Former Thai monk finds home as US Army chaplain

- through Henry Oudin

Published on


Songkran Waiyaka, a U.S. Army chaplain with the rank of captain, represents a unique bridge between distant cultures. Waiyaka served for 13 years as one of 10 Buddhists among more than 3 religious leaders in the U.S. military. Recently, he returned to his home country of Thailand to participate in joint military exercises between Thailand and the United States.

Born and raised in a farming family in Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand, Waiyaka was ordained as a priest. samanera (novice monk) in 1985 at the age of 13. In 1991, he was fully ordained at Wat Rajanaddaram in Bangkok, where he resided for 12 years.

Maha Vajiralongkorn, then crown prince, now king of Thailand, during a ceremony with Songkran Waiyaka in 1993. According to

Explaining the rules followed by monks in Thai Tharavada Buddhism, Waiyaka noted that as a novice he followed 10 precepts: “That was until I reached the age of 20; so I had 227 (precepts). (stars and stripes)

After his time in Bangkok, Waiyaka moved to the United States, where he served in a number of Buddhist communities, including Wat Buddhanusorn in Fremont, California, and others in the San Francisco Bay Area. There, he thought deeply about his next steps in life.

“If you keep a Buddhist monk in a monastery, how are they going to spread the Buddha's teachings to the world? Waiyaka said. (Army)

“I basically just retired,” Waiyaka said of her decision to strip down at age 35. “I wanted to try something different and be able to continue my experience without changing my identity. " (Army)

After leaving monastic life, Waiyaka continued his education and earned degrees in education and information technology. After that, he joined a training program run by the International Order of Buddhist Ministers, joining the U.S. Army Chaplain Candidate Program in 2011. To finalize his studies, he joined the Master of Divinity in Chaplaincy program Buddhist from the University of the West.


Today, after more than a decade of military service, Waiyaka says it hasn't been a big struggle.

“My first assignment was at Fort Stewart, Georgia, with the 703rd Brigade Support Battalion, and my battalion slogan was ‘hold the line,’” he said. "I talked to my commander and said, 'Sir, holding the line is not enough.' I wanted to add “maintain the spirit”. » (stars and stripes)

For Waiyaka, practicing mindfulness is important in our daily lives, but it is essential for soldiers. “If the soldier is weak, it’s not possible,” he said. “If they have a big six pack, big muscles, but their mind is weak, that’s not good. » (stars and stripes)

Waiyaka also felt that his military service allowed him to interact with and help more people than he could as a monk. “When I joined the military, I discovered that I had accomplished more than when I was a monk in America for 11 years,” he said. (stars and stripes)

Today, Waiyaka serves as battalion chaplain for the 53rd Transportation Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord Washington, where he serves the spiritual and moral needs of Soldiers and their families.

While welcoming all faiths and backgrounds, Waiyaka made it clear that in the military: “If you have the wrong mindset, everything is going to go wrong.” (Army)

“I promote people first,” Waiyaka said. “This is what I’m going to do for a living. (Army)

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Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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