Dear TACBS Members:

    Time has flied by so fast; without any notice, plume flowers are beginning to blossom, signaling the coming of a new season. I wish you all a happy, safe, and prosperous New Year.

    The Taiwan Association of Clinical Buddhist Studies (TACBS) is founded in response to the growing demands for spiritual guidance for terminally ill patients in hospice/palliative care and their families. In the nascence of its development, our association concentrates initially on training clinical Buddhist chaplains and fostering spiritual cares and related researches indigenous to the culture of Taiwan. Nearly two decades ago, many terminal cancer patients committed suicide in the face of unbearable physical and mental sufferings while some were deprived of dignity as they begged on their knees for anything that would stop the pain. Though the situations have been improved with the introduction of hospice/palliative care, many terminally ill patients remain deeply tormented by the mental and spiritual unrests accompanied by the anguish of imminent death. These spiritual unrests are caused by as well as causing loss of self-respect, self-abandonment, attachment (e.g., reluctance, worries, ties and regrets), fear of death, and unfulfilled wishes. Of these spiritual unrests, fear of death is the most prominent in terms of clinical manifestation, and attachment and unfulfilled wishes the most deterrent to a good death.

    Hospice/palliative care aims at promoting all-encompassing services caring the body, mind, and spirit of every patient. However, the quality of early hospice/palliative care in Taiwan was crippled by the serious scarcity of professionally-trained spiritual caretakers and the virtual absence of spiritual care in the education system and academic community. Consequently, entrusted by Buddhist Lotus Hospice Care Foundation and Yi-Ju Sanctuary Hospice Care Association, the Palliative Ward at National Taiwan University Hospital started in 1997 to commence researches geared to develop an indigenous spiritual care model for terminal cancer patients. Results of the researches were applied in 2000 to the training of clinical Buddhist chaplains who, upon graduation were referred to palliative wards, home cares, and joint palliative care teams throughout Taiwan. Up to this date, clinical Buddhist chaplains can be seen in the forefront providing spiritual cares for terminal cancer patients in nearly 30 hospitals island-wide.  Thanks to their unique religious and spiritual learning background, clinical Buddhist chaplains are able to better interact with terminal patients in reflecting on life and death and practicing dharma, greatly reducing the patients’ anguish and fear, helping them fulfill the purpose of life in the limited time left, and guiding them on their journey to a peaceful death. And it is a genuine blessing that this revolutionary training program has achieved results highly recognized by all the host hospitals.

    Development of clinical Buddhist chaplaincy requires multi-dimensional considerations. The professional role of clinical Buddhist chaplains in hospice/palliative care, for example, needs to be clearly defined. Also essential are the development of core knowledge and clinical guidelines for an indigenous spiritual care integrating Buddhism and medicine, the establishment of formal credential programs for clinical Buddhist chaplains, the implementation of clinical training performance assessment, the development of clinical dharma practice and evaluation of its benefits, and the promotion of life-and-death studies and education to patients’ families, members of medical teams, and the general public through the practice of clinical Buddhist palliative care. All these are key factors affecting the quality of palliative cares and social education. Taiwan Association of Clinical Buddhist Studies (TACBS) was accordingly founded in 2007 with the goal of “integrating medical researches and Buddhist studies to promote the development of clinical Buddhist spiritual care, hospice/palliative care, and life education.” In order to realize the goal, TACBS has its efforts centered around the following missions: (1). Blending Buddhism into medical researches to develop an indigenous model of spiritual care and to enhance the quality of caring for terminal patients; (2). Planning and hosting research activities and education programs related to clinical Buddhist spiritual and palliative care; (3). Incorporating hospice/palliative care and life education as integral components of health promotion activities and courses; and (4). Assisting in the professional education of clinical Buddhist chaplains and facilitating ongoing developments and researches.

    Evolving around the center of clinical Buddhist chaplains, TACBS dedicates itself to providing spiritual care for terminally ill patients and offers itself as a platform that benefits patients and their families through the integration of core Buddhist wisdom with contemporary medicine, helping thereby to render Buddhist spiritual care an essential link in modern healthcare. At this nascence of its development, TACBS finds its top priority in assisting and working with our members to help the general public obtain a clear understanding of the nature and meanings of clinical Buddhist palliative and spiritual care. We will therefore host a series of “Getting to Know Clinical Buddhist Palliative Care” consensus-building seminars during the first half of 2008. The first seminar will be focused on learning from Buddhist masters to find the key for opening one’s heart to Buddhism and tasting the flavor of dharma. In subsequent seminars, experts specializing in various fields related to hospice/palliative care will be invited to comment on the roles of clinical Buddhist care from their professional perspectives, to share experiences and exchange ideas so as to build up in our members a common awareness.

    A famous Zen poem goes as “Empty-handed, I hold a hoe./ Walking on foot, I ride a buffalo./Passing over a bridge, I see/The bridge flow, but not the water.” At first glance, the poem seems to make no sense. A closer and deeper look, however, suggests that the author may be using the bridge as a metaphor for life, and the water for time. Viewed from a transcendental perspective, the bridge with both ends marked symbolizes our finite and evanescent life while the water stays still because it flows everlastingly into the never-ending infinity. What are destined to perish are the bridge and the people it carries; our life, our physical, human life, is limited and will eventually cease to exist. Nonetheless, true life (i.e. the dharma life and the wisdom it embodies) lives on forever. We all need to cultivate spiritual growth and enlightenment in pursuit of the true life. This is perhaps the most precious gift one can learn from the Buddhist palliative care.

    It is the dawn of 2008 lunar New Year. I sincerely pray to all people with karmic connection with the clinical Buddhist spiritual palliative care to explore their own dharma nature and to gain dharma wisdom, to enhance the inner power residing in each sentient being, to pursue wellbeing and happiness for each family as well as the whole society, and to create a pure land on earth where everyone can live in oneness and wholeness, in joy and harmony.

    Best wishes        

 Ching-Yu Chen

2008 Lunar New Year

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Taiwan Association of Clinical Buddhist Studies

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