Monday, October 29, 2007

New Buddhist Chapel at USAF Academy

Buddhist chapel to be opened next Monday
Associated Press, October 26, 2007

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (USA) -- The Air Force Academy will dedicate its first Buddhist Chapel on Monday.
Wiley Burch, a Buddhist reverend in the Dai community and 1959 academy graduate, will officiate.

The chapel will be on the lower level of the Cadet Chapel.

Officials say there has been a growing number of Buddhists in the Cadets corps in recent year. --

If anyone has visited this chapel or attended services there, please give us a description!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

San Diego Area Meeting NOV 25 2007

For Buddhists servicemembers in the San Diego/Miramar/Camp Pendleton area, there will be an informal fellowship meeting on November 25th at 1000 at the Murphy Canyon Chapel, 3200 Santo Road, San Diego, CA. I will offer a lecture on the life of Sakyamuni Buddha, and give highlights on papers presented on Buddhism topics at the American Academy of Religion (AAR) meeting. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

After Action Report: 3rd Annual Buddhist Spiritual Care Symposium

Hello all!
I was fortunate to be able to attend this year's Buddhist Spiritual Care Symposium at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, CA. This is a gathering of professional chaplains, volunteers and interested persons working outside traditional Buddhist settings (temples and monasteries) in order to provide spiritual care and compassion to people in hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, correctional facilities, and the military. The attendees came from many traditions of Buddhism: Vajrayana, Tibetan, Mahayana, Zen, Vipassana, and Pure Land. We all had the same focus, which was to discuss this new and historic chapter in American Buddhism, and the ways in which we could best understand and perform our roles, and how to adapt a 2500-year-old religion and way of life to 21st-century nontraditional settings.

We began with meditation, followed by an opening Dharma talk by Tom Kilts, a CPE administrator of the Vajrayana tradition, who presented an outstanding lecture and discussion on the forms of authority implicit in chaplaincy work. Following his talk, everyone introduced themselves, and then we had a great vegetarian lunch! After lunch, we had a talk by guest speaker Dr. Dhammaratna Rina Sircar, a Dharma teacher of vast experience in pastoral care. She is originally from Burma; everyone was deeply moved to hear her relate her concern for the welfare of her family in Burma. She led us in a beautiful refuge-taking (Vandana Ti-Sirana), followed by a prayer to the 28 Buddhas. Her message was about her experience in care for elderly patients; she emphasized for us to cultivate tolerance, and especially patience. She concluded her talk by leading us through the Loving-Kindness Meditation. After another short break we had simultaneous breakout sessions on current issues in chaplaincy. We wrapped up around 1630, and concluded with Dedication of Merit to the people of Burma and all those suffering in conflicts throughout the world.

Being at this symposium was a great thing for me personally, I enjoy working with all my other Navy chaplain colleages but it is also good to be around other Buddhists again, with whom I share a common language and a "non-theistic theology" (as Chaplain Kilts put it). This was a very good spiritual "self-care." I also enjoyed meeting other Buddhists working in chaplaincy, hearing their stories, sharing our experiences. I was glad to see that the attendees were a nearly equal mix of men and women working in this field. I also saw my Army friend, Chaplain Somya Malasri, there as well! Therefore, this was the first symposium in which we had representatives from Buddhist military chaplaincy! We were received very well. As excellent as the symposium was, it did remind me of the work we all need to still do, which is gaining acceptance for Buddhist chaplaincy, something that is not yet clearly understood by every Buddhist tradition, or welcomed by other, non-Buddhist chaplains. It is still a work in progress. I encourage anyone interested in Buddhist chaplaincy to pursue this path on many levels, whether as a professional or as a volunteer.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Eightfold Path and You

Hello out there!

In my first post I wanted to elaborate on my thoughts of how to be a Buddhist and in the military. I recently met someone here in Iraq that wanted to study Buddhism. They were sure that a military life and a Buddhist life had to be seperate. After e-mailing Chaplain Shin and pondering it myself, I've had to figure out how to make it work. I'd like to talk about The Eightfold Path and what it means to me. I'll cover the "points" one at a time. This all may sound primitive to the Buddhist scholars out there. I'm pretty new at this and these posts are in no particular order.

Right Action. This means upholding morals and ethics. To break it down Barney style: Do The Right Thing. In the military this is part of basic leadership. One has to set the right example for others to follow. Set higher standards for yourself and live up to them. Treat people with respect and your Karma points will grow by the buckets. All these parts of the Path tie into each other but I think that this is the most outwardly visible. The military and especially Marines are all about action. Right Action can help you succeed in the military and is an essential Buddhist teaching. Doing the right thing will free us from dealing with the consequences of our actions, therefore helping to eliminate suffering from our lives. The good Karma that results is an added benefit. And yes, good Karma can be earned by being in the military!

Next is Right Mindfulness.

Peace be with you!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Chaps' Dharma Talk - Buddhist Worship Materials

Hello all!
Recently I added a list of "Where to Find Buddhist Materials" to this blog. Often, as solitary Buddhists in the military, we have to look for and purchase our own Buddhist worship materials, versus using materials that are available at a temple. It is a fair bet that your base chapel or chaplain may not have any Buddhist materials available (hopefully this may change in the future, and it doesn't hurt to ask). This talk is to help give guidance for Buddhists interested in performing lay services where they are stationed, or doing solitary practice or meditation.

