Buddhist Pastors Around The World
Buddhism is a religion that stresses compassion towards everyone and this is clearly evident with the growth of the world-wide trend of Buddhist pastors, ministers and chaplains. Practitioners are becoming more and more aware that they can help others by training in pastoral care and fulfilling the roles of a pastor in order to benefit society. They are becoming a beacon of hope in the ravenous storm of suffering that is life, providing much needed support and care.
From counselling, visiting people in hospital or prison, performing pujas or prayers for those who are ill or facing difficulties, pastors realise that they need to help others overcome their suffering and so aid them in any way they can. Motivated by Buddhist teachings, they try to alleviate the suffering of others in its many forms, both physical and emotional. In doing so they teach others the Buddhist path to help themselves, and bring hope to many all over the world. Everyone needs assistance, encouragement and direction to navigate the ups and downs of life, and Buddhist pastors are there to accompany practitioners out of their suffering.
Kechara has its own pastors who serve practitioners and the community in a number of ways, but this is not something that only exists within Kechara. There are many pastors all over the world and there are even many places where people can train to become pastors, ministers and chaplains. I wanted to share with you just some of these training places and give some examples of pastors and chaplains, so you can rejoice and know more about the work of many people all over the world, who make a real difference in the lives of others.
Pastoral Care & Chaplaincy Services and Training Programmes
1. New York Zen Center For Contemplative Care
This center is in the heart of New York City and was the first Buddhist organisation to be fully accredited by the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education as a Clinical Chaplaincy Training Center in America. Based on the Zen tradition, this center offers courses that integrate contemplative Buddhist practices with professional training. This includes a graduate level Contemplative Care Certificate, a Masters Degree (in conjunction with New York Theological Seminary) and Buddhist Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) education. The New York Zen Center For Contemplative Care also offers services such as formal ceremonies, including marriages, commitment ceremonies, renewal of vows, funerals, internment of ashes, memorial services, baby blessings, baby naming ceremonies and house blessings.
2. Upaya Zen Center
Based in New Mexico, USA, this Zen center focuses on merging Buddhist practice with social services, as an extension of the bodhisattva vows of the Mahayana tradition. Combining the two wings of compassion and wisdom, they provide services in prison work, women’s rights, the environment, peacework and death and dying. They offer a two year Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy Training programme, covering topics such as Engaged Buddhism, Transforming Suffering, and Ethics, Relations & Communication. The course is equivalent to 48 graduate credit units from the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC), and participants can apply for board certification on completion of the course.
3. Won Institute of Graduate Studies
Based on the principles of Won Buddhism, founded in Korea, with centres all over the world, this particular institute offers a Certificate in Buddhist Pastoral Care programme. The institute is associated with a sister university, Won Kwang University in South Korea, and both focus on the cultivation of morality through education in healing and the liberal arts. The Certificate programme prepares participants to engage in providing pastoral care in such environments as prisons, hospitals and hospices.
4. Institute of Buddhist Studies
This institute located in Berkeley, California, USA was established in 1949 and provides both graduate-level degrees and certificate programmes in many areas of Buddhist practice. Students from the institute go on to become ordained ministers or take monastic vows, become chaplains throughout many areas and organisations in society, or pursue doctoral studies at universities throughout the United States. Their Buddhist Chaplaincy course is a 72-unit programme that meets the chaplaincy certification standard as set out by the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC). Those who combine the Certificate in Buddhist Chaplaincy with the Graduate Theology Union’s MA in Buddhist Studies meet the Association of Professional Chaplains’ requirement for an accredited theological degree. Graduates go on to serve in schools, hospitals, prisons, hospices, healthcare facilities, universities, the private sector, rehabilitation facilities, and the US Armed Forces.
5. Buddhist Ministry Initiative at Harvard Divinity School
The first of its kind within a school of divinity at a University, this initiative aims to train professionals in the field of Buddhism. A wide variety of topics are taught during the programme, including history, thought, and practice of Buddhism, especially in the Buddhist arts of ministry. The initiative is taught by faculty members and visiting lecturers from various Buddhist communities, on subjects such as the application of Buddhist principles to social action, social activism, leadership, counseling and pastoral care, spiritual formation, preaching and worship.
