Monday, December 14, 2009

Army Fighting To Fill Chaplain Shortages

Via Army Times:

The Army chaplaincy is reporting shortages of Roman Catholic priests, Buddhists, Eastern Orthodox priests, Muslim imams and Jewish rabbis. The Army has just eight Jewish chaplains to serve 1,800 Jewish soldiers, 2009 Army statistics show. There are six imams, one for every 280 Muslim soldiers. For 1,900 Buddhists, there is one Buddhist priest. While a chaplain's job is to serve soldiers of every religion, seeing a chaplain of his or her own religion affords a soldier a sense of home and community, of vital importance amid the stress of repeated deployments, said Chaplain (Maj.) Peter Dubinin.
Dubinin heads the Special Categories Recruiting Team, which recruits clergy from minority religions and the Roman Catholic Church.
To become a chaplain candidate, one must be a U.S. citizen, endorsed by a religious organization, with a graduate degree in theology and two years of related experience. From there, candidates must qualify for to receive a favorable security clearance, pass a physical and make it through a 12-week Chaplain Basic Officer Leadership Course at Fort Jackson, S.C.
The team's mission this year includes bringing in at least one chaplain and one chaplain candidate from each of the minority religions represented in the Army.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Veterans Meditation Initiative

UPDATE: This event was postponed from the date below. Ms. Baranay communicated to me that this event will be rescheduled.

Via Rev. Danny Fisher's Blog, via Mahasangha News:

Dear Sangha,

Perhaps you or a family member are a veteran of the armed services? Or perhaps you or a family member are currently serving in the military?

Tentatively scheduled for December 14 – Monday – in New York City – will be the launch of the Veterans Meditation Initiative.

Acharya Spiegel has graciously accepted the role of dharma leader and will therefore give the opening talk.

Paulette Graf – long time sangha member and teacher, Naropa graduate and Instructor of Mindfulness Stress Based Reduction has graciously agreed to coordinate the NY team and keep the forming groups of Veterans who meditate organized.

Patrick Gualtieri – Vietnam Veteran and President of the United War Veterans Council and producer of the largest Veteran’s Day Parade in the US in NYC has graciously agreed to bring to VMI, the veterans and active military through his connections.

At the moment we are working with the curriculum that will follow the opening talk and run for approximately 6 weeks. This is not yet formalized. However, the plan is to have a talk by Acharya Spiegel every 2 months, acting as a gateway to VMI and then 6 week classes to follow.

Several MIs/teachers in the NY area and sangha have expressed an interest in joining VMI and are helping to launch this vision. I recently met with 3 Vietnam Vets and the father of an active military person who are members of Shambhala. They have agreed to meet and show their support of meditation by coming to this first talk. We are expecting 200 veterans, family and active military to attend.

Please email me privately if you are interested and I will send you specifics.

Yours in the vision of turning the flower outward,
Christine Baranay

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ekoji Dharma School Dana Project for Our Troops

The Ekoji Buddhist Temple Dharma School (a Jodo Shinshu temple in Fairfax County, Virginia) has made some great drawings and letters thanking our servicemembers! Thank YOU for your dana and support, we place our hands together in gassho.
Namo Amida Butsu

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day

For this Veterans Day I'd like to share an interesting account of the first US Marine burial in Japan, which occurred during Commodore Perry's visit in 1854. The event is actually an account of possibly the first interfaith Christian-Buddhist service of this kind:

"The flags of every vessel in the squadron were hoisted at half mast as the boats pushed off. The body was borne to a very picturesque spot at the foot of a hill, at a short distance from the village of Yoku-hama. The chaplain, Mr. Jones, was robed in his clerical gown, and on landing was received in the most courteous manner by some of the Japanese authorities, who showed none of their supposed repugnance to the Christian religion and its ministers...The place chosen for the burial was near a Japanese place of internment, with stone idols and sculpted headstones, and as the procession came up a Buddhist priest, in robes of richly embroidered silk, was observed already on the ground.

Mr. Jones read the service of the Protestant Episcopal church, and while he was officiating the Buddhist priest sat near by on a mat, with an altar before him, on which was a collection of scraps of paper, some rice, a gong, a vessel containing saki, and some burning incense. The service having been read, the body lowered, and the earth thrown in, the party retired from the grave. The Buddhist priest then commenced the peculiar ceremonies of his religion, beating his gong, telling his rosary of glass and wooden beads, muttering his prayers, and keeping alive the burning incense. He was still going through his strange forumlary when the Americans moved away..."
[Source: History of the Chaplain Corps , Part I, NAVEDTRA 14281]

Especially on this day, but on all days, we should be mindful of those who have gone before us, and who are still volunteering to serve. As chaplains we can also learn much from past examples of interfaith cooperation, and continue our determination to serve.

Chaplain Jones also recorded one of the epitaphs made for a servicemember interred in Japan, and I would like to close with it here, as it is still very much meaningful:

Sleeping on a foreign shore,
Rest, sailor, rest! thy trials o'er;
Thy shipmates leave this token here,
That some, perchance, may drop a tear
For one that braved so long the blast
And served the country to the last.

Namu Amida Butsu

Monday, November 2, 2009

First Chaplains School Graduation at Fort Jackson

Update: Nov. 12, 2009. Found an even more detailed article about the Ft. Jackson Chaplains School graduation:
NAVY.MIL 10 NOV 09) ... Steve Vanderwerff

