He has left his boots at the door of the temple, but in the temple room he wears a standard Army camouflage uniform. Instead of a cross or crucifix on the right chest his uniform bears the “dharma wheel” insignia as a symbol of the Buddhist faith.
This is a description of Thomas Dyer, 43, of Memphis, Tennessee. Dyer is the US Army’s first Buddhist chaplain, according to the commercialappeal.com (Memphis Online). His conversion to Buddhism at first caused waves in his family, but his wife finally made peace with his decision: “I actually thank God in a way because I wouldn’t have gone as deep in my own faith if I hadn’t been challenged,” she said. “I think each individual’s suffering is personally designed for that individual to lead him to God.” Dyer, who was at first a Presbyterian and then a Baptist, felt Buddhism addressed questions whose answers had otherwise eluded him:
“The question that arose in my mind is, ‘Why is there so much suffering?’ Christianity did not have a satisfactory answer. I wanted to be happy. The idea that we have to live with suffering until we die just did not make sense to me—the idea that God wants you to suffer so you can then enjoy heaven.” Dyer kept asking, “Is this all there is to life?” As a Christian, he had been interested in mysticism. That led to meditation. Dyer studied Buddhism, then visited the temple near his home in Raleigh [a neighborhood in Memphis]. Right away, he says, “It was like, ‘Whoa, I’m home.'”
Dyer says it wasn’t easy converting to Buddhism in the Bible Belt, and indeed, his conversion doesn’t seem to sit well with Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary president Michael Spradlin, who declared Dyer’s decision to leave his fundamentalist Baptist roots for Buddhism “unfathomable.” Still, the 3,300-plus Buddhists in the US army must be grateful for his service. And at least one commenter to the commercialappeal.com story is happy, too. He writes: “You go, dude!”
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.