Monday, December 12, 2011

Buddhist materials now available at MCAS Yuma

I dropped off some Buddhist texts (Teaching of Buddha, BLP booklets), Thai amulets, and mantra players at the Station Chapel. Ask the RP on duty for assistance if you'd like one of these items.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Happy Bodhi Day!

Happy Bodhi Day to all the readers of the blog!

Bodhi Day (December 8th), also known as Rohatsu, is commemorated by several schools of Buddhism as the day when the Buddha achieved Enlightenment. In the Ariyapariyesana-sutta, the now-Buddha encounters a man named Upaka, who notices his radiant appearance, and inquires as to who he is and his teacher. The Buddha replied,

"Victor am I over all, and omniscient.
In all things I am free from defilement.
I have abandoned everything and have become liberated, free from craving.
Since I myself have gained knowledge, whome should I seek?

For me there is no teacher;
There is none like me.
In this world, including all its deities,
There is none who can rival me.

It is I who in this world am worthy of veneration,
I am the supreme teacher;
I alone am the perfectly enlightened,
I am purified and have attained tranquility.
In order to turn the wheel of the Dhamma
I am going to Kasi [Varanasi].
In the blinded world
I will beat the drum of deathlessness.

Those who have destroyed the defilements
Are like me victors.
I have conquered that which is evil,
And so, Upaka, I am the victor."

Later Buddhist commentators state that although Upaka initially rejected the Buddha's teaching, several years later he returned to him after escaping an abusive wife, became his disciple, and attained Enlightenment!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Remembering Pearl Harbor

Seventy years ago today Pearl Harbor was attacked and ‎2,402 Americans were killed and 1,282 wounded, and 65 Japanese dead. Let the wounds of yesterday heal and the lessons learned today inspire us to work for the world's future in the present. May our country remain strong and a beacon for freedom in this world. May our women and men serving today come home with honor and in well mind.

Namo Amida Butsu

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Another Chaplain Candidate for U.S. Army

Welcome LT Niphon Suk, the latest addition to the U.S. Army Chaplain Candidate program!
(Thanks to Rev. Danny Fisher for the news and photo! This is a photo of LT Niphon being administered the Oath of Office by Chaplain Christopher Mohr at the University of the West, Rosemead, California).

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Some Changes

Hello blog readers! Look at the right side of this blog, and you'll notice some changes to the gadgets. I've added some links, removed some sites that had broken links and added a new section that can provide (hopefully) some helpful information if you are getting downsized or leaving the military. Also, I've changed the Chaplaincy links: I know there are other places that are offering Buddhist chaplaincy programs, but I've only listed the ones (which I know of) that have regional accreditation (with exception of CPE). Accredited degree programs or hours are the only ones that will be accepted for Armed Forces chaplaincy consideration. If there are other programs that have accreditation, please send the link to me. If you know of any other relevant sites you would like to see listed here, that are in keeping with the theme of the blog, also please send them my way!

Namo Amida Butsu

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day 2011

A Happy Veterans Day 2011 to all our blog readers!

If you enjoy practicing zazen, chanting the sutras and mantras, and attending your particular place of Buddhist practice and worship, take this time to be mindful of our country's veterans. Thank them, it does mean something. Take a look at the Helpful Links section of this blog; if you are a civilian there are places like The Twilight Brigade, The Pegasus Rising Project, and the USO, among others, where you can offer dana to our veterans and active duty military members. If you are active duty or a veteran, there are also sites where you can find find information on Buddha-dharma, employment after living service, mental health, and other things. If anyone would like to offer a legitimate site which provides information on Dharma services in their area or otherwise has outreach to military and veterans, please send a link.

Taking care of our own has long been a staple of many Buddhist communities in our country. Let us extend our care to our military veterans, in these times especially!

Namo Amida Butsu

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

U.S. Congress Honors Japanese-American Soldiers

A long-overdue honor. The origins of American Buddhist military chaplaincy are in the Japanese-American experience of WWII.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Thousands of Japanese-Americans who fought in the fiercest battles of World War II and became some of the most decorated soldiers in the nation's history were given an overdue thank-you from their country Wednesday when Congress awarded them its highest civilian honor.
Nearly seven decades after the war's beginning, Congress awarded three units the Congressional Gold Medal. In all, about 19,000 Japanese-Americans served in the units honored at a ceremony Wednesday: the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service.
"This has been a long journey, but a glorious one," said Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii., who lost his right arm fighting with the 442nd and was one of the honorees Wednesday.
About 1,250 people attended the award ceremony at the Capitol. About a quarter of those present were former soldiers, now in their 80s and 90s. Hiroshi Kaku, originally from Hawaii, served in the 442nd and his older brother, Haruo, served in the 100th. He said he volunteered for the Army because he had something to prove.
"We wanted to show American citizens that we loved our country," Kaku said. "We were born and raised here."
After Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese-Americans were viewed with suspicion. Nearly 110,000 were sent to internment camps. Lawson Sakai learned how much the world had changed when he drove with some of his buddies to the local Navy recruiting station and tried to enlist. While his white friends were quickly accepted, Sakai was considered an "enemy alien" and could not join.
Sakai then watched as the FBI rounded up Japanese-American leaders in Los Angeles. When the federal government authorized the relocation of people with Japanese ancestry, a sister and some of his friends were sent to internment camps.
"We were blackballed," Sakai said. "Basically, they took away our citizenship."
Sakai's story is similar to thousands of other "Nisei," or second-generation Japanese-Americans. Even as they fought in Europe, many Japanese-American troops had family members who would spend much of the war in U.S. internment camps. American officials, citing concerns that those of Japanese ancestry could be security risks, sent men, women and children to camps around the country.
Sakai served in the 442nd, which consisted of volunteers, about two-thirds from Hawaii and the rest from the mainland. The 442nd experienced some of the most horrific fighting in Europe and became the most decorated unit in U.S. military history for its size and length of service. In just 10 months of combat, more than 700 were killed or listed as missing in action.
Sakai, 88, was wounded four times and received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He said the years following the war were difficult and that he often drank to deal with his memories. Now, he said, he's able to take pride in his peers' accomplishments and the subsequent congressional recognition.
"We certainly deserved the record that we produced. It was done by shedding a lot of blood. As far as I know, we didn't give up an inch of ground. We were always attacking and the Germans were always on the higher ground," he said.
The 442nd fought in eight major campaigns in Italy, France and Germany. One of the units attached to the 442nd was the 100th Infantry Battalion, which was comprised exclusively of Japanese-Americans from Hawaii who had been drafted prior to Pearl Harbor. They received the nickname the Purple Heart Battalion because of the tremendous number of casualties they endured.
While undergoing training, Susumu Ito would visit his parents and two sisters 200 miles away at the Rohwer Internment Camp in Arkansas. Despite the injustice of being forced to relocate from Stockton, Calif., Ito said, his parents took great pride in their son fighting for the U.S. military. However, he ignored his mother's request in her weekly letters to avoid hazardous duty. He said he wanted to be on the front lines, as did his peers. The motto of the 442nd was "go for broke."
Ito said that mentality reflected the mindset of Japanese-Americans in general.
"This spirit of overcoming any objection was ingrained in my mind," Ito said.
About 6,000 Japanese-Americans served in the Military Intelligence Service, on the front lines and behind the scenes, translating cables and interviewing prisoners of war. Many also served during the postwar occupation of Japan, providing a bridge between Japanese and American officials.
Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., accepted the medal on behalf of his father, Byron. Honda said his father was recruited from an internment camp in Colorado and worked stateside as a language instructor for the Military Intelligence Service. He said his father, who was a civilian member of the intelligent unit, taught him how to go about proving doubters wrong.
"He doubled down. He said, 'Oh yeah, watch this,'" Honda said. "I think that was the prevailing attitude of a lot of the veterans."
President Harry Truman welcomed home many of the Japanese-American soldiers in 1946: "You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice, and you have won."
George Washington was the first recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, in 1776. In recent years, Congress has honored athletes, astronauts and civil rights trailblazers. Lawmakers have also granted the award to the Tuskegee Airmen and to Native American code talkers who transmitted secret messages sent during World War II. The House also voted last month to give the first black Marines the Congressional Gold Medal.
Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Adam Schiff, both Democratic lawmakers from California, were the original co-sponsors of the legislation honoring the Japanese-American soldiers. The legislation was signed into law last year.
"You served our country despite being subjected to hurtful slurs and deep suspicions from many of your fellow citizens," Boxer said. "While we can never repay the debt we owe you, we can and we must recognize your valor and your patriotism."
Inouye was the final speaker. He already received the nation's highest medal for valor, the Medal of Honor. He described the latest honor as heartwarming.
"More importantly, I'm certain those who are resting in cemeteries are pleased with this day," he said

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Veterans using Buddhism to understand their military experience wanted for Denver-area study

Posted from the Wildmind Buddhist Meditation site:

Veterans using Buddhism to understand their military experience wanted for Denver-area study

Professor Carrie Doehring, PhD, and Kelly Arora, PhD would like to interview veterans who have used Buddhist practices and worldviews to understand their military experience. These interviews are part of a research project at the University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology

After a telephone conversation about the project, and completion of an informed consent form, participants will complete a background questionnaire and do two interviews that will be audiotaped. These interviews will be done face-to-face in the Denver area.

