Claude AnShin Thomas is a Vietnam combat veteran turned Zen Buddhist monk, author, and speaker who will explore the difference between the ideas of peace, non-violence, and pacifism and a commitment to the reality of “active" non-violence.
RSVP to ICTC@seattleu.edu; Zoom access details will be available closer to the event.
Although the news on Saturday morning, November 7, at last promised a reprieve from the bellicosity of the last four years, we remain a divided and broken country. In a healthier time, disagreements could give rise to productive debates. Now they seem tinged with the threat of violence. This also makes it difficult to address the many exigencies of our time, including the ecological crisis, systemic white supremacy and economic inequity, and the pandemic.
As a Buddhist priest in the Soto Zen tradition, I share, along with the ICTC, as well as members of the Interreligious Dialogue Initiative, the sense that these challenges drive us deeper into our spiritual practices for the requisite wisdom, patience, compassion, and action to respond to our hurting country and its emergencies. We cannot sow the seeds of nonviolence and healing unless we first have the courage to confront the roots of violence, including those in our own heart.
Following the ICTC’s winter theme "The Non-violent Shift," the first IDI speaker, Claude AnShin Thomas, will address the issue of non-violence from a Zen Buddhist perspective. As a teenager, Thomas fought in the Vietnam War as a helicopter gunner. As he confessed in his moving book, At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace (2004), “My job in Vietnam was to kill people. By the time I was first injured in combat (two or three months into my tour), I had already been directly responsible for the deaths of several hundred people. And today, each day, I can still see many of their faces." Returning home from the War, he suffered severe bouts of PTSD and lived a self-destructive and unstable life.
Thomas eventually took up the path of Zen. Bernie Glassman ordained him and gave him his Dharma name, AnShin, Heart of Peace (as well as Angyo, Peacemaker). He has dedicated his practice to non-violence and peace-making and this practice includes a rigorous practice of takuhatsu, Buddhist begging. He has walked almost 20,000 miles on peace pilgrimages, carrying no wallet and no money.
Claude AnShin Thomas learned to cultivate non-violence out of the hell of violence. He, and his nonprofit Zaltho Foundation, serve those who have undergone suffering and traumatic violence, helping them heal and sowing the seeds of peace. For more information, see: https://zaltho.org
Given the prevailing pandemic conditions, this will be a Zoom event at a date to be determined in February. I look forward to joining you as we learn from this remarkable peacemaker, healer, and powerful spokesperson for ahimsa, the way of nonviolence.
Jason M. Wirth
Tetsuzen Jason Wirth, Professor of Philosophy at Seattle University and a Soto Zen priest, offers a Dharma talk (speaking from the heart regarding the great matters of living and dying) that also seeks to offer some Zen words of encouragement during the current crisis. He begins with a brief reflection on a line from the Heart Sutra and then ties its thought to the words of Zen Master Dogen (1200-1253). In so doing, he tries to understand how Dogen would also have seen our crisis as a sutra, a moment the study of which can lead to an awakening and a deepening of our practice.
In the summer of 2019, Peter Ely invited me to be his successor as the leader of the Interreligious Dialogue Initiative (IDI) beginning in AY 2020-2021 and I accepted. I consider this a great honor and responsibility as we help facilitate the exploration of the many religious paths shared by members of the Seattle University community, both on campus and beyond, and as we deepen our respect for them and enrich our own paths by sharing in the wisdom and compassion of other paths. We will continue to feature a major speaker every academic quarter who will engage the Catholic intellectual and spiritual tradition by building bridges to and opening channels of communication with other traditions. I plan to dedicate my inaugural year to Peter Ely and his immeasurable legacy. May he rest in power and may his wise and kind spirit continue to guide us in our shared work across traditions.
This has been a difficult year for all of us. In addition to the many challenges that we have endured, some more than others, this time also saw the passing of Peter Ely, SJ, a cherished friend of many of us. As a founding member of what came to be called the Interreligious Dialogue Initiative (IDI), under Peter’s steady guidance, I witnessed not only his erudition and wisdom, but also his open heart. This inspired me deeply. Over the years I witnessed him engage in fair-minded debate with atheists, and dialogue appreciatively and generously with many of the world’s religious and spiritual paths.
In the months before his passing, Peter asked me to replace him as the head of the IDI. This was Peter’s way. Although earlier in my life I had been trained by the Jesuits (Saint Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco and the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester), my own lifelong discernment took me to Japan where I was ordained a priest in the Soto Zen lineage, which goes back to the great Kamakura master, Dōgen Zenji (1200-1253). Yet Peter recognized that my Zen training and commitment had opened me up to all sincere spiritual striving, regardless of its institutional or personal manifestations. Unless we consign our spiritual practices to escapist fantasy, they share with all other genuine and honest spiritual practices a commitment to the great matters of human living and dying. We consequently have much to learn from each other in open dialogue, debate, and philosophical engagement.
