The 2020-2021 Buddhist Chaplaincy Training Program will be an on-line training that combines virtual classes with activities that students complete in their homes and communities. This approach – learning on one’s own from home and also attending 1-day classes – makes it easier for students to participate while balancing work and family commitments.

  • The course runs from September to July.  We meet one Friday a month in Redwood City, CA.  More info about the location is here.
  • The faculty are Paul Haller, Gil Fronsdal, Christina Fernandez, and Jennifer Block. Paul, Gil and Jennifer co-created this training together in 2003, and have been co-leading it since then.  For faculty bios, click here.
  • The 10 Paramis/Paramitas are the theoretical framework of the training.  Each class is focused on one of these qualities of heart and mind that support and express compassion.  At the beginning of each class, a short dharma talk is given on the parami of the month.
  • Please note: this is a graduate level training that includes several self-directed learning components. Participants will be asked to commit to attending classes, reading and writing, and completing 100 hours of service.

Monthly Classes on Fridays

We meet in Redwood City, at Insight Meditation Center, a serene, spacious, comfortable dharma center with street parking and outdoor seating for the lunch break.  The site of the training is ADA compliant and fully accessible.

  • Attendance at each daylong classes is ideal, and it is OK to miss one class, but only one class.
  • Each class includes: meditation, a dharma talk, lectures & group discussion, lunch break, experiential learning exercises, and a brief ritual for use in chaplaincy
  • Audio recordings are made of lectures and presentations, and are available for download afterwards for those who miss a class, or wish to listen again.
  • Guest speaker presentations are offered throughout the year, by professionals working in the field of chaplaincy.

Topics covered:

  • History of Spiritual Care: applications and settings for spiritual care
  • Establishing spiritual care relationships, listening, spiritual counseling, communication
  • Spiritual assessment, ritual, collaboration with other professionals and disciplines
  • Buddhist practices related to spiritual care
  • Use of Self: boundaries and ethics of conduct, personal safety, etc.
  • Interfaith and multi-faith ministry
  • Ministry to death and dying, grief and loss

Who Attends

This training is designed for and welcoming to a diverse population.  With the intention to dissolve all barriers that perpetuate the suffering of separation, prejudice, and discrimination, we are dedicated to the inclusion of all races, classes, sexual orientations, gender identities, ages, disabilities, cultures, ethnicities, and other social identities.

  • Class size varies each year, from 15-30 people.  The age range is from 25 or so to 70 and beyond.
  • Participants come from all over the country, with 75% from the Bay Area.
  • Participants come from all Buddhist streams: Zen, Tibetan, Theravada, Pureland, eclectic, etc. and vary in age from 25 to 75, with a median age of 45.
  • During the year, we become a sangha and benefit from friendship, mutual learning, and shared practice.

Method of Learning

The educational method of this training is one of action and reflection, wherein students not only learn in class, but also apply their learnings in real life situations and then reflect on these. This is a tried and true method for the training and development of chaplains, ministers, therapists, and the like.   Click here for an explanation of this method, published in TAP into Learning (Winter 2000, vol. 3, issue 2).


Between classes, we rely on technology to communicate. Students need access to a computer and basic skills.

  • Group email: Between the September class and the October class, a group email address will be established. This allows the posting of emails to the entire group quickly and easily.
  • Course handouts: After each month’s class, relevant handouts are posted to a password-protected course website.

Learning Activities Between Classes

Volunteering: This is one of the most important components of the training. It allows students to put into practice what they learn in class and to bring to class their experiences in doing chaplaincy work. The requirement for the program is approximately 10 hours of such work every month for ten months. Students serve at hospitals, hospices, correctional facilities, etc. and are responsible for obtaining a position as such.  It is important that students find and begin a volunteer placement early in the program. Once accepted to this training, students should begin researching volunteer options. Each student will need to find his or her own placement by October. For a list of volunteer possibilities based on previous student experiences, click here.   We do not place participants at certain locations, per se.  That is the responsibility of the participants.

Reading:  The book list for the course is here.  Approximately 200 pages of book reading are assigned each month per a schedule provided at the first class.  In addition, approximately 50 pages of relevant articles are posted on the course website after each Friday class.

Writing Assignments: Students write 4 types of papers over the course of the year, as described below. Each student is assigned a faculty reader who reads all of his or her writings assignments for the entire year.  For a sampling of students writings, click here.

  • Eight DHARMA REFLECTION papers (1-2 pages each)
  • Four ACTION REFLECTION papers (4-6 pages each) based on first hand experiences on field trips or in volunteer work.
  • One RELIGIOUS HISTORY REFLECTION paper (3-5 pages) about one’s religious upbringing and its impact to this day.
  • One APPLIED DHARMOLOGY REFLECTION paper (4-6 pages) that articulates the core tenets of one’s spiritual practice and their application to an interaction from your volunteer work.

Mentor Interviews: Every other month you will have an interview with one of the faculty. Over the course of the program you will have the chance to interview with each of them. These are times to check in about the program, report about your experiences and challenges in offering spiritual care, and to explore your Dharma practice in relation to the work you are doing.

Small Group Meetings:  Students meet with 3-4 peers on a monthly basis.  Each group decides where and when to meet, based on their schedules.  The members of small groups are based on geographical location/proximity.  Long distance students are placed in a group together and often meet via Skype or Google chat.  The purpose of the small group meetings is to continue the learning process through peer discussion and exploration of the curriculum and volunteer experiences.

Field Trips: An important element of the program is going on field trips, some organized by the faculty (announced 1-2 months prior) and some self-initiated by the program participants.  Students are expected to take the initiative to go on field trips either alone or with other class members and can schedule these to suit their own interests and schedules. For example, a visit to a church or temple, attendance at an open AA meeting, serving food at a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen, or shadowing a hospital chaplain.