Most Buddhists utilize some type of worship items during a formal service. Chaplain Somya Malasri and I agree on these basic items:

1) Buddha Statue or Picture
2) Offering Set (plates and cups)
3) Meditation Bell
4) Incense & Burner
5) Fruit and Flower Offerings (or other suitable items but no meats)
6) Candles
7) Meditation Cushion
8) Books (for chanting and or reading)

These items may vary in size and design depending on the form of Buddhism practiced, and obviously some items may not be practical or available in every place and situation. For example, during my shipboard meditation service, I can use the bell, cushions, and incense, but I leave out the rest as I treat meditation as something everyone can participate in, whether they are Buddhist or not. The bell and the smell of the incense provides a calming and relaxing environment in which to have "quiet time" even though it can get quite noisy (as Navy ships are)!

However, for a formal Buddhist worship service, it would be best to have at the minimum a Buddha image and books from which a lay person could read from or chant aloud. If it is possible to have all of the above, then the items should be arranged according to the above picture, with the devotional image at the center. These items should be handled with respect and care; sutra books should not be placed on the floor or on a chair (this is considered disrepectful of the Buddha's words). Not only is this proper etiquette, but also these items are not inexpensive!

In the Japanese Buddhist tradition, many lay Buddhists have their own home altar (o-butsudan or gohonzon), in which these and other items, such as family pictures, are placed in. They come in many different sizes, so it is also possible to find a suitable sized one for your room or home. This provides a "sacred space" in which to sit and practice. It is also possible for you to be creative and design your own altar space.

Of course, there are some places where you may have none of these items, which is also OK: having no worship materials is not a barrier to practicing Buddha-dharma. All that you are required to bring is you yourself!

If anyone has any suggestions on Buddhist materials or stories on how they can be utilized in the field or on base, please share them here!
Namo Amida Butsu

Monday, October 15, 2007

Reminder - San Diego Area Fellowship

For Buddhists stationed in the San Diego/Miramar/Camp Pendleton region, I am planning another get-together and discussion group this Sunday, October 21st at 1000. We will meet at the Murphy Canyon Chapel for 1 hour or so: I will give a lecture on the origins of Buddhism. Also I will be passing on lessons learned from the Buddhist Chaplains Symposium that is scheduled to be held on Oct. 20 in Redwood City (this is an annual meeting of Buddhist chaplains working in various fields of chaplaincy). So there should be some good material available (and snacks).

The Murphy Canyon Chapel is located at 3200 Santo Road, San Diego, 92124. (619) 556-0603.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Web Site for Buddhists in the US Air Force!

I just came across this Web site while randomly surfing: The author is active-duty USAF and is working on this site to help Buddhists in the USAF. Check it out!!!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

President Bush to Attend Dalai Lama's Ceremony

Bush to Attend Dalai Lama's Ceremony
The Associated Press
Thursday, October 11, 2007; 5:30 PM

WASHINGTON -- Risking heightened tensions with China, President Bush will attend a ceremony to award Congress' highest civilian honor to the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader whom Beijing reviles as a separatist.

Bush will go to the Capitol on Wednesday to speak at the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal, whose recipients have included Mother Teresa, former South African President Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II and Ronald and Nancy Reagan. The president also will welcome the Dalai Lama in the White House residence Tuesday.

Beijing expressed its unhappiness about honoring the Dalai Lama, the winner of the 1989 Peace Prize.

"China resolutely opposes the U.S. Congress awarding the Dalai its so-called Congressional Gold Medal, and firmly opposes any country or any person using the Dalai issue to interfere in China's internal affairs," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said at a news conference in Beijing.

Liu said China had "presented a representation" to Washington over Congress' move, but gave no details.

In his remarks on Wednesday, Bush will say that "the Dalai Lama is a great spiritual leader whose aim is for the Tibetan people to be able to worship freely and to protect their land, but that they are not seeking independence from China," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. "The leaders of China should get to know the Dalai Lama like we've gotten to know him."

The Dalai Lama will be honored for his "many enduring and outstanding contributions to peace, nonviolence, human rights, and religious understanding."

The Dalai Lama has been based in India since fleeing his Himalayan homeland in 1959 amid a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He remains immensely popular among Tibetans, despite persistent efforts to demonize him by Beijing, which objects vigorously to all overseas visits by the Dalai Lama.

China claims Tibet has been its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of that period.

In its announcement, Congress said that the Dalai Lama was "recognized in the United States and throughout the world as a leading figure of moral and religious authority."

It praised him for fighting for democracy, freedom, and Tibet's cultural heritage, saying he promoted peace for Tibet "through a negotiated settlement of the Tibet issue, based on autonomy within the People's Republic of China."

