Buddhism is experiencing an extraordinary upswing in popularity in the armed forces.
Since 2005, the number of servicemen and women practising the religion has risen from 200 to 3,800. Around 2,800 are Gurkhas, whose home nation Nepal has pockets of Buddhism.
But the other 1,000 are British, with many converting since they joined the military.
According to spiritual leaders, the reason behind the phenomenon is that Buddhism allows service personnel to escape the stresses and strains of military life.
Sunil Kariyakarawana, the Buddhist chaplain for the armed forces, said: ‘Buddhism has a different perspective about things.
‘The military is a very stressful place. People go to war, that is one factor, and have to fight.
‘Personnel see a lot of suffering in theatre. People are finding that Buddhism can help with these mental agonies.
‘It is laid back and they can practise their own way.’
Dr Sunil said Buddha, who lived 2,500 years ago, never ruled out force: ‘Sometimes you have to choose war as the least bad option.’
Lieutenant Colonel Peter Straddings, who heads up cultural diversity for the Army, said the society was ‘hugely important’.
He said: ‘British society today is hugely different from the Army I joined 25 years ago. Approximately 25 per cent of young people are no longer white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
‘They are the future. They are the people who represented the country at the Olympics, at football and they are the people we need for the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force of the future.’
In 2005, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh chaplains were appointed by the armed forces for the first time.
The appointments reflect the increase in ethnic minority recruitment to the Army, Navy and RAF in recent years.
In a message to the society’s conference, the Dalai Lama said: ‘I believe that what makes a good soldier, sailor or airman, just as what makes a good monk, is inner strength.
‘Inner strength depends on having a firm positive motivation.
‘The difference lies in whether ultimately you want to ensure others’ well being or whether you wantonly wish to do them harm.’
(Ian Drury, Defence Correspondent)