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Buddhadharma : Fall 2010
85 fall 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly When his grandmother Mimi got sick, Koshin Paley Ellison became her primary caregiver and moved into a hospice with her. “I found myself in the midst of this loving and intimate relationship with my grandmother,” he says. “I went to the meetings with doc- tors and nurses and I felt really at home. But the weakest link in the care team was the chaplain. He’d come into the door- way and say, ‘Mrs. Ellison, me and my wife pray for you.’ And then he would leave. My grandmother turned to me and said, ‘I think he needs a chaplain.’” practices into their work with patients. The second—Clinical Pastoral Educa- tion—is the only Buddhist program of its kind in the United States that is fully accredited by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education. Trudi Jinpu Hirsch, who is on the core faculty of NYZCCC’s chaplaincy training program, explains that the foundation program is a prereq- uisite for the clinical pastoral education training. She says it “is a way of seeing if people are actually—to use a Christian word—called to this ministry.” Hirsch began training people in con- templative care because she wanted to bring more Buddhists into chaplaincy, a field dominated by Christians. “The first noble truth is that there is suffering,” she says. “Buddhists sit with that in medita- tion for long periods but we’re not nec- essarily standing up and doing anything with it.” Contemplative caregiving is a way to practice off the cushion. How- ever, students of the New York center’s program are not required to be Buddhist. They come from a number of religious traditions—Catholics, a rabbi, and an Episcopal priest have all trained there. “We’re not training people to serve Buddhists,” Ellison says. “We’re training people to be intimate with anybody.” So if patients want to pray, Buddhist chap- lains pray with them, and if patients want to talk, the chaplains talk with them. How, then, does Zen center’s approach differ from traditional care? Roshi Enkyo O’Hara, the NYZCCC’s guiding spiri- tual teacher, explains: “We train people to really be present to what’s arising in the room. What is the body language? What are all the things that are going on? And in that mindful way, which we learn after years of meditation, contem- plative caregivers absorb the whole room in an instant and are able to find that little chink that allows a relationship to arise—just that one hair’s breath that allows something to grow.” Providing contemplative care is largely about listening, Ellison says. “In the train- ing, we say people are always telling their whole story.” Hospital food is typically terrible, but why does one patient talk about it and another patient talks about By andrea Miller Ellison, who at that time had been practicing Zen for fourteen years, says his grandmother suggested that he look into doing chaplaincy work himself. That was eight years ago. Today, Ellison is the codi- rector of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care (NYZCCC). Estab- lished by him and Robert Chodo Camp- bell in 2006 in the heart of Manhattan, the center offers two principal programs. The first—Foundations in Buddhist Con- templative Care Training—is designed to teach caregivers and those interested in caregiving how to integrate contemplative Profi l e NEW YORK ZEN CENTER for CONTEMPLATIVE CARE TobiasKluTKe Koshin Paley Ellison (center) with his grandmother, Mimi, and his father, Richard.