

This site has won something called a Blogisattva Award! Apparently every year there's a contest among various Buddhist-oriented blogs, which there must be tons, I imagine. Somebody (it certainly wasn't me) nominated the site for "Best Niche Blog, Unusual-Function Blog, Blog Service, or a Serial within a Blog" (I wonder how many other blogs were up for that one)?? I am not sure what exactly the prize is for something like that, but if it helps to spread Buddha-dharma and the message of this blog, then let's take a twirl down the aisle! The link where I found this information is at
Namo Amida Butsu

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

President Bush Offers Relief, US Navy Units to Burma

(From Washington Post article 5/7/2008
60,000 Dead or Missing in Burma
Bush Offers Navy Units, Criticizes Junta as Storm Aid Begins to Reach Rangoon

By Amy Kazmin
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 7, 2008; A01

BANGKOK, May 6 -- The number of dead and missing in the Burma cyclone soared past 60,000 Tuesday amid signs the toll will rise even higher, as much of the disaster zone remained flooded by seawater, threatened by disease and out of reach of an international relief operation that is taking shape.

President Bush offered to send U.S. Navy units to help in the operation, and sharply criticized Burma's military-run government for delays in approving visas for emergency teams. Burmese dissident groups took issue with the timing of the administration's criticism, suggesting it could complicate the relief effort.

Emergency supplies began arriving by air in wind-battered Rangoon, the largest city in Burma. But little or no aid reached the Irrawaddy Delta, a vast and low-lying rice-producing region that absorbed the storm's worst fury. Satellite photos showed catastrophic flooding of fields and villages as far inland as 35 miles.

A tidal wave that accompanied the cyclone was more deadly than the winds, Minister for Relief and Resettlement Maung Maung Swe told reporters in Rangoon. "The wave was up to 12 feet high, and it swept away and inundated half the houses in low-lying villages," he said. "They did not have anywhere to flee."

Speaking at a brief ceremony in the Oval Office to honor Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's detained democracy advocate, Bush said: "Our message to the military rulers is, 'Let the U.S. come and help you help the people.' "

"We're prepared to help move U.S. Navy assets to help find those who have lost their lives, to help find the missing and to help stabilize the situation," Bush said. Two Navy ships are conducting disaster response exercises two days' sailing from the storm-ravaged area.

The United States also offered $3 million in emergency aid Tuesday, up from $250,000 pledged on Monday. In addition, the Treasury Department loosened restrictions on charity groups to allow them to go into Burma without prior U.S. permission.

The president's statement came shortly after Burma's state television reported that 22,000 people had been killed and more than 40,000 people rendered missing by Tropical Cyclone Nargis, which smacked into the country over the weekend. An estimated 1 million survivors are said to be in urgent need of relief supplies, notably in the delta.

Packing winds of about 120 mph, Nargis was the deadliest cyclone to strike in Asia since a 1991 storm killed 143,000 in Bangladesh.

"When you look at the satellite picture of before and after the storm, the effects look even worse than Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in how it inundated low-lying areas," Ken Reeves, director of forecasting operations for, said in a statement. "It took the worst possible path in terms of sustaining strength. . . . The interaction of water and land lying right at sea level allowed the tidal surge to deliver maximum penetration of seawater over land."

Relief supplies from India, Thailand and other Asian neighbors have begun to arrive in Burma. A Royal Thai Air Force C-130 transport plane landed in Rangoon on Tuesday carrying bottled water, emergency meals and other badly needed items.

Richard Horsey, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that while the Burmese military has made some helicopters and boats available, far more transportation, including trucks and boats, will be needed. "The major bottleneck will be the local delivery, rather than getting stuff into the Rangoon airport," Horsey said. "We need distribution channels."

In New York, Rashid Khalikov, director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said storm victims need plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, water purification and cooking kits, and food. He expressed concern as well over a possible spike in waterborne diseases and spiraling costs of food and other commodities.

U.N. relief officials in Burma are scrambling to make do with poor communications equipment and limited supplies stored in U.N. warehouses, Khalikov said. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees was trying to transport supplies across the Thai border into Burma.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other senior U.N. officials have been privately trying to nudge the Burmese leadership to waive its visa policies, ease restrictions on the import of humanitarian supplies and allow a U.N. assessment team into the country to determine the extent of destruction and need. "We have applied for visas, and we have not got the visas," Khalikov said. "They are on standby and ready to go."

