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50 Army Chaplains Study SGI Nichiren Buddhism

Awareness—Fifty chaplain students from the U.S. Army Institute for Religious Leadership attend an introduction-to-Buddhism meeting in Columbia, South Carolina, Oct. 26, 2023. Photo courtesy of the Army Public Affairs office.

COLUMBIA, South CarolinaGuests filled the auditorium of the SGI-USA South Carolina Buddhist Center, each having read the introductory booklet  A Winning Life. While they came with questions about the spirit and purpose of Nichiren Buddhism and the Soka Gakkai, they weren’t studying for a religious class. They were chaplains of the U.S. Army.

SGI-USA’s Columbia Chapter on Oct. 26, 2023, hosted an educational event for 50 chaplain students from the U.S. Army Institute for Religious Leadership. 

Initiated at the request of the institute, the event was held to raise awareness of SGI-USA members in the military and inform the chaplains about our religious practice and Soka community so they could better support active-duty Buddhists. 

The meeting featured a three-part presentation on the history of Buddhism, Nichiren Buddhism and the SGI, and the SGI-USA Military Personnel Group, with a slow recitation of gongyo and a Q&A session with local SGI-USA leaders.

At the end of the meeting, Maj. Jeff Harden, the chaplain and professor leading the group of students, presented the local members with a Certificate of Appreciation, saying: “We were able to capture your hearts and why [Buddhist practice] is of such value to you. That will help us better understand Buddhist soldiers, why this is so valuable to them and help us meet their needs. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Sandra Silva, a local district women’s leader and recently retired Air Force veteran, coordinated the event and received the certificate on behalf of the local SGI-USA members. 

When asked about the meeting’s significance, Ms. Silva said she believes it was the first of its kind. “I’ve personally held intro-to-Buddhism meetings all over the world while I served in the Air Force,” she said, “but this was the first time I’ve ever held an event to directly educate the chaplains who are the key to the success of propagating this Buddhism.”

Chaplains are responsible for tending to the spiritual and moral well-being of military service members. They provide meeting locations for religious activities and help promote them through their base-wide networks.

Ms. Silva said the process of holding an intro-to-Buddhism activity on a military base will be much easier now that the chaplains are familiar with the SGI.

“I sincerely believe that bringing awareness to the religious leaders in the military [of] SGI-USA’s Military Personnel Group will help build interfaith trust, respect and the support needed to advance kosen-rufu,” she said.

—Prepared by the World Tribune staff

November 18, 2023, World Tribune, p. 4

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