By Marisa Petrich, Northwest GuardianApril 6, 2012
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (April 6, 2012) -- The next time you're faced with a delay, consider practicing mindfulness rather than losing yourself in impatience.
That's what happened at Joint Base Lewis-McChord's first Buddhist New Year celebration at North Fort Chapel March 31. As the crowd waited for Buddhist monks and performers from local temples to arrive, the Venerable Santidhammo, a visiting monk, asked the crowd to focus their attention on the present moment.
"Normally our attention is like a radar, going around and around," he said.
But rather than let it spin out of control, the guests took deep breaths in and out, and spent a little time being aware of their surroundings without judging them.
Those few moments of calm were only part of the idea behind the celebration, which was organized by Chaplain (Capt.) Somya Malasri, 593rd Sustainment Brigade. Malasri was the first active-duty Buddhist chaplain in the Army. He is now only one of two, having been joined by Chaplain Thomas Dyer, the Army's first Buddhist chaplain, who came on to active duty from the National Guard last summer.
Since being stationed at JBLM, Malasri has made an effort to create events to merge the Buddhist community with others in the area, including last year's celebration of Vesak Day, or Buddha's birthday.
The New Year event started with a ceremony including sutra chanting and a dhamma talk, a discussion of Buddhist teachings. But the theme of the day was the same as any other new year celebration -- to start anew, and to gracefully accept the changes life brings.
"This time next year, everything will be different," Santidhammo said. "Nothing will be the same. Because one thing is for sure -- everything changes."
Santidhammo found his own inner peace in a unique way. The American monk had been doing a lot of political work before he became interested in Buddhism, and he found it made him very angry. He turned to meditation as a solution and found it worked.
"The more I understand these teachings of peace, the more I understand if I want to change the world I have to change myself," he said.
It's a type of all-encompassing peacefulness that Chairat Noppakovat found useful in his 22 years as an Army medic. The retiree, who joined the Army after immigrating from Thailand, remembered the religion's emphases on love and duty.
"The teaching is to get along with everybody, to love everybody," he said.
It's something he remembered while encountering people from all sorts of backgrounds and with just as many beliefs and opinions throughout his Army career.
It's something that his son also values -- and remembered during the three years he spent in the Army himself. Nappakovat came to the event sporting a coat his son had given him after he finished basic training, with the American flag on one shoulder and the Thai flag on the other.
Nappakovat feels there's a lot others can learn from Buddhism, whether or not they intend to convert.
"This world is kind of stressful," he said. "People rush, rush, rush. There's a lot of conflict. Being Buddhist teaches you to let go of certain things."
To let go -- and to begin again.