The Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) is pleased to announce that Dr. Lilu Chen, who brings a mix of impressive academic training with chaplaincy experience, will be serving as the new Field Education Director.
Chen will develop relationships with field education sites, and support students in the IBS Master of Divinity Program as they fulfill their field education requirements. Field education can be completed at a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) site such as a hospital, as well as in volunteer settings such as a Buddhist temple, prisons, or nonprofits. Students can also propose their own sites.
“I have a strong appreciation for field education because it’s about taking what you learn and applying it to the real world, then seeing what you’re doing out in the world and understanding how that applies to what you’re learning at IBS,” Chen said.
She will also be teaching a course called “Concurrent Field Study” to support students while they are working at their field education sites.
“As the Field Education Director, I’ll be helping students find volunteer sites that relate to their interests and personal growth goals,” she said. “I want students to find a balance between what’s appropriately challenging and what’s doable for them at this stage in their life. My hope is that students will walk away from their field education experience and say, ‘I’m glad I did that. I learned something about myself. I feel more confident in my skills and connected to this community.’ Whether they are serving in temples, hospitals, or with specific populations, I believe field education is a golden opportunity for personal growth and connection in the world.”
Chen’s resume is a unique mix of academic training and hands-on chaplaincy experience. She completed her Ph.D. in Religious Studies at Stanford University, where her focus was on Islamic history in China.
Chen is a Buddhist practitioner at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, where she also facilitates the Asian Dharma Circle, a biweekly group for Asian American meditators.
Her extensive chaplaincy experience includes working as a chaplain intern at Kaiser Permanente San Leandro; as a chaplain resident at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City; and completing the yearlong Sati Center for Buddhist Studies Chaplaincy training program.
Chen said that of “all the places I’ve done chaplaincy, I’ve had meaningful encounters that have stayed with me.
“I think any time you’re with someone who’s going through some kind of life crisis or health crisis, you can get close to the places of the human experience that feel very vulnerable, very real,” she said. “That’s why I like the work. It grounds me to what’s really important in life … it feels like such an honor to accompany people at the end of their life or after they’ve had a major change to their health.”
Born in southern China, Chen moved to the United States when she was 5 and grew up mostly in the Pacific Northwest. She describes feeling called to chaplaincy work after becoming a mother. The experience of being in the hospital piqued her interest.
“At the time, I was not familiar with hospitals at all,” she recalled. “I had a difficult medical experience. But the acts of kindness I received as a patient were so meaningful. That’s when I realized that this might be an interesting place to serve and to apply the Dharma.”
Cultivating joy is an essential component to how she approaches chaplaincy work.
“Sometimes, people think that chaplains only deal with death and grief,” she said. “Certainly, that is a big part. But we also help people identify their joys and what’s meaningful in their life — to celebrate that. As ministers and chaplains, we also need joy to sustain ourselves. For me, spending time with my children and being in nature nourish me so I can be more fully present for patients. Cultivating joy is what makes this work sustainable.”
At home, Chen enjoys crocheting and has a pet cockatiel. She said she loves the experience of live music and often attends shows and music festivals with her husband.
“Dr. Chen’s background in religious studies and Buddhist chaplaincy is a perfect fit for IBS’s mission,” said IBS Dean of Students Dr. Scott Mitchell. “I’m looking forward to working with her to develop practical education opportunities for our students to help them become more effective ministers and chaplains.”