Veterans Day is a secular holiday, but many religious congregations participate in the annual tribute to those who have served in the U.S. armed forces. This week’s clergy discuss their outreach to veterans through fundraising, prayers and invitations to worship.
The Rev. Ned Wight
Interim Senior Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock
The Unitarian Universalist (UU) Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset has a history of outreach to veterans through worship, community partnerships and philanthropy. Every Memorial Day, we gather in worship to honor veterans, recognizing their service and their sacrifice, as well as lifting up the UU principle of “world community with peace, liberty and justice for all” in the hope that we may someday make warfare unnecessary. At other times of the year, we invite guest preachers such as the Rev. Chris Antal, a UU military chaplain, to expand our understanding of critical issues, including moral injury among veterans. We have forged a relationship with United Veterans Beacon House, headquartered here on Long Island, providing food and clothing for their pantries and thrift shops to assist local veterans. We also provide space to a new local group, Here to Help Military and Families, which offers free psychological counseling for military, veterans and families. Through our Large Grants Program, we have been able to make substantial grants to United Veterans Beacon House and other veterans’ service organizations, particularly focused on creating affordable housing. Our congregation belongs to the national Unitarian Universalist Association based in Boston, which supports an active military chaplaincy program and is committed to providing outreach to veterans. Finally, we seek to extend hospitality to veterans and their families who visit our congregation, assuring them that they will find a warm welcome here from both veteran and non-veteran members of our congregation.
Former Buddhist monk and Buddhism instructor in the greater New York City area
Currently, there is no singular ritual, ceremony or custom of honoring war veterans that is shared by all Buddhist traditions. However, speaking from my own background in Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, we do send blessings to war veterans during various chanting rituals. One such ritual is called the “offering to those with burning throats.” During this ritual, participants single-mindedly chant from a liturgy that tells the story of those who have died in tragic circumstances and who now live in a lonely, depressed and painful condition. The text also describes how they can be freed from their suffering. The hope is that by chanting this liturgy as an offering, those lonely beings can hear the teaching and transcend their misery. This practice has been done for at least a few hundred years, and its history has been linked to similar rituals in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Apart from specific rituals that are designed primarily to serve the deceased, in modern American Buddhism, various organizations offer activities to living veterans. Whether it be meditation retreats or support groups, these programs teach the participants how to use introspection, meditation and mindful living as a way to help themselves look deeply into their pain. By looking deeply, many veterans have found a way to reconcile with themselves and those whom they felt resentment toward, and have transformed their suffering into freedom. Although this has not yet developed into a unified tradition of honoring veterans, Buddhism is now helping serve and support our veterans, offering methods and concepts to help our wounded soldiers find healing within themselves and within their community.
Teacher, Gayatri Gyan Kendra of Long Island, Melville
According to Vedic Scriptures, the oldest Scriptures of Hinduism, society is divided into four categories, according to a person’s work and duty. The four categories are: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra. Kshatriya are military personnel with a duty to protect people, society and the nation from enemies. Kshatriya were considered a very important part of Hindu society and were highly honored. However, veterans are a product of war, and if there is no war, there are no veterans. The death of even one soldier in war affects many people, including parents who lose a son or daughter, a husband or wife who loses a spouse or family members who lose a relative. Therefore, the Hindu religion believes in nonviolence and peace. We will try to avoid war by discussion, negotiation and peace talks. If the opposing party does not agree to resolve a conflict by peaceful and nonviolent means, then the last resort will be to go to war. An example from Indian history is the Mahabharata War, which could not be avoided, about 4,000 years ago. The Lord Krishna tried to make peace between two rival families, the Kauravas and the Pandavas. However, the head of the Kaurava family refused to negotiate, resulting in thousands of people killed in that war. Family members may put the tilak mark on the forehead of the person who is heading for war. The family will also say special prayers for the protection of their family member. The Hindu believe that the collective prayers are a very powerful tool to stop war early and with minimum damage.