The Dalai Lama insists he wants "real autonomy," not independence for Tibet, but Beijing continues to accuse him of seeking to split the region from China.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Chaps' Dharma Talk - For Halloween: Buddhist Horror Cinema

Hello all!
This Dharma talk will be on a lighter note and can fit in with this month's Halloween observance - horror films with a Buddhist theme. When people think of movies that have a Buddhist theme, usually it is about Buddhism directly, like Little Buddha, Seven Years in Tibet, foreign films like South Korea's Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall...and Spring Again, or movies that could easily fit in with Buddhist concepts, like The Matrix or Groundhog Day. However, I think we can also learn about Buddhism through horror films, especially Asian horror films (sometimes called "J-Horror" as most of them were made in Japan). The kind of Buddhism we can learn from them is not necessarily its deep, philosophical concepts, but about how Buddhism interacted with the popular beliefs, customs, and cultures of the countries that Buddhism penetrated. Learning about these popular folk beliefs is just as important for the study of Dharma as the intellectual part; in many ways, they are still present in the countries we may be stationed in or deployed to. Here are some films (they're available on DVD) to witness this:

Kwaidan - (Japan, 1964) This is a collection of 4 Japanese ghost stories originally written by the American writer Lafcadio Hearn, who lived in Japan in the 1800s and adopted it as his homeland. One of the most famous stories is "Hoichi the Earless" about a blind biwa player haunted by the ghosts of samurai. A Buddhist monk writes the Heart Sutra on Hoichi's body to make him invulnerable to the ghosts, but forgets to write on his ears! This story reflects the belief of the power of Buddhist sutras to ward off evil spirits. Because of the influence of Christianity in the West, crucifixes are believed to ward off vampires and evil spirits - in Buddhism in the East, it is not the image of the deity, but the power of the written word, especially in its Sanskrit mantra form, to protect the believer. You don't hold up a picture or statue of Buddha to ward off evil, you use Chinese characters! It demonstrates the power of the Dharma not residing in the physical person of the Buddha, but in his teachings, and in the value of literacy in premodern society.

Nang Nak - (Thailand, 1999) This is a film about Thailand's most famous ghost, Mae (Nang) Nak. Nang Nak is a young wife who dies in childbirth while her husband, Mak, is away at war. When he returns home, he does not realize that his wife and their baby are dead; Nak kills the local villagers who try to tell him the truth. Eventually Mak learns that his wife and son are dead, and flees to his village temple. Buddhist monks eventually convince Mae Nak to leave the world of the living. In Thailand this movie was bigger than Titanic and the rural setting itself is filmed very beautifully (it's not so much of a horror film as a tragic love story). The scene where the head monk speaks to Nang Nak is reminiscent of the tale of the Buddha and Kisa Gotami, who also refused to accept the reality of death. Many Thais believe Nang Nak was a real person who lived in the 1800s and a shrine to her is in modern Bangkok.

- (Japan, 1960) This is a very bizzare film! and best to be viewed with sake perhaps. "Jigoku" is the Japanese Buddhist word for Hell (Avici). Essentially, the film's characters do bad deeds, die as a result, King Enma (the Buddhist lord of hell, Yama) sentences them, and the second half of the movie is them being graphically tormented in jigoku (in the best way that 1960 special effects could offer). These scenes are essentially copied from medieval Japanese texts and illustrations depicting the torments of hell (especially Genshin's Ojoyoshu), and it's very similar also to the Tibetan depictions in the wheel-of-life mandala. Many Buddhists believed (and still do believe) in the existence of hell realms, but, as the final scene in this film shows, existence in the hell realms, or any other realm, is not permanent but transitory.

Ju-on (Japan, 2003)/The Grudge (US, 2004)- The original Japanese film and the American re-make about a vengeful ghost (onryo) actually touches on Pure Land Buddhism in a roundabout way. The beliefs about people who died angry or unfulfilled was a very fearful idea in medieval Japan, and still in Buddhism, dying angry is one of the worst things that could happen. Pure Land Buddhism - the belief in Amida (Amitabha) Buddha's salvific power to save all beings, manifested through devotional nembutsu recitation - rose in popularity, especially during the 1100s-1200s, a time of social upheaval and violent conflicts: as long as one believed in Amida and had faith through recitation of nembutsu ("I take refuge in Amida Buddha"), one could be spared becoming an angry ghost, even if one died in battle, or suddenly from some illness or misfortune. Pure Land Buddhism was also especially popular with women: many believed that women were especially susceptible to becoming evil spirits, because of their inherently evil karma . It is unappealing to us today but there's a reason why all these Asian horror films have female ghosts!

While we may or may not believe in ghosts or the supernatural, it is important to understand that such beliefs were very real and even vital to Buddhists in the past. Today, these beliefs may continue to exist in some form, even here in the US. Rather than look at these beliefs as "mere susperstition" (and remember, one person's superstition is another person's devotion), try to look at them as how Buddhism affected a particular society's beliefs in the afterlife, about the natural world, or relationships with others (for example the roles monks played in society as teachers and protectors). Therefore, we can not only enjoy the "scary" aspects of these movies (and they are really not that scary!) but we can also learn about how Buddhism was practiced and believed in the lives of everyday people.
Namo amida butsu
Creative Commons License
Buddhist Military Sangha by Jeanette Shin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at