Monday, September 28, 2009

Any Buddhists in Kansas?

Here's an article about chaplain shortage in the Kansas Army National Guard. There are chaplain shortages in almost every branch of the US Armed Forces, and it doesn't look like the need for chaplains will be diminishing in the foreseeable future (And if they can't get enough ministers to do "Bible Studies" then why not ministers to do "Dharma Studies?" There you go.) Buddhists contemplating chaplaincy with the Armed Forces, including their state National Guard, may be able to help alleviate the shortage. I expect that we will also need chaplains to work in the VA. Contact the Buddhist Churches of America (link on this page) to inquire about chaplain requirements!

Military struggles to find enough chaplains to minister to troops
By Associated Press
3:50 PM CDT, September 27, 2009
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Finding enough chaplains to minister to troops has become a difficult task.

The Kansas Army National Guard has only six of 15 chaplain slots filled — a vacancy rate that officials describe as typical of other units across the country.

The number is better in the Kansas Air National Guard, where four of six chaplain positions are filled.

The Kansas Army National Guard has attempted to address the shortage with a $10,000 sign-on bonus, $4,500 in tuition assistance and extending the age limit for new enlistees. But those efforts have done little to help so far.

And the approaching retirement of many chaplains promises to compound the problem in the future.


Information from: The Topeka Capital-Journal,

Friday, September 25, 2009

National Public Radio Interview with Chaplain Dyer

September 11, 2009
Thomas Dyer is preparing to deploy with the Tennessean National Guardsman as the Army's first Buddhist chaplain. Dyer, a former Southern Baptist minister, says he was drawn to Buddhism through meditation and explains how he will apply the principles of his faith as a spiritual counselor for the troops.

Copyright © 2009 National Public Radio®. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


As the country becomes more religiously diverse, so do U.S. soldiers. And the military is trying to accommodate by bringing on chaplains from a wider range of faiths.

We turn now to a chaplain, who is making history. Thomas Dyer, a member of the Tennessee National Guard will soon deploy with the Tennessee Guard as the military's first Buddhist chaplain. And Chaplain Dyer joins us now from member station WKNO in Memphis, Tennessee. Welcome, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. THOMAS DYER (Buddhist Chaplain, Tennessee Guards): Great, thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Now, your story is interesting, I think, for many reasons. Not only are you the military's first Buddhist chaplain; before that, you were a Southern Baptist minister, which turns out to be important to your current post - we'll get to that. Can you just tell us what drew you to Buddhism, recognizing that, of course, it's complicated and a complicated journey for anyone, but can you help us understand what drew you to the faith?

Mr. DYER: I think the journey begins with meditation. The idea of meditation is not to talk or interact with words but to just sit with God or Christ. In my pastorate as a Southern Baptist pastor, in my office, I would sit and meditate in this manner. As I began to interact with Zen Buddhism itself, pretty much like a homecoming, so to speak.

MARTIN: You know, it's a remarkable coming together of all your various lives, if I can put it that way. I mean, your family, your wife and your children have not embraced the same path as you. How is that working, if you don't mind my asking?

Mr. DYER: My wife and family are very committed Christians, and I support that. But you can imagine with great compassion how they would feel. But I've decided that this Buddhism is an individual path. So I support my family, my wife's Christian faith, and I help support raising our children in the Christian faith, as well.

MARTIN: How did the decision to become a chaplain come about? You had been in the Marine Reserves before you were a minister, as I understand it, so but then how did the decision to go into the Chaplain Corps come about?

Mr. DYER: So when I left the church, I was a little freer to do some things I wanted to do. So I went back into the National Guard. So from there, I was just practicing Buddhism very quietly, very privately and was very content to do that.

I did not even dream or expect that was has happened as far as becoming a chaplain would be something that I would be interested in. However, in my service, there were a lot of soldiers who were coming back from Iraq, and we would talk. And one specific soldier had a very bad incident that happened -and it's probably not necessary to go into all the details - but there was a small child that was killed, and it disturbed his mind very much, and he suffered very deeply.

