Monday, December 20, 2010

Clint Eastwood Urges Veterans to Meditate

Here is an article from the Austalian news network; this is interesting. Although this article is about Transcendental (TM) Meditation, there are many other different forms of meditation out there. This is going to be a new field to explore, the links between Buddhist, and other forms of meditation, and trying to treat stresses. This is something chaplains have to deal with often. Any thoughts?

News link:
Hollywood A-listers, including Clint Eastwood, have joined US military veterans to promote what they called the near-miraculous powers of meditation in overcoming war stress.

The event in New York drew an unlikely alliance ranging from fashion designer Donna Karan to traumatised veterans of World War II, Vietnam and Iraq.

Uniting them was a belief that transcendental meditation - dubbed TM for short - is the cheapest, most effective and medication-free way of healing people who have suffered severe stress in war and any other extreme experience.

"I'm a great supporter of transcendental meditation. I've been using it for almost 40 years now. I think it's a great tool for anyone to have," said Eastwood, best known for playing hardened characters on screen.

The fundraising event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was organised by experimental filmmaker David Lynch, whose Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and Peace encourages meditation along the lines espoused by famed guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Lynch has launched a project, named "Operation Warrior Wellness", aimed to train 10,000 veterans in the art of finding inner peace.

Critics have cast doubt on the value of meditation for treating psychological disorders.

But Lynch says there are "a lot of misunderstandings about meditation".

He believes the technique can help everyone from disruptive school pupils to soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is an increasingly high-profile problem among servicemen returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, a large number of whom are believed to fear revealing their disorder to military health staff.

Vietnam vet Dan Burks gave a moving account of the mental scars he carried after a battle in which he says he killed Vietnamese soldiers and lost many of his own troops.

"[PTSD] is a wound. It takes your life away, just like losing a limb," he said.

"But guess what - you can get rid of it."

He described his life after discovery of transcendental meditation as "the difference between heaven and hell".

Another veteran, World War II pilot, Jerry Yellin, told the fundraiser that for three decades after the end of the war against Japan he "found no satisfaction in life in anything I did".

At age 51, he took up TM and says he found peace.

"We have the ability to teach young people who are suffering tremendously ... young people who are in a foreign land," he said of today's veterans.

One of those, a former infantry soldier in Iraq, says TM "cleared the skies and I could tell where I was going".

"I felt this warm groovy feeling," he said.

"It just gets better and better."

The star-studded event saw testimonials from fashion designer Karan and British comedian Russell Brand.

Brand says he had suffered severe stress from his much-publicised sex and drugs addictions but found solace in TM.

"I felt love - sort of love for myself, but also love for everyone else," he said in a rambling speech delivered in his trademark hyper-energised style.

"I am a human being and it is applicable to all human beings. Someone, everyone can draw from it."


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day 2010

Blessings on all our Nation's Veterans past and present! May they be well and happy.

This year witnessed several accomplishments in Buddhist Military Chaplaincy: two chaplains completed deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan respectively, and we have had several new chaplain candidates accepted into preliminary commissioning programs for the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy. Also a UK British chaplain visited Buddhist personnel serving in Afghanistan.

We still have more work to do: we still do not have any chaplain candidates for the U.S. AIr Force Chaplain Corps, and we still do not have Buddhist supplies registered in the Department of Defense supply system, due to various reasons. We have had difficulties in creating a Field Service Book; we had contacted several Buddhist organizations for assistance, but some have refused to work with us, due to our association with the Armed Forces. However, I believe there is significantly greater support for Buddhists serving in the U.S. Armed Forces than in the past now that many more people, including non-Buddhist chaplains, recognize the religious and ethnic diversity of the individuals serving, and the growing presence of Chaplains to serve their spiritual needs. Buddhists are in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. It is my hope that this trend will continue in the future. We are also actively working with the dependents of Buddhist Servicemembers and Veterans, who also fall within the care of all military chaplains. We ask for and welcome your support and prayers.

Namo Amida Butsu

Friday, October 22, 2010

U Student Finds Place for Buddhism in the Army

Just found this article today in the Daily Utah Chronicle! Article can be found here.

U student finds place for Buddhism in the army
By Marie Lenihan-Clarke

Published: Thursday, October 21, 2010
Updated: Thursday, October 21, 2010 13:10

Christopher Reeves
ROTC Cadet Jeffery Gilbert stands in front of the Buddhist temple, the Zen Center.
Cadet Jeffery Gilbert, a junior in philosophy, was accepted to be the first Buddhist chaplain from Utah. He will be one of 1,967 Buddhist chaplains in the acting Army nationwide, according to Sgt. First Class James Benn, special categories chaplain recruiter.
Earlier this year, Gilbert completed a higher part of the ROTC's Leaders' Training Course, becoming a Military Science Three, or third-year equivalent.
Gilbert will work with the chaplain core for the U.S. Army. In order for Gilbert to become a Buddhist chaplain, he must obtain a master's degree in divinity and have the approval of another Army-recognized Buddhist minister.
From a military perspective, Gilbert captures the diversity found within the Armed Forces, said Lieutenant Aaron Weyburn, a gold bar recruiter for the ROTC. The ROTC is raising awareness that practicing religion as well as serving your country is possible in today's society.
"Protecting and serving are quite compatible with Buddhism," Gilbert said. "The use of force or violence is to be avoided, but to what extent differs among some schools of Buddhist thought."
Holding a pacifist role in Buddhism and observing hurt could cause indirect damage and harm, he said.
Understanding that there is more to the Army than force or violence is important too, Gilbert said.
"If you speak to anyone in the Army, they have a strong mentality towards service and protection," he said. "They see their position within the Army as serving the people of the U.S."
Gilbert is furthering his insight into Buddhism as well as other religions through the study of philosophy.
"I take philosophy because it is a personal interest," he said. "Understanding the core issues at the very heart of human existence through philosophical perspectives will allow me to better serve the needs of my community." Since he is a chaplain, a philosophy degree will assist Gilbert to serve all denominations, with a specific focus on Buddhism.
Colonel George Johnson, commander of the U's senior ROTC program, said Gilbert is an asset to the ROTC.
"Cadet Gilbert has the leadership characteristics needed to provide spiritual guidance to our cadets and future soldiers," Johnson said.
[CORRECTION: The author clearly made a typo in the article above: we do not have 1,967 Buddhist chaplains in the Army - that's nearly the total of the chaplains in all the Armed Forces!]

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Buddhist Chaplains Returned from Deployments

Just a note that I have returned from my deployment with Combat Logistics Regiment 15Forward to Afghanistan, and will be resuming my ministry, at Camp Pendleton. Likewise, Chaplain Dyer has returned from his deployment to Iraq. We will use our experiences to help develop resources for American Buddhist military servicemembers. As I stated in previous posts, Brian Nagata of the Numata Center is working on a prototype of a service book and The Teaching of Buddha - Military edition. We can also use our experiences to help new chaplain candidates in developing their own form of Buddhist ministry in the field. More good news to follow!

