Level II: The Rinsho Buddhism Chaplaincy Training Program

Level Two (Understanding):

Beginning in the Autumn of 2013, a series of eight advanced workshop seminars for chaplains-in-training covering a total of 32 hours of instruction.

Oct. 2: Buddhist Counseling and Deep Listening (Rev. Hitoshi Jin) –> see below

Oct. 16: Self Care & Team Care (Rev. Daihaku Okochi)

Nov. 6: Communication Training (Rev. Hitoshi Jin)

Nov. 20: Trauma Care & Interpersonal Psychotherapy (Dr. Hiroko Mizushima)

December 4: Buddhist Social Analysis (Jonathan Watts)

December 18: Grief Care (Sister Yoshiko Takagi)

January 15: Naikan Therapy (Rev. Mari Sengoku)

January 29: Role Playing Skills (Rev. Hitoshi Jin)

Oct. 2: Buddhist Counseling and Deep Listening (Rev. Hitoshi Jin)

jinEveryone must confront the reality of the sufferings of birth, aging, illness, and death. For Buddhists, in order to become intimate with the physical and mental suffering of people, it is necessary to confront the core of what is understood as mind/heart (Jp. kokoro, Skt. citta). In this way, this session will focus on “deep listening”, which is one method of Buddhist style care, and also the psychological preparedness needed for counseling work.

Buddhist counseling has its own unique character and goes back to the time of the Buddha and his sermons. Rev. Jin explained this by examining the different Chinese characters for the word “to listen”.  聞 is the conventional character, which means to simply listen or even just to hear, while 聴 has a deeper nuance of to listen carefully or to engage in careful inquiry. Broken into its components parts, it contains the characters for ear, eye, and mind/heart, denoting a comprehensive physical attentiveness. To listen deeply also brings to mind Kannon Bodhisattva, whose name means literally “the one who observes or is attentive to the sounds of the world”. Yet these sounds are understood as the cries of those who must experience the inevitable suffering of this world in birth, aging, illness and death. Kannon as a bodhisattva is particularly sensitive and attentive to these cries, and thus serves as the model or archetype for the Buddhist chaplain.

After this discussion, Rev. Jin led the group through an interactive process in which they first read the story of a young boy who was the second son of a Buddhist priest. Feeling unsure about his role in the family, his once strong academic performance in school began to slip, and he began to skip school and have problems with his parents. The group then broke into smaller discussion circles to evaluate 10 statements about his situation as true or false. The report backs from each group showed a variety of responses based on different assumptions about his situation. The point of the exercise was to see how one has to be careful in evaluating, judging, and diagnosing a situation as a counselor. Rev. Jin related that if an individual felt more statements were false, this was an indication that the person was thinking more deeply and not quick to judge. Buddhist priests, and religious professionals in general, are unfortunately well known for their lack of listening skills and their interest in preaching as part of the mission to spread the word or gospel of their religion. This common inability to really connect with people and their anxieties is one main reasons that people in Japan are losing connections with the temple.

Rev. Jin then gave a short talk on the critical social issues that Japan is confronting now as a way for the group to begin to consider the particular field of chaplaincy each might like to enter. The critical and wide number of human relationship dysfunctions are already well known in Japan and are becoming of increasing concern in other countries in East Asia, like South Korea and Taiwan. These include alienation, mental illness, suicide, the isolation of the elderly, and various youth issues, especially the phenomenon of shut-ins (hikikomori). While it has been easy to view these as the behavioral and mental health problems of individuals, Rev. Jin emphasized that Buddhists must look at the deeper structural causes behind them. If one considers that young people are increasingly dropping out of school (futoko), out of mainstream work (furita/NEET), and out of society (hikikomori); that middle aged people are increasingly being laid off or underemployed as well as getting divorced; and that the elderly are having their social benefits cut while living and dying in isolation (kodoku-shi), one sees that the structure of Japanese society has become uninhabitable, or rather uninhabited.

Rev. Jin then explained that the role of Buddhists is to promote a shift in values away from the ones of materialism embodied by emphasis on GNP and towards “enlightened values” as found in GNH. Such a shift involves developing (kai-hatsu) not only our material lives but developing (kai-hotsu) our inner lives, or Buddha nature, and in turn our communities and culture. Buddhist temples and Buddhist priests, especially Buddhist chaplains, have a major role to play in this culture shift that is critically needed at this time not only in Japan but across the region.

From this talk, Rev. Jin then invited group members to introduce and interview each other—the speaker focusing on their potential field of service and the listener staying attentive by not taking notes. Then the listener introduced the speaker to the entire group, relating what he/she had heard as a practice in deep listening. From the 90 participants of the Level 1 lectures, 39 have decided to move on to undergo formal training—a higher than expected number. From their introductions, came an inspiring variety of people. Many are priests deeply concerned about the above social issues as they regularly experience them through the lives of their temple members. There were also a number of lay people, including men who had been engineers and businessmen. They have turned to Buddhism after retirement and are seeking to develop a more engaged form of practice and faith. There was also a refreshing diversity of participants from both urban and rural areas, specifically a wonderful cross denominational group of priests from Yamagata prefecture, which abuts both Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures where the triple disasters of 3/11 are still having their effects.

Rev. Jin concluded this opening four hour session with a talk on some of the counseling concepts and skills that will be delved into more deeply over the seven other training sessions. He went through the attributes of both the unskillful counselor and the skilful counselor. He then introduced the Johari Window, a conceptual model for counseling and self help groups developed in the 1950s in the United States.

This core group has now been regularly meeting since April of this year, and although, there is still the tendency for people from the same denominations and backgrounds to sit together, relationships and interactions across such divisions are occurring regularly and the group is developing their own set of relationships and connections. This will be a very important aspect as the training moves forward and the challenges increase. Mutual collaboration and support is an important resource for the Buddhist chaplain as they engage in the very difficult work of taking on the suffering of others. The Buddhist chaplain not only supports others, but also needs support to continue his/her training as a bodhisattva—and these trainings in self-care and team care will be the focus of the second session in two weeks time.

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