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Pentagon Meditation Club

The year was 1988. President Reagan was busy selling us on something called the SDI program that was supposed to shoot down ICBMs before they could hit us, an impossible dream but the cold war was still going strong.

I was a young Tech Sergeant in the USAF, stationed at the Pentagon after a wonderful eye-opening three year tour in Korea. There I'd spent as much time as I could at a little temple close to the base, learning Korean Zen. I'd been traveling deeper into the Koans and Metta Practice and well understood the paradox of a warrior practicing Buddhism. In fact, I would retire from the service within a couple of years.

But in the meantime, I was happy to find out from a flier that there was an actual Meditation Club in the Pentagon that met at lunchtime for an hour every day. This club was founded and ran by Ed Winchester, a civil service guy who took some TM classes and fancied himself a bit of a psychic. My personal opinion was that he was a bit of a nut, actually, but a harmless if determined nut who had to fight the many fundamentalist Christians to be allowed a tiny room for an hour each day. In fact he was suspended and would have been fired several times over this little meditation group after their complaints, if it wasn't nearly impossible to fire a civil servant unless you were gay or a communist.

So for lunch I would eat my little hot dog at the center park, then wander over to join maybe a half dozen meditators of every type and discipline for a brief relaxing break and we took turns discussing our various approaches. One day a photographer arrived, with official permission to write a story about us. There were the usual regulars there that day and we were asked to meditate while they took our picture. I don't know what they expected. It was cold outside so we were meditating inside, and the tiny room had a big table and chairs in it and not enough space to sit on the floor, so all they got was people sitting in chairs with their eyes closed.

The result was, I have a picture of myself in Time magazine, April 25, 1988 edition, as a young man meditating in a chair with some other misfits at the Pentagon. I am not named (the Pentagon would only allow them to interview Ed Winchester) but there I am. The club is still going strong, I hear. Ed Winchester retired eventually.

But hey, I was pictured in Time magazine! That used to be a big thing back before the internet killed off the magazines and newspapers. That's me in the blue Air Force uniform shirt.

Time.jpg 426.9K
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Comments

  • @Cinorjer said:

    That's very cool. Congratulations!

    I wonder how the group's going with the new P-E! Do you think ol' Trumpo will be in lotus position, deep in meditation, clearing his mind, dismantling his ego? Oh, for sure!

    Where's that picture someone put up on another post with him wearing robes and discussing how he's the most ego-less?

    Cinorjer
  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran
    edited November 2016

    There's been quite a fight over the last ten years to pry the fundamentalist Christian stranglehold from the military. I think the problem started with Reagan and his close relationship with Billy Graham and a huge push by the Southern Baptists to put Chaplains everywhere. But they began going too far, as usual, and wanted to turn our military into Christian crusaders. It's still a fight going on today, but we do have some rules in place now giving other religions some if not equal rights.

    herbertoDakini
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    Fascinating! Good on you...... =)

    Cinorjer
  • TravellerTraveller East Midlands UK Veteran

    Very interesting @Cinorjer. Off topic but slightly related my dad used to say that being in the RAF turned him into a pacifist.

    Cinorjerlobster
  • VastmindVastmind Memphis, TN Veteran
    edited November 2016

    ' bit of a nut, actually, but a harmless if determined nut who had to fight the many fundamentalist Christians to be allowed a tiny room for an hour each day. In fact he was suspended and would have been fired several times over this little meditation group after their complaints, if it wasn't nearly impossible to fire a civil servant unless you were gay or a communist.'

    You talkin' about me? hahaha. .. in 2016...yep...that's me, the nut on the Fed campus still fighting the good fight.

    Good news: Still nearly impossible to fire a civil servant...so I don't have to worry about my direct deposit stopping bec people hate my soapbox full of diversity ;) B)

    loved the throwback pic and story!!! Thanks for sharing!

    Cinorjerdhammachick
  • Tee Hee!

    Bravo. The First Earth Manual was at the time controversial but created by the military and circulated to top American military. Way ahead of its time, it envisages the real battle/jihad/interior fight.

    Soft-war software warfare - the cyber battlefield is now the sharp edge of protection and eventual global peace.

    Wage Peace. Iz plan.

    Cinorjer
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    A strange confluence, that between the military objectives and the encouragements of religion. I don't know of a religion/spiritual persuasion that does not say, give or take a little, "thou shalt not kill." This ruling is generally said to come from the highest possible authority ... "god."

    And yet chaplains in (at least the US) military are sworn in as officers. You might think their primary fealty would be to one god or another and all else would be secondary. But an officer swears fealty first and foremost to the Constitution of the United States. Let push come to shove and "god" takes a back seat to whatever violence the arbiters of the Constitution may determine. In short, the first duty of a military chaplain is to set aside the central tenet of his profession... god almighty, or something similar.

    It's not a job I envy him or her... forswearing what you swear you love.

    CinorjerlobsterVastmindkusalo
  • kusalokusalo Monterey, California New

    Somehow only now did I stumble upon this quality thread, thanks Cinorjer and other contributors. Amazingly informative and interesting stuff -- an example of why visiting New Buddhist is such a "must visit" even though I seldom post.

    This topic, especially the post by genkaku, caused the song "Sky Pilot" by The Animals to pop into my head.

    https://youtube.com/watch?v=fAQARGetpRw

  • @Cinorjer said:
    There's been quite a fight over the last ten years to pry the fundamentalist Christian stranglehold from the military. I think the problem started with Reagan and his close relationship with Billy Graham and a huge push by the Southern Baptists to put Chaplains everywhere. But they began going too far, as usual, and wanted to turn our military into Christian crusaders. It's still a fight going on today, but we do have some rules in place now giving other religions some if not equal rights.

    No wonder so many on the Right are foaming at the mouth over Islam. That's a very dangerous mentality to have and to be pushing in the military (italicized). Thanks for this little window into the Pentagon.

  • DakiniDakini Veteran
    edited December 2016

    @genkaku said:
    A strange confluence, that between the military objectives and the encouragements of religion. I don't know of a religion/spiritual persuasion that does not say, give or take a little, "thou shalt not kill." This ruling is generally said to come from the highest possible authority ... "god."

    And yet chaplains in (at least the US) military are sworn in as officers. You might think their primary fealty would be to one god or another and all else would be secondary. But an officer swears fealty first and foremost to the Constitution of the United States. Let push come to shove and "god" takes a back seat to whatever violence the arbiters of the Constitution may determine. In short, the first duty of a military chaplain is to set aside the central tenet of his profession... god almighty, or something similar.

    It's not a job I envy him or her... forswearing what you swear you love.

    Think of the (grand total of 2) Buddhist chaplains in the US military. They must really have to compromise their values, especially when they're asked to assist with recruitment activities.
    But I'm glad they're there, to help those servicemen and -women who may need them. I don't know how they manage to comfort people under such circumstances; soldiers who come to them feeling troubled about their role in the war, but they do.

  • ajhayesajhayes Northern Michigan Veteran

    I was stationed in Korea (when I was in the Army) too, @Cinorjer I was stationed at Camp Castle, near Dongducheon. Were you at Seoul, by chance? I took a tour of the base in 2002 and it was amazing (comparatively).

    It is also where I was first introduced to Buddhism, at a temple called Jajaeam, at Mt. Soyosan. Korea was the only place other than my hometown that actually felt like home. I have nothing but good to say about there.

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