Namo Amida Butsu

Monday, September 27, 2010

Another U.S. Navy Buddhist Chaplain Candidate

Congratulations to Brett Campbell who also entered the U.S. Navy's Chaplain Candidate Program (CCPO)! Brett will be doing his seminary work at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Naropa University was founded in 1974 by the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
Bravo Zulu!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Second Buddhist Chaplain to Enter U.S. Navy

Congratulations to SH3(SW) Aroon Seeda who will be commissioned this week as a U.S. Navy Ensign in the CCPO (Chaplain Candidate Program)! So soon we will have two Buddhist chaplains in the U.S. Navy! SH3(SW) Seeda is a former Thai Theravada monk who immigrated to the United States; he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served with distinction aboard the USS Kidd. As a CCPO he will complete his seminary work at the University of the West in Rosemead, California, where several of our Army Chaplain Candidates are studying. He will make a great addition to the Navy Chaplain Corps. Bravo Zulu!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Proposed Guidebook for Buddhist Servicemembers

Mr. Brian Nagata of the Numata Center in Berkeley, California, is currently working on a Guidebook for Buddhist Servicemembers. This guidebook would primarily be for Buddhist lay leaders/readers to conduct discussion or services in the absence of a Buddhist chaplain. It could potentially also be used for information by those interested in Buddhism or even as a source of info for non-Buddhist military chaplains. Right now this book would include the following chapters:

Brief History of Buddhists in the American military
A Brief Introduction to Buddhism
The Four Noble Truths & Eightfold Path – basic explanation
Key Buddhist Terms
25 Basic Questions about Buddhism and American Buddhist Military Personnel
Central Objects of Worship (different Buddha pictures and Dharmacakra)
Sample room layout for conducting a Buddhist Service
Sample layout for the Buddhist Altar
Sample Buddhist Altar Set up instructions
Weekly Buddhist Service – Basic Instructions on how to run the service
Weekly Buddhist Service – Suggested service format
Sample of the laminated “Weekly Buddhist Service” card (to be used by service attendees)
Sacred Sayings from the Sutras
Readings from the Dharmapada
Buddhist Holidays
Short Explanation on “Gassho” (Anjali) – universal Buddhist Gesture
Brief Explanation of the Dharmacacra Dharma wheel symbol
A Brief history of the Recognition of Buddhism and the Dharmacakra by the US Armed Forces
Sample Service Format – Simple ceremony to become a Buddhist
Sample Service Format – Last Rite for a Buddhist Soldier (on the battlefield or in a military hospital)
Sample Service Format – Memorial Service for the Committal Ceremony for a Buddhist Soldier (if not at a Buddhist temple or Buddhist Center).
Items Available for Buddhist Military Personnel
Suggested Reading Material List on Buddhism

This book will try to be inclusive of Buddhist traditions; it would probably be unrealistic to expect that this book could be used for every Buddhist service, given the vast difference of practices, but at the minimum it could serve in the absence of texts or other materials. We would welcome your input!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

UWest Alum Now Active-Duty Buddhist Chaplain

From the University of the West Web site:

ROSEMEAD, Calif. – Sept. 7, 2010 – UWest M.Div. in Buddhist Chaplaincy alum Somya Malasri (class of 2010) recently had his degree-work approved by the U.S. Army, allowing him to become the Army’s second active-duty Buddhist chaplain in its history.

“This is great news not just for Somya personally – he has been working toward this goal for many years now – but also for our program,” said Rev. Danny Fisher, Coordinator of UWest’s M.Div. “We’ve put together a very good, very professional program.”

Fisher’s program was launched in 2009 and so far Malasri (who transferred in from UWest’s M.A. in Buddhist Studies program) is its only graduate. Fisher worked closely with Malasri through his studies to his eventual placement as a chaplain serving the Army’s estimated 3,000 Buddhist soldiers.

“With Somya’s going active-duty, we’ve passed a huge test,” Fisher said. “The Department of Defense in particular has the most stringent educational requirements of all the organizations that certify chaplains – they are certainly the body that most narrowly defines what a chaplain's graduate education looks like, at least.”

Thursday, September 2, 2010

First Military Chaplain Killed in Action in Iraq, Afghanistan

Sad news recently. From CNN News: "For the first time in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a U.S. military chaplain has been killed in action.

On August 30, U.S. Army chaplain Capt. Dale Goetz, 43, was killed in the Arghandab River Valley in Afghanistan, when the convoy he was traveling in was struck by an improvised explosive device, according to the Department of Defense. Four other soldiers also were killed in the attack.

Goetz was serving as the battalion chaplain for the 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment.

Friends and co-workers said Goetz was a dedicated father and chaplain. He leaves behind a wife and three sons.

The Army's chief of chaplains, Maj. Gen. Douglas Carver, said in a statement, "Dale was a selfless servant of God, a devoted husband and father, a strong American patriot, and a compassionate spiritual leader whose love for Soldiers was only surpassed by his firm commitment to living his calling as a United States Army Chaplain."

Military chaplains share many of the dangers with their deployed servicemembers, and help persons of all faiths. May Chaplain Goetz be blessed and may his family have no separation from peace.

Namo Amida Butsu

Monday, August 23, 2010

How to Read the Buddhist Sutras (Part 2)

In the Contemplation Sutra (one of the sutras of the Pure Land School) which tells the story of Queen Vaidehi's acceptance of the Pure Land of Amida Buddha, she is visited by the Buddha and his disciples Ananda and Maudgalyayana. They do not simply get a prison pass and walk in the prison, but they appear to her seemingly out of thin air. The Buddha shows her a vision of the Pure Land, and Vaidehi decides to be born there. In many other sutras, the Buddha manifests supernatural powers and accomplishes deeds which could be described as "miracles" or, activities which defy scientific laws.

Much of this can disturb readers who are expecting a more "rational" form of teaching (the idea of Buddhism as only philosophy comes to mind), and who could be uncomfortable with concepts like "miracles," which we assume to belong solely to the Christian tradition (yet even some Christians, like Thomas Jefferson, was uncomfortable with this)! However, these can be present in many other religions, including Islam.

How can we understand the sutras with their descriptions of incredible beings, and abilities manifested by the Buddha and his disciples? Should we just accept them "literally" that these beings and powers existed in history, or just dismiss them as elaborate yet impossible depictions created later by imaginative scribes? Should we accept one explanation without question, and then deny absolutely the opposite opinion? If the sutras contain "impossible" depictions, how can it be reliable? Where is the truth in its pages? Can it speak to us in today's worlds, with 21st-century issues?

I believe that the answer may lie in between these explanations. The sutras Pure Land or other schools, were not written to be a only a dry, historical account of the Buddha and his teachings, they were also written to convey the idea of the Buddha's uniqueness, to encourage devotion and adherence to the Pure Land teachings, and the wider Mahayana tradition. In the Lotus Sutra, it is encouraged to follow the teachings within this particular text, while other sutras say that this sutra is best. Is one false and the other true? Yes, some Buddhists have argued one is true and the others all heretical, as the Japanese monk Nichiren did in favor of the Lotus teachings. Other monks have made arguments for the validity of the sutras they follow, over others. Depending on the school, one sutra, or several, is preferred over others.

The sutra is not only a primer of "philosophy" but a text that is, perhaps pardoxically, irrational. It is meant to take us to a separate level of understanding, perhaps similar to the purpose of the Zen koan. When we read the sutras, we also read with the mind of faith. This mind of faith is not the mind of "blind faith" (of which many people criticize organized religion for) but rather the mind of opening the mind to the Buddha-Dharma. We may compare queen Vaidehi's example, of receiving the manifestation of the Pure Land in her mind.