COLUMBIA, S.C. (NNS) -- The Naval Chaplaincy School and Center (NCSC), part of the newly established Armed Forces Chaplaincy Center (AFCC), graduated 29 chaplains and chaplain candidates Nov. 6 during a ceremony at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C.
The chaplains are the first to graduate since mid-August when the Naval Chaplains School relocated from Newport, R.I., to Columbia as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission's 2005 decision to co-locate all of the military ministry training at Fort Jackson.
The Naval Chaplains School became the Naval Chaplaincy School and Center to reflect the training of Navy chaplains and religious program specialist (RPs) in the same location,
"I'm totally excited about this crop of chaplains going to the fleet," said Capt. Michael W. Langston, NCSC's commanding officer. "They come with a variety of ministry experience. They're excited about the opportunity to minister to the fleet. More than anything else they're mature and they're bright, they have a servant's heart, and want to go out and take care of the needs of our men and women in uniform."
NCSC, the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School (USACHCS), and the U.S. Air Force Chaplain Service Institute (AFCSI) are co-located in Fort Jackson to form the AFCC. It is the aim of the AFCC to foster closer cooperation among the chaplain corps and make use of shared instruction and training.
More than 200 guests attended the ceremony, including Col. Steven Keith, commandant of AFCSI, and Chet Lanious, USACHCS' director of the Center for World Religions. Officials from the various faith groups that endorsed the graduating chaplains, and friends and family members of the new chaplains were also in attendance.
Navy Chief of Chaplains, Rear Adm. Robert F. Burt, served as guest speaker.
"Today, our country is engaged in several conflicts and missions around the world", said Burt. "The likelihood that you will find yourself in an area of hostilities is very real. We don't ask you to pull triggers, launch missiles, or throw grenades…but we will ask you to take care of our warriors who are in the fight."
The graduates began their journey in August in Newport at the Officers Development School for five weeks of naval indoctrination. In late September they arrived in Fort Jackson for the Basic Chaplain Course. During their seven weeks of training, chaplains were introduced to the schools newly developed curriculum, learning quickly how to adapt their civilian ministry skills to the military culture. They received first-hand knowledge from veteran chaplains who have served in combat.
"Lessons learned from combat is new to the curriculum," said NSCS Instructor Lt. Cmdr. Bruce Crouterfield. "The biggest lesson we have learned in combat, which we probably knew on an intuitive level, and something that has proved it's self over and over again, and even more so now, is that the chaplain is a symbolic reminder of the presence of God, even in combat. We can share that story now, like we've never been able to before."
Currently, NCSC is operating out of a temporary facility they refurbished. NSCS will remain in the refurbished building until they move into a newly built state-of-art "green" building in December. When they move into their new building, they will be connected to the other service chaplain schools that will also be housed in their own buildings.
Similar to AFFC's aim to foster closer cooperation among the Chaplain Corps, it is NCSC's intent to enhance its religious ministry team by having its chaplains and RPs train in the same location. The school will officially begin training RPs, the enlisted support Sailors for Navy chaplains, in January 2010. Until recently, RPs received their training at Naval Technical Training Center in Meridian, Miss.
"One can't do what one needs to do without the other," said Crouterfield. "In today's environment not only is the RP supporting the chaplain in terms of ministry, but the RP is an enlisted service member, so there is a connection with their colleagues. RP's have their ear to the deck plate. They can facilitate and move these young men and women toward the chaplain if there is a need.
"One of the key things in combat is the RP becomes the force protection for the chaplain. As a team, the chaplain can do the ministry while the RP is facilitating and providing the force protection, so that team concept is vital to us being able to accomplish the mission."
Like the chaplains before them who were taught in Newport, the chaplains graduating from NCSC in Fort Jackson will continue to serve the spiritual needs of those serving in the fleet through-out the world.

Friday, October 30, 2009

U.S. Army Sending First Buddhist Chaplain to Iraq

A few posts back I mentioned a military chaplains documentary by Ms. Lee Lawrence called "Chaplains Under Fire." She recently posted a series of interviews with Chaplain Dyer, and a Buddhist former employee of Blackwater. The link to her site is listed under "Helpful Links."
Also another good article from Fox News:

Friday, October 30, 2009
By Lauren Green

All Army chaplains wear the same uniform, and all of them answer to the same calling: to provide comfort and to relieve the suffering of American soldiers.

But one chaplain stands out from the crowd. Thomas Dyer is the first and only Buddhist chaplain in the history of the U.S. Army.

Dyer will be deployed to the Middle East in December along with the 278th Armored Calvary Regiment. Although his faith is grounded in pacifism, the 43-year-old Dyer says war has become a necessary part of peace.

"My teacher has concluded that without the military, without civil protection, the world would enter into a very dark place very quickly," Dyer told Fox News. "There aren't that many caves to run to, there aren't that many mountains to go to anymore. And if we don't have protection, we suffer greatly."

A former Baptist preacher, Dyer found his new faith a few years ago through the practice of intense meditation. Born in Nashville, Tenn., he says his Christian background gives him an advantage in meeting the demands of a military with diverse spiritual needs.

“It has made me kind of like someone who is bilingual, where they can speak two languages, or bicultural,” he said. “I am kind of like a bi-religious person, so I am able to make connections with soldiers in a way that is very familiar to them, so I don’t look so scary or ... strange.”

Less than one percent of the United States population is Buddhist, and Buddhists make up only three-tenths of a percent of the military. But Dyer has quickly gained the respect of his Christian colleagues, who make up the vast majority of military chaplains. He has also fostered a close relationship with his chaplain assistant, Spc. Jonathan Westley, who's trained specifically to protect him.

"It definitely was something different when I got to meet him for the first time last year,” Westley told Fox News. “Fortunately, we clicked right from the start."

Dyer will be a spiritual guide to all soldiers, not just Buddhists. He says no matter what their faith, all soldiers at war have common spiritual needs.

"They have a lot to bear. The training is tough. The environment is rough at times ... and as a result of this they will come to someone who wants to help," he said.

Religion aside, he says, soldiers face death daily, and what matters most to them is that someone who knows what they’re going through cares about their fate.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In Response to Rev. Senauke

In response to Rev. Senauke's concerns regarding Conscientious Objector (C.O.) status, I would like to add that the availability of Buddhist chaplains is very unlikely to affect any such application. Chaplains do not decide whether a C.O. application will be accepted (this is a common misconception), chaplains merely assist the commanding officer (of the applicant) with his/her evaluation of the validity of the application i.e. whether the applicant is an actual and practicing member of that faith which he or she has to be (as opposed to, for example, just reading a few books and proclaiming oneself an adherent). Any chaplain can write a letter for a C.O. application, it doesn't have to be a chaplain specific to the faith of the applicant. A civilian clergy's opinion can also be added (as Rev. Senauke has done). It is up to that commanding officer and the Naval Personnel Board (in the case of the USN and USMC) whether or not a discharge is granted. There may be other factors involved also. Each C.O.application is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In my experience as a chaplain, actual C.O. cases are rare and unlikely to go through; most individuals with a history of being unable to adjust to military life are simply administratively separated. In my 5 years (so far) of active and reserve service I've only seen 1 applicant (and that person was not a Buddhist).
For additional information reference MILPERSMAN 1900-010.

The concerns expressed by Rev. Senauke and others that the presence of Buddhist chaplains might deter commanding officers from taking C.O. claims seriously, can, in fact, be seen as a positive development on several fronts. First, Buddhist scholars, and certainly some Buddhists(!) may be aware that Buddhism is not a monolithic entity, but is extremely diverse in beliefs and practices, but most non-Buddhists are simply not aware of this. We can describe this as a "teaching moment" for others, including other chaplains, who are in fact growing in awareness of the rich diversity of Buddhism. Just as there can be vast differences between Christians like Southern Baptists and Quakers regarding military service, there is similar diversity in Buddhism. The presence of Buddhist chaplains now on active duty and in training (Mahayana, Vajrayana, Theravada) reflects this. Second, it maintains the integrity of the C.O. process. Believe it or not, C.O. can be seen as an "easy out" by individuals simply wanting to get out of their enlistment contract; it may not have anything to do with moral or religious beliefs, but can be for reasons such as to enroll in a school a semester early or get an available job. However, the military commitment has to be honored first and genuine C.O. applicants (Buddhist or otherwise) have to be respected. For those individuals believing that all they have to do is claim to be "Buddhist" and that will get them out the gate, the fact of Buddhist chaplains in the military now makes this belief untenable. It may reduce the bogus applications, in any case. There is NO one religion that can release someone from service just by adherence, especially in the era of the all-volunteer force. I have known of Quaker and even Jain servicemembers!