This research will help better understand how veterans draw upon Buddhist practices and worldviews to cope with and understand traumatic military experiences.

The research project, Identifying Military Veterans’ Spiritual Coping and Meaning-Making Practices in Response to Trauma, was approved by the University of Denver’s Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects in Research on Oct. 11, 2011, and funded by the Association of Theological Schools.

For further information, contact Carrie Doehring (, 303-765-3169) or Kelly Arora (

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Q&A with Tricycle

I recently did a Q&A for the Tricycle Blog about military chaplaincy. You can read it here courtesy of Tricycle online.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Another Buddhist Chaplain for U.S. Army

Second Lieutenant Songkran Waiyaka takes commissioning oath today administered by Chaplain Christopher Mohr and witnessed by Chaplain Aroon Seeda at the University of the West, Rosemead, California.

Namo Amida Butsu

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering September 2011

Let us take time to reflect on what we have done 10 years on, and what we may do 10 years from now; on the cause-and-condition of our existence, and our journey on the path of Dharma.

"Even though there are Buddhas,
A thousand million kotis in number,
And multitudes of great sages
Countless as the sands of the Ganges,
I shall make offerings
To all those Buddhas.
I shall seek the supreme Way
Resolutely and tirelessly.

Even though the Buddha-lands are as incalculable
As the sands of the Ganges,
And other regions and worlds
Are also without number,
My light shall reach everywhere,
Pervading all those lands.
Such being the result of my efforts,
My glorious power shall be immeasurable.

When I have become a Buddha,
My land shall be most exquisite,
And its people wonderful and unexcelled;
The seat of Enlightenment shall be supreme.
My land, being Nirvana itself,
Shall be beyond comparison.
I take pity on living beings
and resolve to save them all.

Those who come from the 10 directions
Shall find joy and serenity of heart;
When they reach my land,
They shall dwell in peace and happiness.
I beg you, the Buddha, to become my witness
And to vouch for the truth of my aspiration.
Having now made my vows to you,
I will strive to fulfill them."

[from the Larger Sutra on Amitayus, Inagaki translation].

Friday, August 26, 2011

Royal Thai Armed Forces Chaplains Visit USS George Washington

[From the official US 7th Fleet Web site. Chaplains of the Royal Thai Armed Forces are Buddhist]

LAEM CHABANG, Thailand - The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) hosted 20 Thai military chaplains to participate in a "ministry at sea" workshop Aug. 7.

LAEM CHABANG, Thailand (Aug. 7, 2011) - Cmdr. Brian Haley, command chaplain aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73), center right, holds a discussion about conducting religious ministry services while at sea to Royal Thai Armed Forces chaplains who visited the ship. George Washington hosted 20 Thai chaplains, including Royal Thai Army Col. Chainat Yatchimplee, director of chaplains for the Royal Thai Armed Forces, Royal Thai Navy Capt. Manoon Channuan, director of chaplains for the Royal Thai Navy, and Capt. Phil Gwaltney, command chaplain, U.S. Pacific Fleet, to discuss what U.S. Navy chaplains do for their Sailors while conducting religious ministries at sea. George Washington is currently making a port visit to Thailand as an opportunity to strengthen ties with the partner nation. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William Pittman)

The Thai chaplains, from all branches of the Royal Thai Armed Forces, came aboard George Washington to participate in the workshop with chaplains from George Washington, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15 and the guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens (CG 63).

"We are hosting this visit aboard George Washington for multiple reasons, but key among them is to continue to foster our relationship with the Royal Thai Armed Forces," said Capt. Phil Gwaltney, command chaplain, U.S. Pacific Fleet. "That's why we're hosting this workshop, to discuss everything that U.S. Navy chaplains do for our Sailors, so the Thai navy can begin to see some new opportunities for their chaplains to be supporting their Sailors and families."

Nearly a dozen Navy chaplains participated in the event.

"This is the largest collection of U.S. Navy chaplains that we've had [in Thailand] recently so we used the opportunity to bring the chaplains from the carrier, cruiser, DESRON and air wing together with the Thai chaplains," said Gwaltney. "This gave us the chance to introduce ourselves to each other and to have a discussion about the numerous opportunities this presents us."

Thai chaplains that attended included Royal Thai Army Col. Chainat Yatchimplee, director of chaplains for the Royal Thai Armed Forces, and Royal Thai Navy Capt. Manoon Channuan, director of chaplains for the Royal Thai Navy.

"This meeting is a very good opportunity for Thai chaplains and U.S. chaplains to join together to achieve a common goal," said Yatchimplee. "This makes me very happy and very proud in our chosen occupation as chaplains and I hope the liaison between us will go to new heights and provide many opportunities to work together."

Upon arriving aboard the carrier, George Washington's command chaplain, Cmdr. Brian Haley led the guests on a tour of the ship, highlighting the flight deck, hangar bay, forecastle, library and chapel. The tour ended with an exchange of gifts from both sides.

"One of the Pacific Fleet commander's goals is for all elements of our forces to develop as much interoperability as possible," said Gwaltney. "For chaplains, that really means that when there is a future disaster, can our chaplaincies from the Royal Thai Navy and the U.S. Navy work together to help mitigate the effects of that disaster and to help support the recovery in the event of a natural disaster. So the more we do together, whether it be community service projects or religious exchanges, the more we get comfortable and we find opportunities to work together."

George Washington is currently making a port visit to Thailand as an opportunity to strengthen ties with the partner nation. Port visits increase mutual understanding through positive interaction events such as tours of the ship, receptions and sports and community service projects. This supports regional cooperation on common concerns which are of the utmost importance to continued progress.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Buddhist Study Available at Wheeler Chapel, Hawaii

For those stationed at or near Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawai'i:

Wheeler Chapel offers variety to residentsJuly 7, 2011

By Master Sgt. Stephen Chinen, Chaplain Assistant, 3302nd Mobilization Support Battalion

WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii -- The Wheeler Chapel celebrates its 43rd anniversary this year.

Built in 1968, at a cost of $366,000, the chapel recently experienced a serendipitous sequence of events, bridging the chapel’s early years and the present.

It was 1970, when U.S. Navy Sailor Mike Cimorosi got married in the new Wheeler Chapel. Fast-forward four decades, he and his wife are now celebrating their 41st wedding anniversary.

Living in Delaware, the couple emailed the chapel assistant asking for any current pictures of Wheeler Chapel. They didn’t expect to ever return to Hawaii again and wanted some pictures to help them celebrate their wedding anniversary.

Luckily, a promotion had recently taken place in the chapel, and it was photographed. Photos were sent to the Cimorosis, who were so elated and grateful.

This example is just one illustration of how Wheeler Chapel continues to be an important part of the Schofield Barracks community and the garrison Chaplain’s Office.

Another recent event that has bridged the past and present is the “Brown Bags Buddhism” discussion group, which is an introduction to Buddhism facilitated by Rev. Kevin Kuniyuki, resident minister of the Wahiawa Hongwanji Mission.

Buddhism has been practiced in the U.S. for nearly 150 years. Those interested in learning more about Buddhism attended the recent discussion group.

The next open discussion at Wheeler Chapel is July 14, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Others will be held at the Main Post Chapel Annex on the fourth Sunday of every month at 1 p.m. Everyone is invited to attend the discussion group and to bring a lunch and questions.

Wheeler Chapel also offers Bible studies, choir rehearsals and other religious activities, including a Catholic Mass every Saturday at 5 p.m., and a Lutheran/Episcopalian Sunday service at 9 a.m.
Unit trainings and other nonreligious activities also often occur in the chapel’s Fellowship Hall.

(For more information or questions about Wheeler Chapel events and services, call (808) 655-9307.)

Service members, Station Residents Find Peace Through Zen Meditation, Buddhist Scripture

[From the Web site] Thanks to CH. Malasri for the link!

5/12/2011 By Lance Cpl. Jennifer J. Pirante, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — Japan is abundant in cultural experiences and historical sites, which may be new to many service members and station residents. It might be difficult to experience them all in just one two-year tour, but not far from Iwakuni is a spiritual journey waiting to be discovered by those who have yet to experience it.

Approximately 20 service members and station residents spent their Sunday morning exploring the rich culture of Japanese Buddhism during an Information, Tours and Travel trip to the Kofukuji Temple in the Onomichi area of Hiroshima.

