Serving As Buddhist Ministers

By: Rev. Dr. Brian Chang-Jin Kenna, OEB 长金

This morning I came across an article in my Facebook feed about the first female Buddhist Chaplain to be commissioned in the US Military. Lt. Saejeong Ilshun Kim was commission as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy on August 6th at the Won Buddhism temple in Los Angeles. Lt. Kim felt that being a chaplain in the U.S. Navy was a great opportunity to meet and support people who are in need. In OEB we often talk about vocations and ministry. It is a fundamental part of who we are as monks and servant leaders within our communities.
The very same causes of suffering old age, sickness, death that inspired Siddartha to seek out how to bring an end to this suffering, still plagues us today. The Buddha eventually found a path that in the midst of suffering and discontentment could bring about inner peace. He reached out to the men and women in his community who were also seeking to alleviate their pain. Through his teachings and guidance the Buddha himself gave us an example of how to be a chaplain and serve our sangha’s and larger communities as a whole. For over 2500 years Buddhists have meditated on the ailments of sickness, old age and death to find an end to suffering. Buddhist chaplains, monks and priests continue this practice today in hospitals, prisons, infirmaries and other medical and non-medical facilities, assisting people through skillful means to deal with and better understand what is happening to them.
In Buddhism we do not have a diety or external source in which to turn to for salvation or intercession. Instead we use wisdom and compassion as skillful means to bring about change. We rely on the Precepts a moral and ethical compass.
Everyone needs encouragement, assistance, and direction on their life’s journey; one of our role’s as ministers is to accompany individuals as their awakening and freedom from suffering unfolds. This may mean simply being a good listener, or an encouraging companion, an intelligent guide. Overall, the purpose is to alleviate suffering in its many forms: physical pain, difficult emotions, and confusing or disturbing thoughts, more commonly known as agony, fear, anger, guilt, depression, loneliness, grief, and so on.
Being a Buddhist monk, priest or chaplain means we are committed to putting others above ourselves. When we see others through the lens of unity instead of difference, we open our hearts with compassion towards our fellow sentient beings. We draw from our own experiences with suffering and unsatisfactoriness to guide others down the path we have already traveled. Lt. Kim said “she feels her unique experiences may help understand each individual’s differences with openness, which will allow her to connect with Sailors.”
Balancing the roles of clergy and officer in the military, or balancing the roles of monk and householder that many of us are is certainly a challenge. But it’s a challenge that brings about harmony, peace and human flourishing. Lt. Kim’s final words are ones that we can all learn from; “(I) feel honored and humbled…I am grateful for the opportunity to serve, excited for the new journey and curious about the path I am taking.”

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