The Arts of Contemplative Care - Preface

Pioneering Voices in Buddhist Chaplaincy and Pastoral Work


368 pages, 6 x 9 inches


ISBN 9780861716647

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ISBN 9781614290377

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Pat Enkyo O’Hara

This volume comes at a perfect time. Two streams are converging: a current of recognition that something is missing in the secular, commercial approaches to caretaking, and at the same time, a wave of realization in Buddhist communities that our practices of contemplation, awareness, and presence render us uniquely suited to fill this gap—to provide compassionate caretaking.

What does that kind of care look like? I asked an oncology nurse this question—she smiled and said, “There’s just something about the Buddhist chaplains—simply the way they walk down the hall seems to put people at ease.”

A more ancient image of compassionate care is Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, portrayed as having a thousand hands and eyes, which she uses to respond to the suffering of the world. In one ancient Buddhist tale, a seeker asks, “What exactly does she do with all those hands and eyes?” And the answer, simply given, is, “It is like reaching behind you to adjust your pillow at night.” In other words, the way of compassionate care is as natural as your spontaneous gesture while at ease.

When we think of the training and practice required for intelligent contemplative care, we might object to the simplicity of this response. But looking a little more deeply, we can recognize the truth that it points to: effective caretaking originates from a rather ordinary quality that can be quite challenging to acquire—true presence, a grounding in the naturally arising reality of the moment.

Whether it is the anguish of a sickbed, the anger in a correction facility, or the fear beneath the order of a military life, contemplative care originates from a heart/mind that is clear and responsive, grounded in interdependence. And the healing goes both ways. Practicing contemplative care strengthens the caretaker’s own Buddhist practice, offering moment-to-moment opportunities to face the suffering in oneself as well as in others, and to hold it in contemplative space.

I congratulate the editors for bringing together these trailblazing voices. Together, they express a path of practice that is opening for contemporary Buddhists to make a desperately needed difference in today’s world.

Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, PhD, is the abbot of the Village Zendo. A Soto Zen priest and certified Zen teacher, she received Dharma transmission in both the Soto and Rinzai lines of Zen Buddhism, through the White Plum Lineage. Roshi currently serves as the guiding spiritual teacher for the New York Center for Contemplative Care. She also serves as co–spiritual director of the Zen Peacemaker Family, a spiritual, study, and social action association.


Editors’ Preface

What you hold in your hands is a book that broadly explores an emerging field of contemplative care, from a variety of perspectives. The term “contemplative care” has its roots in the movement of Buddhist chaplains, care providers, and ministers that are beginning to turn their passion for Buddhist practice and view into a meaningful living. It is a close cousin to the term “spiritual care” which is now in wide use in the context of hospital and hospice chaplains—and yet we would like to distinguish between “spiritual care” and “contemplative care.”

We understand spiritual care to refer to a wide swath of practitioners who provide emotional and spiritual support in a variety of contexts, both professional and informal. Contemplative care, on the other hand, refers to a kind of care that is informed by rigorous training in a meditative or contemplative tradition. If we were to hazard a definition of contemplative care, it might be:

Contemplative care is the art of providing spiritual, emotional, and pastoral support, in a way that is informed by a personal, consistent contemplative or meditation practice.

Contemplative care therefore requires that the care provider is a practitioner of meditation. In most cases, the care provider is connected to a contemplative tradition or lineage, such as Buddhism. While contemplative care is not necessarily Buddhist care, in this book we are focusing on contemplative care as it is practiced and understood by Buddhists.

The contributors to this volume do not always use the term “contemplative care” but rather draw on a number of interesting terms and provide us with many definitions that are very useful as we explore the parameters of this field. For example, we find this definition in Jennifer Block’s chapter in this volume: “Buddhist spiritual care means helping people access the stillness, clarity, and love existing within our hearts.” We hope definitions such as this one will spark a conversation and add to our understanding of how the many practitioners in these fields understand their work. We also hope that these definitions will be held lightly, as this field deepens and grows.