I've worked with Rev. Senauke in the past, and would like to thank him here for his wisdom and understanding in assisting Buddhist servicemembers, whatever their need. While others may dismiss Buddhist military chaplaincy as unnecessary, even wrong, he is correct in stating that there is a need for chaplains simply because of the presence of Buddhists in the Armed Forces. They self-identify as Buddhists, so this fact cannot be dismissed, certainly not by the Chaplain Corps of the various armed forces branches, which is mandated to respect the freedom of worship guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and therefore provides for Buddhist military chaplains, places of worship, and material. We should also be mindful that chaplains may assist persons of all faiths or no faiths, and not just servicemembers, but also includes their dependents (family members). The most crucial emphasis for chaplains is not on theory and doctrine, but on core counseling: PTSD, stress and anger management and treatment, marriage and family counseling, and clinical pastoral education (CPE).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On Chaplaincy in the U.S. Military: Hozan Alan Senauke, Clear View Project

An interesting article by Rev. Alan Senauke, from the Upaya Zen Center newsletter:

This week an NPR story announced the creation of a Vast Refuge Dharma Hall in the basement of the Cadet Chapel at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This is the first dedicated Buddhist chapel in the U.S. military. At the chapel’s dedication, the Reverend Dai En Wiley Burch of the Hollow Bones Rinzai Zen school said, "Without compassion, war is a criminal activity. Sometimes it is necessary to take life, but we never take life for granted."

The academy's Buddhist program leader, Sarah Bender Sensei of the Springs Mountain Sangha, asked herself how Zen Buddhism fits with the military path.

"People in the military come up — for real— against questions that most of us just consider abstractly," Bender says. "The questions of Buddhism are the questions of life and death. So, where else would you want Buddhism than right there where those questions are most vivid?"

My first response to this was positive. A Buddhist chapel is a good thing. Even more so at the Air Force Academy, where year after year there have been complaints of intolerance and religious discrimination. But several days ago, a friend and collaborator, a lawyer working with conscientious objectors within the military raised questions that gave me pause. My friend, a dedicated and observant Jew wrote:

I’m of course concerned about its impact on CO clients for whom Buddhism is their route to their beliefs against participation in war in any form. The more deeply Buddhism becomes entrenched in military life, the harder it is for that to be the accepted religious source of a CO applicant’s beliefs. It is already such an uphill battle for Christians – I can see that happening how for those who articulate Buddhist values or beliefs in support of their CO applications. “Soldier, the Air Force has a Buddhist Chaplain and a Buddhist Chapel. How can you sit here and say to me that Buddhism is against participation in war in any form?”

In an email response, I wrote very quickly:

This question of Buddhist chapel and chaplain is a real conundrum. There are several thousand Buddhist personnel (actually more than 5000) in the military. They need day-to-day resources and ministry. But as you point out, the presence of these resources argues against the explicit position of Buddhist "nonviolence."

A group I work with designing Buddhist chaplaincy materials ran up on this question from another angle. Do we include the Buddhist precepts, all versions of which begin with the vow or prohibition against taking life. I think I won that round, insisting that they remain in the materials, because to omit them is to undermine the moral basis of Buddhist teachings. But how individual chaplains will work with this, I don't know. I would not really like to be in their shoes. However this does not seem vastly different from the role of chaplains of other faiths, themselves in the position of counseling men and women within a context that may be fundamentally not moral.

I sent this out to a couple of list-serves I participate in — the American Zen Teacher’s Association and the Soto Zen Buddhist Association — and got some responses, both challenging and supportive. Here is my reading of several of these questions.

Is it truly possible to keep the first precept, not taking life? I was asked whether I thought all military and police were “immoral.” What about the military of “Buddhist” nations like Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka? Were conscientious objectors using Buddhism as a pretext for escaping the military, or whether these were serious practitioners. And then, am I substituting my personal sense of morality for another, and is this itself transgressing the Buddha’s precepts?

So, let me try to clarify some of my thoughts, maybe not in a completely logical sequence.

• This comes first. I believe in nonviolence as a way of life and as a dedicated and disciplined way of resolving conflicts, whether between individuals or countries. I believe in what Dr. King called the “beloved community,” a place that is not free from inevitable conflicts, we one can turn away from weapons and violence as the means of resolving conflict. Nonviolence is not, for me, being nice. It has to be tough and flexible. It is a practice and it can be a strategy.

At another time, we could talk at length about active nonviolence, which calls for rigorous training and an ability to counter violence simultaneously resisting it, receiving it, and not retaliating. It does not always work, but it is surprising how effective it can be. One could tick off numerous recent historical examples.

For the sake of transparency, I should say that in the 70s I was part of a group that came to espouse violence as a necessary and inevitable means of social change. This never sat right in my body back then, but, like others, I thought my self into a dark corner in which violence was the answer. Delusion! And, it was more or less a disaster. I deeply regret this.

And, of course, I am aware that one cannot live without taking life. For those who may not know me, I am hardly a strict constructionist on the precepts. We have to look at intention, awareness, the whole picture. If I am caught in rigidity, then in keeping a “rule” I have failed to keep the spirit.

• Yes, there have always been armies and police, and there has to be some provision for defense. Even were we living in a world of wise rulers, protection is necessary. The Buddha speaks of this, as does Dogen. Aggression exists within each of us. But our wars today day wars are hardly the work of wise rulers (Neither were most wars in the past.). Whatever the issues may be, however just, the killing is fed by arms dealers and vast corporations who profit from the various technologies of killing. And by politicians driven by self-interest in raw form. And even by ourselves in a willingness to preserve privilege over groups and people elsewhere in the world.

• Having said all that, I would add that military personnel and families I have met often embody the highest principles of honor, duty, and self-sacrifice. They try to live according to what I might call “practice,” for the sake of their country and people. It is essential to hold this in mind.

• I mentioned chaplains “in the position of counseling men and women within a context that is fundamentally not moral.” This word ‘context’ has meaning for me. Just in our own historical memory, I consider the following U.S.-sponsored wars fundamentally not moral: Vietnam, the invasions of Grenada and Panama, the first Gulf War, the invasion and occupation of Iraq. If you or I thought a bit, we could probably add to this list.

This does not mean that there were not perhaps moral issues involved in some of these conflicts (though many might question that), but our readiness to go to war seems only to create the basis for more violence, planting trauma and hatred ever more deeply. I mean, have these wars worked out for anyone’s benefit and real safety?