He noted that Tuesday was a holiday in Thailand, so the Burmese Embassy there was closed. It also was unfamiliar with U.N. operating practices, he said: "I'm not trying to justify it, but I would not go into saying that it was absolutely shocking or unacceptable" that the Burmese weren't issuing visas to the relief workers.

The American Red Cross has shipped supplies such as kitchen sets, plastic sheeting and hygiene kits from its warehouse in Malaysia to Burma. The U.S. disaster relief charity is waiting to hear from aid workers on the ground assessing the damage and expects to help Burma pay for more supplies.

With the magnitude of the disaster growing more apparent, the government said Tuesday that it would postpone a vote on a new military-sponsored constitution in the storm-ravaged areas until May 24. But the charter, which opposition figures have denounced as a tool to legitimize military rule, will be put to a vote as scheduled on Saturday in the rest of the country.

The reclusive rulers of Burma -- which they call Myanmar -- are mistrustful of the outside world's intentions. They are also resented by millions of their own citizens following a bloody crackdown on a democracy movement last September. Now, the storm is forcing them to make uncomfortable choices at a sensitive political moment.

With the number of dead and missing soaring, the generals have dropped their usual theme that Burma must be self-reliant and have requested international help.

Foreign governments, including Western countries that usually spurn the generals as pariahs, have responded to the rare appeal with offers that could presage the largest foreign engagement with Burma in its troubled history since it achieved independence from Britain in 1948.

"There is a real potential for this to be a game-changing moment," said Sean Turnell, a professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and editor of Burma Economic Watch. He noted foreign offers to help Indonesia after its Aceh province was devastated in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. "After the tsunami, the whole conversation changed," he said. The U.S. Navy helped with the effort in Aceh.

Some analysts praised the tough talk against the junta by Bush and, on Monday, by first lady Laura Bush, who said the military government had failed to issue a timely warning to people in the storm's path.

"It's hard to speak honestly about what's happened without pointing to the fact that the government is responsible for a large part of this disaster," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "Burma's willingness or unwillingness to accept . . . aid won't have anything to do with whether they are offended by the first lady."

But exiled Burmese political analyst Aung Naing Oo, who fled Burma in 1988 and is now based in Thailand, labeled Laura Bush's attack as "totally and utterly inappropriate."

"She is trying to score political points out of people's disaster," he said. "That will clearly not go down well with anyone in Burma. This is about humanitarian issues -- people are dying. This is a time for the U.S. government to say, 'We are giving you money.' They don't need to score political points here."

Ye Htut, a Burmese government spokesman, also accused the first lady of politicizing the tragedy. "I would like to say that what we are doing is better than the Bush administration response to the Katrina storm in 2005, if you compare the resources of the two countries," he told reporters.

He said the government issued a cyclone warning two days before the storm struck.

In this environment of hostility, the prospect for effective and timely cooperation between the junta and Western governments -- let alone U.S. military personnel deploying on the ground -- remains uncertain.

"At one level, the regime worries that events could move out of their control if they let in Western aid groups, and lose that really tight control that they have had," Turnell said. "But they must also be extraordinarily mindful of the potential that this could cause unrest in the country," he said. "People are already jumping onto the fact that the army was out on the streets so quickly in September and asking, 'Where are they now?' "

Thant Myint-U, a Burmese historian and former U.N. official, said that "the problem is that everything, including aid, has been politicized, with suspicions on all sides." But he noted that "if in response to this tragedy, the aid community and the Burmese authorities can work well together, keep politics entirely away and show that effective and impartial aid delivery is possible, I think that would be a great step forward."

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Visit to Singapore Buddhist Meditation Center

The city-state of Singapore is a beautiful place to visit, and is one of the many ports that the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet ships may stop at for a little R&R. It has many diverse cultures and religions peacefully co-existing; you can find all kinds of places of worship there. There are many, many Buddhist temples there, belonging to many different schools.

Recently during a liberty port visit to Singapore, I had the privilege of visiting the Buddhist Meditation Center. I was invited to visit by the Venerable Weragoda Sarada Maha Thero, the Chief Prelate of Singapore. He is the religious director of the Center; its mission is the worldwide dissemination of Buddha-Dharma through publication of many English-language books and sermons. This is a very important endeavor.

