Buddhist chaplains

Battle-weary troops find rare comfort in Buddhism

Ian Drury, Dail Mail, UK: Buddhism is experiencing an extraordinary upswing in popularity in the [British] armed forces.

Since 2005, the number of servicemen and women practising the religion has risen from 200 to 3,800. Around 2,800 are Gurkhas, whose home nation Nepal has pockets of Buddhism.

But the other 1,000 are British, with many converting since they joined the military.

According to spiritual leaders, the reason behind the phenomenon is that Buddhism allows service personnel to escape the stresses and strains of military life.

Sunil Kariyakarawana, the Buddhist chaplain for the armed forces, said: ‘Buddhism has a different perspective …

Read the original article »

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Jail’s meditation course is not a hard cell

Participants in the popular weekly course at L.A. County’s Men’s Central facility say the techniques they learn for relaxation and self-control couldn’t be more useful in their environs.

“Eyes closed, heads down. Focus on your breathing.”

The men in the sanctuary obediently followed their Buddhist chaplain’s command, bowing their cleanly shaven heads and beginning their meditation exercises. A bell chime hung in the air before melting into silence.

Most of the men were new to the relaxation technique, seeking to add a little Zen to their lives. But the venue for this course was not a posh studio in Silver Lake or Santa Monica.

These men were trying to get in touch with their chi at Men’s Central Jail.

The downtown L.A. correctional facility, which civil rights advocates have labeled medieval enough to drive men mad, might not be the most intuitive choice for a meditation center in the city. But inmates who frequent the popular weekly course, now in its third year, say the techniques for relaxation and self-control couldn’t be more useful in their environs.

Bernard Young, 58, has been locked up at Men’s Central since being charged with assaulting his wife with a deadly weapon almost a year ago. The Houston native, his beard white and frizzy, said he could attribute most of his transgressions to allowing anger to overtake him. A friend in jail suggested he start taking the meditation courses a few months ago.

Learning to meditate, Young said, means taking back control.

“When I start thinking bad things, I just start meditating,” he said, pausing to smooth his standard-issue blue jumpsuit. “I need all the help I can get.”

The popularity of the classes highlights the stresses of living behind the jail’s painted green bars. Inmates self-segregate among their own racial and ethnic groups, and fights often flare between them. Outside the sanctuary at a recent Friday meditation session, guards patted down one inmate to find a shank the man had styled from scrap metal, wrapped in linen and stuffed in his underpants.

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union released a report that blasted the jail. The facility is overcrowded, the ACLU said, and its dark, windowless cells give inmates little opportunity for rehabilitation.

Jail officials say the meditation courses offer inmates a healthy outlet.

“They learn how to deal with conflict a little better,” said L.A. County Sheriff’s Capt. Daniel Cruz. “They look within themselves. They’re not so easily excited or angered.”

Joshua Silva, 25, has been incarcerated since he was charged with robbery in October. The Whittier native, his lip studded and his arms and neck covered in tattoos, is to be released soon. He said he hopes the techniques he’s learned during the meditation courses will help make the transition easier.

While he has been incarcerated, the classes have offered him an opportunity to escape the jail’s constant clamor: inmates shouting, jail doors clanking shut, instructions barked through the intercom.

“For me,” he said, “it was like: How do I find a way to go beyond these bars?”

On a recent Friday, about three dozen inmates filed in, quickly taking seats in wooden pews in the drafty sanctuary. African Americans sat to the left, Latinos to the right, just behind two Asian Americans sitting by themselves in the front pew. Many boasted gang affiliations with tattoos on their necks and shaved heads.

A chaplain, donning a flowing brown robe and a gold sash, drew their attention from the front of the third-floor sanctuary.

“You’re probably thinking, ‘What am I doing here, what’s happening with my family, am I going to get big time at my sentencing?’ ” he said. “All of these things are gnawing away at you.”

As the chaplain instructed the inmates on how to breathe, focus and empty their minds, attendees interrupted with eager questions.

“What do you mean ‘let go?’ Let go of what?” asked one older inmate, wiry with a graying mustache.

“All the things you’re worried about,” the chaplain said. “Like ‘I shouldn’t have done this, I shouldn’t have done that.’ ”

When it came time to meditate, the room fell silent. The inmates clasped their hands, one thumb over the other, eyes downward, chins tucked in, feet planted against the sanctuary’s lacquered stone floor.

But even the most committed students would occasionally open their eyes to survey their surroundings, a habit guards say is hard to break in jail.

The classes are run by volunteers, which allows the Sheriff’s Department to offer them without added expense. The idea was floated a few years ago by members of a local Zen center. There was some consternation initially, organizers said, among chaplains of other denominations.

“Don’t you know, if you empty your mind, the devil will rush in,” Buddhist chaplain Gary Janka recalled hearing at the time, a concern that was addressed by inviting an instructor who specialized in Christian meditation to join.

The courses, Janka said, have shown promise. He points to one inmate he met while walking a row of cells. The man asked for a book on yoga, and the request blossomed into a deeper mentorship.

The inmate had long struggled with anger and had been sent to “the hole,” or solitary confinement, at least once for blowing up at a deputy. Janka counseled him to control his anger in situations in which he felt provoked. On one occasion he instructed the man to fill three notebook pages with the mantra “don’t bite the hook.”

Weeks later, his cell was searched for contraband, a process that had set him off in the past.

“Normally he would’ve gone ballistic,” Janka said. “But the first thing he said popped up in his mind was ‘don’t bite the hook.’ ”

As for the irony of teaching meditation in jail, the Buddhist chaplain doesn’t see it.

“What a perfect place,” he said. “That’s what we have going for us here, that everybody is suffering.”

[via LA Times]
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Inside Story

The Great EscapeWhat makes a prisoner? Sarvananda, a prison Buddhist chaplain, has an inside view of life in jail; and he reflects that we are all prisoners of our mental states

Twice a week for the past seven years I have visited Norwich Prison in eastern England, in my capacity as a Buddhist chaplain. Recently I have been wondering why I am drawn to this work. Apart from the desire to spread the Dharma and the fact that my teacher Sangharakshita has encouraged his disciples to undertake such work, a certain fascination has drawn me to prison visiting — a fascination with prison life itself and with the people I meet.

