Level III: The Rinsho Buddhism Chaplaincy Training Program

Level Three (Residency)

In this present era, human connections and bonds in Japan have become diluted giving rise to social problems such as depression, suicide, and social withdrawal (hikikomori). Amidst these issues, Buddhist priests are still not looked on to be active in social activities. While one can say that some Buddhists have actually become involved in such social work, the key question now is to what extent the Buddhist teachings on wisdom and compassion are actually being realized and practiced in the world.

In the first two levels of the Rinsho Buddhism Chaplaincy Training Program, chaplains-in-training developed an understanding of the present situation of “birth, aging, illness, and death” in Japanese society and skills in intimately caring for others in clinical practice. The residency program offers them the opportunity to learn more deeply their own discipline, thought, and action as Buddhists.

In March 2014, 25 candidates took a day-long exam to qualify for the residency program. The exam consisted of two written essays: one reflecting on the development of Buddhist discipline (sila vinaya), and hence ethics, from its origins in India and development through the Mahayana and Japanese Buddhism’s unique practice of it; the second essay required a discussion on one of the particular fields of Buddhist chaplaincy in Japan today that the students were exposed to in the course. The second half of the exam consisted of a three-way role play amongst candidates in which they rotated through the roles of patient, counselor, and observer (who critiqued the counselor’s session). These role plays were monitored and evaluated by three of the Rinbutsuken Institute’s chaplain supervisors: Rev. Hitoshi Jin, Rev. Mari Sengoku, and Rev. Daihaku Okochi.

The candidates who did not qualify still have two more chances to continue their study and re-qualify for residency work in the field. Those who did qualify will begin on site residency at a series of sites listed below. The residency will begin in June 2014 and candidates have 6 months to complete 100 hours of service work.  As the program is in its first year of operation, residency sites are still being developed, so that this year’s candidates may choose 3 different sites to work at, as opposed to focusing on one site.

List of Residencies

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  • Terakoya Familia: an organization established by Jodo Shin Hongan-ji Pure Land priests in Tokyo that specializes in supporting the families of school drop outs and social recluses (hikikomori). The work involves giving talks and providing counseling at family gathering sessions. Private consultations also occur. One shift lasts 5 hours.
  • Hitosaji Association: a group founded by Jodo Pure Land priests but which is ecumenical in its volunteer staff. The group meets twice a month to cook food and collect medicine and other simple needs to distribute to the homeless in the Asakusa area of Tokyo on 2 hour night street patrols. Participants train in deep listening and encountering the socially marginalized. One time is 7 hours.
  • Young Person’s Mental Health Consultation Center: an organization founded by Nichiren priest Rev. Taido Kusuyama, which focuses on the problem of young people being drawn into religious cults and domestic problems. Residency involves telephone counseling and face-to-face interviews. There is also a monthly meeting for parents. One shift lasts 5 hours.
  • Café de Monk: a group founded by Soto Zen priests to offer mental and emotional support to the victims of disasters in various parts of Japan. Its main area of work these days is in the Tohoku region where the catastrophic tsunami of 3/11 occurred. Residency involves going to various sites in the region, setting up the café, and providing deep listening and support. One time is 3 hours.
  • The Association for Thinking about Mind and Life: a group founded by Soto Zen priest Rev. Shunei Hakamata in the remote northern region of Akita to confront the issues of social isolation, suicide, and community decline. Residency focuses on deep listening and interaction with locals at the weekly cafés and occasional evening “bar” gatherings. One time is 2.5 hours.
  • Vihara 21: an organization established in Osaka by Jodo Pure Land priest Rev. Daihaku Okochi focusing on terminal care and support for the elderly as well as education on this wider nationwide movement called Vihara among Buddhists. Residency involves caring for patients at a day service facility and nursing home, which sometimes requires overnight on-call work.
  • Kawanishi City Hospital: a hospital located in Hyogo prefecture with terminal care facilities. Residency involves the unique opportunity in Japan to work in a public facility as a religious professional. A particular issue at this hospital is the number of patients who come from far away, which makes family visits difficult.

Intensive

  • Fumon-in Medical Center: a group of facilities for medical care, nursing for the elderly, and assisted living for the elderly on the grounds of the Shingon denomination Saimyo-ji Temple under the abbotship of Rev./Dr. Masahiro Tanaka. Residency involves deep listening and support for patients and residents. Housing is available for extended periods of residency.
  • Temari School: a child-care facility founded by Soto Zen priest Rev. Ryusen Fujiki that focuses on the mental and physical care of children. One shift can run as long as 10 hours so there are overnight facilities for extended residency.
  • Kuda-kake Association: a group run by Shigeyoshi Wada that focuses on supporting troubled young people to mentally and emotionally care for themselves, especially through engaging in farming related activities, and also on supporting their families. The location is in a remote part of Kanagawa so extended stays and lodging are provided.

Special Intensive

  • Hospice and Palliative Care Unit at the National Taiwan University Hospital: this facility is the site of a pioneering joint initiative between medical professionals and Buddhists to train monks and nuns in professional hospital chaplaincy and end of life care. Participants will spend one week at the facility studying from the doctors and monastic chaplain supervisors as well as getting a basic exposure to patient care.

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