Bringing the Dharma into Hospitals and Prisons: Karma Triyana Dharmachakra’s First Pastoral Care Class Graduates

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From Left, Patricia Myerson, Cathy Jackson, Jan Tarlin, Bonnie Snyder, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, and Lama Kathy Wesley

On Sunday May 19, in front of a large crowd gathered to hear Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche teach Khenpo Gangshar’s Mahamudra instruction “Naturally Liberating Whatever You Meet,” four members of the greater Karma Triyana Dharmachakra sangha were honored for completing KTD’s first-ever Pastoral Care Training Program.

Cathy Jackson (Columbus, Ohio, Karma Thegsum Choling), Patricia Myerson (Cape Ann Massachusetts Vajra Vidya), Bonnie Snyder (Greenville NC Karma Thegsum Choling), and Jan Tarlin (who lives at KTD and serves as a Meditation Instructor and Program Specialist), were given Letters of Completion by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, who said that their training marked a new phase for KTD’s introduction of Dharma in the West.

SColvey_KTD_May18-2013-3565The graduates, Khenpo Rinpoche said, would enter hospitals and prisons in their community, representing the Buddhist ideals of compassion and love in places where those qualities were needed most. He complimented the students on their hard work, and presented them with white Tibetan scarves (kataks), exhorting them to continue their development and not tire in their service of sentient beings.

The ceremony capped an effort begun three years ago, when several dharma students approached Lama Kathy Wesley, asking if they could train as chaplains in the Karma Kagyu tradition.

SColvey_KTD_May18-2013-3573“I wrote to Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, asking him if this would be possible,” Lama Kathy said. “And his answer was brief. He said, ‘you do it.'”

So, with the help of the aspiring students and various Kagyu teachers, Lama Kathy designed a two-year Pastoral Care Curriculum for the pilot program. KTD Trustees gave the program their approval in 2010, and in 2011, the program began.

Students took classes with Lama Kathy once a week by conference call, and visited KTD four times a year for special Pastoral Care seminars. The course of study was  given in four six-month Semesters.

Semester One: Lojong and Bodhicitta
Semester Two: Basic Buddhist Teachings
Semester Three: Helping the Sick and Dying
Semester Four: Working With those in Crisis.

Lama Kathy was assisted in leading weekly discussions by the students themselves, most notably KTD’s Jan Tarlin, a retired university instructor and Karma Kagyu practitioner who also is an ordained Unitarian minister.

In the First Semester, students were confronted with a question: “What does it mean to help others? And for you, what stands in the way of your benefitting others?”

“Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche had told the students in their first meeting that training in Bodhicitta was the most important thing they would need to do,” said Lama Kathy. “I’d had success in teaching Geshe Chekawa’s “Seven Point Mind Training,” and thought it would be excellent for this purpose.”

Students were asked to examine themselves for their greatest faults, and to use the practice of Lojong to address those faults. They also were given daily practices to do to increase their awareness of (and practice of) bodhicitta in their everyday lives.

The Second Semester included study of Gampopa’s “Jewel Ornament of Liberation,” as well as an introduction to the Medicine Buddha practice.

The Third Semester included tutorials in the Tibetan practice of P’howa, prayers and practices to be done for the dying. They also met and spoke with chaplains from several parts of the United States, to gather practical perspectives on practicing Pastoral Care.

The Fourth Semester revisited the Lojong and Bodhicitta practice, and encouraged students to get involved in volunteering at hospitals and hospices.

Students responded enthusiastically. By the conclusion of the program at the end of 2012, three of the students had at least partially completed Intensives in Clinical Pastoral Education, the “gold standard” for non-denominational chaplaincy training in the United States.

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche had encouraged students to work on CPE credits, which he said would be important for them if they wished to work as chaplains in American hospitals and prisons.

Lama Kathy says that although most of the KTD Pastoral Care Class of 2012 plan to work in hospital chaplaincy, graduates also hope to provide support and training for dharma students in the Karma Thegsum Choling/Karma Kagyu Study Group network.

“Some centers don’t have lamas yet, and it’s important that they have Sangha Care Teams who can help when sangha members are in the hospital or in hospice care,” Lama Kathy said. “While our trainees aren’t Lamas, they know how to be with the sick and the dying in a positive way, and we hope to pass along some of this information to KTC members so they can feel more confident in helping their own members when they are ill.”

In commenting on the KTD program, graduate Patricia Myerson wrote, “In my role as Hospital Chaplain it is acceptable for me to stop and pray silently before each patient encounter, so before each and every patient who I talk to I take a moment to pray to His Holiness, and to Rinpoche, to be with me and to guide me to be effective and of benefit.  My CPE supervisor is extremely grateful for what I bring to the program as a Buddhist and I know he is eager to have more Buddhist chaplains interning in his CPE program.”
At the conclusion of the May 19 graduation, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche requested Lama Kathy to continue the Pastoral Care training program, so others in the KTD/KTC sangha could benefit from its work.

Those interested in the program can send “Letters of Interest,” expressing their wish to receive information about the program, to Lama Kathy at kmwesley@me.com.  Letters will be answered in July or August, 2013. May all beings benefit!

Stephanie Colvey’s photos of the Pastoral Counseling Graduation Ceremony

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All photos courtesy Stephanie Colvey.

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