It remains my privilege and happiness to accept Peter’s offer and to walk in his admittedly large footsteps and I would like to dedicate my first year to his memory and legacy. Given the many challenges and opportunities that confront us, I hope to use Peter’s generous and radically open example as an inspiration and guide.
I am also happy to be working with my friend and colleague, Dr. Jeanette Rodriguez. I travelled with her and Dr. Ted Fortier to Cuernavaca, Mexico to stay with the Sisters of our Lady of Guadalupe and later with them to El Salvador. These two trips were deeply formative for me and they strengthened my resolve to engage in the important work of the IDI ahead. (It is now officially a part of the work of ICTC.) I also acknowledge here the wonderful work of Jessica Palmer, the assistant director of the ICTC. I plan to have updates and reflections in each issue of this newsletter.
The IDI will sponsor and organize one major public lecture each academic quarter. I am still busy planning this year’s events, but the first one will engage intersectional justice in an age of global migration and will likely be offered in early November. The winter lecture will engage the issue of non-violence from an interreligious Buddhist perspective. The spring lecture will engage our local indigenous sisters and brothers.
Please feel to contact me with questions and suggestions. It is my hope to offer spiritually rich and provocative programming that will nourish our whole community, religious and non-religious, traditionalists and seekers.
Tetsuzen Jason Wirth (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Following the ICTC’s winter theme "The Non-violent Shift," the first IDI speaker, Claude AnShin Thomas, will address the issue of non-violence from a Zen Buddhist perspective. Claude AnShin Thomas learned to cultivate non-violence out of experiencing violence. He, and his nonprofit Zaltho Foundation, serve those who have undergone suffering and traumatic violence, helping them heal and sowing the seeds of peace. For more information, see: https://zaltho.org
Robert Kennedy is one of three Jesuits in the world who answer to the titles “Father” and “Roshi” or venerable Zen teacher. He is not only a Jesuit priest and Zen master, but also a psychotherapist and former professor of theology at St Peter’s College in New Jersey. He is a representative of the Institute for Spiritual Consciousness in Politics at the United Nations. He is the author of Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit and Zen Gifts to Christians. Watch the recording of the lecture below:
When modern European Christian missionaries along with African apostles and converts translated the Holy Bible into African indigenous languages and myths, they simultaneously transmogrified the Yoruba deity Esu, the guardian of the Crossroads, into the biblical Satan. In many Christian communities throughout the Africa diaspora, the Crossroads became associated with a pathological site where a pact is to be struck with the Devil in exchange for knowledge and power; and the potential cost of this exchange is the loss of human lives or souls.
An alternative interpretation rooted in West African Yoruba cosmology holds that the Crossroads is a portal through which humanistic utopian impulses can be actualized. In this presentation, I explore the African Crossroads Matrix as a metaphor for both material and psychological sacrifice, appreciating lessons of the past, and embracing the potential of new ideas, both material and spiritual. These forces, I argue, make the Crossroads a zone for the exploration of future histories reflecting cosmopolitan ideals that uphold more equal post-hegemonic and even post-racial imaginations.
We often take for granted, in contemporary settings, how subjective definitions of spirituality, visions of moral order, and power are reified through knowledge production and the culture industry. I engage with two major artistic productions that reside at the center of the Crossroads Matrix: Fela! On Broadway (2008-2012) and Marvel’s Black Panther (2018), both conceived, funded and produced in North America but with stories, semiotics and aesthetic research done in Africa. These works challenge post-colonial geopolitics, modern global ethics, and Africa’s general exclusion from enjoying the full benefits of its natural and cultural resources.
Drawing on these themes, my presentation asks, who is a full person? Who is Cosmopolitan? Who controls narratives of the past, the present, and the speculative future? How have people of African heritage defined intellectual, semiotic, aesthetic and cultural expressions throughout periods of slavery, colonialism, dislocation, exile and migration? What have they done with timeless exposure to new ideas of spiritual and material significance? Do African-derived spiritual and humanist values deserve more recognition for their ability to absorb new ideas and pervade creative and expressive cultures on a global scale?
The Interreligious Dialogue Initiative (IDI) established in 2012 under the auspices of Mission and Ministry and now, as of Fall 2015, located within the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture (ICTC) aims to awaken sensibility in the Seattle U. community to the richness of the world’s religions, a richness abundantly represented on our campus, and to move beyond mere tolerance to engagement. The IDI steering committee includes on-campus representatives of various religious and spiritual traditions and key areas such as Campus Ministry, Theology and Religious Studies, and the School of Theology and Ministry. Beginning in the academic year 2019-2020, the IDI will be shifting its focus in a new direction. Each quarter IDI, in collaboration with various other groups and initiatives on campus, will sponsor a public forum designed to deepen awareness of religious traditions and spiritual pathways. We hope that these events will emphasize the continuing creative role of religions in a secular age.
Read the text from the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, Decree 5: “Our Mission and Interreligious Dialogue.” https://jesuitportal.bc.edu/research/documents/1995_decree5gc34/