I was brought up in an affluent, suburban district of Glasgow, Scotland. Criminal acts seemed rare. Graffiti was hardly seen and, if it did briefly blossom, it was gone by the next morning. No, the forces of darkness lived over the river. Just across the muddy waters of the River Cart lay the Castlemilk housing estate. In the summer, when the river was low, our suburban stronghold was often invaded by the Castlemilk youth. They stole from shops, and chased people with ‘blades’. On my way back from a shopping expedition I was once mugged by some of these dreaded ‘Cassies’. I still remember the grinning, handsome face and bright eyes of their ringleader. I staggered home in tears without my mother’s groceries and with fear and anger in my heart. Yet ‘the Cassies’ also fascinated me.

I have always had the middle-class boy’s curiosity about those who live on the other side of the tracks. It has determined my tastes in literature, and even my choice of friends. This fascination has extended to my prison visiting and ties in with my other incarnation as someone who attempts to write plays.

 These men understand immediately that a successful Buddhist practice could, literally, make the difference between life and death.  

When I visit the prison, I have to rein in my curiosity. I am there to communicate the Dharma, the Buddhist teachings, and to be, to the best of my ability, a spiritual friend to the men I meet. Although I have access to the prisoners’ files I never read them. Nor do I ask them why they are in prison. I let them offer that information – or not. There is a danger that my own curiosity can be a distraction from my primary purpose. Still, I am curious …

I usually feel tense as I ring the little bell and wait by the enormous double doors of the prison. This is not because I feel apprehensive about visiting the prisoners who have asked to see me. In seven years visiting the prison, I have never been threatened or felt intimidated by a prisoner (which was certainly a fear when I started). The men I meet have asked to see me and always treat me with friendliness and respect. The tension has more to do with the difficulties I have experienced in getting to see prisoners, or finding a room in which to meditate, or establishing my credentials.

‘What are you doing?’ barked an officer one day, as I wandered aimlessly down a corridor searching for a prisoner who had no doubt been transferred to another prison.

‘I’m the Buddhist chaplain.’

‘You don’t look like the Buddhist chaplain.’

‘I am,’ I assured him. ‘I’m the Buddhist chaplain.’

And I showed him my card with the little photograph of me that makes me look like the prison’s longest-term resident. But the card did undeniably say ‘Buddhist chaplain’.

‘Sorry, sir.’ His voice changed. ‘Probably best not to wear a maroon sweatshirt [regulation prison gear] when you come here. Gave me a nasty shock seeing a prisoner with keys.’

‘Who are you?’ is a question I often get asked as I enter the prison, a question often accompanied by the unselfconscious stare of an inmate. It’s the kind of stare you don’t usually get on ‘the out’.

Being a member of the Western Buddhist Order, I don’t wear robes, so I’m not immediately recognisable as a chaplain, and I sometimes envy the Christian chaplain his immediately recognisable dog collar, his chapel, and the weight of his western tradition. I am a curiosity for officers and prisoners. And I’ve had some interesting conversations about Buddhism with landing officers while waiting to see a prisoner.

The first thing that hits me when I enter a prison wing is the noise – shouting, slamming doors and blaring radios. The atmosphere at first seems casual. After all, these are just men getting on with their daily routine. But I always detect an underlying frustration. These men have been locked up against their will, deprived of their freedom and their ability to make choices is hugely limited.

There is often, too, an atmosphere of jokey comradeship, something even mildly homoerotic. As I walked up a stairwell recently I noticed one inmate kissing another through a wire mesh.‘ What are you two up to?’ demanded a scandalised third party.

‘We love each other, man.’

‘You’ve been in here too long, mate.’

I meet the men I have come to see in various locations. It is sometimes difficult to find an appropriate room and I have been sequestered in a small treatment room with a bewildered inmate and two angry budgies, irritated by the invasion of their personal space. Sometimes I meet with a prisoner in one of the Christian chapels. It seems strange meditating under the Stations of the Cross, but these rooms have a spaciousness and tranquillity that I like. I often use one of the multi-faith rooms, which have few artefacts or images and are sterile and drab because they have been designed to give no offence to any religion. Here I set up my Buddha figure, light some incense, perhaps put on a tape of Tibetan chanting, and try to create a pleasant atmosphere. The men I meet, suffering under the routines and rituals of prison life, respond positively to the ritual and artefacts of Buddhism. Incense is particularly popular. Perhaps burning incense marks them off as being Buddhists – as well as disguising the pervasive smells of cooking, detergent or toilets.

 Occasionally, just occasionally, I find myself envying aspects of their lives.  

Sometimes I see the prisoners in their cells, which vary in size and quality. ‘M’ wing houses prisoners of an enhanced category. They have pleasant, spacious cells with a shower. Other cells are small, shared spaces with a bunk bed. There are also small, single cells with a toilet. These are particularly smelly, cramped and unpleasant. Whatever their size or quality, prisoners spend a substantial amount of their prison lives banged up in these cells.

The prisoners choose to decorate their cells in different ways. Some are neat with a little shrine on a table and Buddhist images displayed on the walls. In others naked women are plastered everywhere and it is a relief to shut one’s eyes to meditate.

‘It’s about the only curves you see in prison,’ one of the more philosophically minded inmates reminded me, by way of apology.

Lines. No curves. From their striped blue shirts, to the wire mesh, to the bars on the windows … The masculine, ordered geometry of prison life wearies the eye. Prison is an ugly, ugly environment.

And the ugliest part of this ugly environment is ‘A’ wing, the old Victorian part of the prison. There seems a particularly tense atmosphere on this wing. Generations of men have tramped these landings, called to one another from these balconies, have spent years of their lives locked in these cells … The geography of the wing makes the whole place a well of sound. Noise is what I would find most difficult to endure in here. It is what the more sensitive inmates complain about. It’s difficult to meditate with blaring radios, yelling and slamming doors being amplified, flung up and around the four landings on the wing …

I often wonder how I would cope in prison. The men I meet (usually one-to-one, but sometimes in groups) range from lifers convicted of violent crimes to young men convicted of selling drugs. Many of those I meet are there for drug-related crimes. Occasionally I meet someone from a similar background to myself but usually the environment from which they have emerged has been difficult, harsh and often violent. A lot of them have been in institutions of one kind or another all their lives.

