by Danny Fisher
[This post was updated at 5:54 p.m. EST on 8.19.08.]
I’m very happy to share with you that this past Saturday, August 16th, upon nomination by the Venerable Chao Chu (primary teacher) and the Venerable Walpola Piyananda Nayaka Thero (preceptor), I was ordained as a lay Buddhist minister by the ecumenical Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California along with four friends from the University of the West.
The International Order of Buddhist Ministers that I joined has its roots in an observation that Bhante Chao Chu (a Sri Lankan monastic ordained in both the Theravāda tradition of his country and the Mahāyāna tradition of China) made while serving as a chaplain at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics along with Bhante Piyananda: that “the needs of various temples and organizations within the Buddhist community [required] more accredited lay representatives and qualified teachers to spread the Dharma and to assist the Sangha in other related activities.” In 1994, he proposed the idea of a lay Buddhist ministry to the Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California. It was suggested that lay Buddhist ministers would participate in such things as Dharma teaching and temple management, as well as fulfill duties perhaps more appropriate for lay persons (such as counseling and chaplaincy). Bhante Chao Chu’s proposal was accepted, and the Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California proceeded with the sanctioning, sponsoring, and ordaining of lay Buddhist ministers.
“[Our Buddhist ministers] are not renunciates and cannot represent themselves as members of the monastic sangha,” the I.O.B.M. states. “They equate in some respects to historic anagarikas.” Ministers observe the ten precepts and rules of conduct devised by the Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California. They are expected to practice diligently in their own traditions of Buddhism, but also to serve the Buddhist community at large, extending support and help to any school or tradition that may need it. Ministers are registered through the Los Angeles Buddhist Union and conferred the title of “Reverend.”
The achievements of current ministers are quite impressive. Five preside over active Buddhist centers throughout the U.S. Two have gone on to become ordained monastics. One is my friend and past interviewee Somya Malasri, who is currently the first Buddhist chaplain candidate in the U.S. Army. Another, our mutual friend Aroon Seeda, is set to become the second Buddhist chaplain in the U.S. Navy. And a mutual friend of all of ours, Daphna McKnight, who I was ordained with, is one of the organizers of this year’s Buddhist Spiritual Care Symposium.
My ordination was held at the Rosemead Buddhist Monastery, the headquarters of the I.O.B.M., in Rosemead, CA. The Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California decided long ago that a minimum of three preceptor monastics would be required to ordain new ministers. My friends and I were lucky to have six preceptor monastics: two nuns, and four monks (including Bhante Chao Chu and Bhante Piyananda). It was a sweltering Los Angeles day, but it couldn’t have been a lovelier ceremony. Very auspicious too, I thought, since all of the new ministers are working as chaplains/interested in chaplaincy, and Bhante Chao Chu and Bhante Piyananda have both long been active as chaplains in Los Angeles County.
I was given the ordination name Dhammayasa (Pali), which translates “Gains Fame Through the Dharma.”
I’m very pleased and honored indeed by my ordination as a Buddhist minister. Though my ordination name means “Gains Fame Through the Dharma,” it is my sincerest wish that through my ministry I can bring fame to the Dharma.
- By this merit may all obtain omniscience.
May it defeat the enemy, wrongdoing.
From the stormy waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death
From the ocean of samsara, may I free all beings.
My pictures from the ceremony and some little explanations/stories are below. Click on any image to enlarge it.
The new ministers pose with Bhante Chao Chu and Rev. Sam Haycraft, director of the I.O.B.M. From left to right: Nathan, Nate, Rev. Sam Haycraft, Bhante Chao Chu, Ed, Daphna, and me. Photo by Nanyu Chen.
Bhante Piyananda and I. Some readers may know Bhante Piyananda, who is the Chief Sanghanayake of the U.S.A., as the author of the absolutely wonderful memoir Saffron Days in L.A. as well as this summer’s The Bodhi Tree Grows in L.A. Photo by Nanyu Chen.
Somya and I. Without Somya, I probably wouldn’t have met the Bhantes or gotten involved with the I.O.B.M. My ordination is yet another reason for me to be eternally grateful for his friendship. I was very happy that he was there to be part of the ceremony. Photo by Nanyu Chen.