Those who graduate from the initiative with their master of divinity education, typically go on to work in range of career paths, from religious community leadership to chaplaincies at hospitals, hospices or universities. Some even go on to nonprofit management, academic scholarship, community development and social activism. Students also have the opportunity to study wider areas of interest within the Harvard Divinity School or other Schools at Harvard for their course requirements, including development leadership, conflict resolution, education, and psychology and counseling.
6. University of the West
The University of the West offers a Mastery of Divinity in Buddhist Chaplaincy, covering nine core areas of focus: ritual/liturgy, comparative religions, religious education, pastoral care and counseling, spiritual formation, religious history, institutional organisation and administration, sacred literature, and theology/philosophy. Meeting the requirements for the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC), the course prepares students with the knowledge and skills to work in the field of professional chaplaincy as Buddhist practitioners.
7. Jamyang Buddhist Centre Leeds
As part of their outreach work, Jamyang Buddhist Centre Leeds provides support to the Leeds Teaching Hospitals (National Health Service Trust) Chaplaincy Service in the United Kingdom. This initiative provides appropriate attention to patients requiring religious, pastoral and spiritual care. They also assist staff who have concerns arising from their work and advise staff in matters relating to Buddhist patients. Their work can include counseling, education, worship and even crisis ministry.
8. Buddhist Chaplaincy Service – Online
Founded at the Edith Cowan University in Perth, the Buddhist Chaplaincy Service provides meditation and talks on a voluntary basis and is available to all members of the Edith Cowan University community. The service provides support, encouragement, advice, spiritual counseling and assistance to those who need it, while fostering diversity and promoting understanding between a variety of different faiths.
9. Sati Center for Buddhist Studies
The Sati Center for Buddhist Studies offers a Buddhist Chaplaincy Training Programme designed to educate Buddhist practitioners to serve as chaplains and spiritual care givers. This one year training program provides the opportunity to study practices and principles of Buddhism as relating to spiritual care giving and provides an overview of the various psychological, social, and ethical issues related to such work. It includes training for working in hospitals, hospices, jails and other environments. The training also concentrates on attending to the sick or dying, performing of wedding ceremonies, memorials and other ceremonies to help people during the important periods in a person’s life.
10. Asiana University
The Asiana University in Chiang Mai, Thailand, offers both Diploma and Certificate progammes for Buddhist Chaplians, as well a graduate level Diploma of Clinical Pastoral Counseling and Certificate courses on hospice care. It is partnered with universities in Japan, Korea, India and Singapore. It’s pastoral counseling training programmes includes theory, professional issues, crisis intervention, relationship and family, as well as weaving in teachings from the Buddhist path and sutra study. On the other hand, its chaplaincy training includes communication skills, fundamentals, practical psychology, spiritual care and counseling, the use of sacred texts in such work, and spiritual formation and transformation.
11. Buddhist Chaplains Association
The Buddhist Chaplains Association is a network of Buddhist committed to spiritual care giving, to help people become better skilled and trained Buddhist chaplains. The association aims to provide practitioners with a support network, as they have taken Buddha’s teachings to heart and decided to help others. It provides a platform where those already in the field, can share their experience and give advice to others. This endeavour fosters a spirit of community between practitioners and opens communication to further manifest the generous, virtuous wisdom as taught by the Buddha. Among their many goals, they aim to provide access to education and training resources for Buddhist spiritual care, provide information to those practicing such as contact details for hospitals, prisons, hospices, etc., serve as liaisons between practitioners and both the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) and the Association of Certified Pastoral Educators (ACPE), and encourage and support those interested in entering the field.
12. Emanuel College
Emanuel College of Victoria University in the University of Toronto offers a Master of Pastoral Studies (MPS) in Spiritual Care – Buddhist Studies. This unique course is intended to provide practitioners with the necessary abilities to engage in pastoral care, pastoral counseling, education and chaplaincy, and careers in the non-profit sector. The course allows participants to specialise in three different streams: spiritual care, social service, or worship and preaching. The spiritual care stream provides training for giving care within religious communities and public institutions, and if a student completes the necessary units in Supervised Pastoral Education (SPE), they are in compliance with requirements of the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care (CASC). Those in the social service stream usually do so for personal enrichment or undertake the training as they are leaders in religious or secular social service agencies wishing to improve their skills. Those who follow the worship and preaching stream, usually engage in the training for personal enrichment or to improve their skills in providing lay leadership in religious communities. All courses focus on four main areas including religious faith and heritage, culture and context, spiritual/vocational formation, and practices of area of specialization.