Normally I have a general chat, talk about basic Buddhism and we meditate together. Some have found in Buddhism an alternative to conventional religion, a spiritual path without God. Some have a good, consistent meditation practice. Others find meditation difficult and prefer just to talk. Many are struggling with addiction and it is no coincidence that, at the moment, the majority of guys I see are on a special wing that helps them to deal with their addictive behaviour. These men understand immediately the Buddhist attitude to craving and that a successful Buddhist practice could, literally, make the difference between life and death.

When I talk with the prisoners I always try to follow Khemadhammo’s advice – to stay with the Dharma. Ven. Ajahn Khemadhammo, an English Theravadin monk, started Angulimala, the UK’s Buddhist prison chaplaincy organisation to which I belong, in 1985. Its 45 or so chaplains attend regular meetings, which provide mutual support and encouragement.

I try to follow Khemadammo’s advice: not to psychologise, nor sort out the prisoners’ problems for them, nor take sides, nor get into the cloudy areas of the rights and wrongs of their specific case. I try to come back again and again to the basics of Buddhism – the importance of creating the right conditions in establishing an effective practice; the need to take responsibility for one’s mental states; the law of karma as expressed by the Buddha in the Dhammapada:

‘What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind. If a man speaks or acts with an impure mind, suffering follows him as the wheel of the cart follows the beast that draws the cart.’

‘What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind. If a man speaks or acts with a pure mind, joy follows him as his shadow.’

In returning to these truths I also remind myself of the basics of the Dharma that I so easily forget. And those prisoners who have some genuine grasp of these basics move on most effectively. It is easy to underestimate the struggle many of them have. I visited one man who seemed to be getting on well. He was usually calm and bright and had a seemingly effective meditation practice. After he was released I happened to spot him in the city. His face was haggard and bruised and he was having a fierce argument with some of the drunks and drug addicts who frequent that part of town.

Occasionally, just occasionally, particularly if I am busy, I find myself envying aspects of their lives. In many ways their lives seem simpler than mine. They do, of course, have a lot of free time. They seem less subject to the tyranny of choice. ‘The amount I could get written, the amount I could study, the amount I could meditate if I lived in here!’ I occasionally reflect.

 Prison visiting helps me to make wiser choices…  

Some of the men I meet say that being in prison has been beneficial, in that previously they never had the time or the space to consider their lives. And I often suggest that they try and see their time in prison as a semi-retreat. I stress that they may never again have the spare time seriously to meditate and reflect.

But my attraction to their life is superficial. There are 500 other good reasons why I would not want to be a prisoner. These men have been deprived of their freedom and, in the process, I sense that they have lost something else. This is difficult to put into words, but it is something to do with the blue striped shirts and the maroon sweat shirts, the fact that their letters are opened before they read them, that they’re called by their second name, and are subject to a sometimes baffling bureaucracy. If I’m late for a prisoner or can’t manage to see him, it doesn’t seem so important to me as it would if I was inconveniencing someone on the outside. It’s a subtle, semi-conscious feeling, which I fight against, that these men are second-class citizens, that broken promises affect them less, that they live on the other side of the river. Prison life can deprive them of dignity.

I am writing this article on a solitary retreat. On the face of it I have the freedom to go where I want, do what I want and think what I want. But I have been aware, while meditating here, how much my ability to think or act freely is limited by deep-rooted negative habits. I am imprisoned by these habits, and here is another fascination in my work: the prison provides me with a metaphor. It reminds me that my world is similar in many respects, that the dividing river is not really a divide and that, like the men I meet in Norwich prison, I am subject to the imprisoning mental states of greed, hatred and delusion. The difference between a free person and one without freedom is not bars or doors, but the extent to which they can take responsibility for their mental states.

In the end, however, my world is not one of bars and wire and slamming doors. Every time I walk out of the prison I experience a sense of relief. Choice can be a tyrant, but prison visiting helps me to make wiser choices, to make the most of my physical freedom. Hopefully, in communicating the Dharma to those men I meet, I can help them, too, to choose wisely.


Sarvananda / Alastair JessimanSarvananda was born in Scotland and is a member of the Western Buddhist Order. He lives in Norwich, England.

Under the name Alastair Jessiman he is a noted writer of plays for radio, who has had many of his works produced by the BBC. His most recent production is Boxer and Doberman, a comedy police drama, which was described by the Telegraph as “funny in a wonderfully macabre way.”

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Freedom on the inside

Sparrow sitting on prison bars

People behind bars are often open to change, as Suvarnaprabha discovers when teaching prisoners to meditate.

There is a series of rituals you learn when you start going into prisons. Of course they aren’t meant to be rituals –- they’re for security, but they end up feeling like rituals, in the same way that some of us automatically bow when we enter a meditation room. You walk up to the door, push the button, turn your back to the door, the door buzzes, and you turn around, open the door and go inside. Every time you go through a door, even on the inside, you do the same thing: you push the button, turn to face the camera, open the door, go inside.

In 1998 I spent four months co-teaching a creative writing class at a medium security prison. Once a week I drove my little Honda into the hot Central Valley (where pretty much all California’s prisons are), my chest achy and nervous every time. Walking in the first day: I passed through a series of remotely-controlled gates, each buzzing as we approached it, someone watching us on a screen somewhere, pressing a button to let us through to the next gate. Even as a visitor, you feel you have no control over what’s going on. At almost the last gate, the Director of Arts in Corrections mentioned that he was required by law to tell me that the prison policy is not to negotiate with terrorists. “We’re supposed to tell people before they come in,” he says.

And then came the thought, It’s too late to run now, all those locked gates behind me.

That confused me. On the one hand, it was sort of exciting to think that someone was legally required to warn me that if I were seized by the neck and dragged away, nothing was going to be done about it. And then came the thought, “It’s too late to run now, all those locked gates behind me.” I felt I was entering another world of wall-mounted cameras, hostages and violence; a place behind a wall of electric razor wire, with its own customs and language, that is looked upon with fear and hatred by those outside, perhaps including me.

In the US about two million people are incarcerated and the unfortunate news is that the experience tends to make them more violent . The current Sheriff of San Francisco was a prisoner’s rights attorney at our county jail in the 1970s, when it was described as a ‘monster factory’. He resolved to try to change it into a place that prepares inmates to rejoin the community, helps victims to heal and helps communities to play a role in rehabilitation. Such a system is referred to as a regime of restorative justice. This is one of the most progressive jails in the US.

