Recently National Public Radio aired a feature on the Buddhist chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy, which NPR says is the only Buddhist chapel on a U.S. military base, anywhere. The 300-square-foot Vast Refuge Dharma Hall is in the basement of the famous Cadet Chapel, in the photo.
You might remember that a few years ago the Air Force Academy was accused of fostering a culture of religious intolerance. A lawsuit filed in 2005 accused the academy of promoting evangelical Christianity and integrating evangelical Christian beliefs into the training program. The lawsuit was dismissed, but the Air Force agreed to withdraw authorization allowing evangelical Christian chaplains to proselytize among the cadets.
Even so, in 2008 the Academy was accused of asking three "terrorism experts" to speak to the cadets who turned out to be evangelicals promoting conversion to their beliefs. But about the Buddhist chapel --
I wrote a bit about the chapel in the article on War and Buddhism. The Vast Refuge Dharma Hall has a small altar with an Earth Witness Buddha and 18 zafus -- meditation pillows. It appears to be a mostly non-sectarian chapel that leans in the direction of Zen.
At the dedication of the chapel, the Reverend Dai En Wiley Burch of the Hollow Bones Rinzai Zen school said, "Without compassion, war is a criminal activity. Sometimes it is necessary to take life, but we never take life for granted."
NPR says the academy's Buddhist program leader, Sarah Bender, questions herself about how Buddhism fits into a military life.
"People in the military come up -- for real -- against questions that most of us just consider abstractly," Bender says. "The questions of Buddhism are the questions of life and death. So, where else would you want Buddhism than right there where those questions are most vivid?"
Construction of the chapel was paid for by the Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism. Some of you may remember the late Fred "Rama" Lenz. I don't believe I can say anything about Lenz without violating the Precept about not speaking ill of others, so I'll stop here.