this bright world is yours to discover

The Wisdom of Chaplaincy

Study & Arts, Service & EngagementGuiding TeacherComment

Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend the day with a group of women who were offering a daylong Introduction to Buddhist Chaplaincy. It was a day full of heartfelt sharing, both by those interested in exploring the possibilities of this work, and those of us who were giving the introduction. My friend and fellow chaplain Eric Nefstead also came by to share his wit and wisdom around the path to professional chaplaincy work. 

During the panel on "A Day in the Life of a Chaplain," I spoke a bit about how I became interested in chaplaincy. For me, the work of being by the side of people who are in need of a spiritual friend and guide is one which arises from Zen practice. It is zazen off the cushion. Just as in zazen, I bring an intention to be present with whatever is, to have some curiosity about it, and to hold it with compassion. I also bring the intention not to provide pat solutions, but to ask the questions which help illuminate the path.


Daylong Leaders far left and far right: Revs. Jennifer Block and Daijaku Kinst. Panelists from second to the left: Rev. Konin Cardenas, Dawn Neal, and Rev. Jennifer Lemus.

This work is intimate and valuable as a practice of its own.  Chaplaincy, and in fact any work in which you place yourself at the service of another, shows you your growing edges, your limitations. It reflects back to you all of the aspects of birth, illness, old age, and death that you haven't yet come to terms with. What a helpful way to encounter the four messengers again and again.

Yesterday, I also noticed how the discussion turned to commitment and engagement in practice after the three "day in the life" panelists spoke. It was as if the people in the room were able to turn back to their own intention and show up for themselves by hearing how we'd also shown up for ourselves. For me it is the beauty of sangha, the community of practitioners. Today, I bow to my fellow presenters, and to those in attendance for our efforts to be of benefit to all beings.