So for one evening every week or two, thanks to the Prison Meditation Network, I go to the jail with a yoga teacher, do some yoga in a circle of about 15 muscle-bound, orange-clad guys, meditate, then have a discussion about meditation or whatever comes up. The class is voluntary and participants come from one of two restorative programs: one is for drug-related offences, and the other is for those in a violence-prevention program in which men confront the causes of male-role violence and work to observe, understand and modify their behavior. The programs, especially the one for violent men, are meant to provide tools to understand their conditioning, and to work more effectively with their own minds and anger. About half of these guys are in for things like violence against their wives or partners, or going against a Restraining Order.

My sister said to me: “I can’t really see what the appeal is. I would never go into a jail – it would scare me.” It was pretty scary for a while (but only when I thought about it, not when I was actually there). Part of the reason I started this was for a change from the mostly middle- class white people that show up at our Buddhist centre, even though we’re in a non-white, non-middle-class neighborhood. The most annoying thing about privileged people, at least Americans, is that we haven’t the slightest idea that we are privileged – we just expect things to be easy and to be happy, while so much of the world grinds on, often smiling, in the face of real hardship. So I like to get out of that sometimes, get a different point of view, and meditate with people whose level of engagement with meditation seems more like a necessity than just a trendy way to relax. Plus, in many ways, one’s life and one’s body are themselves a cage. I occasionally feel that, as Bo Lozoff’s book says, “We’re all doing time.”

Inmates may have done horrible things, but when they are with us they are receptive and kind, and I love them.

People who want to change, no matter where they are, are interesting. In a sense the degree to which they want to change is the degree to which they are interesting. People who realize they have made mistakes and are trying to learn are interesting. They may have done – probably did do – horrible things, but when they are with us they are receptive and kind, and I love them. It’s just that many of them are covered with tattoos and have unbelievably huge arms. And after a while I stopped noticing that.

Devi and I walk to the door of one of the dorms. The deputy yells out to the crowd: “Yoga and meditation!” A few guys shuffle up to the front. Most are clustered together watching a movie on a set high on the wall. Two African-American guys lean against the wall, missing teeth. I ask if they’re coming to yoga and meditation.

The big guy says, “What, is that like acupuncture?”

“Huh, is it like what?”

“Acupuncture. Is it like acupuncture?”

“No buddy, we ain’t going to use needles on you.”

“I know, like you know when we’re sitting around in a circle, all quiet, but without the needles.”

“Yeah,” I say. “It’s like that.”

The skinny one says he’ll come. I doubt it.

We reach the classroom, sit in a circle and check in. One guy says he has toothache. Now they’re doing yoga and I decide to opt out and meditate for an hour. Will I do it or won’t I? There aren’t as many old-timers as usual …

I remember when I started to become acquainted with the violence of my own mind…

When they’re done, I look around and say, “We’re going to do an experiment today, and you don’t have to do it if you don’t want. First we’re going to do something like singing, then we’ll do a meditation on kindness. This kind of singing or chanting comes from a particular tradition, but I want to point out that I’m not trying to force anything on anyone, or convert anyone. I know some of you are Christians, and if you like you can think of this mantra as a prayer to God. So we’re going to chant this phrase om mahnee padmay hung, which means, simply, a jewel inside a flower. It is a symbol of compassion – a symbol of human development that sees people as flowers blooming.”

So here goes: om-mahnee-padmay-hung, om-mahnee-padmay-hung, om-mahnee-padmay-hung. The white guy to my right starts laughing in an odd stop-start kind of way. I cringe inside. What if he doesn’t stop? What if no-one will join in and I am a failure? Can’t turn back now. Another guy joins the laughing guy, who now sounds slightly hysterical. I am not looking but something is definitely going on to my right, seems very bad.

I continue: om mani padme hum, the magic mantra, deep. God help me, as it were. Five minutes, that’s all we’ll do, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. It feels very Buddhist to me, too much for this secular place. The sound fills the cold hallways. What if the deputies protest? Many people here are Christians.

Waiting, chanting. After about three minutes, everything goes still. There is only the mantra, deep and clear. My own mental noise has stopped, the laughing guy has stopped, no keys jangling, no doors slamming. Everything has stopped but this group of people, this rippling, low-voiced beauty. Everything changed.

After five minutes I ring the bell and the chanting fades. We cultivate an attitude of kindness towards ourselves, and then towards all beings, including our enemies. The nervousness creeps back in. Is the meditation too long? I am worried about introducing the cultivation of love, awareness of emotion, here after they’ve known only the Zen-inspired approach of ‘letting go of thoughts’. There was some shifting around during the meditation but, during the last stage, in which we focus on all beings, everyone settled down. When people seem restless in the meditation, I have learnt to take it less seriously. I figure it’s better just to carry on. I ring the bell three times … the reverberations last a long, long time.

Some people take to loving-kindness meditation like fish to water. I understand these people. They look beautiful after they meditate, like they just got back from a retreat. The skinny new guy’s eyes when they open look like he is in love, sparkling. I wonder if that was like acupuncture. I am careful not to stare at him. The white guy next to me says, “I’m sorry I was laughing, I didn’t mean any disrespect. I’m sorry. I don’t know what was going on, I couldn’t stop, I didn’t mean any disrespect. I couldn’t stop.”

The guy on the other side of him says to him, “I’m sorry I got mad.”

“That’s OK, I didn’t like it myself, I was trying to stop but I couldn’t.”

I tell him he can be kind to himself about having had that experience. It’s fine with all of us. “Yeah, it’s fine,” they all say. Everyone looks so kind.

Devi explains the physiological benefits of chanting, according to the yoga tradition. I’m glad she can do that. It sounds sensible.

Someone said he found the meditation very difficult, which I took to mean that he couldn’t engage with it. He said that during the difficult person stage, so many people flooded into his mind that he would get really angry about it, then he would get angry that he was angry, and so on. In a later class he said that his interactions with people had changed after he’d done the practice only once. He had never actually seen people as people outside of what he wanted them to be, and that he had started doing that. The change seemed tremendously painful — suddenly to have that kind of awareness, to realize how it’s been before, and to see how much painful work one has to do.

I remember when I started, against my will it seemed, to become acquainted with the violence of my own mind. I was on my first week-long retreat, and in one of the meditation sessions, my whole experience, my whole being and sense of myself, sort of filled up with awareness of hatred, and I saw with an indescribable immediacy what was underneath so much of my experience. I saw how at some level I hated myself and other people. Of course I also loved people, but I didn’t love them how I love them now. That retreat was excruciating, as were many subsequent retreats. The path to happiness can sometimes be sad.

