Education options for Buddhist Chaplaincy/Pastoral Counseling

This is an avenue I research semi-regularly. It would be wonderful if there was an affordable online program, but I have yet to find one. The other issue I encounter is that certification entities expect you to ordained clergy with an organization behind you, of which I am not one.

Maybe we could start another thread with this if there’s enough interest?


@Nadine Nadine, that’s be a great idea. I’d like to be able to brainstorm a bit on this subject. There may be a number of people (here on D&D especially) that have researched this issue, as you and I have. I have even emailed some Buddhist institutions in Asia to see if they might consider starting an online program in Chaplaincy or Clinical Pastoral Education, just so that Buddhists with a Theravada and/or EBT approach might have a resource that would offer training, and back their training for certification. No luck so far, but I continue to research this.


I’m just adding this as food for thought :slight_smile: This may or may not be relevant, but I share it for your consideration. I used to be responsible for services provided by a christian based community service organisation. The Uniting Church has a strong Chaplaincy component. I struggled with this in so far, as I was responsible for client services, and often felt that the Chaplains would ‘over-reach’. Staff were subject to high Standards and responsibilities, and I was very particular ensuring the professional competence of practitioners.

I always found it a struggle, when supervising the Chaplains, in trying to ascertain their level of competence in certain issues. Note, the majority of programs were delivering mental health services, a few of which had statutory responsibilities attached.

It may just be worthwhile to clarify, what is meant by chaplaincy, the spheres of influence etc. It may just be that in my case the local chaplaincy education and Synod responsible for it, may have had very wide reaching expectations of chaplaincy, and that others are more restricted to the area of spirituality. Eg in this case spirituality was deemed to cover basically everything… to the extent that the Chaplains were wanting full access to client files and service planning, and to participate in staff meetings with the same powers of decision making as the psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists etc. who had all received additional training re mental health. I would have been a lot more comfortable if the Chaplains had just wanted to consult and provide spiritual perspectives for consideration. They did of course have the facilities to see whom-so-ever wished to see them and participate in a range of spiritual activities. What I am alluding to here in their assuming an inherent role in every aspect of service delivery.

Anyway - just something to think about. The nature of the chaplaincy training, the skills learned and the possibility of applying them in certain situations.

@UpasakaMichael @Nadine

Sadhu for your aspirations! May they be realised :anjal: :anjal: :anjal:


Thanks so much for this @Viveka Viveka. I agree with much of what you conveyed here, having been studying a bit some of the communications from some chaplaincy groups, even on Facebook. I agree that the levels of training and competency need to be high in this field and yet there did seem to be some spotty and dodgy inputs from some in the chaplaincy field, some clearly seeing their role as evangelization (this being completely verboten in the chaplaincy/pastoral counseling field).

I did join some organizations, such as, and reference material at >

Spiritual Care Association states this on one of their website pages:

Faith group endorsement is a relationship between a chaplain and his or her religious/spiritual/existential community. It is largely a Christian structure that is not practiced by most non-Christian groups. This reality has often meant that otherwise qualified and competent persons who are not from a tradition that endorses chaplains have either been denied the opportunity for certification or have had to compromise their own tradition in order to obtain an endorsement from another group in order to qualify. SCA - About

I have the thought to get more involved with SCA (and other like minded global associations), to see what might be done to open some doors to “traditional” Buddhist practitioners.


Agree, interesting topic worthy of a separate thread; interests in MA degrees seems distinguishable from interest in chaplaincy certifications.


@Viveka, thanks for creating this separate thread! I added a category ([Clinical] Pastoral Counseling), and hope you don’t mind.


What I have found is that certification depends on obtaining a graduate degree. Usually an MDiv (Master of Divinity) kind of thing with a focus on chaplaincy. There are a very few Buddhist programs in the US, University of the West is one, but they require residency. The vast majority are programs for Christian clergy, as Michael has stated.


An idea I’ve tossed around, but not acted on, is for a (local) university that offers MDiv, and also has classes on Buddhism in their Religion department and/or Asian Studies, to do a Master of Liberal Studies type thing that could qualify for certification.