As we had developed this friendship, I began to work with him with some meditations to help kind of calm the mind and calm the mind stream down. It seemed to help him very deeply. So he said, you know, you should be a chaplain. Of course, I laughed and said, you know, I do have the credentials. But I really don't think that would work because I'm a practicing Buddhist now.

And, of course, he shared with - that wouldn't matter, of course, with the pluralistic view of the Chaplain Corps. So he informed one of the commanders, and the commanders called a recruiter, and the recruiter called me and said, would you like to become an Army chaplain? And, of course, in our faith tradition, we have to go to our teacher and I asked for permission and things of that nature.

My teacher, who's a Tibetan monk, his name is Khenpo Gawang Rinpoche, thought that this would be a good path and could be a way to help relieve suffering in the world, specifically in the military with soldiers.

MARTIN: You begin intensive training later this month. And then in January, you'll go either to Iraq of Afghanistan, or you're expected to, as I understand it. How do you imagine your role as a chaplain?

Mr. DYER: The first thing that I think should be understood is that we are chaplains first. So it might be better to say instead of I am a Buddhist chaplain, it might be better to say I am a chaplain who is Buddhist. And we do many functions, such as post-traumatic stress counseling, crisis intervention, battle fatigue, suicide prevention, family counseling. And then beyond that, each chaplain who holds a certain faith distinction will then provide for a specific soldier or soldier's needs in their faith tradition.

MARTIN: And finally, I understand that the faith tradition doesn't - isn't really organized in such a way as to lend direction on these matters, but I wonder if there are those who belong to your faith tradition who believe that your faith principles are incompatible with military service and don't - and have expressed a view that you should not serve for that reason.

There are those, obviously, as you know, within the Christian tradition who believe that the taking up of arms is not compatible with the tradition, even though it is common. So I just wanted to know if you've heard any feedback from that perspective.

Mr. DYER: This is a very, very good and excellent question that needs to be addressed very clearly. There are lineages that teach that the absolute no-violent approach to life is just the way it is. But as a result of life as it is at the present moment, many Buddhists believe that dissipating in civil action is necessary.

The issue is, at present, is military service what we call right livelihood? Most Buddhist teachers are moving to say yes because the potential to do good and to protect is there. And it is not beneficial to not participate in civil action when peoples and nations around the world are suffering. It is something that has become necessary, we might say.

MARTIN: Chaplain Thomas Dyer. He'll begin training this month with the Tennessee National Guard's 278th Support Squadron as the military's first chaplain who is a Buddhist. Chaplain Dyer, thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. DYER: Thank you for having me.

Listen to the NPR interview here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Memphis Buddhists Prepare for Deployment

Ms. Naomi Bourne of Memphis, Tennessee, forwarded me her article and photo about several soldiers from her Sangha, who are preparing to deploy to Iraq. They are members of the Pema Karpo Meditation Center, which belongs to the Tibetan tradition.This group includes recently commissioned US Army Chaplain Thomas Dyer. Many blessings to them as they deploy!
Namo Amida Butsu