However, we have to combine our reason with our devotion TOGETHER, to read the Buddhist scriptures. Simply stating that everything in the sutras is "literally" true or that everything in the sutra is merely smoke and mirrors for another "intellectual" meaning is falling to another extreme, which we should always try to avoid. A Buddhist has this responsibility, and should carefully consider thus the ways to read the sutra for himself/herself. Many individual Christians struggle also with reading the Bible, and take great care how they approach it as both a literary text and as a devotional text; as the sutras are our "holy text" we should take an approach of equal respect and critical reading towards the sutras (which exist in several different versions). Not to do this can lead us to error and the calamities of doubt, or perhaps worse, to what we see afflicting the religions today. Most people only see this played out on our TV screens. Seeing it in person, in Afghanistan for example, leads me to understand that how we read the sutras is crucial to our own understanding of why it is so important to read the sutras, with always the goal of the Buddha in mind - to achieve peace and compassion, beginning with oneself.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple Adopts Vietnam War Killed in Action

[The following article is from the August 2010 issue of Wheel of Dharma, the official publication of the Buddhist Churches of America]

Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple(VHBT) is participating in the Japanese American Vietnam War Killed in Action (KIA) adoption program. In this program,community organizations/temples/churches would “adopt” the names of eight to 12 KIA and honor and remember them. Organizations also participating to date include the Pacific Southwest JACL,Centenary United Methodist Church, and the Venice Santa Monica Free Methodist Church. Adopting organizations were invited to participate in the annual Japanese American Veterans’Memorial Service at the Japanese American National Memorial Court at the Japanese American Culture and Community Center by presenting a single flower with the adopted serviceman’s name attached. This service took place on May 29 with members of VHBT present.Danny Nakagiri of VHBT presented a floral tribute on behalf of the Japanese American Vietnam War Veterans. Danny and his wife, Nancy, rushed to the Memorial Service immediately after the birth of their first grandchild, Leah Matsubayashi, daughter of Cindy and Erik Matsubayashi and granddaughter of Rev. and Mrs. George Matsubayashi. The website for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is There is no cost to participate in the program. There is,however, an endowment fund campaign which is raising money to maintain the Japanese American National Memorial Court at JACCC in perpetuity. VHBT will also honor these young men during our Atom Bomb Memorial Service on Sunday, Aug. 8. Other temples interested in participating in this program should contact Ken Hayashi at

Friday, August 6, 2010

UK Buddhist Chaplain to the Gurkhas

Recently I had the honor of meeting with Acharya Chewang Gurung, who serves as a civilian Buddhist chaplain for the UK Armed Forces. He is visiting Afghanistan to minister to Gurkha soldiers. Gurkhas are Nepalese, and have a long and proud history of service in the British military. Many Gurkhas practice Buddhism, also Hinduism, and a minority are Christians or other faiths; I've been told that Gurkhas do attend each others' services, with Buddhist Gurkhas attending Hindu services, and vice versa. Nepalese Buddhism is primarily Mahayana; there has been some scholarship on Nepalese Buddhism, but still is a new field of study. We had a good discussion, and hopefully will continue to meet and assist with ministering to Buddhist servicemembers wherever they are.

Friday, July 23, 2010

What Do Military Chaplains Do?

This post is due to the many questions I've received from those interested in military chaplaincy. I've been surprised to learn that actually not many people are familiar with what is chaplaincy in general, not just military chaplaincy and not only in conjunction with Buddhism. Some are unfamiliar even with the term "chaplain" (derived from the French, and refering to a garment worn by soldiers, in legend by a Catholic saint). One assumption I've encountered is that Buddhist chaplains do nothing but sign conscientious objection forms for Buddhist servicemembers! Certainly the C.O. process involves chaplains, but it is not exclusively the work of Buddhist chaplains (in my 6 years as a chaplain I've (correction!) only done one). The work of a military chaplain can be similar to the work of chaplains in other fields, like hospital chaplaincy. Below is a description of some of the military chaplain's roles - this is not a definitive or "official" list by any means, just an outline of what our work may consist of:

Religious Services
This may seem like a given, but I've been asked if we actually do this! So yes, chaplains do perform religious services, although only for his or her particular faith group. So a Roman Catholic chaplain cannot perform a Jewish seder, or a Buddhist chaplain a Mass. We can perform life-ritual services (sacraments) like weddings, confirmations (for Christians, things like baptism, etc.) and such services as required by our faith tradition. We can offer prayers and blessings for various functions like retirements, graduations, convoys departures, etc. The Constitutional Right of the free exercise of religion is our main reason for being. Military chaplains exist so that servicemembers have the opportunity to attend services of their faith tradition, especially in places where they may not be readily available, such as aboard a naval ship, or in the field, or another country. You can imagine it may be difficult for those of a minority faith, like Buddhism, Wicca, or others, to be able to talk to another member of their faith, much less attend services. Buddhist chaplains can help alleviate this.

Pastoral Care and Counseling
Perhaps the bulk of our service involves counseling of individuals. This is something all chaplains can perform for servicemembers regardless of their faith or non-faith affiliations. We often encounter individuals with issues regarding to marriage, stress, even suicidal ideation or post-traumatic stress disorder. In some cases we do refer individuals to mental health professionals or other services. Speaking with a chaplain involves confidentiality, meaning we cannot disclose the information passed in a counseling session to a third-party without the individual's permission. Chaplains also make visits to servicemembers incarcerated in the brig or hospitalized, so in this sense our chaplaincy is very similar to prison and hospital chaplaincies. Chaplains are very important in just being a person the servicemember can go and talk to without fear that their "issues" will be made known to the command, or to anyone. Sometimes all a servicemember wants to do is just "vent" and we can provide an ear for listening. (If you don't think a chaplain is needed, try just "venting" or talking about your issues with your boss, and see how that turns out)!

Another big part of our work involves boosting the morale of our servicemembers. We work as part of the command on this. This can take the form of providing volunteer activities (many chaplains I know have been involved in outside projects like Habitat For Humanity, which I also hope to participate in!), and assisting with Morale-Welfare-Recreation (MWR) activities and other programs, like United Through Reading. It can take the form of something as simple as arranging for the delivery and distribution of USO items and care packages (important on deployment) to servicemembers. There are many care package organizations, such as Adopt-a-Platoon and Soldier's Angels, that work with chaplains to ensure that deployed units receive free gear like food, toiletries, books, etc. We can liaison with outside, civilian groups, like nonprofits, churches, etc., so that servicemembers can receive assistance with family issues, material support, even financial support.

Historically, this was one of the major jobs of the chaplain. During the 1800s Navy Chaplains were actually involved in the education of midshipmen not just in religious subjects, but in secular subjects like mathematics, history, and navigation. Even today, chaplains can teach college courses on base or in deployed areas or on ships. Many servicemembers do take advantage of such opportunities to gain educational credit.

As I stated earlier, chaplains can be involved in the administrative work involved in things like conscientious objector discharges, although it takes more than just a chaplain's sign-off to successful complete such as discharge. We can also assist in other administrative work such as an Exceptional Hardship discharge (usually for servicemembers who need to take care of family member full-time). We also assist in the process of recommending and supporting command-sponsored lay leaders. Additionally, we work with the command in this.

There are undoubtedly many other things military chaplains can do, so I am sure I am neglecting to list them! This is just a brief outline of what our job can consist of. Ideally, a chaplain can do all this very well, but like all human beings, not all of us are completely perfect, but we try to do the best we can. Military chaplaincy is not an easy job, just as being a clergyperson is not a "cake" job (another misconception I've run across). Chaplaincy is clergy work outside the temple or church. Military chaplaincy is clergy work, in an especially challenging an unique environment.

Friday, July 16, 2010

How to Read the Buddhist Sutras (Part 1)

(This is adapted from my other blog on the Pure Land, "The Western Quarter)

I've often been asked for copies of the "Buddhist scripture" as a chaplain by people interested in Buddhism. They've read books about Buddhism, so they want to see what the "scripture" itself says. This is a natural result of our Western culture, and a very good thing - we are encouraged to study religions on our own, and one way to do that is to read what their scriptures, or the teachings themselves, say, whether it is the Bible, the Torah, or the Koran. When they read these sacred texts, it may be in the context as a "believer" or member of a specific faith, which will also inform them how to read them, whether as "infallible" or in some degree open to interpretation. Of course they may also come to it as a nonbeliever, or "undecided" meaning that they will read it skeptically, or in some other context which will allow them to decide for themselves what to believe. For those coming to the Buddhist sutras, it is also not different from these forms of readings.

