Media Release from University of the West on their first graduate from the Master of Divinity in Buddhist Chaplaincy program.
Rosemead, CA – University of the West, the only accredited Buddhist university in Los Angeles County, will graduate on Saturday May 15 a former Buddhist monk from Thailand who will use his training to become the second Buddhist chaplain in the U.S. Army ranks.
First Lieutenant Somya Malasri, 39, of Rosemead, seemed an unlikely candidate for the U.S. Army in 2001, when he arrived in the United States garbed in a saffron robe, the traditional attire of a Buddhist monk. Originally from a small village in Buriram Province, Thailand, Malasri had been a Buddhist monk since he was 17 years old.
The U.S. military has been actively trying to recruit Buddhist chaplains since World War II, said Rev. Danny Fisher, program coordinator for the M.Div. in Buddhist Chaplaincy at UWest.
“At this point, there have only ever been two Buddhist chaplains in the U.S. military,” Fisher said. “Both are on active duty now.”
One of the two is also a UWest student; Jeanette Shin is earning her Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies at UWest and is currently a Buddhist chaplain in the Navy. The other is Thomas Dyer, who is in the Army and became the Army’s first ever Buddhist chaplain, about a year ahead of Malasri, Fisher said.
The US Army currently has an estimated 3,300 soldiers claiming a Buddhist affiliation. It wasn’t until Malasri met some U.S. soldiers who were Buddhist that he realized their need for chaplains. So Malasri “disrobed” to join active service in the Army.
After graduation this month, Malasri expects to be deployed, although he is not yet sure where.
“I’m very happy and also at the same time I don’t know what to expect in the Army,” Malasri said. “When I adjust to everything it’ll be OK. I’m really happy.”
In 2007, Malasri became the first Buddhist chaplain candidate for the Army. He would have become the first chaplain, however Dyer, a chaplain from a Christian background converted to Buddhism, making Malasri the likely second Buddhist chaplain ever in the Army. He will become a full chaplain by the end of 2010, Malasri said.
Malasri did achieve a first by becoming the first student to graduate from UWest’s M.Div. in Buddhist Chaplaincy program. The M.Div. in Buddhist Chaplaincy program at UWest is one of only three accredited Buddhist chaplaincy training programs in the United States.
“Graduating our first chaplain is a joyous way to cap off the first year of the program’s existence,” Rev. Fisher said. “In addition, Somya, who has done so much training already as a former Theravada Buddhist monk and chaplain candidate in the U.S. Army, has set a wonderful example for his fellow students.”
“I learned a lot from the program,” Malasri said. “For example, I learned how to be a good facilitator, how to be a good counselor.”
“To have more Buddhist chaplains in the military is important because servicemen and women have been needing and asking for them for a long time now,” Rev. Fisher said.
University of the West is a Buddhist-founded campus open to all students and located in the Eastern suburbs of Los Angeles County. More information can be found at http://www.uwest.edu.
Contact: Jason Kosareff
University of the West
1409 N. Walnut Grove Ave.
Rosemead, CA 91770 USA