We understand the term contemplative care as encompassing several subfields, including Buddhist chaplaincy, Buddhist ministry, and Buddhist pastoral care. While pairing the word Buddhist with chaplaincy, pastoral care, and other terms with Christian roots is a fairly new endeavor, the spirit of engaged Buddhist service of the ministry and chaplaincy ilk is quite ancient. For thousands of years, Buddhist religious specialists have offered services to their communities that include practical forms of outreach, such as tending the sick and educating children. Yet most convert Buddhists in the West were introduced to Buddhism not as a form of pastoral work, but as a form of personal practice. We turned to it as a tradition that offered a promise of enlightenment, greater wisdom, and greater peace for the individual practitioner. Buddhism was not, initially, introduced to many of us as a form of practical service to a wide and diverse sphere of people needing spiritual care.

In this light, the pioneering nature of the work of the people contributing to this volume becomes all the more manifest and bold. Their work is at once “mainstream” and revolutionary, naturally compassionate, occasionally difficult, and constantly trailblazing, in the spirit of manifesting upaya. These voices inspire us to imagine a meditation practice that takes meditation off the cushion and into the world, out of our temples and into the halls of mainstream institutions.

Exploring this field, care is taken to distinguish the difference between the terms chaplaincy and ministry. Chaplains provide spiritual, pastoral, and emotional care to patients, their families, and staff, and they are often employed by an organization, such as a hospital. He or she may well identify with a particular faith and draw from the tools of that faith, but he or she puts the patient’s or client’s spiritual needs front and center, regardless of that person’s tradition. Ministers, on the other hand, tend to the religious needs of a particular faith group, or sangha. Both chaplains and ministers engage in various forms of “pastoral work.” While there is certainly overlap in the roles and duties of chaplains and ministers, we find it useful to distinguish these two forms of pastoral work.

Nevertheless, chaplains, ministers, and other kinds of pastoral care providers also share much in common. Buddhist chaplaincy, ministry, and pastoral work are each practices of presence. We show up to be with those who are suffering, dying, or in need of care. We show up to listen, to be attentive, and to “come alongside” others. In the process, those dedicated to the practice of care grow and evolve spiritually. It is not all about the patient, or student, or the one who is cared for. It is about relationship and interbeing. And as you’ll see in this volume, these caring relationships take many unique forms.

The seeds of this book were planted when we (the two coeditors of this volume) met in the summer of 2006 in the context of working within Harvard’s nascent Buddhist ministry program. The more we talked, the more realized we had a lot in common, and we began working together, coteaching classes around the themes of chaplaincy, hospice, prison work, and various other kinds of pastoral work, from a Buddhist perspective.

In our conversations with each other and with students, certain types of questions arose often: How can we integrate our practice into engaged contexts related to spiritual care? How does one formulate a Buddhist ministry, when conversing with others who are involved in other types of ministry? How does one enter into the world of chaplaincy with a Buddhist background? What does it mean to talk about a Buddhist theology? What is the Buddhist equivalent of a “sermon,” of “chaplaincy,” of “ministry,” of “liberation theology,” of “social justice,” of “medical ethics,” of “congregation,” and even of “clergy”? How do we guide students through the maze of becoming Buddhist ministers and chaplains? What does it mean to be a vocational Buddhist?

In seeking to address these questions, we struck up conversations with some of the pioneers in this book and sought books and articles that expressed the groundswell of interest in spiritual care we heard coming from our students. As we worked together, and reached out to people in this world of “engaged care” or whatever we might want to call it, it became clear that we are in the middle of a revolution. Buddhists are making inroads into institutions and their voices and actions are starting to transform those institutions—and transform what it means to us to be “Buddhist.” In the process, some creative forms of theological reflection and application are taking place. These revolutionaries are reimagining practice along interpersonal lines and taking Buddhist practice into places where it has simply never been—at least in the West.

At the end of the compilation of this book, we realize we have just scratched the surface of this burgeoning field. We were only able to include a fraction of the people who could have been included here. Nonetheless, it is our hope that this book inspires the many people doing this work to put their work into writing and get it out into the world.

We continue to be fascinated and inspired by all those who follow this new path and blaze new trails in the field, as they skillfully use the powerful tool of language to find their place and “translate” their Buddhist practice into terms that others can understand. This book is also for them: to connect them to each other—to those of their generation, and to the generation that came before them.