Buddhism has many scriptures, today, we have many sutras available in English-language! Most sutras however are not readily available at the bookstore, even independent bookstores specializing in "New Age" or "metaphysical" titles. If you take a look at the "Eastern Religions" section in your local Borders or Barnes & Noble, the majority of titles available tend to be mostly popular books written about Buddhism and meditation, rather than ready translations of Buddhist sutras. You may have better luck online. Whatever sutra you decide to read first (if you are not practicing any specific tradition), find one with a commentary and introduction, most will have them.

Reading a Buddhist sutra can be very different from what might be expected, especially if you were raised with the Christian Bible, or it may be your only experience with reading a religious text. The Bible is laid out as a narrative story (Genesis to Revelations), except for several books that are about ancient Jewish ritual laws. A Buddhist sutra does not necessarily tell a "story" and many passages appear repetitive, or simply bizarre to the new reader. In some sutras, the Buddha manifests what we would describe as "supernatural" powers, and there are lots of otherworldly beings hanging about: devas, nagas, spirits, etc., who don't necessarily participate in a narrative "story." This can seem very confusing especially for someone who is curious about what the Buddhist "scriptures" say, to pick up and read and try to make sense of it. Even many Buddhists who do not read the sutras may find them hard to read! A person can open the Bible and read the story of Joshua and his wars or Moses and the wanderings of the Jews, or read in the New Testament and read about Jesus' life and ministry. In contrast, a person who open up in the middle, for example, the Lotus Sutra or the Larger Pure Land Sutra may have no idea what is happening, and not know when or why such events are taking place. Therefore, some guidance is necessary if a person wants to seriously engage in reading the sutras, and importantly, to make sense of them and acquire wisdom from them.

First, let us look at the physical text itself. Only a few sutras and commentaries (shastras) exist in English translations, and as with any translations into one language from another language (in our case Sanskrit, Tibetan, Chinese or Japanese to English) they can vary in style and quality. A translated sutra reflect the times they were written in and the author’s attempt to use English to translate some very difficult and different concepts. It’s not unusual to still find Buddhist sutras (especially early editions) translated such as “The Lord Buddha thus spake to his disciples…” This is not the translator’s trying to be obtuse, it is a reflection of what he thought would be the proper English usage. Until recently, only “King James” English was thought proper to use in Bibles and for “religious” language. Now there are dozens of Bible translations, most using contemporary English, but there are still people who belive only the King James translation is the accurate version. Unfortunately we do not have the luxury of having dozens of sutra translations to choose which is the most "readable", and unless we know the original language of the sutra, we cannot know ourselves how accurate or good it may be. We trust to the translator or translation committee that they are doing their best. However, we also have to be mindful that the translation, in an well-meaning attempt to be readable, does not sacrifice the meaning for the sake of "readability." We trust a sutra's translation usually in context of our own tradition, that is, Buddhists of our own tradition made the translations. This can be good in that they write for the better understanding, or also problematic, in that they may emphasize a specific reading rather than an "objective" or "academic" one.
(to be cont'd)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

First Buddhist Chaplain Performs Army Wesak

A little bit late but thought this was a nice article!

Story by Sgt. Michael Carden
Date: 05.27.2010
Posted: 06.13.2010 08:22

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE TAJI, Iraq — As a full moon rose into the Iraq night’s sky, more than 200 Buddhist worshipers bowed their heads in meditation May 27 at Contingency Operation Base Taji, Iraq, to celebrate Wesak, the holiest day of the Buddhist calendar.

The celebration was a milestone, being the first Wesak celebration hosted by the U.S. Army, and with the Army’s first Buddhist chaplain, 1st Lt. Thomas Dyer, a chaplain with Regimental Support Squadron, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and a Memphis native.

“This is a time that is very special to the Buddhist community,” Dyer said. “Traditionally, Buddhists cannot practice unless a teacher is present. They can offer prayers, and celebrate meals but actually having a full Buddhist service; a chaplain or teacher has to be present.”

The Army has never had the capability to provide a full Wesak service due to the absence of Buddhist chaplains. Dyer’s presence allowed deployed Buddhists to celebrate an authentic and official service, he said.

“It is very important for Buddhist Soldiers to be able to experience this,” Dyer said. “It is more than just a first amendment right. It is kind of a quality of life issue. It’s a resiliency issue. For Buddhist Soldiers to come and experience [this] for the first time in Army history, with the hope that this will be a continuing thing; it’s really exciting.”

Soldiers from across the Iraq joint operations area were invited to the Wesak celebration.
Spc. Heidi Sanders, a supply specialist with the 585th Military Police Company, 151st MP Battalion, 49th MP Brigade and a Kent, Ohio, native, traveled from Camp Ramadi to be a part of the ceremony.

“It was put out as an invitation to all Buddhists in Iraq,” Sanders said. “I don’t take it for granted. I really appreciate it. Chaplain Dyer is very gracious; very humble. He is just what I need as a teacher.”

Dyer frequently travels throughout Iraq to provide religious support for Buddhist Soldiers.

“The Chaplain Corps cares about every one of their Soldiers,” Dyer said. “[Other chaplains] want to have access to a Buddhist chaplain, so they can provide that service for their Soldiers.”

Officials in the Chaplain Corps believe there are more Buddhists in the military than most people realize, he said.

Dyer is currently working with the Department of the Army to develop a plan to better provide services and support for Buddhist Soldiers throughout the Iraq joint operations area, he said.

According to Department of Defense policy, while Soldiers’ welfare is the main focus of the Chaplain Corps, chaplains are also concerned with, and instructed to provide for, the welfare of contractors.

Hundreds of civilian contractors live at COB Taji, many of them from Nepal and Sri Lanka, which have large Buddhist populations.

After the meditation ceremony, the civilians hosted a traditional Buddhist dinner, a simple vegetarian meal.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth of July!

I hope every reader here will have a safe and thoughtful Fourth of July holiday, wherever he or she may be, in the United States, its territories, or stationed or living overseas. May all beings have the cause and condition to hear the sublime Dharma, may all beings have no separation from joyfulness, and be at peace.
Namo Amida Butsu

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Dalai Lama's Message to the Armed Forces

Thanks to Philip Rodgers, who directed me to this message in support of military servicemembers from H.H. the Dalai Lama, which was posted on a Web site about celebrity supporters of the United Kingdom's Armed Forces Day. The message below:

"I have always admired those who are prepared to act in the defense of others for their courage and determination. In fact, it may surprise you to know that I think that monks and soldiers, sailors and airmen have more in common than at first meets the eye. Strict discipline is important to us all, we all wear a uniform and we rely on the companionship and support of our comrades.

Although the public may think that physical strength is what is most important, I believe that what makes a good soldier, sailor or airman, just as what makes a good monk, is inner strength. And inner strength depends on having a firm positive motivation. The difference lies in whether ultimately you want to ensure others’ well being or whether you want only wish to do them harm.

Naturally, there are some times when we need to take what on the surface appears to be harsh or tough action, but if our motivation is good our action is actually non-violent in nature. On the other hand if we use sweet words and gestures to deceive, exploit and take advantage of others, our conduct may appear agreeable, while we are actually engaged in quite unacceptable violence.