• If there is going to be a military—and there will be--there must be chaplains, compassionate and wise women and men who are capable of helping soldiers in need, in suffering, in the moment of leaving this world. Chaplaincy is an ancient and honorable calling. Even if we had a “shantisena,” a peace army of well-trained nonviolent defenders, we would need chaplains.

At the same time, I think back a year or two, in a working group developing Buddhist chaplaincy materials for the military, I was struck by a comment from an active-duty Buddhist chaplain in the U.S. military. She came back from a Navy/Marines annual training and said the head chaplain was quite direct about the Marines’ mission. I remember the words she quoted. “Marines kill people and blow things up.” There was no glorification or justification of this mission, just a painful statement of fact.

Along with chaplains, the availability of chapels and places of worship within the military also seems essential. I think it is a good step, especially, as I noted earlier, in a place like the Air Force Academy, which has been accused of religious discrimination in the recent past.

• The conscientious objectors Deborah and I have worked with are enlisted men and women (one or two, I think, in the reserves) who are Buddhist practitioners of various kinds, who find their enlistment was a serious error, and feel unable to carry on as a member of the military. I think most of them did somehow think they could join the military and avoid the mission of killing. In other times, this was possible, or one could convince oneself so. Not now. And many of them were channeled into the military by financial need. These are moral people, usually troubled, too, at the thought of being in circumstances where their beliefs and conscience might create risk for fellow soldiers. In each case I have had extensive discussions and written exchanges with them. For my part I need to be convinced about their practice, understanding, and sincerity. If called for, I point them to nearby Buddhist centers, and strongly urge them to take part in sangha. Often I have later had to answer on their behalf to a hearing officer.

• The fact that so-called Buddhist nations--Japan, Burma, Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, etc.—have armies is problematic in several ways. First, in the case of Japan (in WWII), Burma, and Sri Lanka, a predominantly Buddhist military has actually put forward a badly distorted and nationalistic interpretation of dharma to justify their brutality and ethnic domination. Buddhists killing non-Buddhists.

Second, I have deep mistrust of any nation where “church” and state are aligned with each other. Could I call this an unholy alliance, one that inevitably corrupts the very religious principles it claims to uphold? If any of you can point me towards a historical setting—modern or ancient—where this has worked out, I would be interested.

• My last point comes down to “not knowing.” Having said all the above, I confess to not knowing about the absolute application of nonviolence. I come to nonviolence because I am aware of the violence within me and find that its use has never worked out well for me or those affected by it. But in the face of a totalitarian regime, Burma for example, nonviolence has been crushed again and again. I believe it will triumph in time. But meanwhile, I have never counseled Burmese activists or ethnic groups simply to throw away their weapons. I do not judge them, nor would I or have I hesitated to offer them spiritual words. But the disproportionality of resources and guns in the hands of the Burmese military doesn’t make a good argument for armed insurrection.

Nor do I pretend to know the “best policy” for our country in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Total withdrawal? What will come of that? More troops, what will come of that? Sometimes one has implacable enemies, who control their own people with fear. (One could argue that is how the U.S. government has tried to control its own people these last eight years.) How does one stand up against this implacable wish to do harm? So now we have a tangled mess.

For my part, I practice with fear and try to be aware when self-righteousness is arising. These are dharma gates, right?

Still, as I have written before, I can’t help wondering, maybe naively, what would come of a policy that replaces retribution with generosity, that uses even a portion of the trillions we spend on war and destruction at home (prisons) and abroad for education, health, housing, and food? I would sign up in a New York minute as a chaplain to that kind of army.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Japanese-Americans In the Military Exhibition

Below is a press release from the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego on their latest exhibition. This is significant as there were many Japanese-American Buddhists who served in World War II and beyond (in my experience, this is an relatively unknown fact, as many people assume that Buddhists serving in the U.S. military is a recent phenomenon). The exhibit will be held at the San Diego Veterans Museum & Memorial Center, which is worth visiting on any day.

On November 10, 2009 the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego (JAHSSD) will open an exhibition titled “Japanese Americans in the Military” at the Veterans Museum & Memorial Center, 2115 Park Blvd. in Balboa Park. It will run through May 31, 2010.
“Japanese Americans in the Military,” curated by Susan Hasegawa, Professor of History at San Diego City College, and Linda Canada, JAHSSD archivist, will tell the stories of men and women of Japanese descent who have served in the United States armed forces.
The exhibition will draw from the historical society’s considerable photograph and artifact collection. Sections are devoted to Japanese nationals volunteering for service around 1900 (including one killed in the explosion of the USS Bennington in San Diego Harbor in 1905); the heroism of Japanese Americans who served during World War II; stories of the war on the home front, where West Coast Japanese Americans served time in internment camps while their sons and brothers served our country on the front lines; and the differences between the segregated armed services and what was later experienced by Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf Wars veterans.
Programs at the museum to accompany the exhibition include: January 17, 2010 (3-5 pm) screening of “Only the Brave,” the WWII drama about the All-Nisei 100/442 Regimental Combat Team by filmmaker Lane Nishikawa who will introduce and discuss his film; and February 19 (6-8pm) a Day of Remembrance program.

In addition to the Veterans Museum & Memorial Center of San Diego, sponsors of the exhibition include the San Diego Chapter and the Pacific Southwest Region of the Japanese Americans Citizens League, Asian American Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4851, and the World Cultures program at San Diego City College.

An exhibition preview and opening reception will be held from 2-4 pm on November 8.

The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am-4 pm. Admission fees range from $2 to $5. Active military and children 12 & under are free. The museum offers free admission the second Tuesday of the every month. For more information about “Japanese Americans in the Military,” call JAHSSD at (619) 660-0174 or go to For more information about the Veterans Museum, call (619) 239-2300 or go to

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Military Buddhist Chapel Represents Tolerance

Also, here's another nice article from National Public Radio about the Buddhist chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

October 13, 2009
The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., is home to the only Buddhist chapel on a U.S. military base. After a controversy over religious intolerance during the summer of 2005, the chapel was built in the basement of the academy's iconic Cadet Chapel.

In 2005, conservative evangelical Christians were accused of trying to force their religion on others. According to current and recently graduated cadets, the religious climate has improved substantially since then.

Chapel Construction

The controversy prompted the Air Force to issue guidelines for religious expression. The military also has made efforts to accommodate all faiths. These include the construction of the 300-square-foot Buddhist chapel at the Air Force Academy paid for by the Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism.

The floor is bamboo, and the walls are Port Orford cedar. The focal point is a cherry and ash altar with a Burmese Buddha statue on top.

Curiosity Trumps Judgment

During services, which are held Wednesday evenings, about half of the 18 pillows on the floor are usually occupied.