Those in the spiritual care stream can also complete the requirements for a Certificate in Spiritual Care and Psychology. As such they can provide spiritual care and offer psychotherapy as a spiritual care practitioner (chaplain) within public institutions such as hospitals and prisons. Alternatively, they can act as a psycho-spiritual therapist (pastoral counselor) in counseling centres and other contexts. This certificate also meets a portion of the educational requirements towards becoming a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) within the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO) for those who are interested to follow this path.
13. International Association of Clinical Pastoral Counselors
Founded in 2010, this association is a worldwide initiative between Buddhist-based pastoral educators and counselors. Bringing together various institutions and organisations, this association reflects on common issues surrounding pastoral care, and collaborates with international and national bodies that are active in interfaith pastoral care giving. The association places an emphasis on advancements in pastoral care based on meditation and mindfulness, especially when helping others deal with stress, trauma and change management. It aims to use the method of pastoral care to promote the Buddhist principles of compassion, mindfulness and wisdom.
The association strives to cultivate interfaith dialogue and relationships that further the study and practice of science and mindfulness based pastoral counseling; connecting its international members to offer them quality services, networking and collective action; and facilitating conferences with research institutes and other higher science based institutions and associations to illuminate their concerns and interests in public debate and to outside pastoral partners.
14. Kechara Buddhist Organisation
Based in Malaysia the Kechara Buddhist Organisation has many ordained Buddhist pastors. Combining the responsibilities of the ordained with the appearance of a lay person, Kechara pastors are the connection between the sangha and the everyday practitioner. As lay people holding vows, they make the Dharma accessible to more people, giving them guidance and sharing knowledge, helping them overcome the difficult times in their lives and assisting them to progress on their own spiritual journeys.
Kechara’s pastors have a varied way of helping others, through counseling and teaching, to performing blessings, prayers and ceremonies. Not only to do they aid others in person but they also have a strong practice of sharing the teachings and providing support through books, online videos, and blogs. Since Malaysia is a multicultural country, Kechara pastors teach and counsel in different languages to aid Buddhist practitioners in their native languages.
Notable Buddhist Pastors, Chaplains & Priests
1. Thomas Dyer – Buddhist Military Chaplain
Thomas Dyer had originally enlisted in the US Marines, but felt threatened by the training he was given to kill. Leaving the Marines, he attended the Mid-American Baptist Seminary and eventually became a Baptist preacher. However, he did not find happiness and subsequently converted to Buddhism. Joining the Army National Guard, he was commissioned as a Buddhist Chaplain in 2008.
2. Venerable Tenzin Yeshe – Buddhist Chaplain
Venerable Tenzin Yeshe was ordained by Jhado Rinpoche and is a volunteer Buddhist Chaplain with the Buddhist Prison Pathways Project (BP3). She provides Buddhist services to inmates at New Folsom’s highest level facility to offer meditation and Dharma talks. Teaming up with the Quakers she has even trained to facilitate Non-Violent Communication workshops inside the Vacaville California Medical Facility prison. Apart from her work within the American prison system, Venerable Tenzin also performs house blessings, business blessings, blessings for children, long life blessings and even funeral services.
3. Lama Migmar Tseten – Buddhist Chaplain
As a Buddhist Chaplain at Harvard University, USA, Lama Migmar Tseten is dedicated to the interaction between persons and various Buddhist lineages in a non-sectarian manner to foster a strong Buddhist community. Lama Migmar Tseten conducts regular meetings at Cambridge Buddhist Association.