The ultimate purpose of Buddhism is to serve and benefit humanity, therefore I believe that what is important for Buddhists is the contribution we can make to human society according to our own ideas and values. The key to overcoming suffering and ensuring happiness is inner peace. If we have that we can face difficulties with calmness and reason, while our inner happiness remains undisturbed. The teachings of love, kindness and tolerance, the conduct of non-violence as I have explained above, and especially the Buddhist theory that all things are relative are a source of that inner peace.

It is my prayer that all of you may be able to do your duty and fulfil your mission and in due course when that is done to return to your homes and families.”

~ Dalai Lama

The Web site can be found here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Facebook Group Buddhists in the Armed Forces

USMC LCpl Luke Jamison has a new Facebook group entitled Buddhists in the Armed Forces! You can join here.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

This year’s Vesak observance, the remembrance of Lord Buddha’s Birth, Enlightenment, and Parinirvana, occurs closely to our Memorial Day observance. On both occasions, this is a time for the remembrance of deeds that provided for our Emancipation from suffering. The Buddha’s final victory over Mara, and our military veterans who gave the “last full measure” so that we may have freedom today.

The Buddha showed us the Way to liberation, that liberation from suffering was in fact possible, and available regardless of our karmic circumstances or our social caste; our veterans have sacrificed so that we also are liberated from slavery and oppressive government. We continue to honor and remember the Buddha for His Great Compassion for us. We must not only remember what he accomplished, but work to pass on his teachings.

American Buddhists have fought in the wars of this nation, and Buddhist families have lost sons and daughters in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have also given the “last full measure,” no different from any other citizen of this Nation. Do not forget those who have given so much for us. Take time during your Memorial Day vacation, or during your memorial services this Sunday, to remember those who have served.

Namo Amida Butsu

Friday, May 21, 2010

UWest Commencement Release

Here is UWest's news release on their recent commencment:

ROSEMEAD, Calif. – MAY 11, 2010 – University of the West, the only accredited Buddhist university in Los Angeles County, will graduate on Saturday May 15 a former Buddhist monk from Thailand who will use his training to become the second Buddhist chaplain in the U.S. Army ranks.
First Lieutenant Somya Malasri, 39, of Rosemead, seemed an unlikely candidate for the U.S. Army in 2001, when he arrived in the United States garbed in a saffron robe, the traditional attire of a Buddhist monk. Originally from a small village in Buriram Province, Thailand, Malasri had been a Buddhist monk since he was 17 years old.
The U.S. military has been actively trying to recruit Buddhist chaplains since World War II, said Rev. Danny Fisher, program coordinator for the M.Div. in Buddhist Chaplaincy at UWest.

“At this point, there have only ever been two Buddhist chaplains in the U.S. military,” Fisher said. “Both are on active duty now.”

One of the two is also a UWest student; Jeanette Shin is earning her Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies at UWest and is currently a Buddhist chaplain in the Navy. The other is Thomas Dyer, who is in the Army and became the Army’s first ever Buddhist chaplain, about a year ahead of Malasri, Fisher said.

The US Army currently has an estimated 3,300 soldiers claiming a Buddhist affiliation. It wasn’t until Malasri met some U.S. soldiers who were Buddhist that he realized their need for chaplains. So Malasri “disrobed” to join active service in the Army.

After graduation this month, Malasri expects to be deployed, although he is not yet sure where.
“I’m very happy and also at the same time I don’t know what to expect in the Army,” Malasri said. “When I adjust to everything it’ll be OK. I’m really happy.”

In 2007, Malasri became the first Buddhist chaplain candidate for the Army. He would have become the first chaplain, however Dyer, a chaplain from a Christian background converted to Buddhism, making Malasri the likely second Buddhist chaplain ever in the Army. He will become a full chaplain by the end of 2010, Malasri said.
Malasri did achieve a first by becoming the first student to graduate from UWest’s M.Div. in Buddhist Chaplaincy program. The M.Div. in Buddhist Chaplaincy program at UWest is one of only three accredited Buddhist chaplaincy training programs in the United States.

“Graduating our first chaplain is a joyous way to cap off the first year of the program's existence,” Rev. Fisher said. “In addition, Somya, who has done so much training already as a former Theravada Buddhist monk and chaplain candidate in the U.S. Army, has set a wonderful example for his fellow students.”
“I learned a lot from the program,” Malasri said. “For example, I learned how to be a good facilitator, how to be a good counselor.”

“To have more Buddhist chaplains in the military is important because servicemen and women have been needing and asking for them for a long time now,” Rev. Fisher said.
University of the West is a Buddhist-founded campus open to all students and located in the Eastern suburbs of Los Angeles County

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bravo Zulu!

Here's another wonderful pic of our Dharma friend Rev. Danny Fisher and new University of the West graduate Rev. Somya Malasri! Check out the 2010 UWest commencement photos at their site!

Introducing 2ndLt Christopher A. Mohr

Again thanks to Chaplain Dyer, we have this wonderful picture of Chaplain Candidate Christopher Mohr leading a Dharma service. 2LT Mohr completed his CH-BOLC officer basic course on April 2009. He is currently working on his graduate degree in Religious Studies. He is also serving with HHC 1-185 AR BN California Army National Guard. 2LT Mohr is projected to graduate from his masters program in the fall of 2011and become the fourth Buddhist Chaplain to come on active duty.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Introducing 2ndLt Tommy Nguyen

Thanks to 1stLt Thomas Dyer, our U.S. Army Chaplain of Buddhist faith (currently in theater in Iraq), for this wonderful picture of Chaplain Candidate Rev. Tommy Nguyen. Rev. Nguyen was commissioned as an Army Chaplain Candidate for the Buddhist faith. He is currently attending the University of the West in Southern California and upon his graduation he will go into Active Duty as a Buddhist Chaplain.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Congratulations Rev. Malasri!

Congratulations to Rev. Somya Malasri who will graduate this month from the University of the West in Rosemead, California. Soon he will become an active-duty chaplain of Buddhist faith for the U.S. Army. His bio in his own words below:

My name is Somya Malasri, a Buddhist minister. My denomination is Theravada Buddhism. I was born on September 11, 1970 in Buriram Province, Thailand. I joined a Buddhist temple as a novice, when I was seventeen. I went to study Buddha's teachings and meditation in southern Thailand for four years. I was ordained as a Buddhist monk in Southern Thailand on June 1, 1991, when I was twenty one years old. I moved to Bangkok for further education and resided at Wat Bodhinimit Temple. I enrolled at Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University in 1996 and graduated in 2000.
In 2001, I was invited by the Thai Buddhist Sangha Council in the United States (the council of Thai monks) to teach Buddhism and Thai culture to Thai Buddhist communities. I served Thai Buddhist communities in Denver and Colorado Springs, Colorado; Layton, Utah; and Las Vegas, Nevada. While I was at a Layton Buddhist temple in Utah, I met with a Buddhist soldier. He came to the temple to get a blessing before deploying to Iraq. This was the first time that I considered to be a Buddhist chaplain. In 2004, I met with another Buddhist soldier who just finished his basic training. He came to the temple where I lived in Las Vegas and told me that he did not see any Buddhist chaplain while he was in basic training. I then checked with a chaplain recruiter, the recruiter told me in positive.
With the intention to help soldiers in the U.S. Army, I disrobed and joined the Army as an enlisted personnel in 2005. The reason I joined as an enlisted soldier first because I wanted to gain basic knowledge of military. I was also waiting for an endorsing document from Buddhist Church of America. My first duty station was at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. I received the endorsing paper from the Buddhist Church of America in May 2006. In November 2006, I was commissioned as a second lieutenant and became a Buddhist chaplain candidate in the Army.
I am currently doing my Masters of Divinity in Buddhist Chaplaincy at University of the West in Rosemead, California. I will graduate on May 15, 2010. I am ready to serve as a chaplain and hope to accession as a chaplain in August 2010.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Okinawa Zazen Group

USMC GySgt Jordan Fountain, a command-sponsored lay leader and author of SlowZen and Ashura Dharma blogs, is hosting Zazen at his home at Camp Shields, Okinawa. Interested persons can contact him via Facebook or on his blog Asura Dharma.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Vesak at Kandahar

Recently I was invited to conduct a Buddhist service at the Kandahar air base for a small group of Buddhists there. This was a reminder of the diversity of the traditions of Buddhism represented in our armed forces. Among our small group meeting for the first time, we had Jodo Shinshu, SGI-USA (one Navy Corpsman was a 27-year member!), Shinnyo'en, Zen, and also those still exploring different schools of Buddhist thought and practice. We discussed the life of the Buddha, and the challenges of being an openly professing Buddhist in the military. There was also discussion about the future of Buddhist Chaplaincy in the armed forces. A very positive discussion!