The Kofukuji Temple, which belongs to the Rinzai school of Zen, is located at the foot of an island in the Seto-inland Sea, muralled in the background by mountains, green forests and ancient pagodas. The Kojoji Temple, a famous three-tiered pagoda also towers over the village.

Many museums are also scattered among the area, filled with folklore and historical artifacts, which paint a picture of a time when Setoda seaport was once a vital shipping port for the commerce of salt.

The Kofukuji temple is just a short quartermile walk from the seaport. Its surroundings are decorated with citrus grapefruit and orange trees. They could be smelled along the path. Upon arrival, stone lanterns, culptures and shrines stood carefully placed in the yard, aged with time.

As the group walked up the pathway, beneath an archway to the entrance of the temple, Tadahisa Teshima, a Buddhist monk dressed in a black robe, welcomed and invited everyone to remove their shoes. His Buddhist name was Joshun, he said.

Before meditation, it is common to burn incense and, in Buddhism, it is an avid part of the ritual, Teshima explained. Participants lined up and lit a stick of incense before taking a seat on two pieces of cushion d├ęcor to experience the art of Zazen, the practice of sitting meditation.

“Practicing Buddhism requires a lot of discipline,” said Teshima. “It requires a lot of concentration.”

Once settled, Teshima instructed everyone to fold the top cushion in half and sit comfortably, spine extended with hands and legs folded with careful posture. The meditation was divided into two sessions, each 10 minutes with a break in between the two.

“It was very relaxing,” said Lance Cpl. Crystal Weaver, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron administrative specialist. “I was able to relieve a lot of stress by just being able to focus on one thing instead of so many.”

For those who experience trouble clearing their mind and finding inner peace, the Buddhist culture provides a few methods to help remedy this inner conflict. During meditation, Teshima rang a sharp, sustaining bell, or Dorje, which is meant to symbolize the “thunderbolt of enlightenment.” It serves as an abrupt change in human consciousness and is designed to help the meditator focus, Teshima said.

The bell rang four times at 2-and-a-halfminute intervals during each 10-minute session. The seemingly gentle monk also walked around with a flat wooden stick called keisaku. Upon silent request, meditators received three whacks, intended to remedy sleepiness or lapses of concentration.

“The meditation was hard,” said Seaman Annabel Rendon, H&HS logistics specialist. “One-on-one time with yourself takes a lot of discipline to be in Zen, but I could hear birds in the background, which helped me relax.”

After the meditation session, the group practiced the art of Buddhist scripture writing. Given a piece of paper and a calligraphy marker, the group had 20 minutes to practice their best Kanji while tracing the most popular of Buddhist scriptures, The Heart Sutra. The scripture is made of 14 Shlokas, or verses, composed of 32 syllables.

Making a handwritten copy of a sutra is called “Shayko.” The Heart Sutra is simple and important to the Buddhist religion, said Teshima. The purpose is to copy each character with deep and careful concentration during each stroke. Buddhist scripture is significant to the Buddhist religion, but in order to train with proper discipline, it becomes a way of life.

“You’re training all the time,” said Teshima. “You must always pay attention to yourself and what you are doing. You need to throw away your ego so you can follow the teachings, but that doesn’t mean you have to lose our personality.”

As a monk, Teshima said his schedule is very busy. He wakes up every day at 4 a.m. to complete chores and clean around the temple. His day is filled with frequent meditation sessions and a dedication to the discipline of the Buddhist religion. Everything he does, from the way he approaches life to the way he eats his meals, is done purposefully and with care.

The group got a taste of Teshima’s way of life when they were treated to a small-portioned vegetarian lunch. Meal setting is strategically prepared by horizontally aligning three bowls, sequential in size. Hot white rice was scooped and served in the largest bowl. Everyone treated themselves to miso soup, which was poured into the medium-sized bowl and in the smallest bowl, everyone was served two slices of pickles, one of which was to be saved for later.

Everyone was instructed to join their hands in a sort of prayer as the monk calmly begged for alms on behalf of the group.

“First, let us reflect on our own work and the effort of those who brought us this food,” Teshima began to chant.

In Buddhist religion, meals such as this are eaten in complete silence. Meals are a time to consciously reflect on the food nourishing the body. At the end of the meal, it was time to clean the bowls. To do this, everyone was instructed to pour warm water into the biggest bowls. A small portion of this water was then poured into the smallest and middle-sized bowl. The slice of pickle, which had been set aside prior, was used the clean the bowls one by one. It is also Buddhist tradition to eat the remaining slice of pickle, drink the water and dry the bowls with cloth. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is spared.

“I was very surprised by the attention to detail,” said Rendon. “I loved it. This is the best thing I have done in Japan so far.”

“We thought it would be a good idea for people to expereince something different,” said Taka Takeda, ITT tour guide. “We thought this would be a really good one because a lot of people want to know what being a Buddhist monk is like.”

ITT has many trips slated for service members and station residents to take advantage of and explore more cultural expereinces throughout Japan including an overnight trip to the Beppu Onsen hot springs May 29.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Buddhist Services at Joint Base Balad, Iraq

Buddhist services at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, will begin this month. First service will be AUG 13 2011. Sponsored by 77th Special Troops Battalion, Chaplain (1LT) Bermudes.

Thanks to Gregory Melartin for the news!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Buddhist Chaplain Helps US, Australian forces 'Chill Out' During Talisman Sabre 2011

From the DVIDS web site:

Story by Sara Csurilla
Photo by Sara Csurilla

Chaplain (Capt.) Somya Malasri, one of two active-duty Buddhist chaplains in the U.S. Armed Forces, leads members from the U.S. Armed Forces and Australian Defence Force in meditation during a Buddhist service at Camp Rocky during Talisman Sabre 2011. TS11 is an exercise designed to train U.S. and Australian forces to plan and conduct combined task force operations to improve combat readiness and interoperability on a variety of missions from conventional conflict to peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts.

ROCKHAMPTON, Australia - Sit on the ground, cross your legs, sit up straight, gently rest your hands on your knees, close your eyes, relax…and just breathe.

That’s what one may hear walking past the chaplain’s tent early on a Sunday morning at Camp Rocky during Talisman Sabre 2011.

Chaplain (Capt.) Somya Malasri, one of two active-duty Buddhist chaplains in the U.S. Armed Forces, has been holding Buddhist services every Sunday; and gatherings on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, to provide guidance on meditation.

“We meditate to cultivate our minds, just like we eat to nourish our bodies,” Malasri explains before leading the group meditation during the service.

Malasari traveled with his unit, the 57th Transportation Battalion from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., but was born in Thailand.
In Thailand, Malasri joined a Theravada Buddhist temple when he was 17 years old and was ordained as a monk at the age of 21. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, and teaching others about Buddhist philosophy and history, Malasri performed missionary work in China and India and eventually the United States..

While working at a temple in Las Vegas, Malasri met an American soldier who told him there were no Buddhist Chaplains in the Army. With more than 5000 people in the military practicing Buddhism, Malasri decided to fill the void.

Taking off the robes of a monk, he donned the uniform of a soldier and enlisted as a cook in the U.S. Army. After a several years of learning what it was to be a soldier, Malasri applied to become a chaplain and, with an endorsement from the Buddhist Churches of America, was accepted,

A chaplain for 10 months now, Malasri is spreading the teachings and philosophies of Buddha to soldiers on multiple continents.
“I’m really enjoying my time here in Australia,” he said. “I think the Buddhist service can be really good for the soldiers because it’s not necessarily about religion. It’s about relaxing, reflecting on life, and letting go of worries or suffering of any sort.”

Although Malasri is accustomed to holding services in a chapel at his home base, his service here in a small military tent at Camp Rocky still attracts a crowd.

“This is the first time I’ve meditated in boots,” said Col. Murray Hayes, a dentist with the Australian Army, 1st Health Support Battalion. “Despite being in an incongruent environment, it was very rewarding.”

During each of his services, the chaplain likes to give a quote for the day.

“This too shall pass,” said Malasri, during his Sunday service. “This is what I wanted people to take away from today’s service. I want people to be more positive. If we continue to hold onto bad experiences it only causes suffering.”

Malasri said his number one goal as a chaplain is to raise morale and give people an outlet to talk, no matter what country he’s in.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Meditation in Camp Taji, Iraq

U.S. Army Chaplain Thomas Dyer teaches meditation class at Camp Taji, Iraq,watch the video available on Youtube!

Friday, June 3, 2011

U.S. Armed Forces First Hindu Chaplain

Military's first Hindu chaplain brings a diverse background
Stars and Stripes
Published: June 2, 2011
WASHINGTON — As a child in New Delhi and other cities of India’s northern Plains, Pratima Dharm moved easily through a kaleidoscopic swirl of religions and cultures.

