Military Buddhist Chapel Represents Tolerance After accusations of religious intolerance in 2005, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., built the first Buddhist chapel on a U.S. military base. These days, cadets who visit the chapel say their attendance is met with curiosity, not disdain.
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Military Buddhist Chapel Represents Tolerance

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Military Buddhist Chapel Represents Tolerance

Military Buddhist Chapel Represents Tolerance

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

NPR's Jeff Brady visited a Buddhist chapel at the Air Force Academy.

JEFF BRADY: This 300 square-foot space is the only Buddhist chapel on a U.S. military base. It was built two years back with a private foundation paying the $85,000 construction bill.

(SOUNDBITE OF A GONG)

BRADY: Unidentified Man: Ti-Sarana.

(SOUNDBITE OF A GONG)

IN UNISON: I take refuge in the wakening...

BRADY: Green tea is served, incense is burning, and there are long periods of silent meditation before Sarah Bender - the sensei, or leader - begins her talk.

SARAH BENDER: The Dao also means the way it is. Right? The way is also just the way it is. It's what's real. And the Buddha talked about what's real and how do we touch what's real.

BRADY: Eighteen-year-old Tanner Faulkner is attending a prep school at the academy. This is his second visit to the Buddhist chapel. He says he feels encouraged to explore his religious curiosity.

TANNER FAULKNER: They were so open about - especially during basic training - they, you know, they let us know, you know, hey, we have this available for you. And it is possible for you to go to different services, whether you're Jewish faith or Buddhist or Christian - or it's whatever. We have it available for you and all you have to do is ask.

BRADY: Dan Dwyer is a sophomore cadet and he wasn't here back then, but he says now his fellow cadets seem to have respect for his religion.

DAN DWYER: People wonder where, like, I go every Wednesday. I tell them I go to the Buddhist, like, service. And it's just more of a, like, curiosity rather than judgment. It's like, oh, how is that? And so I tell them.

BRADY: Sensei Sarah Bender says she has plenty of questions herself about whether it's ever right to kill in order to stop further harm. But Bender says she leaves the academy every Wednesday evening, feeling like this is where she's supposed to be.

BENDER: People in the military come up for real against questions that most of us just consider abstractly. The questions of Buddhism are the questions of life and death. So, where else would you want Buddhism than right there where those questions are most vivid?

BRADY: Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.

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