But I have no experience presenting that level of request to a university. :laughing:


Harvard has made something of a start, and I stay in touch via a contact list for their programs, but all so far are residency or partial residency in the Buddhist Chaplaincy area. Buddhist Ministry Initiative | Harvard Divinity School

See also:


Harold now eligible to be a chaplain…


Some helpful info from BCCI Board of Chaplaincy Certification Inc.®, a national, not-for-profit 501©(6) affilate of the Association of Professional Chaplains®, certifies professional chaplains according to established national qualifications. I think it is American; there might be other national equivalent organizations, or different ways of approaching chaplaincy .
“With commitment to interfaith ministry and the professional practice of chaplaincy care, the Association of Professional Chaplains® serves chaplains in all types of health and human service settings. Our more than 5,000 member chaplains and affiliates are involved in chaplaincy care of all persons, respecting their diverse cultures, identities, abilities and beliefs. As a national, not-for-profit 501©(3) professional association, APC® advocates for quality chaplaincy care of all persons in health care facilities, correctional institutions, long-term care units, rehabilitation centers, hospice, the military and other specialized settings.”
which includes a white paper on Equivalency Issues for Buddhist Candidates for Board Certification through the Board of Chaplaincy Certification Inc.®, A W


The BCCI Board of Chaplaincy Certification Inc also identified the following non exhaustive list of professional chaplaincy organizations:
CASC CASC/ACSS Competencies - Canadian Association for Spiritual Care


For comparison


For Facebook: Buddhist Connection - Buddhist Council of NSW - Home | Facebook

@Viveka, thanks for posting this! Buddhist Council of NSW is exactly the kind of organization that is so needed in other countries. Once again, Australia proves itself to be more mindful and forward looking than the US.

By way of example, some years ago I was giving a seminar to a bar association on Collaborative Law. I tried to find some cutting edge resources in the US, and wrote to some organizations looking for materials, etc. for the bar association members. No response and an absolute dry well in the US. I wrote to the Australian , and a week later, received a large box, free of charge, with handout materials, and books, and a letter from the organization letting me know that they would be supportive with advice and materials any time. Needless to say, I was blown away by this act of kindness and generosity.

Maybe it’s something in the water? More and more I look to Australia for associations doing cutting edge work in areas of interest, especially in Buddhism, or pastoral care, or legal issues. Is it the Vegemite? I would even hold my nose to eat Vegemite if that is what is providing the wise insight in Australia. :slight_smile:


Interesting that the list provided by the US military for approved endorsing of military chaplains seemingly includes only one Buddhist listing, a Jodo Shinsu organization : Ecclesiascal Endorsing Agents

The rather cheeky moniker of “Buddhist Churches of America” states the following: " All of us in BCA share a common wish…that BCA provide a foundation for the propagation of Shin Buddhism in America. "

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Unfortunately not all is wise in Oz. But there is a long standing culture of Not-For-Profit organisations that do really excellent work.


" For those wishing to train as a chaplain (either professionally or as a volunteer, and those in discernment) the following organizations offer curriculum in Buddhist spiritual care. Some are introductory, others are the whole education enchilada. All are appropriate for volunteer chaplaincy, many are appropriate for professional chaplaincy. "

Sati Center for Buddhist Studies

Chaplaincy Institute for Interfaith Studies

New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care

Institute of Buddhist Studies

University of the West Buddhist Master of Divinity Program

Naropa University Master of Divinity Degree


The Buddhist Society of WA (Australia) will be starting a chaplaincy program early next year. The main mover is the president, Dennis Sheppard.


Is it going to be chaplaincy, or just a care/welfare program?
Or perhaps I should ask what the difference is?

Dennis Sheppard has put out a call to all who are interested in assisting. Don’t chaplains need to have monastic/‘religious’ training?

Many Thanks for any additional information you may have :slightly_smiling_face:


It is going to start as a welfare /carer /listening program to be expanded to chaplaincy, I’m not aware of all the details , but i will see Dennis tonight and tell him about this blog.