Together with a hardy Petty Officer from my ship, we were treated to a vegetarian lunch and a tour around Singapore, culminating with a visit to Singapore's largest Buddhist temple, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. It is a beautiful four-story Chinese-style temple, mostly decorated in the traditional colors of red and gold, housing many beautiful Buddhist images, and a museum and cafe. On the fourth floor is the Sacred Tooth relic itself, housed in a 500-lb solid gold(!) reliquary behind bulletproof glass. Unfortunately, we could not take photographs, but it was a blessing to see the relic as close as we did! We met several of the staff of the temple, and discovered how hard they worked to provide such an impressive place for Buddhist devotees.

Ven. Weragoda Sarada Maha Thero generously provided many Buddhist books for us to take away with us; some have already been distributed among Sailors interested in Buddhism in our carrier group. If you are making a port visit to Singapore, definitely take the time to visit the Center, and also take time to visit the Sacred Tooth Relic Temple. It's one of Singapore's major attractions. You can also find a link to Buddhist Meditation Center's directions and selection of books on the left of this page. My thanks and gratitude to the Venerable Weragoda Sarada Maha Thero for making this port visit so memorable.
Namo Amida Butsu

Singapore Buddhist Meditation Center
No. 1, Jalan Mas Puteh
Singapore 128607

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
288 South Bridge Road
Singapore, 058840

Monday, April 14, 2008

Spiritual Wounds of War Conference

There will be a special workshop on ministering to wounded warriors and their families, entitled "Spiritual Wounds of War: Healing Ministry in the Face of Persistent Combat." The guest speaker will be Dr. Jonathan Shay, author of "Achilles in Vietnam" and "Odysseus in America." There will be additional speakers including military personnel willing to share how their experiences have shaped their spirituality. The workshop will be on MAY 15, 2008, 8:30AM to 1:30 PM, at the Miramar Officers Club, Marine Corps Air Station, Building 4472 Anderson Avenue (this is San Diego area). Registration is $25.00, deadline is MAY 5. Make checks out to "Military Chaplains Association" and send to: Wayne Hoffman, 662 Margarita Avenue, Coronado, CA, 92118. Attendees can be clergy, community leaders, health care providers, counselors, social workers, and anyone with a professional interest in spiritual healing and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Saturday, April 5, 2008

PBS Series: Carrier

PBS will air a new 10-part documentary series about life aboard the USS Nimitz from April 27 - May 10. The official link to the Web site is: and the description about the series from the site is:

"CARRIER, a 10-part series filmed aboard the USS Nimitz, is a character-driven immersion in the high-stakes world of a nuclear aircraft carrier. The programs follow a core group of film participants, from the admiral of the strike group to the fighter pilots to the youngest sailors, as they navigate personal conflicts around their jobs, families, faith, patriotism, love, the rites of passage and the war on terror."

I won't be able to view this, but would like to know how the filmmakers will treat the topic of "faith" and if they will show any religious diversity among the crew.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Marines and Yoga!

Here is a very interesting article on yoga (looks like they are also doing a little meditation!) offered for Marines and their spouses at Camp Pendleton, California:,2933,344991,00.html

To give some background, these types of programs are offered through the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps' Spiritual Fitness Division (also formerly known as CREDO). These are available also to Navy and Coast Guard personnel. They do not cost anything to the participants. It's a positive note to see how these beneficial practices are helping our warriors and their families!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Welcome New Author to Buddhist Military Sangha!

Hello all!

Welcome to Jeff Baker, our newest contributor. Jeff is a retired U.S. Air Force pilot and Vietnam veteran, he is also a student of Buddhist meditation. Looking forward to your insights!
Namo Amida Butsu

Thursday, March 20, 2008

5 Years On

Hello all!