“I really want to change,” an African-American guy says, another one who looked blissed out after the meditation. “Thank you for coming here, thank you,” he says. People are very beautiful: I have to stop myself from looking at them. Some people end up getting out of jail and losing it – stalking their ex-wives, taking drugs again, both. Some of the yoga and meditation teachers get upset when this happens. Yet, I figure, doing some productive time isn’t going to be enough for some people, perhaps most people, to transform a lifetime of addiction and violence. But while we’re in the class, there is something else going on, about peace and acceptance, something that seems to be rare – anywhere in this world.

The new guy is still sparkling. Is he in love with me? Well, the anxiety seems misplaced in the face of this beauty. The other guy I had problems with doesn’t come anymore. This guy is different. He is a flower.

Shin, the monk from the Pure Land tradition with the big Sanskrit ah tattooed on the back of his head – whose master told him he couldn’t give Dhamma talks in jail -– tells me I was chanting it too slowly. He says the resonance is right when there’s no pause. He looks extremely happy.

The guy with toothache says his pain’s gone. Another guy says his headache has gone. Another guy throws his crutches across the room, stands up and walks. Just kidding – about that last thing.

The laughing guy says, “You know, when he got mad at me, I just thought, ‘This is how people are, he can get mad, it’s OK.’ ” There but for the grace of God go I … I’ve never thought anything like that before. He looked happy, and also shocked.

Everyone looks so kind. There is love in the room. Transracial, transpenal, trans-sectarian love – the kind you can’t actually define. Devi and I are leaving now, both very happy, walking to the door, towards the big outside. And I say, “Well, that mantra was great, but I won’t do it again, or I’ll wait a year or so. There’s something not right about it here.”

I press the button and a man looking at me on a screen in a booth presses a button. The door buzzes and we are outside again. When I get home I am so happy I can’t sleep.

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Ten most popular posts on Wildmind this year

Top TenJust to help you keep track of what’s hot on Wildmind at the moment, we’ve put together this list of the ten blog posts that have received the most visitors this year. Enjoy!

10. Naming negative emotions makes them weaker Wired Magazine reports on research that’s of relevance to meditators — especially those that use the vipassana technique of “noting,” where we name the most prominent aspect of our experience, saying inwardly, for example, “anger, anger” when we recognize that that emotion is present.

9. Top 10 Myths About Meditation Bodhipaksa debunks the ten most common meditation myths.

8. The Buddha as Warrior It might seem strange to think of the Buddha as a “warrior” when he is rightly seen as above all a figure of peace. Lieutenant (jg) Jeanette Shin, the US military’s first Buddhist chaplain, looks at the Buddha’s martial background.

7. Infinity in the palm of your hand Would you like to see the world in a new way? A way that’s more authentic and satisfying? A way that taps into your infinite potential and helps others to realize theirs?

6. “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” (Krishnamurti) Bodhipaksa explores the uncomfortable notion that we are all trapped in a world of delusions.

5. “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” (Anaïs Nin) Bodhipaksa explores a quote by Anaïs Nin.

4. The joys of Zen Coffee There are many paths to Awakening, including the path of Zen Coffee, Gloria Chadwick’s hip new take on Zen mindfulness.

3. Love, Sex, and Non-Attachment Is it possible to be in a committed sexual relationship and follow the Buddha’s teaching on non-attachment? Does loving someone deeply by definition mean we’re attached to them? Sunada doesn’t see these ideas as contradictory, and explores what an enlightened relationship might look like.

2. The 12-Step Buddhist Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-Step Program offers a path of escape from the cycle of dependency, but it’s a path that’s heavily reliant on belief in a deity. Can Buddhism provide an alternative approach to addiction? Buddhist and incarcerated drug-offender Rich Cormier investigates “12-Step Buddhism” as outlined in a new book by Darren Littlejohn.

1. Top 10 celebrity Buddhists When we started putting this list together it seemed like it was going to be nothing more than a shallow, trivial — although perhaps welcome — distraction from all the news about disastrous wars and sordid political scandals, but as we dug deeper into the web we found that we felt at times inspired by reading about the practice of famous Buddhists, some of whom have had their trials. We hope that you too will be inspired — and entertained — by Wildmind’s Top Ten List of Celebrity Buddhists.

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Wildmind’s top ten blog posts of 2008

fireworksIt’s been a busy year. We’ve redesigned the site, reorganized our news section, and added many hundreds of new posts on the theme of meditation and spiritual practice. So now it’s time to pause and look back with some fondness and appreciation at the most popular blog articles that were published on Wildmind in 2008. But before we do so, we’d like to thank you, our 1.5 million dear readers, for taking an interest in what we do and for posting interesting and insightful comments. All the best in 2009!

10. Back in February Wildmind welcomed the awesomeness that is Auntie Suvanna (aka Dharmacarini Suvarnaprabha of the San Francisco Buddhist Center). Auntie Suvanna dispenses wit and wisdom in equal measure as she helps mere mortals like ourselves with their problems, both spiritual and mundane. In her debut Ask Auntie Suvanna column she offered solace to a seeking soul who was comparing her breast-size unfavorably with the bodacious curves of female Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. For those of you who have been missing Auntie of late, do not despair. She’s merely taking a sabbatical and waiting for some good questions to come in.

9. In March, Bodhipaksa riffed on a saying by Søren Kierkegaard, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”

8. In June, guest blogger, Buddhist practitioner, PhD candidate, and general good guy Justin Whitaker discussed The art of friendship

7. In October, our resident teacher and blogger Sunada shared heartfelt advice on Being an introvert in an extroverted world

6. Author, activist, and performer Vimalasara graced our pages back in March, with a fascinating account of Waking up into the moment

5. In his regular monthly “quote of the month” column, new dad Bodhipaksa shares some of what he’s learned through observing his young daughter’s consciousness evolving by discussing a quote by Muhammad Ali, “Children make you want to start life over.”

4. And it’s Bodhipaksa’s “quote of the month” column again, this time discussing Anaïs Nin’s saying, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” and sharing lessons he has learned the hard way.

3. Bodhipaksa once more, this time with some practical advice on how to use meditative techniques not to wake up but to get yourself to sleep: Meditation and insomnia

2. In March, Sunada reveals how we can see our “difficult” mental states as teachers rather than as problems in Anxiety, depression, anger… Paths to purification?

