Chaplaincy Network
Buddhist chaplaincy is an emerging field in the West. The seeds of Buddhist chaplaincy begin with the Buddha himself. More than 2,500 years ago, he found a path to peace; to end suffering in response to ageing, sickness and death. Walking in the footsteps of the Buddha, ‘the first Buddhist chaplain’, Buddhist chaplains help to alleviate and transform the experience of suffering (physical pain, difficult emotions, and disturbing thoughts, including agony, fear, anger, guilt, depression, loneliness, grief, and so on).

Network coordinator: Dario Doshin Girolami ( )

Buddhist chaplaincy is dharma-based compassionate service to both Buddhist and non-Buddhists. It addresses the suffering of the individual through religious, spiritual and pastoral care and also looks at transforming the understanding of ageing, sickness and death in society. Buddhist chaplaincy
works in concentric circles, from personal inner dialogue, interpersonal to environmental and global.

The aim of this network is to support the new field of Buddhist Chaplaincy in Europe and highlight the application of Buddhist principles in socially engaged action by:

  • supporting Buddhists already serving or working in healthcare, hospitals, hospices, palliative care and prisons and in the armed forces;
  • fostering connections, and sharing of knowledge, best practices and experience within a community of Buddhist chaplains;

  • creating training opportunities for those engaged or wishing to engage in Buddhist chaplaincy;

  • creating professional standards for service and developing partnerships with professional accreditation bodies;

  • addressing religious, spiritual and pastoral needs within Buddhist communities to encourage greater community cohesion and social integration.

Main Areas of Buddhist Chaplaincy

  • Prison Chaplaincy

  • Healthcare including Hospital/Hospice/Palliative Care Chaplaincy

Prison Chaplaincy

The Buddha said "I have stopped, Angulimala, once and for all, having cast off violence toward all living beings. You, though, are unrestrained toward beings. That's how I've stopped and you haven't"

As shown by a number of prison projects, such as the San Quentin Zen Project, Meditation training is an effective way to help inmates deal with their feelings and develop self-awareness, “emotional intelligence”, self-compassion and acceptance. Through insight mental practices prison residents learned to examine and transform the unhealthy thought and behavioral habit patterns that have governed their lives. These practices also helped to achieve an effective management of the stress due to the prison environment, the separation from family, and the anger that attends incarceration.
Thanks to the regular practice of meditation, inmates grew to be less reactive to intense emotional states without resorting to the use of drugs or other chemical substances.

Meditation prison programs have very strong social implications. Studies show that there is a notable (20%) decrease of criminal recidivism in former inmates who participated in a meditation in prison program.

Buddhist chaplains in prison institution can thus contribute to:

  • creating conditions that encourage the development of calm, self-awareness, morality and wisdom, with which the focus of the inmates shifts from the problem to the solution;

  • providing prisoners and prison staff with religious council and the most effective, evidence-based tools for rehabilitation, self-transformation, and personal development.

Hospital/Hospice/Palliative Care Chaplaincy

The reflection on impermanence is central to the Buddhist teachings. Death is understood to be a natural part of life, and the dying process and the moment of death are both viewed as sacred. Over the past fifteen years, Dharma-based contemplative care, end-of-life care and spiritual care training have gained momentum due to the growing interest in death and dying, and alternative spiritual approaches to health and illness.

Buddhist chaplains accompany patients and clients from all walks and backgrounds who are ill, bereaved, ageing or dying. They now work in hospitals, hospices/palliative care, nursing homes and other healthcare institutions.

A hallmark of Buddhist chaplaincy in healthcare is presence. Through mindful presence, awareness and compassionate listening, Buddhist chaplains can create an environment that supports patients in times of great uncertainty.

They accompany patients/families on their journey to:

  • find comfort, meaning and peace, or a spiritual refuge;

  • alleviate the sense of isolation and fear;

  • resolve unfinished business and heal relationships

They offer rituals and memorial services as well as bereavement support. They also support the team/staff through listening, council and supervision.

‘The Inner Way’ is a documentary dealing with the very first buddhist meditation course in an Italian prison, led by the zen priest Dario Doshin Girolami. For more than 8th years Dario has been teaching meditation in the largest prison of Rome to the inmates. Images, words, sounds and silences will accompany Dario’s narration, his questions to the inmates, their answers, and their accounts of past and present experiences, and future expectations. A future sometimes for ever linked to the prison walls but, thanks to the meditation, not so unbearable.

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