As I'm sitting somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I would like to take the time to reflect on the current status of Buddhists in the armed forces. There are no exact numbers of how many Buddhists are now serving, but what is undeniable is that Buddhists of all traditions - Mahayana, Theravada, and Vajrayana - have served and also have given their lives in the service of their country. Perhaps only gradually during the past five years have the rest of our American population noticed that our military is made up of incredibly diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. It is finally time to bury the stereotype of the armed forces as an "all-Christian" organization, which really only ever existed in the fantasies of certain fundamentalists. It is also time not only to reflect on the fact that 5 years on into the GWOT the mission is still unfinished, but also that our Buddhist servicemembers must be recognized and supported. It is part of the development of American Buddhism, however we may define that, that Buddhists are truly members of American society, not a "fringe" or a "fad" that can be readily dismissed. Around the world Buddhists continue to struggle for freedom. Let our voices in the military be heard also! Support your Sangha members who are now serving, or who have served. Find out how you can support them. Don't be afraid to support them!
Namo Amida Butsu

Friday, March 14, 2008

Deaths reported in Tibet protests

I am very concerned for the Tibetans in regards to human rights.
Something needs to be done to address the situation between China and Tibet.
With the Olympics set in China to commence in August,
the timing is quite forthcoming.
As H.H. the Dalai Lama always suggests, actions should be in a non-violent manner.

Truth Shall Always Prevail,
~ Rocco Blais

Deaths reported in Tibet protests

Clashes between protesters and security forces in Tibet's main city of Lhasa have left at least two people dead, according to reports.

An emergency official told AFP news agency that many people had been hurt and an unspecified number had died.
The US-based Radio Free Asia quoted witnesses who said they had seen at least two bodies on Lhasa's streets.
Rallies have continued all week in what are said to be the largest protests against Beijing's rule in 20 years.
British journalist James Miles, in Lhasa, told the BBC that rioters had taken control of the city centre.

"Some of them are still attacking Chinese properties - shops, restaurants, owned by ethnic Chinese," he said.

"Some of them are looting those shops, taking out the contents and throwing them on huge fires which they've lit in the street."
Another eyewitness said there were tanks on the street and he had seen people being carried away on stretchers.

Dalai Lama concerned
Radio Free Asia, which is funded by the US government, quoted one Lhasa resident as saying: "[The rioters] ransacked Chinese shops and the police fired live ammunition into the crowd. No-one is allowed to move around in Lhasa now."

The rallies began earlier this week when a number of Buddhist monks were reportedly arrested after a march marking the 49th anniversary of a Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.
Hundreds of monks took to the streets to demand their release. The protests have gathered momentum over the past four days and campaign groups say ordinary people are now involved.
The Dalai Lama, who heads Tibet's government-in-exile in India, released a statement expressing deep concern.
He called on the Chinese leadership to "stop using force and address the long-simmering resentment of the Tibetan people through dialogue with the Tibetan people."
He added: "I also urge my fellow Tibetans not to resort to violence."
Unrest has spread to other areas of Tibet and neighbouring provinces. There are reports of hundreds of monks rallying in Gansu.
The situation is causing concern among Western governments - with senior US and UK officials urging both sides to show restraint.
China says Tibet has always been part of its territory - though Tibet enjoyed long periods of autonomy before the 20th Century and many Tibetans remain loyal to the Dalai Lama, who fled in 1959.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Deployment 2008

Hello all!
My posts on this blog may become a little more infrequent as I will be deploying with my ship very soon! I will try to post some interesting news and observations during that time (OPSEC-applicable of course!) and hopefully there will be additional posts by our other blog contributors.
Namo Amida Butsu

Friday, March 7, 2008

2008 Operation Purple Summer Camps for Military Children

The National Military Family Association (NMFA) is excited to announce locations for the 2008 Operation Purple Summer Camps. This FREE summer camp program was developed by NMFA to support military children dealing with the stress of war.

This year NMFA’s Operation Purple Camps will host children at 64 locations in 36 states and territories: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the Virgin Islands.

Information about specific camp locations is available on our website at Specific camp information will be available when registration opens. Registration begins March 24th. Interested families can sign-up to receive email notices and announcements on the website. Each camp is “purple” and open to children of any member of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plus the National Guard and Reserve. Camps are free to all participants thanks to a partnership with the Sierra Club and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

U.S. Religious Landscape Survey

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has recently published a survey on Americans' religious affiliations. This survey also included Buddhists. One of its findings, widely reported in the mainstream media this week, is that Americans are more frequently leaving their families' faith affiliations for other denominations or faiths, and are actively exploring becoming members of other religious traditions, or secularized or unaffiliated. I have noticed that this also seems to be true of our American military population.

