- Buddhist chaplains come from all three major Buddhist traditions: Mahayana, Theravada, and Vajrayana. There does not seem to be any one specific tradition or school which is more conducive to or works better within chaplaincy than others. Also, as chaplaincy is a new dimension for many of these traditions; this offers an opportunity for Buddhists of very different practices to come together and share ideas and theories on chaplaincy (which is already occurring via the Buddhist Chaplains Network and other venues). This is unique in the history of Buddhism itself!
The importance of Buddhist Chaplaincy therefore lies in the interfaith and intra-Sangha dialogue it provides. One of the misconceptions of chaplaincy is that chaplains will simply care for their own. Chaplains are called upon often to provide spiritual care, counseling, or simply just to listen, for all persons. It is not the case that a chaplain will just sit in an office waiting for the buzzer to ring for a specific faith group. Chaplains very often are out and about, making visitations, counsel persons not of their own faith, and often those not belonging to any faith group. Proselytizing is not in the chaplain's job description. Negative media reports involving chaplains nearly always involve someone's blatant attempts at conversion, or ethical violations. Chaplains must navigate a thin line on when and where to share faith, and what behaviors are and aren't acceptable. Buddhists are not immune from this, and we can even learn something about this from our Christian and Jewish colleagues. Even as chaplaincy is "new," we must also have to explain it to other Buddhists who may not understand what it is, why it is important, or why a Buddhist teacher or monk or nun must associate with non-Buddhists: it has also been my experience that we must justify our presence not only to some non-Buddhists, but also to our fellow Buddhists who misunderstand chaplain work.