Hopefully this service will serve as the nucleus of future Buddhist fellowship at Kandahar, which is a major installation in southern Afghanistan. If anyone stationed at Kandahar would like to be participate in Buddhist meetings there, please contact the CMC there, at DSN 841-7594.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Process for all Navy Chaplain Programs

This is from our official Navy Chaplain Corps site on Navy Knowledge Online. This gives a great comprehensive outline of what is required for Navy Chapalin and Chaplain Candidate programs, active and reserve, and whom to contact. Please note the age limits and religious education requirements, these seem to be the biggest obstacles for Buddhist chaplain inquiries.
The process for all Navy Chaplain Programs, to include the Chaplain Candidate Program, Active Duty, or Reserves, takes time. The names of all individuals seeking a commission in any service must be placed on a scroll, or list, that periodically goes up to the SEC of Defense for approval. This takes approximately 12 weeks. Only after this list is approved can we request commissioning documents on individuals who have been selected. There are also a number of documents that must be turned in/ and evolutions that must be completed before a person's kit (application package) can be processed. Some of the major things that applicants will need to submit/ and compete are as follows:

--An application
--Ecclesiastical Endorsement/ or for students, an Ecclesiastical Approval
--At least 3 work related Letters of References; 3 Peer references
--Transcripts from undergrad/grad schools in sealed envelopes to recruiter
--Academic Degree Completion Plan for seminarians signed off by academic your academic advisor
--Copies of FITREPS/ EVALS and DD 214 for prior service
--DD368 Conditional Release for those currently in the military
--Background Check
--Interview with a Chaplain 0-4 or Above
--Interview with the appropriate Chaplain Program Manager

There are only 3 opportunities a year for individuals who are going to Officer Development School with follow on Navy Chaplain School:
January, May and September. CCPOs train in May and July.

All Application packages go before the CARE Advisory Board, which is a professional Board made up of senior Chaplains, and one line officer. Active Duty applicants will be flown to Washington DC for a live interview via the CARE Advisory Board. The CARE Advisory Board will review the applications of all other applicants but a live interview is not conducted with Reserve or CCPO applicants.

The CARE Advisory Board will make a recommendation and final selection will rest with Commander Navy Recruiting Command. Once a person is Final Selected, and the scroll that individual was on is approved, commissioning documents will be requested.

Again, this process takes time, and the faster an applicant can gather and turn in the required paperwork, the better chance we have of hitting the target.

Officer Development School is located in Newport, RI, while the Naval Chaplain School has relocated for Fort Jackson, Columbia, SC.

Requirements for military chaplaincy:

Ecclesiastical Endorsement from applicant's denominational endorser (this certifies experience and degree requirements meet the standards of the respective ecclesiastical group applicant is representing)

A minimum of two years religious leadership experience consistent with clergy in applicant's tradition. This means that if clergy in your tradition preach/ Teach/perform weddings, funerals, baptisms/counsel, etc, you must have a minimum of 2 years’ experience. If an applicant requires an age waiver, the professional Board reviewing the application will expect experience to be commensurate with Age.

United States citizenship (No dual citizenship)

Bachelor's degree (120 semester hours or 180 quarter hours) from an accredited school.

A graduate degree in religious studies of no less than 72 semester hours (or equivalent) from a qualifying (accredited) institution, consistent with the respective religious tradition of the applicant. Endorsers are free to exceed the DoD standard per ecclesiastical requirements, but cannot go below the minimal DoD requirements, e.g. many endorsers specifically require the Master of Divinity degree..

Commissioned and on active duty before age 42. Prior to age 44 if prior service. Age waivers are considered on a case by case basis. Though we Value the wisdom that comes with age and experience, the reality is that The Navy has to bring in individuals young enough who will be able to fill senior leadership positions down the line requisite with Big Navy's Mission. By Title10 law Navy Chaplains must retire no later than The first day of the first month after their 62nd birthday. To be Eligible for retirement, individuals must be able to put in 20 years of Service before their 62nd birthday.

Pass a military commissioning physical

Pass a security background investigation.

Ability to work in the DoD directed religious accommodation environment.

Recruiter - Points of Contact

Below are our (6) Chaplain Program Officers and their contact information. They are attached to Regions East and West, and strategicially located throughout the United States. These individuals ensure that all applicants are connected to the appropriate boots on the ground recruiter in their area, and, mentor applicants through the process. They are:

(314) 263-6480 (office)
(314) 261-6456 (cell)
(314) 263-6488 (fax)

IRVINE, CA 92612
(949) 509-7679 (office)
(949) 769-1775 (cell)
(949) 509-9718 (fax)

1803 Doolittle Ave.
Fort Worth, TX 76127
817 782-1990 office
817 320-4310 cell

HYATTSVILLE, MD 20782-2024
(301) 394-0502 ext. 228 (office)
(518) 339-2021 (work cell)
(301) 394-0510 (fax)

SMYRNA, GA 30064
(770) 612-4360 ext. 2803
(770) 238-9715 (CELL)

Chaplain Programs Officer
Navy Recruiting Region East
3990 E. Broad St. Bldg 10 Ste 13
Columbus, OH 43218
(614) 693-3072
Fax: (614) 693-3039
Cell: (614) 301-3747


LTJG Daniel A. Sorensen, CHC, USN
Chaplain Candidate Program Office
US Fleet Forces Command, N01G
1562 Mitscher Ave.
Norfolk, VA 23551-2487
Com: 757-836-0059
Fax: 757-836-7928

Friday, April 9, 2010

"Images at War's End" Vietnamese Refugees Exhibit at Camp Pendleton

There's an article in today's Los Angeles Times on Vietnamese refugees who temporarily lived at the Camp Pendleton Marine Base. This article mentions that Buddhist services were held during this time at the base. This exhibit is being held at the Camp Pendleton Ranch House from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM through Sept. 30th, 2010. This should be very interesting for anyone interested in Vietnamese-American history, and Buddhism in the U.S.

Happy Hanamatsuri!

