Group Provides Direction for Buddhist Soldiers

News Blaze, May 24, 2007

Arizona, USA -- Enlightenment. The acquisition of new wisdom or understanding enabling clarity of perception is one of the goals of Buddhism. While Buddhism is not the first thing that comes to mind when you mention the U.S. Army, there are those within the Army's ranks of almost every religion and background, including Buddhism.

On Anaconda, some Buddhist soldiers felt a lack of guidance in their faith while deployed, so they approached Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Y. Chinen of Mililani, Hawaii, the installation chaplain's assistant noncommissioned officer in charge in hopes of starting a program.

Chinen, with the 657th Area Support Group, was interested in Buddhism himself, and agreed to mediate a discussion group not only for Buddhist soldiers, but for those interested in finding out more about the religion.

"The role of the chaplain is not only to care for soldiers, but to make sure all of their spiritual needs are met," Chinen said.

The group meets at 1 p.m. each Sunday at Provider Chapel to simply talk about the faith, and discuss its principles.

With between 300 and 500 million Buddhists worldwide, it is estimated about 5 million reside in the United States. Exact figures are hard to verify since some Buddhists claim more than one religion.

On average, about five to seven soldiers meet each week to discuss one of the religions' major themes, and bring their personal experiences and views to the group.

"I never quite understood it all, so this has been a great opportunity to learn," said Sgt. 1st Class John Miyata of Makakilo, Hawaii, the command group noncommissioned officer in charge with the 657th.

Miyata was raised in a Buddhist family, but said he never really understood the meaning behind the ceremonies and customs they took part in. He said he's used this deployment to learn more about the religion and his heritage.

One of the tools he's learned through participating in the discussion group is the practice of meditation. "We all have our stresses here in Iraq," he said. "Throughout the day, it helps me stay focused." Chinen agreed on the relaxing qualities of meditation.

"The emphasis on meditation is a way of bringing stillness into your everyday life," Chinen said. "It's being in touch with something grand that's out there."

Chinen noted that Buddhism is growing rapidly in the United States, and it's important to be sure that soldiers from all faith backgrounds are catered to spiritually.
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