4. Reverend Heng Sure – Buddhist Pastor
Reverend Heng Sure is a Buddhist pastor residing at Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, where he is serving as the monastery’s director. The monastery is a branch of Dharma Realm Buddhist Association. He is famed for completing a pilgrimage by prostrating from South Pasadena to Ukiah, California (800 miles) seeking world peace. He currently aids others by performing services and teaching a wide variety of subjects, from sutra studies to veganism.
5. Jennifer Block – Buddhist Chaplain
Jennifer Block serves as a chaplain and Education Director for the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco. She teaches workshops and offers spiritual care to those who have suffered loss in their lives, and provides community outreach. She is also one of the founders and facilitators of the Buddhist Chaplaincy Training programme at the Sati Center for Buddhist studies. She also serves as an Adjunct Professor at the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, CA, and holds a theology degree from Naropa University.
6. Reverend Renshin Bunce – Buddhist Priest
Reverend Renshin Bunce ordained as a priest at the Zen Center in San Francisco in 2003. She began her training as a Buddhist chaplain at the Sati Center in Redwood City and then later at California Pacific Medical Center. She received the equivalent of a Master of Divinity from the Association of Professional Chaplains for her seven years’ residence at Tassajara and City Center, and currently works as a hospice chaplain.
7. Robert Chodo Campbell – Buddhist Priest
Robert Chodo Campbell serves on the Core Faculty of the New York Zen Center’s Buddhist Chaplaincy’s Training Programmes, and is also the center’s Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director. He brings to his teaching his experience of Zen practice and psychoanalytic study, focusing on areas such as anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and contemplative approaches to spiritual care. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor at the Institute of Buddhist Studies and is a Co-Director of Contemplative Care Services for the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center.
8. Koshin Paley Ellison – Buddhist Priest
Koshin Paley Ellison is a Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care. He also serves as the Director of Training for the Center’s Buddhist Contemplative Care programmes. He is currently a Supervisory candidate for the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education. He is a licensed social worker and an Adjunct Professor at the Institute of Buddhist Studies, as well as the Co-Director of Contemplative Care Services for the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Center, where he also serves on the Medical Ethics Committee. He is known to give talks, workshops and leads retreats on various contemplative based methods towards spiritual care, meditation and leadership in many settings, such as corporations to national healthcare conferences.
9. Trudi Jinpu Hirsch-Abramson – Buddhist Priest
Ordained in 1991, she began her clinical pastoral education in 1997, and became the first Buddhist Association of Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) Supervisor in 2000. She currently serves as an ACPE Chaplain Supervisor and Zen priest in the lineage of Taizan Maezumi. She is an Adjunct Professor at the Institute of Buddhist Studies and also serves as one of the core teaching team at the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, where she is the primary ACPE Supervisor for the center’s Clinical Pastoral Education Training Programmes.
10. Osho Genjo Marinello – Buddhist Abbot
Osho Genjo Marinello is a volunteer Buddhist pastor for the Washington State Department of Corrections, and is a psychotherapist in private practice. He is also an Adjunct Faculty member at Antioch University Seattle in Buddhist Studies, a member of the Religious Coalition for Equality and a Spiritual Director associated with Anamchara, a multifaith endeavour. He also strives to provide community service that is inspired by the philosophy and teachings of Buddhism.
11. Kok Yek Yee & David Lai – Buddhist Pastors
Pastor Kok Yek Yee is the Head Pastor of Kechara Buddhist Association Malaysia. An award winning journalist, she became a writer for Kechara Media and Publications when she wanted a more spiritual life, and later ordained as a Buddhist Pastor. Currently she is also the head of Kechara’s Puja House, providing support to many through prayers and blessings. She teaches and counsels in Chinese and performs rituals, blessings and ceremonies for all of life’s major events, including births, marriages and deaths.
Pastor David Lai began his spiritual journey in Kechara at the Kechara Paradise outlets, after which he joined Kechara Media and Publications as a writer. As an avid writer, he has published books on Buddhist practice that have brought solace to many and as an online blogger he shares his experience and knowledge with people all over the world. Known for his lively and humorous talks, he teaches in English.
For more interesting information:
- Buddhist Chaplains in the US Army
- Buddhist Weddings at World Pride Toronto 2014
- 2014 Buddhist Ordination Ceremony
- Ask the Pastors
- Support the Kechara Pastors
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