April 8th is commemorated as the Buddha's Birthday in Japan, and also in Jodo Shinshu temples in the U.S. A small shrine, called a hanamido is usually set up in the temple and decorated with flowers and the image of the infant Sakyamuni. I haven't been able to find any flowers here at Camp Leatherneck, but a couple of Marines did come to the service last night! We had a good discussion about Dharma and sitting meditation. The Dharma continues to flourish in Japan and beyond.
Namo Amida Butsu

Saturday, March 20, 2010

For Buddhist Servicemembers at Camp Leatherneck/Camp Bastion

There is an active Buddhist group meeting at the LSA-3 Chapel on Thursdays at 1800.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Guidelines for Buddhist Chaplaincy in the U.S. Armed Forces

I have received several requests for information on how to become a chaplain of Buddhist faith for the U.S. Armed Forces. Here are the guidelines by the Buddhist Churches of America, which is currently the only endorser for Buddhist military chaplains:

Requirements for chaplaincy include (Endorsement must certify):

1. Ecclesiastical endorsement from your Buddhist faith group. This endorsement must come from your superior (ecclesiastical head of your organization) and must certify that you are an ordained member of the clergy in your denomination or faith group.
2. that you are qualified spiritually, morally, intellectually, and emotionally to serve as a Chaplain in the U.S. Armed Forces
3. that you are sensitive to religious pluralism and are able to provide for the free exercise of religion by all military personnel, their family members, and civilians who work for the military.
4. that you possess a baccalaureate degree of not less than 120 semester hours
5. that you possess a master’s degree in divinity or a graduate degree in theological studies (in the related religion), which includes at least 72 hours.
6. that you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
7. that you are able to receive a favorable background check
8. that you are able to pass a physical examination

These are the guidelines that BCA follows as set forth by the U.S. Department of Defense.

In addition to the above, a candidate must also be able to exhibit a favorable and positive working relationship with the Buddhist organization to which he/she belongs. The Buddhist organization must also be a legitimate and recognized organization here in the United States. Legitimacy and recognition must be substantiated through the submission of documentation such as the organization’s Bylaws and organization structure.

For additional guidance, contact the Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) in Berkeley, California. The IBS has established a chaplaincy program as part of their curriculum (but a candidate does not have to be a graduate of this particular program).

Institute of Buddhist Studies
2140 Durant Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704-1589
Tel: (510) 809-1444

Also, anyone can directly contact the Buddhist Churches of America National Headquarters:

Consider chaplaincy!

Namu Amida Butsu

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Forward to Afghanistan!

There will be few regular posts from me in this year since I am scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan shortly. I hope to be able to post at least several times, but I am not sure about connectivity to the Internet there (if there is any!) especially on blogging Web sites. I am looking forward to the experience and to providing Buddhist ministry to our servicemembers there (I have already had prior requests for materials from other units there). Afghanistan has had an ancient history of Buddhists traveling along the Silk Road, when it known as Bactria and Sogdia, and of course the famed statues of Bamiyan were once there. It should be quite an experience to be in a place that has had such an ancient history of Buddhism. Anyway, keep checking back here, in case I am able to post something!

Namu Amida Butsu

Monday, March 1, 2010

For Buddhist Servicemembers in the Scott AFB/Ft. Leonard Wood Areas

Mr. Scott Xian-Liao has offered to facilitate for lay services/discussion groups in your vicinity. His tradition is Mahayana (Ch'an). He may be reached at:

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy New Year!

Today is first year of the Lunar new year, which is celebrated by many Buddhists (and others!) worldwide. This year's Chinese zodiac animal is the tiger. May we all be possessed of courage and bravery as we encounter this challenges of the New Year, whether in life or on the battlefield.

Namo Amida Butsu

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Married to the Military!

Part of a military chaplain's ministry is with the spouses of servicemembers. In the Sea Services chaplains work with Navy ombudsmen and Family Readiness Assistants (who are often spouses) and a large part of our counseling work involves marital issues. Military marriages are occasionally synonyms for hardship, long separations, and fear and anxiety over whether their loved one is safe, or even worries about where they are. Many servicemembers marry very young, and some have unrealistic expectations. On the dark side, there are instances of abuse, including cases in which it is the husband who is the victim. Divorce rates in the military can be high, almost passing the national average, if it hasn't already. The chaplains are often on the "front line" with working with and helping couples, and this has become a major feature of chaplaincy work. If you plan on becoming a chaplain, get familiar with marital counseling! You'll be doing a lot of it!

However, long and happy marriages are possible in the military! I don't think there is any special "secret" to keeping a marriage intact; it's very much up to the individuals involved. I would like to offer one perspective on military marriages: since the end of World War II many American servicemembers stationed in Asia have brought home wives from those countries and, more recently, husbands! A percentage of these spouses are Buddhists, and their experience is a part of the landscape of Buddhism in the United States. I don't believe this is a subject that has been studied much (anyone in need of a dissertation topic?), but it is a fascinating one. How do multi-racial, multi-religious marriages survive, especially when it is linked to a difficult environment like the military?

Mrs. Connie (To Hing) Miller is one of these military spouses. She was born in Vietnam, as an ethnic Chinese, and married her husband, a U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer, in 1971, so she is set to celebrate her 40th wedding anniversary. Her husband retired in 1978 after 23 years' honorable service in the Navy, and he worked at Sony Corporation for 20 years afterwards. Both are retired, with 3 adult children and 2 young grandchildren, whom she babysits occasionally. I came to know her as she spends her weekends volunteering at the Buddha's Light Bookstore, located next to the Hsi Fang Buddhist Temple in San Diego, and I engage in an inordinate amount of book-buying there. Hsi Fang is affiliated with the Fo Guang Shan (Buddha's Light Mountain) Order of Buddhism, also known as Humanistic Buddhism. Mrs. Miller is a devout lay member of this temple. She agreed to a short interview due to our joint interest in supporting military families (I apologize in advance for my poor transcription abilities)! I hope the Q&A below will act as a window into this world, and that others will follow in understanding the life of a military spouse, and being an ordinary Buddhist.

Q: Were you raised Buddhist?
A: Yes, when I was small I went with my parents to the temple. My parents were Buddhist. I did not know anything then, we only pray and then leave.

Q: How do you practice Buddhism now?
A: Fo Guang Shan is like a home to me (Mrs. Miller became a Fo Guang Shan member after moving to America in the 1970s). I understand religion better. I learned how to sit down and chant the sutras. I follow the teachings of Ven. Master Hsing Yun. Religion [ultimately] doesn't matter, it is harmony that is important, getting along. The family is very important. I follow the "Three Good Things" Ven. Master Hsing Yun teaches: One, your talk should be good, Two, you should do good things, Three, you should have a good heart.

Q: What is it like to be a military spouse?
A: My husband only went on one deployment [after we were married]. He was away for 6 months. During that time I lived with my husband's family in San Jose. I wanted to live overseas but [Navy] wouldn't let us. I think it is good for dependents, there are more benefits. It is good to see how other people live [overseas]. You can save money and when you retire you have a fixed income. Being a military wife was for me. It was a very good experience. [But] Asian wives may feel uncomfortable. I do not see many Asian spouses today. Only once I saw a young Japanese mother with 2 children at Miramar [Air Station].

Q: Is your husband Buddhist?
A: No he is not religious. Sometimes he says he is interested in taking the precepts, since he wants to be sure to "get to heaven!" [laughs] [He] doesn't have to be Buddhist, just do good things.

Q: What advice would you give to military spouses?
A: Just try to work on your marriage. Comfort the husband. Remember your vows on your wedding day, it is not just for one time. Try to keep busy, do volunteer work, or hospital work. Go to school, or work if you cannot afford to do volunteer work and need help with income."

Q: How do you reconcile being Buddhist and living in non-Buddhist environment?
A: All basic religions teach harmony, basic things like helping each other, do not discriminate. This is the essence of "The Diamond Sutra." Ven. Master Hsing Yun, he is from south [China] he went to north where people discriminate people of south. He says, "When we practice Buddhism, do not divide race, [any] kind of person from Buddhism." This is the heart of Buddhism.

Note: For those living in the San Diego area, Hsi Lai temple is accepting donations for the Haiti earthquake relief.

