Buddhist Chaplaincy: Frequently Asked Questions

What is a chaplain?

A chaplain is a person who works to meet the spiritual needs of people in institutional settings including hospitals, hospices, the military, schools, prisons, businesses, and other organizations. Chaplains are available to any person in distress. Therefore, with rare exceptions, they function in interfaith settings. A professional chaplain receives substantial education and training in skillfully providing this service.

There are many ways to be a chaplain. Chaplains can be volunteer or paid. Paid chaplains can be board certified, associate certified, or uncertified. However, board certified chaplains meet the highest professional standards in the field: this includes graduate theological education, clinical pastoral education, and a firm grounding in a spiritual practice and tradition. Certification as a professional chaplain is a nationally recognized qualification, and some employment opportunities require it. Standing as a professional chaplain also opens leadership and research opportunities. The Chaplaincy Program at the Institute of Buddhist Studies meets all requirements for certification by the Association of Professional Chaplains.

What is a Buddhist chaplain?

A Buddhist chaplain is sustained and guided in their work by Buddhist teachings and practice, is skilled in meeting the needs of Buddhists and those with an affinity for Buddhist teachings, and is equally able to serve people of another, or no, faith tradition.

In order to build a foundation for a life of practice and service, the education of a professional Buddhist Chaplain includes central Buddhist teachings, relevant aspects of pastoral care literature, contributions from contemporary psychology and counseling, an exploration of the role of ritual and practice, and the teachings of different faith traditions. All study is accompanied by a thoughtful inquiry into how these teachings are applied to a chaplain’s work within an interfaith setting.

Is chaplaincy right for me?

Most successful candidates to the Chaplaincy Program at IBS have experience serving those in need. This could be as a volunteer chaplain in a hospice, prison, or hospital, or prior counseling or social work experience. Most also have an established relationship to a Buddhist tradition.
However, there is no one formula for becoming a chaplain and no one trajectory. Ultimately, only you can know if pursuing professional chaplaincy is the right choice. While there are many volunteer, career, and spiritual experiences that may inform your choice and prepare you to become a chaplaincy candidate, most if not all chaplains feel “called” to this work. Beyond an interest or curiosity, a calling is often a voice, intuition or yearning to serve in this way.

Students enter the IBS chaplaincy program with a variety of plans and goals — and our graduates work in many settings. Some become APC board certified chaplains, others serve as educators of volunteer chaplains, some enter the military, others work in education. Some graduates have gone on to deepen their Buddhist practice in residential or monastic settings. Each journey is unique and your education will be tailored to your specific, and perhaps evolving, needs and goals.

Becoming a board certified chaplain, or completing this degree for other purposes, requires an investment of money and time. Prospective candidates are encouraged to view current tuition rates. Determining your level of personal, intellectual, spiritual, and financial commitment is part of the discernment process.

How do you get certified to be a chaplain?

To become a board-certified chaplain (BCC) by the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC), you need three things:

  1. a 72-unit accredited theological graduate degree or the equivalent;
  2. four units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE); and
  3. endorsement from a recognized faith organization.

I already have some graduate work and/or chaplaincy experience. Can IBS help me determine if I meet the requirements for equivalency with the APC?

Equivalency is evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the APC. In some cases, aspiring chaplains without a theological degree may apply for “equivalency.” Since IBS does not determine equivalency, we encourage those who are interested to contact the APC directly.

What is the chaplaincy program at IBS? How does this meet the requirements of the APC?

The Chaplaincy program at the Institute of Buddhist Studies fulfills all educational requirements of the APC. The program, offered jointly by the GTU/IBS, consists of an MA combined with the Certificate in Buddhist Chaplaincy.

IBS also offers a 72-unit Masters of Divinity program. However, we are currently in the process of seeking accreditation for that program with the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

Don’t I need a Master’s of Divinity (M.Div) to become a chaplain?

No, you do not. The APC does not specifically require an M.Div. Our program is fully accepted by the APC and prepares students for certification.