Tanner Faulkner, an 18-year-old student attending the prep school at the academy, says he feels encouraged to explore his religious curiosity.

"They let us know, 'We have this available for you, and it is possible for you to go to different services, whether you're Jewish faith or Buddhist or Christian or whatever,' " Faulkner says.

Sophomore cadet Dan Dwyer says his fellow cadets seem to have respect for his religion.

"People wonder where I go every Wednesday," Dwyer says. "I tell them I go to the Buddhist service, and it's just more of a curiosity rather than judgment."

Buddhism And Military Service — A Discordant Pair?

Out of 1.4 million people in the military, 5,287 identified themselves as Buddhists as of June 2009. For these folks, questions inevitably arise about whether Buddhism — a pacifist religion — is even compatible with military service.

Sarah Bender is the Buddhist program leader at the Air Force Academy. She says she has plenty of questions herself about whether it's ever right to kill in order to stop further harm. But, Bender says, she leaves the academy every Wednesday evening feeling like this is where she's supposed to be.

"People in the military come up — for real — against questions that most of us just consider abstractly," Bender says. "The questions of Buddhism are the questions of life and death. So, where else would you want Buddhism than right there where those questions are most vivid?"

Bender says the academy is now a place where cadets and staff are free to practice any religion they choose.
Photo Caption: Steve Honda, an Air Force Academy military trainer, kneels before the altar in the base's Buddhist chapel.

Navy's Only Buddhist Chaplain with 1stMLG

Here's an article from the 1st Marine Logistics Group newsletter, The Convoy, about me in my new job!

Story by Lance Cpl. Khoa N. Pelczar
The Convoy Staff
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Born a prince, he had everything most people ever wanted -- wealth, power and prestige. He had it all, yet, still unsatisfied with his life. He left everything behind and set out to find his purpose. About 2,000 years ago, Siddhartha Gautama traveled the world to find the purpose of life. At the age of 29, he established Buddhism, which is still in practice to this day. Navy Lt. Jeanette G. Shin, the only Buddhist Chaplain for the Navy and Marine Corps, is now assigned to 1st Maintenance Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, to share this knowledge and practice the religion with service members. “Buddhism has been around for a long time,” said Shin, from Midwest City, Okla. “(It wasn’t) until the ‘50s and ‘60s that the American began to be more interested in Buddhism.” Shin said she was raised a Buddhist, but it wasn’t until her teenage years that she started to practice it. Growing up, she wanted to be a scientist. But being a military brat, she joined the service instead. She enlisted to become a communications operator for the Marine Corps instead of going into the Air Force like her father because she wanted to do something different. After leaving the service, Shin went to school at George Mason University in Virginia, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Religious Studies. After college, Shin attended the Buddhist Seminary in California, where she took her education to the next level and received a master’s degree. Her goal was to become a minister, but the plan changed when America went to war in Iraq. “I’ve been a chaplain since 2004,” Shin said. “Since we’re at war, I thought I should go back to the military. With my background and knowledge, I thought I should become a chaplain. That way I can help our service members prepare for the war, not just physically, but spiritually. Buddhism can be practiced in many different ways, Shin explained. “Some people find their peace of mind and gain calmness by studying scriptures; some practice Buddhism by simply showing respect to their elders. Most, however, find their way through meditation.” A public service is usually set up in a room with incense, some prayer beads and a service book, Shin said. “Meditation is a time to reflect on the things you’ve done.” Practicing Buddhism helps service members to relax, let go of their stresses and aspire to spiritual enlightenment. “Buddhism is about knowing who you are,” Shin said. “It emphasizes ethical behavior, something every Marine knows and aspires.” Working with service members, Shin helps them to relax, meditate and enlighten them with the history of the religion. One can find out more information about Buddhism and its services by contacting the chaplain’s office at 1st Maintenance Battalion at 760-725-4001.

Friday, October 9, 2009

In Memoriam: John Daido Loori (1931-2009)

One of the early and foremost teachers of Zen in the United States passed away today. A short bio and obit is below (from Wikipedia):

John Daido Loori (June 14, 1931 – October 09, 2009) was a Zen Buddhist priest who served as the abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery, and was the founder of the Mountains and Rivers Order, and CEO of Dharma Communications. Daido Loori received shiho (or, dharma transmission) from Taizan Maezumi in 1986 and also received a dendokyoshi certificate formally from the Soto school of Japan in 1994. In 1997, he received dharma transmission in the Harada-Yasutani and Inzan lineages of Rinzai Zen as well. In 1996 he gave Dharma transmission to his student Bonnie Myotai Treace, in 1997 to Geoffrey Shugen Arnold and in 2009 to Konrad Ryushin Marchaj. In addition to his role as a Zen Buddhist priest, Loori was also an exhibited photographer and authored more than twenty books.
In October 2009, he stepped down as abbot citing health issues. On October 09, 2009 at 7:30 a.m. he passed away.

John Daido Loori served in the U.S. Navy from 1947-1952.

Fair Winds and Following Seas
Namo Amida Butsu

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.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Buddhist Military Chaplains for Russian Armed Forces?

Although there are currently no Buddhist chaplains in the Russian military, this may change, according to this article. The Russian area of Buryatia has been traditionally Buddhist for many centuries, and there are possibly many other Buddhist traditions recently established there. Countries that currently have active Buddhist military chaplains are the USA, UK, South Korea, and Thailand. If anyone knows of other nations that do, please let us know!
From Shambhala SunSpace:

Russia’s Medvedev pledges strong support to Buddhists:
Is Russian president Dmitry Medvedev a manifestation of White Tara, the Buddhist goddess?
Depends who you ask. If you ask a Russian Buddhist, the answer might well be yes.
Via the Moscow Times:
Medvedev promised financial support to the Buddhist community and to place Buddhist chaplains in the military during a visit Monday to the monastery in Ivolginsky Datsan, 30 kilometers from Buryatia’s capital, Ulan-Ude.
“Russia is a special state, the only one in Europe where Buddhism is recognized as an official religion,” Medvedev said, adding that 203 Buddhist organizations are registered in the country.
He also said army units where at least 10 percent of servicemen were Buddhists would receive Buddhist clergy.
For this kind of support, Medvedev is considered by many of Russia’s Buddhists to be a manifestation of the goddess White Tara.
At pains to explain this attitude toward the president, Russia’s Buddhist leader, Pandito Khambo Lama Damba Ayusheyev, said, “The leader of this country is a man who bears a very serious responsibility for others. The Buddhists must support him, identifying him as a deity.”

Also from the Buddhist Channel:

Russian President vows to support Russian Buddhists
Zee News, August 24, 2009
Moscow, Russia -- President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday vowed to support the Russian Buddhists in reviving their traditions and spreading the preaching of Lord Buddha among its followers.