“My neighbors were Muslims, my neighbors were Jews, Buddhists, Jains, Hindus, Christians,” she said. “My close friends in school represented all the different faith groups, and it never occurred to me then that we were different or there was anything strange about it.”

She feels the same decades later. The U.S. Army, where she holds the rank of captain, and the United States itself, where she immigrated just months before the 9/11 attacks, were founded on the idea that people can be united while worshipping differently, she said.

Dharm, 40, has been named the first Hindu chaplain to serve the Department of Defense. Hinduism, with nearly a billion adherents worldwide — but fewer than 1,000 active servicemembers, according to Pentagon statistics — was the largest of the world faiths not represented by a chaplain.

Though the Army hasn’t yet publicized her appointment, the rumor has spread among Hindu servicemembers around the world. And Dharm, a chaplain on the medical staff at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, has started getting emails from them.

“I’m already on the job,” she said. “There’s this tremendous sense of hope and relief that there is someone who understands their story at a deeper level, coming from the background I do.”

Still, most of her time at Walter Reed is spent reaching across faiths to minister to anyone who needs it. That’s a key responsibility of military chaplains, she said.

“Some of them come back having lost their buddies, some of them come back having lost their limbs, and things have changed for them forever,” she said. “To be able to sit down and show compassion for soldiers I have never met before is part of the message of Christ as well as [the Hindu teachings] of Vedanta.”

Dharm speaks easily of Christian teachings. A unique aspect of her story is that until this year, she wore the cross of a Christian chaplain on her battle fatigues. When she started on active duty in 2006, she was endorsed by the Pentecostal Church of God, based in Joplin, Mo.

But she’s now sponsored by Chinmaya Mission West, a Hindu religious organization that operates in the United States. A Washington, D.C.-area religious teacher who interviewed her for the organization before giving her an endorsement said her multifaith background is an advantage.

“She knows Christian theology, and she has a great grasp of Hindu theology,” said Kuntimaddi Sadananda of Chinmaya Mission’s Washington center. “This means she can help everyone.”

She didn’t convert from Christianity to Hinduism, she said.

“I am a Hindu,” she said. “It’s how I was raised and in my heart of hearts, that’s who I am.”

But — and perhaps it is hard for some Western Christians to understand — she hasn’t rejected Christianity either.

“In Hinduism, the boundaries are not that strict,” she said. “It is to base your life on the Vedantic traditions, and you can be a Christian and follow the Vedantic traditions.”

An Indian-American Army Reserve veteran said that during his years in the service, he was always comfortable meditating in Christian services and talking to non-Hindu chaplains about spiritual matters.

“Hinduism has a strong interfaith philosophy,” said Chaturbhuj Gidwani.

But having a Hindu chaplain available, even if only by email, will make one important group very happy — military mothers who want to make sure their children can practice their faith properly. Sometimes that means explaining cultural fine points.

“Mothers would ask, can you give proper rites to the soldiers?” he said. “For example, if I die, I don’t want to be buried, I want to be cremated. I don’t want to eat beef, I want vegetarian food.”

The Air Force officer who led the Pentagon action group that established Chinmaya West as a chaplain endorsing agency said Dharm’s story is testimony to American pluralism and democracy.

“I get emotional when I talk about it,” said Lt. Col. Ravi Chaudhary, a cargo plane pilot and acquisitions officer. “When you consider Pentagon bureaucracy ... when people here saw that in a fundamental way this is an expression of American values, people moved so quickly to accomplish this.”

Dharm spent a year at a forward operating base near Mosul, Iraq, in 2007 and 2008. She received a Bronze Star and an Army Commendation Medal, among other awards, but the most important thing she came home with was a deeper understanding of what Army chaplains are there for.

It isn’t to advocate for their own faiths, but to bind up the wounded spirits soldiers of any background receive in the brutality of battle.

“You learn to grieve with someone you don’t know on a deep level,” Dharm said. “You watch someone die in front of you and comfort the soldier left behind who had a connection to that person.

“Things of that nature you don’t learn in seminary.”

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Australian Defence Forces seek a Buddhist chaplain – any takers?

(Via Sujato's Blog)
Australian Defence Forces seek a Buddhist chaplain – any takers?
The number of Buddhists in the Australian Defence Forces has now exceeded 350. This means the ADF is seeking a chaplain to minister to their needs. This issue has been discussed a number of times over the years, but it is only now that the number of Buddhists is great enough that the ADF is actively seeking a chaplain for them.

The role would be as an officer, who would receive basic ‘brush & comb’ training in protocol and so on, but would not go through boot camp. They would minister to the spiritual needs of Buddhists in the Defence Forces – which, one can imagine, would be a tough call.

This call has come through the FABC. If anyone’s interested, let me know and I’ll put you in touch.

In this Resource Package Related to Buddhist Chaplaincy, you’ll find an interesting selection of material on this issue, complied by the ADF.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Article on Last Week's Army Vesak Service!

Congratulations Chaplain Malasri for a wonderful Vesak service!

‘It’s good to be different’JBLM Soldier is the first and only active-duty Buddhist chaplain in the U.S. Army
Marisa Petrich/Northwest GuardianPublished: 04:06PM May 12th, 2011
Ingrid Barrentine

Chaplain (Capt.) Somya Malasri, 593rd Sust. Bde., was a monk in Thailand before disrobing to join the Army. Malasri is the first and only active- duty Buddhist chaplain in the Army.

Of all the branch insignia on uniforms at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, one stands out for a unique reason.

Chaplain (Capt.) Somya Malasri’s dharma wheel is one of the most uncommon symbols in the military. He is the first — and currently, the only — active-duty Buddhist chaplain in the Army.

Now with the 593rd Sustainment Brigade at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Malasri is facing the challenges of being a good Soldier, a good Buddhist and a good leader to the Soldiers he came to help.

“It’s good to be different ... We can all connect to each other,” he said.

Originally from Thailand, Malasri entered a Theravada Buddhist temple near Phuket when he was 17 to study Buddhism and meditation. At 21, he became a fully ordained monk, and entered Mahachula Buddhist University to earn his bachelor’s degree.

While he was there, he taught Buddhist philosophy and history to students, and did missionary work in China and India. He eventually became interested in a missionary program that sent monks further abroad.

He applied and was selected from among 200 candidates to go to the United States, serving at temples in Colorado, Utah and Las Vegas. This was where he encountered his first American Soldier.

While working at a temple near Salt Lake City, a Buddhist Soldier came to Malasri for a blessing before he deployed. Later, while he was working at a temple in Las Vegas, Malasri met another Soldier who told him there were no Buddhist services available on base. From there, the decision was made. “OK, I want to be a chaplain,” Malasri said of his thoughts at the time.

In 2005, Malasri applied to be a chaplain. Though he had to wait for an endorsement from the Buddhist Churches of America for his application to be accepted, he didn’t wait to jump into Army life.

Instead he disrobed as a monk (in the Theravada tradition, one cannot be a monk and a Soldier at the same time) and enlisted to get an idea of what it was like to be a Soldier.

In 2006 his application was accepted and he went on to earn his master’s degree and become an ordained Buddhist minister in Los Angeles.

Now that he’s a fully-fledged chaplain at JBLM, he doesn’t regret his decision to leave life as a monk.

“Now I’m happy because I can serve more people,” Malasri said.

Part of his service to others includes providing weekly Buddhist services on base. Spc. Lawrence Ross, 593rd Sust. Bde., attends regularly.

“(It gives me) a sense of belonging, where a group can connect without any animosity of judging,” he said.

Ross, who became a Buddhist in 2008, says that it has helped him become a better Soldier and that having a Buddhist presence on base helps people see another side of the Army.

“It’s not all about kicking down doors and killing people,” he said. “It’s all about helping people. Bottom line.”

This is a sentiment Malasri agrees with. He says he gets asked a lot how he balances being a leader of a famously peaceful religion and being in the armed services. For him, even the least aggressive of people must be able to defend themselves, their property and their rights.

“If you don’t have a Soldier ... you don’t have freedom to practice your own religion,” he said.

Protecting this diversity is important to Malasri.

“We cannot have only one religion,” he said. “For example, we have five fingers. They’re all different (but they all work together).”

Chaplains by the numbers

Active-duty chaplains:

1,653: total

1,532: Protestant

98: Catholic

10: Jewish

6: Eastern Orthodox

6: Muslim

1: Buddhist

A surprise wedding

Every couple wants their wedding day to be one to remember, and Pfc. Jon Ruh, 593rd Sust. Bde., and Sheena Scott’s was one for the record books.

The couple was married at JBLM’s first annual Vesak Day celebration at Lewis North Chapel Saturday — and the best part? No one attending the event knew it was coming.

“Every wedding should be unique in its own way,” Scott said.