This book organized itself on the basis of the submissions into six parts.

Part I—The Roots of Contemplative Care: Foundations of a Discipline explores the definition, parameters, key issues, and educational foundations of contemplative care, from a number of perspectives. In this section, we find Jennifer Block’s exploration of the definition of Buddhist chaplaincy, Daijaku Judith Kinst’s consideration of issues of pedagogy in the training of chaplains and pastoral care providers, Wakoh Shannon Hickey’s call for the training provided by Divinity Schools, Lew Richmond and Grace Schireson’s description of their SPOT training for Zen Buddhist ministers, and Cheryl Giles’ exploration of the role of race in spiritual care.

Part II—Serving the Sick: The Art of Hospital Chaplaincy explores the role, challenges, and experiences of Buddhist chaplains, as they navigate the institution of the modern American hospital and beyond. In this section, we discover how hospital chaplains are applying their practices of meditation and compassion to the caregiving context. We hear the story of Chodo Campbell’s moving pastoral visit to another pastor with end-stage stomach cancer in Zimbabwe. We hear Mark Power describe, with deep honesty, his personal journey to adapt his Buddhist training to a Christian context. We see how Buddhist hospital chaplains, such as Trudi Jinpu Hirsch and Koshin Paley Ellison, are adapting ancient scriptures to inform the framework of their own caregiving.

Part III—Dharma Behind Bars: The Art of Prison Ministry describes the migration of the teaching of Buddhism into the deepest reaches of prison life. Here we find Dean Sluyter’s inspiring story of Gary, a maximum-security inmate who pulls through twenty-eight years of prison to a life he never dreamed of. We find Penny Alsop’s moving account of Mother’s Day in a women’s prison. We hear Richard Torres’ story of Kosal, a survivor of the Pol Pat regime, who discovers a deep freedom in his understanding of interdependence.

Part IV—Wielding Manjushri’s Sword: The Arts of College and Military Chaplaincy explores the life of chaplains in institutions of higher learning and the military. In this section, Danny Fisher and Ji Hyang Padma explore the unique challenges of offering pastoral support to students in their college years. We also walk beside Thomas Dyer as he forges a path as the US military’s first Army chaplain.

Part V—Living with Dying: The Art of End-of-Life Care explores the pioneering work of Buddhists in end-of-life care. Here we find Joan Halifax’s reflections on the importance of community as a means of support at the time of death. We find Randy Sunday’s description of a “social model” hospice in Southern California. We look over the shoulder of Carlyle Coash as he finds the internal strength to sit with a patient with devastating jaw cancer as he learns to meditate.

The final section, Arts of Ministry: The Pastoral Role of the Dharma Teacher, explores the emerging discourse on the various aspects of providing pastoral care within a sangha. Here we find Lin Jensen’s reflection on the role of “right speech” in the pastoral care context. We find Rebecca Johnson’s reflections on Buddhist ministry in the inner city context next to Steve Ruhl’s reflections on a rural Zen Buddhist ministry. And we hear Sumi Loundon Kim’s description of the intergenerational challenges of a Buddhist ministry focused on children and families.

We have found every one of these chapters deeply inspiring and moving. And we hope you will find the material in this book as inspiring as we have. More importantly, we hope this book starts a conversation about the range of work that is becoming vocational Buddhism and acts as a resource for individuals seeking to become educated and to train in these areas. And finally, we hope it will act as a spark for people who have yet to know what their calling is, who might draw on the visions of the bodhisattva’s work that we see reflected here in these accounts and reflections.

Many wonderful friends and colleagues have contributed to making this volume possible. We are deeply grateful to Josh Bartok, our editor at Wisdom, for his hard work on behalf of this project and for understanding the vision of this book. We also would to thank Janet Gyatso, whose presence at Harvard sparked our early conversations about this topic. This volume also would not have been possible without the loving support of our partners Jewel and Mike. Finally, we would like to offer a deep bow of respect and the gratitude to the many pioneers in the field of contemplative care who inspired this volume.


How to cite this document:
© Cheryl A. Giles and Willa B. Miller, The Arts of Contemplative Care (Wisdom Publications, 2012)

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