To read the full report, click on this link:

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Chaps' Dharma Talk: "Advance Towards the Pure Land, Retreat Into Hell!" - The Ikko Ikki

Hello all!
This third post in my series on warrior Buddhists will draw from the history of the school I belong to, the Jodo Shinshu, or literally in English the "True Pure Land School." Our head temple, the Nishi-Hongwanji ("Western Temple of the Original Vow"), is located in Kyoto, Japan, and the North American district or kyodan is known as the Buddhist Churches of America, or BCA.

First, let's think about even the name of this school. What does it imply, the word "true"? Jodo Shinshu is an "exclusivist" teaching, in the sense that it explicitly rejects Shinto practices (and is now interpreted to include things like fortune-telling, belief in ghosts and spirits and other "superstitions"), but also rejects what can be considered very traditional Buddhist practices, like meditation. This may come as a surprise to those who assume Buddhism is inclusive, which it generally is as a whole (for example there are Buddhists who also practice elements of Shinto, Taoism, and Buddhists who also consider themselves Christian, Jewish, etc.), but Japanese Buddhism developed strict divisions over what was considered "true" practice versus everything else, or heterodox practice. This doctrinal development is too long and complex to discuss in depth in this particular post, so the major point to remember here is that the many schools of Japanese Buddhism developed distinct sectarian differences from each other, which means that today you will typically not see Zen-style zazen practice in Jodo Shinshu temples (although now some temples do offer a basic type of meditation practice), or vice versa, and there are also different types of practices within Zen (Rinzai, Soto, Obaku), Jodo Shinshu, Nichirenshu, and so on. Jodo Shinshu tends to be strictly confined to recitation of the nembutsu, which is the recitation of Namo Amida Butsu or "I take refuge in the Amida Buddha." Similarly, the adherents of the Nichirenshu (the school of Nichiren), and Soka Gakkai focus exclusively on the teachings of Lotus Sutra, and they are the ones who recite Namo Myoho Renge Kyo. Depending on the individual of whatever school you may ask, they may not even recognize a person from the Jodo Shinshu, Zen, or Nichiren tradition, as even being a properly practicing Buddhist (whatever that means)!

Ikki in Japanese means a violent rebellion or uprising; these occurred sporadically throughout Japanese history up until the 19th-century, and were often associated with the peasant class. The type of ikki we are concerned with here are the ones associated with the Jodo Shinshu tradition belonging to the Hongwanji school. Ikko means "single-minded" and may have been the name of another Pure Land sect distinct from Jodo Shinshu, but which later merged into the latter, due to the immense missionary activities of Rennyo Shonin (1415-1499), considered as the "Second Founder" of the Jodo Shinshu tradition because of such activities, and also because under his leadership, Hongwanji became not only a major Buddhist school, distinct from other sects (until then it was considered part of the Tendai school), but also a political and a military power. "Single-minded" referred to the single or only practice of that school, which in this case was singular devotion to the Amida Buddha. Ikko Ikki, or "Leagues of the Single Minded" fought at various times against various daimyo (samurai warlords) and most spectacularly against one of the greatest daimyo of Japan's Warring States period, Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), who openly detested Buddhism, in particular the Buddhist temples' independence from government (i.e. warlord) control.

Ikko-ikki emerged at the beginning of the Warring States or Sengoku Period (and differed very much from later ikki of the Tokugawa period); in the case of Ikko-ikki they were not solely composed of peasants, but may have included more well-to-do townspeople, priests (like today, Jodo Shinshu priests were not monks) and also samurai, or people familiar with military tactics and strategy; Ikko-ikki were comprised of both foot soldiers and cavalry. They were temporary groups, appearing in different provinces, coming together for a specific grievance or issue and dissolving once that issue was settled or disappeared. ca Shonin did not create the Ikko-ikki, and even wrote against certain Ikko-ikki activities at various times, but made no effort to prevent them, and almost certainly used some of them for protection and certain advantages. Ikko-ikki were really uncontrollable, even to warlords, and of course, it was often the depredations, or perceived injustices, of the warlords that the Ikko-ikki fought against. The daimyo of Kaga Province was killed by Ikko-ikki in 1488 and the province ruled by the Ikko-ikki for nearly 100 years the only time prior to the modern Japanese era a province was not ruled by aristocrats or the samurai class.