After a ceremony celebrating the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha and several traditional Cambodian and Thai dances, an unannounced guest (Ruh) was invited to the front. He was followed by Scott, wearing a wedding dress and holding a bouquet.

No one outside the Ruh and Scott’s small group of family and friends and Chaplain (Capt.) Somya Malasri, 593rd Sust. Bde., knew they’d be going to a wedding that day.

The couple is not Buddhist, but were happy to be married as part of the Vesak celebrations.

“We thought it would be kind of special because of that,” Ruh said.

If you go: Buddhist services are held every Sunday from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Lewis North Chapel. For information, contact Chaplain Somya Malasri at 967-4046 or

Friday, May 6, 2011

News Article on Army Vesak Celebration

A nice writeup in the Northwest Guardian (newspaper for Joint Base Lewis-McChord) this week!

Vesak celebration special part of Buddhist tradition
Marisa Petrich/Northwest Guardian
Published: 09:25PM May 5th, 2011 Marisa Petrich:
The birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha will be celebrated at Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s first ever Vesak Day celebration at Lewis North Chapel on Saturday.

“The event is very special in the Buddhist calendar,” said Chaplain Somya Malasri, who is coordinating the day’s activities.

In fact, it’s the most important day of the year in Theravada Buddhism, the primary denomination in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. But this event isn’t just for the Buddhist community on base. Everyone is invited to come learn and celebrate.

Malasri’s choosing to hold the celebrations a little earlier than usual — Vesak falls on May 17 this year, but the event on Saturday will allow community members and local monks to get involved.

“I’d like to invite the monks from off post to celebrate together,” he said.

The free event will include traditional Buddhist chanting, blessings and food. Cambodian, Thai and Vietnamese dance groups have been invited to perform.

There will also be a five-minute meditation session.

“They can find peace of mind while they’re here, so they get something,” Malasri said.

In the end, the event will give the whole base community the chance to get to know their neighbors and get a taste of what Buddhism is all about.

Vesak Day will be at Lewis North Chapel Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. For more information contact Chaplain Somya Malasri at or at 365-8753.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Current Buddhist Military Chaplains

Noticed erroneous information in a NY Times article today, which stated that there is only one Buddhist chaplain in the U.S. Armed Forces. This is incorrect: We have THREE commissioned Chaplains who have served or are serving on Active Duty: myself, Chaplain Somya Malasri, and Chaplain Thomas Dyer. We are all endorsed by the Buddhist Churches of America, which is (yes) a religious organization.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Soldier 360°

There is growing interest in meditation in the U.S. Armed Forces: From Army Times:

Soldier 360° teaches holistic healing

By John Ryan - Staff editor
Posted : Saturday Apr 23, 2011 8:20:12 EDT
An Army program has adopted some old Eastern practices to help allay modern post-combat stress. The Soldier 360° program in Germany is teaching soldiers and their spouses how to deal with trauma and rebuild relationships using holistic tactics, including yoga, acupuncture and meditation.

“This course has taught me that you do not have to know all the answers or be perfect — just be open-minded, forgiving, and respectful of each other’s individual differences,” Chief Warrant Officer Wendy King, who recently completed the course, said in an April 7 news release.


Learn more about Soldier 360°

Here’s what you need to know about Soldier 360°:

Like the Army-wide Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, a holistic plan to help improve the physical, social, spiritual, emotional and familial aspects of troops’ lives, Soldier 360° also offers soldiers tools to help regain physical health and “psychological readiness” before the onset of more serious post-deployment problems.

Through a series of seminars and activities led by instructors and experts, the program ushers noncommissioned officers and spouses through a six-phase, behavior-modifying process called “learn, do, practice, model, teach, and change,” according to the Combined Arms Training Center in Grafenwoehr, Germany, which offers the course.

The program strives to derail soldiers from well-traveled paths toward addiction and depression after surviving combat. It highlights methods to manage stress, anger, pain and booze, and relays techniques to relax, eat right and express oneself in journals and through humor. Soldiers are also encouraged to push pause during life to reduce stress and refocus.

Back at their units, graduates of the program are expected to pass on coping techniques to subordinates and peers struggling with stress or anxiety, or guide them to get help.

“Every community is unique and soldiers need to be familiar with the agencies available to provide them support,” said Col. Mary S. Lopez, director of strategic initiatives for a medical command in Germany.

The year-old program has been targeted at staff sergeants, the rank of most squad leaders, because its organizers believe they have the “greatest impact on the health and wellness of the unit.” But, according to the Combined Arms Training Center, the program can be expanded to other Army groups.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Hanamatsuri 2011

A Happy Hanamatsuri to all our blog readers! May we all recommit ourselves to the Dharma teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha in this year.

Namu Kie Butsu (I take refuge in Buddha)
Namu Kie Ho (I take refuge in Dharma)
Namu Kie So (I take refuge in Sangha)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Operation Tomodachi

From the San Diego Union-Tribune:

THURSDAY, APRIL 7, 2011 AT 9:09 P.M.

Marines from Camp Pendleton’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment clear debris piled up on Oshima Island in Japan. U.S. Marines

The Marines taught Cpl. Adam Shatarsky to use his field shovel to dig fighting holes.

In Japan, however, the Camp Pendleton Marine found himself using it to rescue photographs and family heirlooms from piles of rubble.

Shatarsky knew nothing would be quite normal after arriving in Oshima, the Japanese island where 300 Marines spent the past week righting boats and clearing away homes toppled by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

“One of the things that struck me right off the bat, there was a car flipped upside down on top of a tree,” said the 29-year-old Marine from Camp Pendleton’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

“I’ve never seen anything like that before. The very first thing that stuck out in my mind was — there’s a lot to be done here.”

The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit was dispatched as part of the U.S. military’s recovery effort in Japan, called Operation Tomodachi or Operation Friends.

With it went about 1,200 San Diego County Marines who supply the unit’s infantry contingent.

The San Diego-based aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and its support ships were among the first American ships on the scene along Japan’s damaged northeast coast. After three weeks of assistance, the Reagan group departed this week.

A 7.1-magnitude aftershock that hit Thursday did not damage any U.S. military assets or harm American troops, the Pentagon said.

About 45 miles from earthquake’s epicenter, Oshima got a wallop from the March 11 tsunami waves. Passenger ferries that service the island’s towns washed ashore, landing 400 feet up the beach, according to the Marines.

The island became a snarl of destruction. The Japanese forces couldn’t dock to help the 3,000 townspeople; there was too much debris in the water.

Enter the Marines.

They arrived in landing craft that are intended to deliver boots onto beaches. Dating to World War II, these vessels put down a ramp and Marines troop out.

Cpl. Seth McConville, a 22-year-old from Murrieta, said it was immediately clear to him that the hand of friendship would need a sturdy working glove.

“Anything you could see was destroyed and pulled toward the water, or in the water. Definitely, no one was landing there besides us,” he said.

“That’s when a couple of us were like, ‘Oh, man, this place is wrecked.’ ”

Arriving Saturday, the Marines dug in. They began clearing roads and bays.

It was cold work, with snow fluttering down some days. They slept in tents and ate prepackaged meals.

Initially, the shellshocked Oshima citizens watched from a respectful distance, waving and offering thank-yous in shaky English.

But as the Marines attacked the mess with shovels, rakes, even garden hoes, the Japanese residents started coming around.

“When they got used to us being there, and seeing what we were all about, they started coming down with personal requests,” said Shatarsky, who lives in Huntington Beach.

The residents had belongings in the homes that were now, quite literally, upside down. Before the bulldozers turned the houses into piles, the owners hoped to retrieve their irreplaceables.

“The people didn’t have the strength to get in there and pull that stuff out,” said unit spokesman Capt. Caleb Eames, in a telephone interview from the amphibious assault ship Essex.

“It took the Marines to climb in there and pull stuff out of the way, and to lift up corners of broken roofs to get in there and pull the stuff out,” he said.

“I personally watched one lady just in tears, thanking these guys for saving a family heirloom, a big tub for making sushi,” Eames said.

It was five days of elbow grease.

In addition to the troops on the ground, Marine helicopters delivered supplies to the shore and flew reconnaissance missions.

In recent days, American troops arrived with portable hot shower units. The delivery meant the first hot showers for residents in weeks.

Schooled as a mortar man, Shatarsky said none of his training as a Marine really applied to this situation.

But, he added, it didn’t matter.

“Toward the end, it wasn’t like the Japanese and the Marines were separated. It was kind of like everyone coming together,” he said.

“And I don’t think people need training for that. I think in a time of need, people just come together.”

Operation Tomodachi

Since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, U.S. military forces have been providing humanitarian assistance under Operation Tomodachi, or Operation Friends.

U.S. 7th Fleet forces have delivered more than 260 tons of relief supplies and flown more than 160 aerial reconnaissance and search sorties.