1. But our most popular post of the year was guest blogger Lieutenant Jeanette Shin outlining her vision of The Buddha as warrior. Lt. Shin was the US military’s first Buddhist chaplain, and she serves in the US Navy. Thank you Lt. Shin!

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The Buddha as warrior

Manjushri bodhisattva with sword

It might seem strange to think of the Buddha as a “warrior” when he is rightly seen as above all a figure of peace. Lieutenant (jg) Jeanette Shin, the US military’s first Buddhist chaplain, looks at the Buddha’s martial background.

The Buddha never advocated the killing or destruction of “infidels” of any religion or doctrine, and always recommended the path of nonviolence.

However, Shakyamuni’s life and teachings reveal a person raised to be a heroic warrior invested in honor. While he renounced the life planned for him by his parents, as a secular warrior-king, he used the language of warriors to convey the Dharma, so he could stress that following the path of Dharma required similar virtues possessed by warriors.

Terms like charioteer, sword and shield, war elephants, banners, fortress, archers, arrows, poisoned arrows, are all used in expressing the struggle to overcome one’s delusions

Siddhartha Gautama (his birth name) was born into the kshatriya varna, or caste, of ancient India/Nepal. This was the caste of the warriors, the rulers and aristocrats of ancient India. A typical upbringing of a kshatriya male included study of the Vedas (the earliest religious texts of India) and the study of archery, swordsmanship, horsemanship, etc.

Although the Buddha’s early life may sound very pampered, with his three palaces and entourage of entertainers and harem (the ancient Indian equivalent of MTV’s My Sweet Sixteen! Which would also inspire one to renounce the world), it would have been very unlikely that Siddhartha’s father, King Suddhodhana, would have neglected to provide this rigorous training for the presumptive heir of a small, regional power (and he did not become a world-renouncer until he was about age 29).

We may see evidence of this in the language that the Buddha used in expressing Dharma: martial imagery and terms like “charioteer”, “sword and shield,” “war elephants”, “banners,” “fortress,” “archers”, “arrows”, “poisoned arrows,” are all used in expressing the struggle to overcome one’s delusions and the oppositions of others.

The Buddha’s Enlightenment was described as a “battle” between himself and Mara, the embodiment of death and evil:

“King Mara, at the head of a great army of one hundred thousand, swooped down on the prince from four sides. The gods who up to that time had surrounded the prince and had sung his praises fled in fear. Now there was no one who could save the prince. But the prince thought to himself, “The Ten Precepts that I have practiced for a long period of time are my mighty army; they are the jeweled sword and the stalwart shield that guard my being. Carrying the virtuous practice of these Ten Precepts in my hand, I shall annihilate the army of demons… Instead of living in defeat, it is far better to do battle and die! But should they go to defeat to Mara’s armies even once, mendicants and sages alike will be unable to recognize, know, or practice the path of the virtuous ones. Mara, riding atop a huge elephant, you came leading a whole army. Come, do battle! I shall emerge victorious. You will not throw me into disorder. Although the human and celestial worlds were both unable to destroy your army, I shall defeat your army as a rock destroys tree leaves.” (Lalitavistara)

The ancient texts emphasize the need for determination, sacrifice, and courage for Buddhists to follow the path of Buddha-dharma, to bear up under hardships in order to achieve the highest goal a human being can attain: to conquer death, fear, ignorance, evil, and thereby attain liberation. The qualities of a good warrior are exactly the qualities needed for a serious Buddhist practitioner.

As a kshatriya, the Buddha had many advantages in getting others to listen to his message, rather than if he had been born as a shudra (peasant) vaisya (merchant) or even a brahmin (priests); it is also said that the future Buddha, as a bodhisattva, was able to chose the time and society of his birth. The religious atmosphere of the time (5th-6th BCE) witnessed a resurgence of people of this caste re-examining and questioning the authority of the brahmins, so the Buddha’s teachings became popular with them, as did the teachings of his contemporary, the Jain teacher Mahavira. Other kshatriyas also likely recognized him as such (perhaps similar to the idea of “Once a Marine, always a Marine”?), possibly one reason why he was readily accepted (and protected) by the local rulers such as King Bimbisara, and which may also explain a curious story that occurs near the end of the Buddha’s life.

As a kshatriya, the Buddha had many advantages in getting others to listen to his message

King Virudhaka declared war against the Buddha’s own clan, the Shakyas, and marched against them. The Buddha stood in his way three times. Each time King Virudhaka dismounted, paid his respects, remounted and retreated, but he kept coming back every day. By the fourth day, the Buddha did not stand in his way, and the Sakyas were defeated.

This story is very puzzling by contemporary standards: it would have been much easier for this king to simply shoot the Buddha with an arrow the first time! If he wasn’t threatened, why should the Buddha not have stood there, every day, to prevent war? This story is presented as a cautionary tale on the reality of karma. At our most idealistic moments, we may like to imagine that a simple and polite expounding of the Buddha-dharma to violent and ignorant persons can end conflict, but even the Buddha himself was unable to convince everyone he met to renounce violence, or even to accept the validity of the Buddha-dharma. This teaching infers then that not even the Buddha could prevent war; War, like other acts, results from the working of karma within the realm of samsara. If the karma is present, then we may commit any sort of act, whether or not we had even planned to do it, according to Shinran Shonin. As Plato said, “Only the dead do not know war.” This is something to keep in mind when considering the importance of the role of the armed forces and our place within it.

Even given the reality of war, we should also keep in mind that the Buddha cautions against the glorification and worship of war and violence for its own sake. As is stated in the Dhammapada:

Victory breeds hatred
The defeated live in pain,
Happily the peaceful live,
Giving up victory and defeat.

There is no Buddhist version of ‘Valhalla.’ Everyone is responsible for his or her own karma, and should be mindful of what our present and future actions may entail, which is the causing of death and death for ourselves in battle. Preferably, people should consider this before enlisting! Even though we have voluntarily accepted this path, we should also be prepared to accept the karmic results, and also know that, like any career, our own military path will end one way or another.

Even the Buddha himself was unable to convince everyone he met to renounce violence

The military life is not for everyone. As service-members, especially those in leadership positions and those who have been in for awhile, we know that some are simply not cut out for military service, whether it is because, on one end, they are whiners, “dirtbags” (I’m sure many people in the military have heard this word before) and outright criminals, or others who, although not bad people, simply can’t adjust to the military lifestyle.

