Monday, May 30, 2011

Fellow Travelers at Dharma Cowgirl

A four part series has been published over at the blog Dharma Cowgirl likening the role of the Buddhist chaplain to that of a fellow traveler.
Part I explores the spiritual journey.

"Perhaps the most common religious metaphor of all is the ‘spiritual journey.’  Personal spiritual development has long been likened to a physical voyage and the voyager to a traveler along an unknown path.  Cultural wisdom provides numerous maps, waypoints, and guides.  What is the role of the chaplain in all this?  Are we the catalyst that sets the traveler on the road?  The mapmaker who charts the course?  A waypoint, bridge guard, or innkeeper?  None of these.  The chaplain is a fellow traveler."

Part II explains Henri Nouwen's metaphor as the pastor or chaplain as a 'wounded healer.'
"First we must recognize suffering.  Then we must recognize the source of suffering: desire and clinging.  We must see that all those things, those people, we cling to cannot bring about a lasting happiness.  Once we recognize this suffering within ourselves, we can recognize it in others.  This is the beginning of compassion, when our loneliness becomes “an inexhaustible source of beauty and self understanding.” (Nouwen, p. 78)  To be effective ministers, or chaplains, we must be able to recognize that we too suffer, we too are flawed, we too are in search of happiness, we too struggle."

Part III describes the role of the bodhisattva in a care theology for Buddhist chaplains.

"We must be able to meet people where they are on their path and provide them with what they need in order to continue their journey.  This is particularly important in the work of a chaplain, who often comes across people in hospitals, hospices, prisons, police stations, and war zones who are dealing with some of the most traumatic moments of their lives.  We must aspire “to benefit beings in any way that works,” according to Pema Chödrön’s commentary on this verse.  What works for that person will depend on where they are; we must go to meet them."

Finally, Part IV uses the particular image of Jizo Bodhisattva (Ksitigharba) to draw a map chaplains can follow on their own journey.

"As mentioned before, due to Jizo’s aspect as the patron saint of hell, more or less, she is directly relatable to the work of the chaplain.  “This is Buddhism with its eyes open,” says Bays of the Earth Store sutra, “a religion that takes faith off the meditation cushion and into the night of the soul, wide-eyed and open-handed into humanity’s grief’s, mistakes, broken hearts, and hurting wounds.” (Bays ,p. xiii)  This metaphor of the helping hand will appear again and again throughout her book."

Check out the entire series and more posts on Buddhism, chaplaincy, and common sense at Dharma Cowgirl.  Also, Dharma Cowgirl is seeking contributors.  If you write, if you have something to say, even if you've never been published before, contact Monica at

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