Involved in the effort

• Four ships – the Essex, Tortuga, Blue Ridge and Safeguard

• 54 aircraft

• 4,295 personnel, including about 1,200 Marines from a Camp Pendleton infantry battalion serving with a unit assigned to the Essex

Previously involved

The San Diego-based Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, which includes the Chancellorsville, Preble, Shiloh and Curtis Wilbur, ended active support this week.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Vesak Day at Ft Lewis

From Chaplain Somya Malasri: Vesak Day Celebration at Ft. Lewis, Washington. Time/Date: 7 May 2011 1400-1600.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Married to the Military - Part 2

Military Chaplains not only work with members of the military, we are also active in helping their dependents. Our assistance may take the form of offering marital counseling, finding resources in the way of childcare and other similar support, advising the command about family issues, and of course providing religious and spiritual services. As a Buddhist chaplain, I've met spouses who are Buddhist and are "married to the military." My interest as a Chaplain and also as a student of Buddhism is how they understand and practice Buddha-dharma in such a unique environment. This also relates to understanding interfaith and intercultural relationships, and how Buddhist lay women act to transmit Dharma to their families.

Last year I conducted an interview with Mrs. Connie Miller, a member of the Hsi Fang Temple (Fo Guang Shan) here in San Diego and the spouse of a U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer (Ret.). We discussed what it was like to be a married to a member of the military, being a Buddhist spouse in a predominant Christian environment, and how she understood and practiced Buddha-Dharma.

This year I'd like to present another interview I conducted with a friend of mine recently returned to the San Diego area after living overseas with her Navy physician husband. Mrs. Barbara Zaragoza is a practicing Zen Buddhist, and is active in her Sangha and also, as a Navy wife, active in the local community. As a "convert" Buddhist, she has her own unique perspective on living as a Buddhist, coping with the hardships of marriage in a time of war, and being in a unique environment (the militaryc community) as a Buddhist. I first met Barbara online when, while living in Naples, Italy, she emailed me asking me for some guidance about becoming a Buddhist Lay Leader. Since then, we've kept up an email communication, and finally we met this month in person. I've submitted similar questions to her, and now present her responses here, in her own words.

Our hope is that other Buddhists in similar situations will know that they are not alone, and can find support. We also hope to continue to work together to create a supportive environment for all the families of our active and reserve military servicemembers. I'd like to thank Barbara for her dedication to her Dharma friends in Naples, and hope that her actions will have planted the seed of Dharma in many people for many years to come.

Namo Amida Butsu

Interview with Barbara Zaragoza (Dharma Name Shaku Enju)

--Were you raised Buddhist?
No. My father is an ex-Catholic priest who studied to get his Ph.D. at the Vatican in theology. My mother was raised a Lutheran. I went to Catholic schools, but was baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran. As a teenager, I was very devout, but when I got into college I began searching for my own path. Buddhism spoke to me almost immediately, probably because of my love of philosophy, my reading of Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, and, most importantly, because of my karma.

Still, growing up in a Judeo-Christian culture, I really wanted to make Christianity work for me. Although I wandered through Buddhist sanghas for about 10 years, visiting a Korean Zen Center and spending a year practicing with Tibetan Buddhists, in between, I was a member of a Southern Baptist Church, practiced with born-again Christians, made friends with the Baha'i, visited Jewish temples with friends, and studied as many religions as I could, including Hinduism, Shintoism, and Sunni & Shi'a Islam. Then I spent two years at a Lutheran Church that was very active in passing out food to the homeless, provided a medical clinic for free, and had members who actively did prison ministry. I became Church Council President there and then -- boom -- I went into labor with my second child and had a very powerful enlightenment experience. It was basically a strong call to Buddhist practice, although I didn't want to tell anyone about the actual experience and I still don't like to talk about it because the experience was so deeply intimate. But at that point, I left the Lutheran Church and found a Japanese Soto/Rinzai Zen Center and began meditating seriously.

How do you practice Buddhism now?
I practiced at a Zen Center in San Diego for three years, while my husband was stationed here. My practice heavily emphasized meditation. That made things hard, especially since I was a mother of three small children and my husband had a very busy schedule. My husband supported my practice, so I was able to start meditating once a week for an hour at the Zen Center and then I would meditate at home everyday for 10 minutes. Once I stopped breastfeeding, I could participate in Sesshins about once every three months.

Sesshin is when we meditate from 6am - 8pm Friday, 6am - 8pm Saturday, and 6am - noon on Sunday. We don't meditate immobile the entire time. There is a schedule where we sit in meditation for half-hour increments, breaking for mindful eating, two hours of work meditation where we do yardwork or cleanup of the property, and there are about 12 - 14 periods of sitting meditation each day. We also do chanting, the most important for me being the Heart Sutra.

In 2007, the Navy transferred us to Naples, Italy, so my meditation with a group, at first, seemed to have come to an end. Italy is a pre-dominantly Catholic country and in all of Naples (population one million) there was only one Zen Center that had three people. I sat with them for a while, but the commute was long. So I decided to create my own meditation group on the military base in Naples. The Chapel and the Chaplains were very kind and open. They let me have a space and made me the Buddhist Lay Leader for the base. Every Monday I would go to the Chapel and meditate for thirty minutes. Whoever wanted (and I put up some flyers) came to meditate with me. I facilitated the meditation group for 2 1/2 years, during which time I made such wonderful friends. Our little group flourished and still continues on today through a Buddhist friend of mine who took over as Buddhist Lay Leader.

-- Are your husband and children Buddhist? If not, do they belong to any other religion?
Because of my religious wanderings, my eldest daughter was baptized Catholic, my middle daughter was baptized Lutheran, and my youngest daughter received her Buddhist blessing. My husband is an atheist. I've always been very spiritual. Neither my husband nor I have ever had any conflict with each other's beliefs. In fact, we were and continue to be attracted to one another precisely because of our differences. We've never once debated with each other about religion. Instead we've always liked to ask each other questions and learn more. His beliefs help my spiritual practice grow and transform in new directions because he offers me so many fresh perspectives. My spiritual beliefs help my husband see his life fresh and differently everyday too. For us, our differences are beautiful.

My children come with me to the Zen Center and they also stay home with their dad -- both. My children definitely ask me for spiritual direction. For example, by the time all three of my children turned five years old, each one asked: "Will I die, mommy?" I naturally answered them with my Buddhist values. So I would say that my children are being reared with Buddhist values. When people ask my children: "What are you?" They answer: "I'm Buddhist." But, I do encourage them also to listen to their own internal voices and seek out the way that will speak to them when they become adults.

-- What does your husband do?
My husband started out as an officer on submarines in the early 1990's. Once his commitment was over, he got out of the navy because he wanted to become a physician. Then, he found out that he could sign back up with the Navy while in medical school, which he did. He finished his medical residency at Balboa Naval Medical Center in San Diego. He then went on to become a psychiatrist and deployed as the psychiatrist to the detainees at the detention center in Afghanistan in 2007. He then served as the psychiatrist for the detainees in GITMO from 2009-2010.

-- What is it like to be a military spouse? Where have you been?
Between my husband's career on submarines and then as a psychiatrist, we've been in Vallejo, Groton, San Diego, and Naples. (There have also been a lot of short short tours in Enfield, Orlando, and Honolulu.) We like moving and we love travel, so in that sense the Navy has been a dream for us. We are also very proud to serve our country and we have given up a lot of creature comforts (stable friends, home, location) in order to serve. My husband has always had a strong feeling of care and respect for active duty service members and their families. He's also always appreciated military culture.

I think for me, as a military spouse, there have been joys and challenges. When my husband was on submarines, he had a wardroom and I met all the spouses. The Captain's wife, in particular, felt her role was to show kindness and be responsible for the other spouses under her husband's command. She never asked us for anything, but instead was always there to say a kind word or have people over to her house or set up get-togethers -- and this was a woman who took full-time care of four small children while her husband spent six months out of the year away! She was incredible and she's been an inspiration to me ever since. She had a commitment to serve unconditionally and support her husband by nurturing those under his command.

Through her, I realized that I don't need to wait for my husband to become a Captain in order to behave the same way. I try to role model myself after her as much as I can in my daily life and try to be mindful of how I treat others, especially military spouses.

The challenge, however, is that my husband gets the accolades and that can feel hard. He gets the rank. He gets the paycheck. He gets the ceremonies. As his spouse, I have a lot of responsibility in keeping his spirits high and taking care of all his household/financial/family responsibilities when he's gone. I've really had to come to terms with the fact that we military spouses are critical to the mission, we are critical to our active-duty member's work, and we are critical in supporting the service members & dependents around us. But, in the end, I also have to accept that my work won't be acknowledged in any way -- and that has to be okay.