I’m sure many of us have encountered these individuals, and also knew that the best thing for all concerned was for them to get out and go home (preferably as quickly as possible). But we’ve also known others who become very successful, who take to the military life and deployments like fish to water, look out for their people, and thrive on the warrior lifestyle, hardships and all. Chaplains see this all the time. Therefore, there are many different teachings in the Buddhist canon concerning the use of force and conflict, just as counseling is different for different individuals, just as not all wars are alike.

The Buddha must have encountered many similar situations in talking to people from different castes and professions, some he may never have associated with before, like barbers and shopkeepers; we also know that he included kings and their warriors in his audiences. We do know that he admitted them to his presence, and talked to them, advising some to renounce the life of a warrior, others he would not admit in the Sangha until after they had completed their military service. He did not shun them because of their profession. He had been one of them.

Namo Amida Butsu

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The Upper Middle Way – Have North American Buddhists renounced renunciation?

woman meditating in front of an Indonesian shrine

Historians of religion often repeat the accepted truth that it takes about two centuries for a culture to absorb a new religion and make it its own. Buddhism is certainly not a new religion on the world scene; nevertheless, it may be turning into something new as it is adapted to fit Euro-American culture. And this revised Buddhism might be neglecting crucial elements of the original teachings in favor of values and practices that give comfort to us in the receiving culture. As North Americans and Europeans, we seem particularly attracted to the enticing and psychologized project of spiritual enlightenment, but we are neglecting, at our peril, other fundamental Buddhist values and practices.

As we find ourselves one-quarter of the way through this two-century process, one of the original themes of the historical Buddha’s teaching, namely, the ideal of renunciation, is being conveniently renounced in the West. While the original Pali term (nekkhamma) means the negation of kama (desire), or “withdrawing from sensuality,” the English word has come to mean something like “putting aside the things of the world.” Thus, in English, we refer to monks and nuns as renunciants. Yet the suttas show us that all serious practitioners must in some way be renunciant. The Buddha held forth a rather strict standard of renunciation for his monks compared to his householder followers. The Pali canon makes clear in many places that householders, as well as monks and nuns, can all attain nirvana. A particularly beautiful expression of this truth is found in the Mahavacchagotta Sutta:

Just as the river Ganges inclines towards the sea, slopes towards the sea, flows towards the sea, and extends all the way the sea, so too Master Gotama’s assembly with its homeless ones and its householders inclines towards Nibbana, slopes towards Nibbana, flows towards Nibbana, and extends all the way to Nibbana. (Majjhima Nikaya (MN) 73:14)

Although the layperson may not be “homeless,” to use another phrase that refers to monks and nuns, it is still very clear that renunciation must be a part of every follower’s path as they incline, or slide, toward nirvana. In the Dantabhumi Sutta, the Buddha addresses Aggivessana and talks about the layman, Prince Jayasena:

So too, Aggivessana, Prince Jayasena is obstructed, hindered, blocked, and enveloped by a still greater mass than this—the mass of ignorance. Thus it is impossible that Prince Jayasena, living in the midst of sensual pleasures,…could know, see, or realize that which must be known through renunciation, seen through renunciation, attained through renunciation, realized through renunciation. (MN 125:10)

Here, the Buddha is talking about someone very much like himself as a young man. Some Western teachers have explained that what the Buddha meant by renunciation was that his followers should relinquish their attachment to things, not necessarily the things themselves, a notion that the American Theravadin teacher Santikaro calls “a liberal legalism, à la Bill Clinton.”

There is perhaps confusion between the term relinquishment (patinissagga), which could be defined as this mental exercise, and the more concrete concept of renouncing those things which embroil us in desire. But both these actions are necessary in the Buddha’s outline of the path to nirvana. We must give up things, people, and concepts, as well as extinguish the mental mechanism of attaching to them.

Abandoning the trappings of wealth, as Gotama did, is still put forward in the teachings as a practice for householders. Speaking to the monk Udayin in the Latukikopama Sutta, Gotama says,

There are certain clansmen here who, when told by me ‘Abandon this’ …abandon that and do not show discourtesy towards me or towards those bhikkhus desirous of training. Having abandoned it, they live at ease, unruffled, subsisting on others’ gifts, with mind [as aloof] as a wild deer’s. (MN 66:12)

In the Dhammapada, one of the most revered and accessible of Buddhist scriptures, it says, “I do not call him a Brahman merely because he was born in the caste of holy ones, or of a Brahman mother.… But one who is free from possessions and worldly attachments—him I call a Brahman.” (XXVI:396) (The word brahman referred originally to any holy person, but now when capitalized refers to the caste of Vedic priests.) This quote makes clear that both the mental attachments and the possessions themselves are to be renounced, but Buddhist teachers in the West rarely cite such passages.

Santikaro says that the Buddha never required his lay disciples to lead lives of voluntary simplicity, they just did it as a result of their deepening spiritual insight. “You see that most of the really important lay leaders in the early sangha renounced their wealth and status,” explains Santikaro. “King Pasenandi gives up his throne, the merchant banker Anathapindika gives his wealth away; Citta, the foremost dhamma speaker among the laity and Visakha, a very accomplished laywoman, do the same.”

Writings and dharma talks by North American Buddhist interpreters soothe middle-class devotees with the diminished expectations of Buddhism-lite. Mark Epstein’s Open to Desire, to pick only one recent example, says: “Renunciation need not mean a turning away from desire, but only a forsaking of the acting out that clinging creates.” Zen teacher Ed Brown once summarized this concept by saying, “It’s OK to pick something up, as long as you can put it back down again.” These simple dicta are true as far as they go, but emphasizing the importance of detachment, or nonattachment to things, as mere mental attitude, without any real-life implications, compromises the nature of the original teachings. This smoothed-out version of Buddhism gives us permission to have our lifestyle, to be wealthy—even pampered—without having to wring our hands in guilt. It requires no concrete action in the real world—except for the occasional retreat with our favorite teacher.

But it’s important to notice a few things before we rest easy in this comforting interpretation of the dharma. The first principle that should not escape our attention is the original teaching on generosity (dana). The Buddha saw poverty as a curse and wanted householders to earn enough to support themselves and their families—and to help their villages. He even gave very specific advice to Anathapindika, one of his wealthiest lay followers, on what today we call “asset allocation.” As Robert Aitken Roshi said once, “Someone has to make money so others of us can be poor.” And this is indeed the Buddhist formula for supporting monastics. It relies on a laity with enough disposable income to support the monks.

