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
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Buddhist Military Sangha by Jeanette Shin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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