A lot of mental health research has shown that people will work extremely hard and serve others for little pay or even for free -- if only they are acknowledged. I think a lot of depression, relationship problems, and problems within commands stem from a lack of spouses being acknowledged for their work. When active duty members are deployed, for example, I've heard so many spouses say that nobody ever asks them how they personally are doing. Nobody ever sends packages or cards of thanks to them. I've heard of some spouses even being berated for taking vacations with their children while their active-duty members are deployed, saying: "How dare you have fun while your spouse is away working!" These kinds of incompassionate and... well... ignorant statements really add stress to an already stressful situation, particularly when a spouse might be trying to be pro-active in caring for children who are depressed, angry, and upset that their parent is gone.

-- What advice would you give to military spouses?
Every person's experience is different, so I don't feel like I could ever give anyone advice. I can only relate my own experience as a spouse. It's been a wonderful journey at times, it's been a difficult journey at times. I love my husband.

-- What support would you like to see provided?
I've thought about this a lot based on so many conversations with my fellow military spouses. I don't think it's reasonable to ask the military to provide any financial support to spouses other than the current benefits. I don't think it's reasonable to provide babysitting or food or any real provisions for military spouses while their active duty service members are gone either. Everyone's needs are so different, so you'll never get that right. What's more, when you marry someone in the service, you must go into the marriage knowing that your spouse's job is to deploy or leave for long stretches. That's what they do.

With that said, I think it is a very terrible mistake for higher ups (Chiefs, Captains, and Admirals, to name a few) to not take the personal time to acknowledge the spouses in their command. Giving the task of calling a spouse to a 21-year-old Ombudsman [a volunteer who liaisons between the Command and the families] or another dependent says that they don't think the spouses are valuable. And yet, watch how quickly a spouse can derail their mission and an entire command by dropping into a depression, becoming hospitalized or just leaving, and the active-duty-serviceperson must immediately leave their position and return back home to take care of their financial and family responsibilities. If the higher-ups truly care about the mission, they'll care about the people who are doing the mission. If they care about those people, they'll care about the spouses who are taking care of their responsibilities at home.

I'd like to see a military wide change that requires every Captain of a command to make a personal phone call to the spouse of a forward deployed service member and ask how they are doing, spending a little time listening, taking them out to lunch once, and providing them with a small pin or something like that to honor and acknowledge their work. Think how much time and money the military would save with some small acts of appreciation that come from the top!

-- How would you reconcile being a Buddhist and living in a non-Buddhist environment [i.e. military culture; Judeo-Christian culture]?
I'm not sure how to answer this question. In the last six years, I've never once come across anyone in the armed services who has said anything negative to my face for being Buddhist.

I feel that -- whether I'm on base or out in the civilian world -- I live in a non-uniform environment, where I manage through diversity everyday. In my meditation group on base, I had active duty members and spouses who were Muslim, Sufi, Catholic, Jewish, Unic, Transcendentalist, trumpet players and agnostic. For me, not everybody needs to be a Buddhist. I'm just grateful that the military has given me the opportunity to worship Buddhism so freely.

Interestingly enough, I think it's been harder having my fellow civilian Buddhists accept the fact that I'm a military spouse and that I live in a military culture that is very diverse. When my husband was in Afghanistan, for example, I was very heavily judged by a Buddhist monk who said such mean and bitter words to me, pointing his finger in my face and saying that my husband wasn't doing anything 'out there' and that I was enabling his immorality. This Buddhist, within two minutes of meeting me, assumed who I was and what my husband was doing, without asking me a single question or getting to know me at all. I went home and cried.

Many other Buddhists have stereotyped me openly because I'm in the military, in particular saying that we don't work for peace and compassion. Meanwhile, my husband's role during two deployments was to care for detainees as their psychiatrist (some known terrorists, others there for questionable reasons), and I had many civilians come up to me and say that my husband was torturing people. Then, active duty military service members resented his work and would even angrily tell my husband that he was "working with the enemy." So, we've had some very dark days when it comes to reconciling what we are doing with the downpour of judgments by civilians and service members who ask no questions and tell us who we are.

Looking back, my husband has spent the last eight years as a physician and psychiatrist caring for active duty service members, their families, and detainees. I, alongside him, set up a meditation group on a naval base while raising our three children. We are reconciled with that.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

U.S. Navy Warships Reach Japan On Relief Mission

I'm sure many people have already heard the tragic news from Japan. A memorial service was held tonight at the Buddhist Temple of San Diego, which was attended by sangha members and also many people from the local community. For those who want to help, please contact the American Red Cross at

From the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Three San Diego-based warships -- the carrier Ronald Reagan, the destroyer Preble, and the cruiser Chancellorsville, have reached the east coast of Honshu, Japan, where they're preparing to provide humanitarian relief to the quake stricken country, say U.S. Pacific Fleet officials. A fourth vessel, the fast combat supply ship Bridge, which was built in San Diego by NASSCO, also is now in Japanese waters.

Pacific Fleet said in a statement, "Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) arrived on station off the coast of Japan March 12 at approximately 1 p.m. eastern ... Reagan will continue to operate near Japan in order to best support disaster relief efforts led by the Japan Self-Defense Force.

"To date, the JSDF has asked the aircraft carrier to provide refueling operations for their helicopters and to assist in the transportation of their troops to affected areas. As long time allies, U.S. and Japan forces are extremely interoperable U.S. Forces Japan is in constant contact with their JSDF counterparts as we continue to support their operations to aid the people of Japan.

"U.S. military assets are supporting the requests of the Government of Japan by providing logistical support to the JSDF. Two SH-60 helicopters from Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron Fourteen (HS-14) from Naval Air Facility Atsugi delivering 1,500 pounds of rice and bread to Shiroishi City in Miyagi Prefecture. The food donation was from the people of Ebina City, Japan."

"Additional U.S. military assets continue to position themselves to provide the most expedient support needed at the request of the JSDF, which is leading the disaster relief efforts."

The Reagan finished pre-deployment exercises barely a week ago and set off for the western Pacific for a mission expected to last at least 5-6 months.

“People are in trouble and frequently countries look to us for assistance,” said Capt. Jeff Breslau in Hawaii, spokesman for the Navy’s Pacific Fleet. “It’s second nature for us when there is a crisis to switch to that mindset.”

Navy personnel could help in various ways, including providing helicopter logistics support, transporting people and supplies, giving medical assistance, creating communications systems, conducting search-and-rescue operations and building shelters.

They also may offer water-purification services via aircraft carriers and other ships.

An aircraft carrier can produce 400,000 gallons of water daily, Breslau said.

The Navy not only responds worldwide, as it did for similar natural disasters in Haiti and Indonesia, it also works directly with local, state and federal agencies to prepare for similar disasters at home. A recent training hosted by the Navy in San Diego focused on how to respond to an attack on a military base.

Another training session planned for July will center on expected damage from a huge storm, which has been predicted to have enough force to cause deaths, produce floods and landslides, take out roads and displace large numbers of residents, said Ed Caviness, program director for training and readiness for Navy Region Southwest.

Before providing any help to civilians, military authorities in San Diego said they would first assess their bases for operational readiness, said Joe Stuyvesant, director of operations for Navy Region Southwest.

Once cleared, personnel on a base can respond locally within the first 72 hours under the direction of their commanding officer.

Afterward, they would need to receive clearance from the Department of Defense to continue such work or start new projects with civilian emergency responders.

Similarly, Japan or any country seeking U.S. military aid must ask the State Department for such help. Once a request has been filed, the U.S. Department of Defense would make the final decision, Breslau said.

The Armed Forces Press Service reported that Japan has asked the U.S. for support.

The warships on their way to Japan were already in the western Pacific for other missions. Along with three members of the Reagan Carrier Strike Group, the Essex, Harpers Ferry, Germantown, Tortuga and Blue Ridge are traveling to the disaster site, Breslau said.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sea Service Leadership Association (SSLA) 24th Annual Joint Women's Leadership Symposium March 15-16 2011 San Diego, California

Not directly Buddhism related...but I will be attending this and want to get the word out. Read on!

Leadership Development Opportunity for Military Women: Sea Service Leadership Association’s 24th Annual Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium

By: LCDR Nicole Shue, President of the Sea Service Leadership Association

Join hundreds of your sisters in arms at the Sea Service Leadership Association (SSLA)’s 24th Annual Joint Women's Leadership Symposium that is taking place March 15-16 in San Diego.

Themed “Connect. Empower. Succeed,” this year’s symposium will offer women from all service branches an opportunity to focus on their leadership development while also highlighting the achievements of women leaders on the front lines across the globe.