In Asia, Buddhist teachers summarize the path for laypeople as being composed of dana, sila (ethical behavior), and bhavana (spiritual development). In the West, however, the formula is recited, and emphasized, in reverse: bhavana (more specifically, “meditation,” which was the formula for monks) sila, dana. Middle-class North Americans want to become accomplished meditators, and many of us spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars each year to attend retreats and workshops in an effort to “get” enlightenment, as though it were one more accomplishment, one more thing to cross off our to-do list. We want to buy enlightenment rather than sacrifice for it.

But instead of getting, the early teachings suggest that we engage in the practice of giving. Dana is really a spiritual method. Practicing generosity helps us to overcome greed and clinging; it facilitates the realization of no-self—and it feels good. The Dhammapada says clearly:

These three ways lead to the deathless realm:
living in the truth,
not yielding to anger,
and giving, even if you have
only a little to share. (XVII:224)

The difficulties of householder life are also noted:

Renunciation of the worldly life is difficult;
difficult it is to be happy in the monastic life;
equally difficult and painful it is
to lead the householder’s life. (XXI:303)

Renunciation is difficult, yes, but as contemporary Buddhists, we have fled from this challenge and we have turned renunciation into a painless mental exercise. It’s much easier to say, “Yeah, but I’m not attached to my BMW.” That way we never have to question what could have been done with the money we spent on an upscale car, house, or vacation. Thus, we avoid the implications of simplicity, nonconsumption, and generosity enshrined in the original teachings. And few Euro-American Buddhist teachers call on their followers to set aside wealth and comfort for the practice of real, tangible renunciation and simplicity.

There are some exceptions. Ajahn Brahmavamso, an Australian Theravadin abbot, was recently teaching in the U.S. and, referring to practice, said, “You don’t have to go for the big idea, but just keep moving forward, toward greater simplicity—a smaller home, for example. Less clutter in the physical world leads to less clutter in the mind and more freedom.” As Buddhist discourse in the U.S. goes, this is a very rare sentiment.

Of course, I cannot know in any statistical sense what my Buddhist colleagues are doing with their incomes, but I have plenty of anecdotal experience. For instance, I’m on the board of a small Buddhist nonprofit called Paramita House, which helps released prison inmates reintegrate into the community. In our routine solicitations to sanghas in the region, only a few Buddhist groups have responded positively. When we ask groups why they can’t contribute, they often say, “We’re raising money for the new temple.” If they’ve built their temple, they say they need money for landscaping. If the landscaping is done, they talk about keeping a prudent reserve and, of course, once there are sufficient reserves, it’s time to fund the endowment. Some sanghas do engage in social justice commitments, but all too many spend their time fluffing up the meditation cushions, waiting for the next retreat.

Many in my own generation, the boomers, are immensely wealthy—yet we don’t feel that way. Investment firms and retirement advisors constantly challenge us with the huge amounts of money they say will be needed to fund our retirement lifestyles. So we feel we haven’t saved enough to support that eighty-six-year-old person who does not yet—and may never—exist. As Buddhism entered various cultures over the last two and a half millennia, it changed as it incorporated various spiritual traditions—the Brahmanistic and animistic traditions of South and Southeast Asia, Taoism and Confucianism in China, and the Bonpo practices of Tibet. But Santikaro points out that “As Buddhism is adapting to the West, rather than incorporating a healthy or effective spiritual tradition, it is adapting to secularism. This is unique in Buddhist history. It is being molded and changed—not by the Western monotheisms—but by pop-psychology and consumerist capitalism. Perhaps the only thing Western Buddhism is inheriting from monotheism is a tendency toward dogmatism.”

I am not asking that North American Buddhists turn into tottering Mother Teresas or throw the BMW keys to the ground and walk off into the mountain mists, but if we really took up the ideal of householder renunciation, we would become more generous—much more generous—with our time and our money and our talents. We could vow to make do with less and stop consuming needlessly. Boomers might consider the old Indo-Aryan ideal that the final decades of life ought best be devoted to simplicity and spiritual development. Many of us will play golf in gated communities till that final trumpet sounds, but those of us who call ourselves Buddhists owe the world, and ourselves, much more. What if we turned our backs on the false security of our L.L. Bean lifestyles? What if we gave generously to the causes that stir our hearts? What if we worked hard to improve the lives of the poor and the marginalized in our own communities? That would give us what Buddhism promises, and what we’ve longed for all along—the taste of genuine freedom.

 

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Soothing saffron for thin blue line (The Sydney Morning Herald)

Linda Morris, Sydney Morning Herald: Offering religious guidance will be just one of the jobs of the newest chaplain in the NSW Police Force. Teaching Buddhist meditation techniques to strung-out officers and support staff will be another.

The Venerable Ban Ruo Shi, the abbott of the Hwa Tsang Monastery in Homebush, is the first Buddhist to be invested in the force.

He joins 102 part-timers, including a Muslim cleric and Jewish rabbi, as well as five full-time Christian chaplains, who provide advice and guidance to police and support staff.

The Venerable Ban Ruo, 34, was invested during a multi-faith service at police headquarters in Parramatta on May 29.

He was fitted for a police uniform this week and will wear it with a patch and insignia showing the dharma wheel as symbols of his faith.

A senior police chaplain, Alan Lowe, said the Venerable Ban Ruo could be called to attend train derailments and serious road accidents, ministering to rescue workers or families of those injured and killed. The Buddhist chaplain might also attend sieges and terrorist attacks.

“On a day-to-day basis he would be touching base with people at their place of work, mainly at police headquarters, where there are a number of Buddhists among the unsworn staff,” Mr Lowe said.

“We’ve for some time felt we could provide more services if we had a Buddhist on board and there was a number of unsworn personnel who were asking for someone who could provide pastoral support in times of crisis when things are going wrong in their lives.”

The Venerable Ban Ruo sees no conflict between his faith’s position of non-violence and ministering to front-line police.

He wants to organise meditation classes and teach relaxation skills and ways to achieve “happiness, kindness and an open mind” for whoever needs help, whatever their faith.

The Chinese-born chaplain studied Buddhism from the age of seven and graduated from Fujian Buddhist University, before moving to Australia in 1994.

Read the rest of the article…

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