By the time of the later Warring States period, the Ikko-ikki confronted Oda Nobunaga, who wanted the strategic area that was then occupied by the Ishiyama Hongwanji (now the present-day site of Osaka Castle), and was also intent on smashing the independence of the Buddhist institutions. Nobunaga and the Ikko-Ikki waged an 11-year conflict which left tens of thousands dead on both sides (the destruction of the Nagashima Hongwanji was especially destructive, with approximately 40,000 killed), and was only ended when the Imperial Court in Kyoto intervened, and Hongwanji gave up the Ishiyama location. It was lated relocated to its present site in Kyoto, and then split into Nishi ("Western") and Higashi ("Eastern") Hongwanji to curb its power. The split remains to this day. Oda Nobunaga, of course, has a bad reputation in the Jodo Shinshu histories! More on him later.

Why did the Ikko-Ikki fight? Historians have debated this there does not seem to be a conclusive answer. Most likely, there is no single "answer" but a multitude of reasons, religion being only one of them. But because a religious element was involved, we cannot discount the power of religion, Buddhism in this case, to inspire people to fight, whether for their way of life, freedom of practice, safety of their families, economic benefits, political power, and so on. One of the "battle flags" of the Ikko-ikki was inscribed "Advance into the Pure Land, Retreat into Hell!" (the image above) thereby suggesting, if not a literal interpretation of what would happen in battle, at least the concept of singular devotion to Amida Buddha on behalf of the fighter. Belonging to an ikki reinforced or contributed to a certain religious identity whether it was Ikko or its counterpart, the Hokke or the "Lotus Leagues" (which deserves its own discussion so I haven't gone into that here). We also cannot discount the possibility of belief in an exclusvist or rigid doctrine (the only "true" doctrine!), as Jodo Shinshu was in those times, to inspire people to incredible acts. We can also see examples of this during and after the West's Protestant Reformation with its millennarian Christian sects, and of course, today.

Buddhists on this occassion did fight on behalf of school allegiances and to preserve their temples, the physical construct and the community to which it belonged, and maybe something like independence, although after the Tokugawa period began, this history became rather problematic for later Hongwanji scholars, for obvious reasons; it still seems within the Jodo Shinshu tradition itself, that the Ikko-ikki is still something of a "taboo" topic; in a 1960s(early 70s?)-era BCA book entited Young Peoples' Introduction to Buddhism, meant for BCA Boy Scouts, there is only an extremely vague reference to "soldier-clerics," whose power "was not exercised on behalf of religious convictions," or in other words they had nothing to do with Jodo Shinshu or Buddhism. Now, however, the history of the Ikko-ikki is more accessible, and should also be discussed, just as the topic of Buddhists in the armed forces, Buddhist concepts of "just war," Buddhism and violence, should be seriously addressed and not forgotten or glossed over as aberrations, a glitch in time.

There is also a gatha, or hymn, that is sung in many Jodo Shinshu temples, both in Japan and here in America, called Ondukusan, inspired by one of Shinran Shonin's verses (Shozomatsu Wasan). It is unlikely that it had anything to do with the Ikko-ikki, but its lyrics may echo some idea of the determination these Buddhists possessed to defend their way of life. Plus its a very nice melody. The English lyrics are:

“Such is the benevolence of Amida’s great compassion,
That we must strive to return it, even to the breaking of our bodies;
Such is the benevolence of the masters and true teachers,
That we must endeavor to repay it, even to our bones becoming dust.”

Namo Amida Butsu

War and Faith: Ikko Ikki in Late Muromachi Japan by Carol Richmond Tsang (2007, Harvard University Press)
Japanese Warrior Monks AD 949-1603 by Stephen Turnbull (Osprey)
Japanese Fortified Temples and Monasteries AD 710-1602 by Stephen Turnbull (Osprey)
(These texts specifically discuss aspects of Ikko-Ikki, and also information can be found in most history books about medieval Japan. The Osprey titles tend to conflate different kinds of ikki and the Tendaishu sohei all together as "warrior monks", which does not seem to be completely accurate, I think, but is still worth reading and has great illustrations)
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