Medvedev, who became the second head of state in the country's history to visit the main Buddhist Ivolga Monastery in Siberian republic of Buryatia, was warmly welcomed by the spiritual leader of the Russian Buddhists Pandito Hambo Lama Damba Ayushev and his disciples.

A Christian by birth, Medvedev said, "All the traditional religions of Russia will be supported by the authorities in spite of financial difficulties."

Earlier, Medvedev had visited Moscow's Jama Masjid to meet with the Islamic leaders of the country.

"My visit to you is one more proof that the development of relations between the state and traditional faiths is on the right track," Medvedev said in his televised statement.

He said that his decision to introduce basic religious education in the schools and creation of posts of priests into the armed forces has been backed by all the religious communities.

News Article on Chaplain Thomas Dyer

Here's an article on US Army National Guard Chaplain Thomas Dyer from, a Memphis website:
There are 2 other military chaplain candidates, Revs. Somya Malasri (US Army) and Christopher Mohr (US Army National Guard), currently still in training. All were endorsed by the Buddhist Churches of America.

Raleigh man looks to help end soldiers' suffering as Army's 1st Buddhist chaplain

By Michael Lollar (Contact), Memphis Commercial Appeal
Sunday, August 23, 2009

For Thomas Dyer, there was fire and brimstone. "There was the idea that there's an angry God and somehow you could really make Him mad."

Dyer grew up fearing God. He was a Cumberland Presbyterian, then a Baptist. He had hoped religious conviction would lead to contentment. He attended seminary and preached as a Southern Baptist minister.

That seems like a lifetime ago as Dyer, 43, sits on a cushion in the shrine room of the Pema Karpo Meditation Center in Raleigh. Six statues of various Buddhas are positioned against the walls. His teacher, a Tibetan monk who founded the temple, listens as Dyer explains his exodus from the pulpit in search of nirvana.

"The question that arose in my mind is, 'Why is there so much suffering?' Christianity did not have a satisfactory answer. I wanted to be happy. The idea that we have to live with suffering until we die just did not make sense to me -- the idea that God wants you to suffer so you can then enjoy heaven." Dyer kept asking, "Is this all there is to life?" As a Christian, he had been interested in mysticism. That led to meditation. Dyer studied Buddhism, then visited the temple near his home in Raleigh. Right away, he says, "It was like, 'Whoa, I'm home.'"

His conversion would also mean trading the pulpit for the battlefield. To support his family after leaving the ministry, Dyer joined the Chaplain Corps of the U.S. Army as what the Army calls its first Buddhist chaplain. "There is a profound amount of suffering for soldiers, civilians and for people who are enemies now but won't always be enemies," said Dyer, who was commissioned as a chaplain in 2008 and will be deployed to Iraq as part of the Army National Guard in January.

He has left his boots at the door of the temple, but in the temple room he wears a standard Army camouflage uniform. Instead of a cross or crucifix on the right chest his uniform bears the "dharma wheel" insignia as a symbol of the Buddhist faith. Army Chaplain Carleton Birch, spokesman for the Office of Chief of Army Chaplains in Washington, says there are at least 3,300 Buddhists in the U.S. Army. "In the Middle East, our Army is stretched and stressed more than ever. We're seeing the need more than ever in keeping the soldiers going." He said two more Buddhist chaplain candidates now are in training in South Carolina.

The military as an outlet for Dyer's beliefs is not coincidence. After high school, he thought he wanted to be in the military special forces, maybe as a sniper. He joined the Marine Reserves and was soon being trained as a "killer." Part of the training was aimed at smoothing the edges of conscience. "Some Marines found little birds' nests and would step on them," said Dyer, who declined that opportunity.

It was on a shooting range in Hawaii when Dyer knew he had had enough. As another Marine reset pop-up targets, Dyer looked through his rifle site. "I put him in the crosshairs, and I thought, 'I could kill him.' I turned away right then. I kept it quiet. I didn't want anyone to know this kind of mind was developing in me."

Dyer left the Marines and enrolled in Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. After seminary, he became minister of churches in Senatobia, Miss., and Brownsville, Tenn.

In and out of church, Dyer says unhappiness and dissatisfaction seemed pervasive. Wealth and success made no difference. "Everybody is basically suffering about the same. The average Joes you can see happiness in their lives, but it doesn't take long that you will see confusion and dissatisfaction. I wanted to explore the idea that you could find a solution to suffering."

Converting to Buddhism wasn't painless. "When you grow up in the Bible Belt, that teaching is very strong. It's almost better to be a drug addict, an adulterer or a scalawag than to say, 'I'm a Buddhist.'"

He questioned whether he was "denying Christ or endangering my eternal position. But as I continued my meditation, these types of fear just dissolved."

His marriage and two children also were issues. Dyer's wife, Sidney, and the children are Christians, members of First Evangelical Church. "It challenged us to the point that it made us wonder if we could make it," she said.

Sidney's belief that "God plans it all" helped. "I actually thank God in a way because I wouldn't have gone as deep in my own faith if I hadn't been challenged," she said. Instead of rejecting the suffering that her husband questioned, she embraced it: "I think each individual's suffering is personally designed for that individual to lead him to God."

She describes her husband as "a deeply spiritual person" and holds out hope that his spiritual journey will lead him back to Christianity.

At Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, president Michael Spradlin says a minister's conversion from fundamentalist Southern Baptist tradition to Buddhism seems "unfathomable." Spradlin says most suffering in this country is no more than "inconvenience" compared with the real suffering of those in Sudan and other war and famine-ravaged countries.

Spradlin suggests that if Dyer really was a born-again Christian that Southern Baptists and a "forgiving God" might consider his exploration of Buddhism as a "wrong step or a wrong path" and that he could be welcomed back to Christianity.

Dyer, who says he still appreciates the teachings of the Bible, says he doesn't think of Buddhism as a rejection of Christianity. But the happiness he once sought as a Christian no longer seems beyond his grasp. "Without a doubt, without equivocation, there has been a continuous, constant diminishment of suffering and awakening of peace and happiness," he said.

Monday, August 24, 2009

New Blog!: Becoming A Buddhist Chaplain

Our friend, US Air Force SSGT Henry Sims, has just begun a new blog chronicling his attempt to become a military chaplain of Buddhist faith. Check it out!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Chaps' Dharma Talk: Buddhists Coming Home

As a chaplain, I often field inquiries about Buddhism, which range from basic general questions ("what do Buddhists believe?") to more specific ones about how Buddhists put their beliefs into a physical practice, what's needed in a Buddhist ritual or worship service, or even just basic sitting meditation. These questions come from all types of individuals: other chaplains, RPs (Navy enlisted personnel who work with the chaplains) who are required as part of their job to know about different religions, persons curious about Buddhism and what it is, and also from Buddhists themselves. A number Buddhists in uniform that I've met come from recently immigrated families, so are about 2nd to 3rd-generation US Citizens. This has led me to think about my own family experience in being Buddhist.