Among the confirmed speakers are:

• Department of Veterans Affairs’ Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs L. Tammy Duckworth, who will share the challenges and rewards of her 19 years of Army service and the needs of female service members and veterans

• Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer

• Retired Army Capt. Dawn Halfaker, an Iraq war veteran, business leader and U.S. Military Academy at West Point graduate who earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star following serious injuries at war

• New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller, who spent time embedded with the Marine female engagement team in the Helmand province of Afghanistan

Day one of the symposium will feature speakers and panel sessions on issues relevant to all military women, such as “Achieving Career Success,” “Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle” and “Financial Management.” A female general officer panel including representatives from all branches will address leadership issues. Elisabeth Bumiller will moderate the “Women Building Global Security and Stability” panel.

The second day will include high ranking senior officer speakers and leadership development agendas specific to each of the service branches.

The symposium will be a wonderful opportunity to learn from other inspiring women, and hear distinguished speakers from both industry and the military. A wide range of leadership building activities will be a part of the symposium.

*For more information, and to register by March 14, visit the symposium’s webpage.
Follow the event on Facebook here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Happy Magha Puja Day!

Magha Puja is a holiday celebrated by Buddhists mostly of the Theravada (Southern Buddhist) tradition, commemorating the Buddha's teachings to monks nine months after his Enlightenment. Magha Puja is now also celebrated in the U.S.

Chaplain Somya Malasri, one of our active Army Chaplains, will observe Magha Puja tonight at 6PM at the Fort Lewis North chapel.

No matter which vehicle we travel in, may we all take the time to re-commit to the Buddha-Dharma, and help all beings to Awakening!

Namo Amida Butsu

Monday, January 24, 2011

Buddhist Holidays for 2011

Thanks to Angry Asian Buddhist Web site, here is a list of some major Buddhist holy dates for 2011:

Lunar New Year · February 3
Magha Puja · February 18
Losar · March 5
Ohigan · March 17
Hanamatsuri · April 8
Thingyan · Apri 12–20
Songkran · April 13–15
Vesak · May 17
Gotan-e · May 20–21
Obon · July & August
Asalha Puja · July 15
Vu Lan · August 14
Pavarana · October 12
Kathina · mid-to-late Octoberish
Rohatsu · December 8

Another helpful resource is Interfaith which has a list of most major religious dates, many chaplains I know use this.

Coming Home Project Retreat for Female Veterans

For those in the Southern Caifornia Area: The Coming Home Project has announced a retreat for female servicemembers who have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001. The retreat is free of charge and will be held February 10-13 in Oceanside, CA, near the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base. You can find more information and register here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An Interview with an American Buddhist Soldier in Afghanistan

Sensei Trevor Maloney, a Zen priest in Austin, TX, recently posted an interview he conducted with Buddhist soldier and two-time Bronze Star Medal recipient, 1st Lt. Stephen J. Hunnewell. I corresponded via email with 1stLT Hunnewell while in Afghanistan, but we never met as we were stationed in separate areas of the country. Sensei Maloney kindly sent me the link to the interview, which is on his blog, The Big Old Oak Tree. Please read it. I am grateful to him for doing this interview, which will hopefully present another perspective on Buddhists serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Thank you Sensei!

Namo Amida Butsu

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

HH The Dalai Lama: Countering Stress and Depression

Countering stress and depression among servicemembers and their families is something chaplains work with almost on a daily basis.
I hope this article by the Dalai Lama may interest many of you.


Countering Stress and Depression

At a fundamental level, as human beings, we are all the same; each one of us aspires to happiness and each one of us does not wish to suffer. This is why, whenever I have the opportunity, I try to draw people's attention to what as members of the human family we have in common and the deeply interconnected nature of our existence and welfare.

Today, there is increasing recognition, as well as a growing body of scientific evidence, that confirms the close connection between our own states of mind and our happiness. On the one hand, many of us live in societies that are very developed materially, yet among us are many people who are not very happy. Just underneath the beautiful surface of affluence there is a kind of mental unrest, leading to frustration, unnecessary quarrels, reliance on drugs or alcohol, and in the worst case, suicide. There is no guarantee that wealth alone can give you the joy or fulfilment that you seek. The same can be said of your friends too. When you are in an intense state of anger or hatred, even a very close friend appears to you as somehow frosty, or cold, distant, and annoying.

However, as human beings we are gifted with this wonderful human intelligence. Besides that, all human beings have the capacity to be very determined and to direct that strong sense of determination in whatever direction they like. So long as we remember that we have this marvellous gift of human intelligence and a capacity to develop determination and use it in positive ways, we will preserve our underlying mental health. Realizing we have this great human potential gives us a fundamental strength. This recognition can act as a mechanism that enables us to deal with any difficulty, no matter what situation we are facing, without losing hope or sinking into feelings of low self-esteem.

I write this as someone who lost his freedom at the age of 16, then lost his country at the age of 24. Consequently, I have lived in exile for more than 50 years during which we Tibetans have dedicated ourselves to keeping the Tibetan identity alive and preserving our culture and values. On most days the news from Tibet is heartbreaking, and yet none of these challenges gives grounds for giving up. One of the approaches that I personally find useful is to cultivate the thought: If the situation or problem is such that it can be remedied, then there is no need to worry about it. In other words, if there is a solution or a way out of the difficulty, you do not need to be overwhelmed by it. The appropriate action is to seek its solution. Then it is clearly more sensible to spend your energy focussing on the solution rather than worrying about the problem. Alternatively, if there is no solution, no possibility of resolution, then there is also no point in being worried about it, because you cannot do anything about it anyway. In that case, the sooner you accept this fact, the easier it will be for you. This formula, of course, implies directly confronting the problem and taking a realistic view. Otherwise you will be unable to find out whether or not there is a resolution to the problem

Taking a realistic view and cultivating a proper motivation can also shield you against feelings of fear and anxiety. If you develop a pure and sincere motivation, if you are motivated by a wish to help on the basis of kindness, compassion, and respect, then you can carry on any kind of work, in any field, and function more effectively with less fear or worry, not being afraid of what others think or whether you ultimately will be successful in reaching your goal. Even if you fail to achieve your goal, you can feel good about having made the effort. But with a bad motivation, people can praise you or you can achieve goals, but you still will not be happy.

Again, we may sometimes feel that our whole lives are unsatisfactory, we feel on the point of being overwhelmed by the difficulties that confront us. This happens to us all in varying degrees from time to time. When this occurs, it is vital that we make every effort to find a way of lifting our spirits. We can do this by recollecting our good fortune. We may, for example, be loved by someone; we may have certain talents; we may have received a good education; we may have our basic needs provided for - food to eat, clothes to wear, somewhere to live - we may have performed certain altruistic deeds in the past. We must take into consideration even the slightest positive aspect of our lives. For if we fail to find some way of uplifting ourselves, there is every danger of sinking further into our sense of powerlessness. This can lead us to believe that we have no capacity for doing good whatsoever. Thus we create the conditions of despair itself.

As a Buddhist monk I have learned that what principally upsets our inner peace is what we call disturbing emotions. All those thoughts, emotions, and mental events which reflect a negative or uncompassionate state of mind inevitably undermine our experience of inner peace. All our negative thoughts and emotions - such as hatred, anger, pride, lust, greed, envy, and so on - are considered to be sources of difficulty, to be disturbing. Negative thoughts and emotions are what obstruct our most basic aspiration - to be happy and to avoid suffering. When we act under their influence, we become oblivious to the impact our actions have on others: they are thus the cause of our destructive behaviour both toward others and to ourselves. Murder, scandal, and deceit all have their origin in disturbing emotions.

This inevitably gives rise to the question - can we train the mind? There are many methods by which to do this. Among these, in the Buddhist tradition, is a special instruction called mind training, which focuses on cultivating concern for others and turning adversity to advantage. It is this pattern of thought, transforming problems into happiness that has enabled the Tibetan people to maintain their dignity and spirit in the face of great difficulties. Indeed I have found this advice of great practical benefit in my own life.

A great Tibetan teacher of mind training once remarked that one of the mind’s most marvellous qualities is that it can be transformed. I have no doubt that those who attempt to transform their minds, overcome their disturbing emotions and achieve a sense of inner peace, will, over a period of time, notice a change in their mental attitudes and responses to people and events. Their minds will become more disciplined and positive. And I am sure they will find their own sense of happiness grow as they contribute to the greater happiness of others. I offer my prayers that everyone who makes this their goal will be blessed with success.

The Dalai Lama

December 31, 2010

Originally published in the Hindustan Times, India, on January 3rd, 2011

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year 2011!

I hope everyone will have a happy and peaceful New Year. I attended our Joya-e (New Year's Eve) and Shusho-e (New Year's Day) services at the Buddhist Temple of San Diego. We did the 108 ringings of the bell, symbolically ridding ourselves of our blind passions for the past year and renewing our commitment to hear the Buddha-Dharma in 2011. May all beings awaken the Bodhi Mind and awaken to the peaceful bliss of Nirvana.
Namo Amida Butsu
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