Respect Healthy for Different Faiths

Via Air Force Times:

By Erik Holmes - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Jan 16, 2010 9:46:39 EST
A predominance of Christians in the Air Force creates an atmosphere that assumes all airmen are Christians, allowing prayers and other religious displays at everything from football games and holiday parties to commander’s calls and change-of-command ceremonies, according to non-Christian airmen interviewed by Air Force Times.

Still, the instances of overt religious intolerance are few, and the general acceptance of those who practice other faiths is good, the airmen agreed.

Religion in the service attracted renewed attention in November after an Army psychiatrist allegedly opened fire inside a soldier readiness center at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13 and wounding 32. The suspected shooter, Maj. Nidal Hasan, is a Muslim and had made it known that he was disturbed by the wars being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the vast majority of the populations practice Islam.

“I really believe that the Air Force and the military generally do a very good job of fostering tolerance,” said Capt. Omar Ashmawy, a judge advocate in the Air Force Reserve and one of about 700 self-identified Muslims in the service.

Hostility, though, is “right below the surface,” Ashmawy said. “And [after] an event like Fort Hood ... people who are inclined to discriminate against Muslims will do it.”

The subject of religious bias came to the forefront for the Air Force five years ago when non-Christian cadets at the Air Force Academy reported being harassed by Christian counterparts and feeling ostracized because they were not religious.

Last month, the academy superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, issued a positive progress report — endorsed by one of its most vocal critics — citing the creation of a Cadet Interfaith Council, which helps identify upcoming religious holidays so scheduling conflicts can be avoided and meets with chaplains monthly to discuss the religious climate.

“This is the first time we feel positive about things there,” said Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which battled the academy in court over claims that evangelicals at the school were imposing their views on others.

Servicewide, about 80 percent of airmen in 2008 identified themselves as Christians to the Defense Manpower Data Center. Nearly 17 percent gave no religious preference, and about 3 percent listed non-Christian faiths. Less than 1 percent — 0.68 — said they considered themselves atheists, those who do not believe in God or any deity.

By comparison, 76 percent of the U.S. population told the Census Bureau that they practice Christianity. Roughly 13 percent stated no religious preference, and about 10 percent identified themselves as religious but not Christian. Again, less than 1 percent — 0.71 — listed themselves as nonbelievers.

In the Air Force, Wicca — witchcraft — is the largest non-Christian faith, with 1,434 followers. The breakdown of other religious minorities: 1,271 Buddhists, 1,148 Jews, 678 Muslims and 190 Hindus.

The atmosphere that non-Christian airmen mentioned to Air Force Times manifests itself most often at public events — invocations, Christmas carols and the like.

“The Air Force is laced with inappropriate religious display at commander’s calls, military formations and holiday gatherings,” according to an e-mail from a former airman and current civilian employee at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., who did not want to be identified for privacy reasons. “Airmen are force-fed religious jargon.

“I had many superiors over the years that were religious, and a few openly carried Bibles at work,” the former airman said. “Had they known I am agnostic, it would, I am sure, have affected their views of my annual performance ratings.”

A Wiccan airman said the displays are a tacit endorsement of Christianity and a subtle form of intolerance and exclusion.

“I don’t find the Air Force to have any improved tolerance of non-Christian religions,” said the airman, who also did not want to talk on the record. “What you practice on your own time is your business, but to have your nose constantly rubbed in one religion is getting plain ridiculous.”

For Ashmawy, the Reserve judge advocate, the issue isn’t overt discrimination or proselytizing, but the lack of inclusion of non-Christians.

“God in the military is almost exclusively Jesus,” he said.

Despite the public events, the non-Christian airmen reported they seldom come across overt intolerance one-on-one. Those rare occasions shock and hurt, nonetheless.

Ashmawy wrote a commentary for Air Force News shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks and received a deluge of e-mails and letters about it.

“The response to that piece was about 90 percent overwhelmingly positive, from all over the Air Force,” he said. But “10 percent, ranging from airmen to colonels, sent me hate mail — e-mails telling me I’m deluded, I’m against God, I’m not an American, I’m a traitor. ... That was my first real bad experience in the military.”

Another Muslim airman reported generally being treated well but occasionally experiencing hostility.

“There are always those that hear ‘Muslim’ and instantly go rigid,” said the staff sergeant, who also asked to not be identified for privacy reasons. “I mean, it’s a visible, physical reaction. ... The spine turns into a fence post, and you get the double take. ... [But] these are just personal reactions from individuals, [and] I can honestly say that I have never been impacted professionally because of my religion.”

The Wiccan airman has stopped talking to other airmen about religion because of the negative reactions.

“The most common inconsiderate comment I get is that I must worship the devil or that I must be a hippie tree-hugger,” the airman said. “Now, I just don’t say anything. It gets old listening to the ignorance that spews from people’s mouths.”

Thursday, January 14, 2010

U.S. Navy, Marines to Haiti


Source: Reuters
Jan 14 (Reuters) - The U.S. military is mobilizing thousands of soldiers, sailors and Marines along with members of the Air Force and Coast Guard for relief efforts in Haiti. Here are the main military components announced so far:
* The vast majority of the forces announced for Haiti have not yet arrived, but the military has flown in hundreds of rescuers and has advance teams and assessment teams on the ground. Air Force special forces were among the first military relief workers to arrive. The Coast Guard has deployed four ships as well as air support for evacuation efforts. The Navy destroyer USS Higgins, with about 320 sailors on board, arrived on Thursday.
* Up to 3,500 soldiers from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg will be deployed in Haiti by Sunday. An advance group of about 125 troops were due to arrive on Thursday and 800 more will arrive on Friday.
* Another 2,200 Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit at Camp Lejeune, N.C., may arrive this weekend or on Monday for what initially is expected to be about a 90-day deployment.
* An amphibious readiness group with three ships -- the USS Bataan, the USS Fort McHenry and USS Carter Hall -- will take the Marines to Haiti. This group can produce its own purified water.
* A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, with a crew of between 4,000-5,000 sailors on board, is on the way and will arrive in the area by Friday, with 19 helicopters on board. It has three operating rooms, several dozen hospital beds and can produce fresh water.
* The much-anticipated hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, will not arrive until around Jan. 22. It has 12 operating rooms and 250 hospital beds. The Pentagon says the Comfort is a slow-moving vessel and will need a week to arrive in Haiti.
* Two additional ships, the USS Underwood and the USS Normandy, with 400 and 250 personnel, are expected to arrive on Jan 16.

Also: Buddhist relief organization Tzu Chi Foundation has worked on relief to Haiti, and will provide earthquake relief. Visit their site to learn more about donating for Haitian assistance.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Pardon the Mess...

I'm also in the process of cleaning up the links and everything on the blog, so pardon the construction...I hope to have most of the links up and running soon, and if you were regularly contributing on this blog (or would like to), please let me know...

A New Blog!

Hello all!

I have started a new blog, The Western Quarter, which will focus exclusively on my tradition of Buddhism: Jodo Shinshu, or "The True Pure Land School." I hardly have time to post here, so I don't know how regularly that will be updated! But if you are interested in this particulary form of Buddhism, please check it out!
Not too much up there, but soon hope to be posting just basic information about Jodo Shinshu, what it is, etc.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all of this blog's readers! (And everyone else too!)

2010 should be a very productive year. I will be deploying again this Spring (to Afghanistan this time). Also some of our chaplain candidates should be graduating soon, hopefully!

I have another poll below (I'm not sure how reliable these are, since the last one actually seemed to run backwards). This one focuses on what you would like to see on this blog.

I will have a separate blog up soon also; this will not be exclusively about Buddhists in the military, but will focus specifically on Jodo Shinshu Buddhism (my tradition). Once I get around to doing it(!), I'll have a link on this site also.

In gassho,
Chaplain Shin
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