©Mike Brown/Memphis Commercial Appeal

Fox News reports that the first Buddhist Chaplain in the history of the United States Army will be deployed to Iraq in December. Chaplain Thomas Dyer, who used to be a Southern Baptist minister, feels that his diverse religious background will help make Christian U.S. soldiers more comfortable with his presence:

It has made me kind of like someone who is bilingual, where they can speak two languages, or bicultural. I am kind of like a bi-religious person, so I am able to make connections with soldiers in a way that is very familiar to them, so I don’t look so scary or … strange.

Dyer has thought carefully about his role as a Buddhist in the military. He will no doubt be a source of solace to soldiers abroad, but the chaplain’s support for the U.S. Army extends further: he endorses, somewhat controversially, the war in Iraq. In a recent NPR interview, he explained:

There are lineages that teach that the absolute no-violent approach to life is just the way it is. But as a result of life as it is at the present moment, many Buddhists believe that dissipating in civil action is necessary. The issue is, at present, is military service what we call right livelihood? Most Buddhist teachers are moving to say yes because the potential to do good and to protect is there. And it is not beneficial to not participate in civil action when peoples and nations around the world are suffering. It is something that has become necessary, we might say.

There are a diversity of Buddhist opinions on the issue of war, but Dyer may be too quick to suggest that the tide is turning in favor of military intervention. Shortly after the United States invaded Afghanistan following September 11, Tricycle hosted a round-table on the subject “War or Peace?” with Lama Surya Das, Jan Chozen Bays, Jose Cabezon, and Thanissaro Bhikkhu. You can read what they had to say here.


Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.

This article is only for Subscribers!

Subscribe now to read this article and get immediate access to everything else.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? .