Imagine as a child you arrive in America or are born here the US as part of an ethnic Asian family: Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, or such. From an early age your parents begin to bring you (or make you go!) to a place with statues, strange-smelling smoke, and the sounds of monks or nuns chanting in a language unfamiliar to you. Also at certain times of the year there are colorful fairs and festivals with familiar foods, music, games and kids your own age. This is all great fun, even if you may not really understand what it's all for, or why this place, called a wat or a temple or a church, is there in the first place. As you grow older, you start drifting away, as it no longer seems interesting or relevant to your more busy and complicated life and you can't understand what is being said or taught, and anyway there's more fun things to do! Not to mention there's school and extracurricular activities and sports, and then college, and then jobs, or you join the armed forces and you move out of the area. You don't think too much about "religion." However, something happens once you get a little older and settled, or get married and have kids yourself: you remember that old temple and the people there, the friendly fellowship, the familiar smells and sights and sounds. You would like your kids to have this same good experience, and develop those kinds of memories for themselves, and maybe their kids in the future. But what was it all about really? What was, and is, this Buddhism religion?

This is a phenomenon familiar to many 2nd or 3rd-generation Asian-Americans. They know they were "born Buddhist" that is, born to a family that is traditionally Buddhist, and that their families identified themselves as Buddhist, visited Buddhist places of worship and did things that were "Buddhist", but as they grew older or assimilated to American lifestyles and culture, drifted away from regular temple attendence or the religion itself. Sometimes they experimented with being Christian or another faith, or dropped any religious identity altogether. Sometimes it is also an issue of language, if the monastics or priests did not speak English fluently, which of course is not the older generation's first language. Even if the younger generations do speak the mother tongue, the doctrine of Buddha-dharma may not have been clearly presented, or even comprehensible in any language! They may have only been taught a child's understanding of Dharma: "Be good. Obey your parents. Do not steal, kill, or lie." (Teachings familiar to people everywhere!) But everything else can be confusing. Why all the statues, why the incense and offerings, and is there anything else to it? What else does Buddhism teach?

Coming home to Buddhism is a journey that can be both joyful and confusing, even scary, for the Buddhist who has been away for a long time. You want to go back for various personal reasons as well as religious reasons. Maybe Christianity or agnosticism didn't work out, but you're not exactly sure what it is you're going back to or whether it would be worth it. Can it just be for the social atmosphere? Like that well-worn saying, "you can't go home again," you're bound to be disappointed if you expect things to be exactly the same when you left. New faces and new furniture, maybe even white and black faces! They weren't there before! So it can't just be about re-affirming an "ethnic identity." So, would it all be worth going back to and getting involved in temple life again when so much may have changed? However, does not mean that things are changed beyond recognition, only that some things in the interval. Even that can be a lesson in Buddha-dharma itself, the proof of truth of Buddha-dharma, that all things are impermanent and changing. Coming home is not just returning to revive pleasant the childhood and teenage years, but also to hear the Buddha-dharma afresh, with the experience of adulthood, to test the Buddha-dharma itself to see if it gives you what you need to grow and develop as a mature adult, in adult situations. What does Buddhism offer you at different stages in your life? It's currently a trend to have Buddha-statues in your home or garden - you can even find them at Target! But Buddhism is not a static set-piece, it is a living tradition followed by real people - there is something that Buddhism offers people more than a transient "identity." Buddha-dharma speaks to people in all situations; it is the task of those who are knowledgeable in the Dharma to bring the teachings to life in ways applicable for people living today! The one who wants to know what Buddhism is also has the task to seriously explore what it is, what do the teachings say, and would it help you and your family not just to be calm and contented in the good times, but in bad times as well - when there is a crisis in the family, when someone dies or is terminally ill. It's not necessary to have an advanced degree or know about abhidhamma or madhyamaka theory, just to know...that Buddha is there for you, and that his Great Compassion embraces all. It has never really left you and is there for you at the good and bad times of your life.

Although I have described this as an Asian-American and Buddhist experience, it is very likely that in the future non ethnic-Asian Buddhists will have this experience too (if not already!) having had one or more parents practicing Buddha-dharma of various traditions, and who now want to pick it up for themselves. Also others of different faith-traditions can also experience absence from their faith, and later on return to being Catholic or Jewish or such. Children should experience the religious life, as children; it does not mean to force "dogma" on them or give them Dharma teachings even adults find complicated. Temple life can be very enriching for children, and it is a place to learn good values and social values. Whether or not they will continue on to be Buddhists in adulthood is certainly up to them - some move away permanently, but many others return because of what they experienced as kids. Temples and their sanghas should welcome back these former members with open arms, just as they would welcome newcomers to the Dharma.

In The Lotus Sutra, the Buddha told the parable of the good friend who sewed a jewel into the lining of his friend's clothes. The friend, unknowing of the treasure he held, went out into the world encountering all manners of hardship and working hard for a living. Later, he encountered his good friend again, who told him of what he had within him all this time. We can make a comparison between the jewel, the real jewel hidden within us, the seed of Buddha-dharma planted within us by our parents and teachers, but like the unaware person we go out into the world forgetful of what we had and never thinking about it. Only later, we realize we had something with us all along, the guidance of Dharma which we can still access and pass on to the future generations. Let's make use of this gift!

Welcome Home.

Namo Amida Butsu

Friday, July 31, 2009

Army Chaplain Corps Celebrates 234th Birthday at Arlington National Cemetery

Here's a nice article about the USA Chaplain Corps. Currently, I believe there are 2 Army chaplain candidates of Buddhist faith.
Happy Birthday!

Jul 30, 2009

By J.D. Leipold
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 30, 2009) – Army Chaplains, their assistants, families, friends and wounded warriors gathered at Arlington National Cemetery, July 26, to celebrate the 234th birthday of the Army Chaplain Corps and the centennial of the chaplain assistant.

Following a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns, Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Douglas Carver, Army chief of chaplains, led the crowd through the tree-lined streets of the cemetery to Chaplain's Hill.

At Chaplain's Hill, Carver introduced guest of honor George Weidensall, a former Army corporal who had served as a chaplain assistant in during the Korean War. Following the invocation and scripture reading, Carver gave a memorial address thanking the chaplains and chaplain assistants for their spiritual leadership, moral example and sacrificial service and love to Soldiers.

Carver said that for the last 100 years chaplain assistants had set the conditions for worship by setting up services for chaplains and by providing security while chaplains conducted those services. He said during the 100 year history of the Chaplain Corps, Army chaplains have received 27 Distinguished Service Crosses, and an array of Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars for Valor, and Combat Action Badges.