What is endorsement? Do I need to be ordained to be a chaplain?

You do not need to be ordained to become a chaplain. However, you do need endorsement from a faith group recognized by the APC. Endorsement ensures that the chaplain is being held accountable by an organized spiritual community, has access to support and guidance, and is professionally qualified to represent her spiritual community.

In the case of Buddhist chaplains, this would be a Buddhist sangha or temple. Information about recognition by the APC as an endorsing body can be found here.

Although it is not necessary to be involved with an endorsing body or sangha to be a student at IBS, potential students wishing to become board certified chaplains who are not affiliated with a sangha or Buddhist group are encouraged to establish a relationship with an organized Buddhist community as soon as possible.

Endorsement to be a military chaplain is a unique process. Please see the following question.

I’m interested in becoming a military chaplain or a prison chaplain. Is IBS right for me? Am I qualified?

The chaplaincy program at IBS meets all educational requirements for military and prison chaplaincy. If you are interested in military chaplaincy, you are best served by talking to a military recruiter. Endorsement by a religious body approved by the Department of Defense is required. Currently, the only Buddhist organization approved by the Department of Defense is the Buddhist Church of America. However the BCA will extend its endorsement to qualified candidates from other Buddhist traditions. For further information please contact Michael Endo at mendo@bcahq.org.

Requirements for prison chaplains vary from state to state, and federal prisons have specific requirements. Please check with the Department of Corrections in your state for information on serving in state prisons and the Federal Bureau of Prisons for information on serving in the federal prison system.

Does IBS provide clinical pastoral education (CPE)?

Clinical Pastoral Education is provided by sites approved by the APC. One unit of CPE completed at an approved site can be counted as academic credit towards the graduate degree. Most students complete CPE requirements in a year-long program after completing their graduate education.  However, this is not always the case. Finding the right site and the right professional course for you is a discernment process that is a part of your graduate education experience.

Though IBS does not administer CPE, we do guide students in selecting CPE sites and advise them in the application process. You can search for accredited CPE sites here.

I don’t have a B.A. Can I still apply to IBS?

No. A bachelor’s degree is a requirement for admission.

Do I need to be affiliated with a specific Buddhist tradition to apply?

No, everyone is welcome at IBS. However, if you intend to be a professional Buddhist chaplain you will need endorsement from a Buddhist community at some point.

Can I just do the IBS standalone Certificate in Buddhist Chaplaincy?

Yes, but this alone does not certify you to be a professional chaplain with the APC. IBS’ Certificate in Buddhist Chaplaincy is not synonymous with certification from the APC. In certain cases, the standalone chaplaincy certificate may be suitable for advanced study, especially if you already have a graduate degree. If you already have some graduate training but require more credits, please contact the APC directly to determine how many academic credits you need.

Do you offer scholarships?

Yes! Most IBS degree and certificate students receive at least a 50% reduction in tuition. All IBS students are encouraged to apply for institutional scholarships. Students enrolled in the GTU MA or Chaplaincy Certificate Program may also apply for federal student aid.

Can I do this program part time?

Yes! Part time enrollment is possible.

Do you have a non-residency/online degree option for chaplaincy?

Although some courses are online, we do not offer a non-residential or online degree option.

Do I need to take the GRE to apply?

Yes, we require the GRE for admission into a degree program. However, do not let the need to take the GRE deter you from applying. We consider the whole applicant, especially the personal statement and letters of recommendation.

Does IBS provide field education?

IBS does not provide field education. However, we make efforts to connect students to volunteer sites, and it is possible to combine volunteer work with additional assignments for academic credit.  We have an established affiliation with the Sati Center, and it is possible to get academic credit for that program.

Can I contact you for further information and questions?

Yes! If you have questions and/or would like to schedule a visit please feel free to contact our Chaplaincy Program Coordinator Gesshin Greenwood at gesshin@shin-ibs.edu