Memphis Buddhists Prepare for Deployment
by Naomi Bourne

Memphis, Tenn. 9/6/09

Three Tibetan Buddhists from Memphis will be heading off to military assignments with the Army later this month. John Hixson will be stationed in Afghanistan . Michael Boundy and Thomas Dyer, the first Buddhist chaplain in the Army, will be going to Iraq .
The soldiers practice at Pema Karpo Meditation Center (, located in an area of the city known as Raleigh . Khenpo Gawang Rinpoche, a graduate of Namdroling in India , is the teacher-in-residence. Sunday's session was lengthened and modified to include a Chod practice, which Khenpo chanted in Tibetan, accompanied by damaru and bell. After the dedication of merit, Khenpo gave each of the soldiers a spiral-bound practice text, with a thangka image of Shakyamuni on the cover.
After the session, Thomas Dyer spoke briefly to the civilian group, striving to convey a deeper understanding of what daily life will be like for John Hixson and Michael Boundy.
“These men will be carrying M-16s, and they will be locked and loaded,” Dyer said. “I will be in a comfortable office, but they will be walking around, and they will see things. Also, for the next year or so, they will be away from their wives.”
At that point, Candia Ludy, director of the center, stopped him to interject:
“Thomas may not carry a weapon, but there will be a soldier right next to him who will have one.”
The practice text that was given to the three soldiers was arranged by Khenpo and designed specifically for soldiers. It includes a blessing for protection, and for their safe return home. An introductory message examines the challenge of performing combat duties with mindfulness.
The group at Pema Karpo has grown in recent months. Around 30 individuals in this Bible Belt city call themselves Tibetan Buddhists. They spent several hours together Sunday afternoon taking photographs, enjoying a potluck meal, and deepening their friendships. The sangha will be practicing for the benefit of the soldiers they know – and those they don't know – for many weeks to come.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Another Article on Chaplain Dyer and Religious Diversity

Here's an article from The Tennessean on Chaplain Dyer; although the focus is mostly on religious diversity in the Armed Forces. I am puzzled by the author's remark a few paragraphs down that "Buddhism...doesn't have seminaries" (???) We have lots of seminaries! However, there is only a lack of Buddhist seminaries in the U.S. that offer what is known as "accredited" degrees, meaning they are vetted by an organization typically composed of higher-education schools and seminaries.
The article can be found here:

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Meditation for Warriors

Time magazine recently ran this article on the Warrior Mind Training form of mediation; based out of San Diego, California and now available throughout the U.S., this organization purports to teach a warrior mindset as a mental strengthening for military members. I am personally not familiar with this program, but would like to know if anyone reading this has attended their meditation classes and what they have learned. I am all for meditation to discipline the mind - I believe it is much better than playing violent video games, which I know for many young people is an accepted way of blowing of steam - however I am also curious as to how (originally) ancient and medieval systems may be taught in a 21st-century context, and also in a very different cultural and religious context as well. (I should note that on their web site, WMT does not state that they teach any kind of religion-based meditation, such as vipassana or Zen meditation, and that religion or spirituality does not appear to be mentioned, as far as I've looked).,8599,1920753,00.html
Samurai Mind Training for Modern American Warriors
By Bonnie Rochman
Not long ago at Fort Bragg, N.C., the country's largest military base, seven soldiers sat in a semi-circle, lights dimmed, eyes closed, two fingertips lightly pressed beneath their belly buttons to activate their "core." Electronic music thumped as the soldiers tried to silence their thoughts, the key to Warrior Mind Training, a form of meditation slowly making inroads on military bases across the country. "This is mental push-ups," Sarah Ernst told the weekly class she leads for soldiers at Fort Bragg. "There's a certain burn. It's a workout."

Think military and you think macho, not meditation, but that's about to change now that the Army intends to train its 1.1 million soldiers in the art of mental toughness. The Defense Department hopes that giving soldiers tools to fend off mental stress will toughen its troops at war and at home. It's the first time mental combat is being mandated on a large scale, but a few thousand soldiers who have participated in a voluntary program called Warrior Mind Training have already gotten a taste of how strengthening the mind is way different — dare we say harder? — than pounding out the push-ups.

Warrior Mind Training is the brainchild of Ernst and two friends, who were teaching meditation and mind-training in California. In 2005, a Marine attended a class in San Diego and suggested expanding onto military bases. Ernst and her colleagues researched the military mindset, consulting with veterans who had practiced meditation on the battlefield and back home. She also delved into the science behind mind training to analyze how meditation tactics could help treat — and maybe even help prevent — post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rooted in the ancient Samurai code of self-discipline, Warrior Mind Training draws on the image of the mythic Japanese fighter, an elite swordsman who honed his battle skills along with his mental precision. The premise? Razor-sharp attention plus razor-sharp marksmanship equals fearsome warrior.