"It's humbling to stand here among these graves of our forefathers of military ministry," he said. "Each one of these chaplains and chaplain assistants had something in common: they walked in faith, they found courage in their calling and they encouraged others to greatness. Most of all, our chaplains and chaplain assistants have loved their fellow Soldiers and their fellow ministry teams more than their own lives."

Since the corps was created on July 29, 1775, more than 25,000 chaplains have served as religious and spiritual leaders for 25 million Soldiers and their families. Presently, the Army has 2,700 chaplains and an equal number of assistants across the active Army, Reserve and National Guard. More than 1,000 chaplains have been mobilized or deployed in support of contingency operations worldwide since 2003.

Present in more than 270 major combat engagements, 400 chaplains have died in combat going back to the Revolutionary War battles at Lexington, Concord Bridge and Bunker Hill. Gen. George Washington pushed for chaplains to be assigned to individual regiments and even ordered religious services to be performed at 11 a.m. every Sunday.

While three chaplains are known to have fought with muskets alongside the Soldiers they ministered to during the Revolutionary War, they have long since become noncombatants who depend upon their armed assistants for protection. In combat zones, chaplains handle the driving from unit to unit to perform services while their assistants serve as bodyguards.

Six chaplains have received the Medal of Honor, four from the Civil War and two from the Vietnam War. Calvin P. Titus, an Army musician who spent much time helping his unit's chaplain during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China could be considered the Army's first chaplain assistant. He received the country's highest military decoration, though the chaplain assistant program was not established until Dec. 28, 1909.
(Photo Credit: J.D. Leipold.
Dressed in 1909 vintage uniform, Pfc. Brandon Robb tells chaplains and their guests the story behind the 234-year history of the Army Chaplain Corps and how the chaplain assistant program began. George Weidensall (in wheelchair) a Korean War veteran and chaplain assistant was the guest of honor at the celebration. To his left is Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Douglas Carver, Army chief of chaplains and to Weidensall's right is Chaplain (Brig. Gen.) Donald L. Rutherford, deputy chief of chaplains.)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Institute of Buddhist Studies Podcast

The Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, California, has a podcast page offering audio/visual podcasts of academic lectures and Dharma talks on a variety of topics. The most recent presentations are highlights from the IBS chaplaincy program's Open House, so anyone who missed it can see clips from that presentation, and Professor Steve Jenkin's (Humboldt State University) three-part lecture entitled "Compassionate Violence, Torture and Warfare in the Bodhisattva Ideal."
The podcast page may be found here:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Memorial Service for "Shifty" Powers

One of our blog followers, GYSGT Fountain, posted a very moving tribute to an all-but-forgotten WWII and D-Day Army veteran on his blog. To my knowledge, this veteran was not a practitioner of Buddha-dharma, but all Buddhists now living in the US owe him a debt of gratitude. Please follow this link to his online memorial:
Namo Amida Butsu

Monday, July 13, 2009

Volunteer Chaplains Needed with police, fire, and Civil Air Patrol

From This article is primarily aimed at persons belonging to the United Methodist Church, but I include it here to emphasize the need for chaplains overall, and also the reference to a Buddhist police chaplain serving in the Honolulu Police Department:

(GBHEM) -- Volunteer chaplains are needed with local police and fire departments, Civil Air Patrol groups and in many other locations. The United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry approves chaplains for volunteer work in a process similar to the endorsement process for full-time chaplains. There are 205 United Methodists approved for volunteer chaplaincies, with 1,236 endorsed chaplains, according to Tom Carter, director of endorsement with GBHEM’s United Methodist Endorsing Agency.
Endorsed chaplains primarily work full time in military, medical institutions, or as pastoral counselors. Volunteer chaplains spend most of their time in local churches. While it is not always required, GBHEM provides approval for volunteer chaplains “to give them recognition for their volunteer service,” Carter says. Some chaplain associations require this approval for membership.
The approval process for volunteer chaplains takes a couple weeks. There is paperwork that must be submitted and the board will also check with the applicant’s district superintendent.
Vergara is one of seven chaplains (six Christian and one Buddhist) serving the Honolulu Police force. His chaplaincy duties include counseling, providing house blessings and other types of blessings for members of the department, conducting wedding services, and teaching at the police academy. The classes he teaches include stress management, ethics and integrity.
The Civil Air Patrol uses volunteer chaplain. The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) is a civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force and is known primarily for its work in search and rescue and its cadet program.
The Rev. Henry A. Harlow of New Market, Tenn., is now retired after 49 years of service as a CAP chaplain. When serving in Greene County, Tenn., he worked with a man who was a local CAP commander. So, Harlow joined up and began teaching cadets and counseling senior members.
Harlow certainly had an impact. "The commander who got me into it,” Harlow recalls. “I later had his conversion when he accepted Jesus Christ.” Harlow also watched how many of those cadets grow up and later became airline and military pilots. One cadet even became a national CAP commander.
Harlow served throughout the Southeast and eventually became the supervisor of all the CAP chaplains in a state. There are now 92 United Methodist CAP chaplains training cadets and participating in search and rescue operations.
More volunteers are always needed. Carter said elders and deacons interested in volunteer chaplaincy should check with other organizations and agencies as well. “The important thing is their ability to provide ministry to people in crisis and stress," Carter says.
For more information about chaplaincy, feel free to contact Tom Carter at the United Methodist Endorsing Agency, (615) 340-7411 or via email, or visit

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Two New Veterans Info-Exchange Forums

VA HOSPITAL WATCH is a forum to provide news and information on current VA Hospital, medical health issues and problems, and the VA's responses, actions or lack of:
http://groups. group/va- hospital- watch/

EMPLOYING VETERANS is a forum to provide new job listings, a place for employers to ask veteran employment questions, announcements of veteran hiring preferences, names of businesses that do not obey retention laws and maintenance of veteran associations inside companies:
http://groups. group/employing- veterans/

Saturday, July 4, 2009

hello to all

Hello all,

This being my first post as a chaplain candidate in the ARNG, I thought I would introduce myself and then ask an open question.

I come from a smaller order within Shingon (Japanese Vajrayana) Buddhism, and have been a Buddhist for a little over six years. I am currently attending U-West to obtain my M-Div., and(currently) a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard as a 56E (chaplain cnadidate). I am also currently attending Ch-BOLC, after which I will be properly ascessioned and drilling with the CA Guard.

The question that I wanted to ask, and try to open to discussion is this. All chaplains have a sort of kit bag (sometimes lovingly called the chaplain's "magic bag"). I am wondering, for all of our Buddhists out there, what you would suggest, from your tradition, that would be useful, necessary and fit in a bag that has to be hand-carried in places like a FOB in say, the 'box?

NOTE: this is not a place to discuss doctrine, only to say what you would like to see in a kit bag if I have to go out and do a field service or provide ministry in theater.

In gassho,
Christopher Mohr,
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