The Samurai image was selected after careful deliberation; it was certifiably anti-sissy. "We took a long time to decide how we were going to package this," says Ernst, who moved to North Carolina in 2006 and teaches classes at Fort Bragg as well as Camp Lejeune, a Marine base near the coast. "There are a lot of ways you could describe the benefits of doing mind training and meditation. Maybe from a civilian approach we would emphasize cultivating happiness or peace. But that's not generally what a young soldier is interested in. They want to become the best warrior they can be."

The benefits of Warrior Mind Training, students have told instructors, are impressive: better aim on the shooting range, higher test scores, enhanced ability to handle combat stress and slip back into life at home. No comprehensive studies have been done, though a poll of 25 participants showed 70% said they felt better able to handle stressful situations and 65% had improved self-control.

The results were intriguing enough that Warrior Mind Training has been selected to participate in a University of Pittsburgh study on sleep disruption and fatigue in service members that will kick off early next year.

For now, success is measured anecdotally.

On patrol in Iraq two years ago, John Way would notice his mind straying. "Maybe I should be watching some guy over there and instead I'm thinking, 'I'm hungry. Where's my next Twinkie?'"

With privacy at a premium, he'd often retreat to a Port-A-Potty to practice the focusing skills he'd learned from Ernst at Fort Bragg. "To have a way to shut all this off is invaluable," says Way.

The importance of the mind-body connection is being acknowledged at the highest levels of the military. The West Point-based Army Center for Enhanced Performance (ACEP), which draws on performance psychology to teach soldiers how to build confidence, set goals and channel their energy, has expanded to nine army bases in the past three years since the Army's chief-of-staff praised the program.

"The Army has always believed if we just train 'em harder, the mental toughness will come," says Lorene Petta, a psychologist at Fort Bragg who works for ACEP. "A lot of times with this population, because they're so rough and tough, they tend to say, 'This is too touchy-feely for me. No thanks.' But we talk about the importance of being a good mental warrior too."

Free to members of the military and their relatives, Warrior Mind Training classes are offered at 11 U.S. military installations and veterans centers across the country; an online option opened up this spring. At Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in California, for example, Warrior Mind instructors prep elite Navy SEALS candidates for Hell Week, when potential newbies are vetted in a 5 ½-day sleepless trial of physical and mental endurance.

Beefing up the brain for combat is one aspect of the training; another is decompression. If one day you're dodging snipers in Iraq and the next you're strolling the aisles at Wal-Mart, Warrior Mind Training techniques can ease the transition.

"It's kind of like a reset button," says Erick Burgos, a military paramedic who takes classes at Coronado. "It's a time-out for you to take a break from the chaos in your life."

If the Army's new mental-toughness initiative, set to kick off in October, is to be successful, it needs buy-in from the people it plans to train. It can be a tough sell. At Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, in N.C., Adam Credle, who teaches military, law enforcement and Coast Guard personnel how to drive boats equipped with machine guns really fast, has encouraged his students to try out the meditative techniques. So far, he's been rebuffed, though he continues to try to persuade them to give the discipline's central exercise a chance. The mental focusing technique is called deep listening and it sounds super-simple but — unless you're accustomed to meditation — it requires exquisite concentration.

To help develop this skill, Warrior Mind, relies upon music. The idea is to listen, really listen, to the wail of the guitar or the staccato tap of the drums instead of letting your mind wander. In athletics, this concept is called being in "the zone."

As with anything, practice makes perfect, which is reassuring for rookies — like me — who find it next to impossible to rein in their thoughts at first. During the course of one five-minute song, I thought repeatedly about whether I'd remembered to lock my car and turn my cell phone to vibrate. And, because I'm a reporter, I thought about what everyone else might be thinking about, which, if they were doing it right, should have been nothing at all.
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