Be the Change You Seek, Buddhist Scholars Tell Allegheny Students

Many people underestimate the importance of living a life centered around a disciplined spiritual practice rooted in self reflection, a life that can give birth to the gift of mindfulness and the dramatic, positive change it can bring into their lives.

That’s the message shared by Claude AnShin Thomas, a Zen Buddhist monk, and Wiebke KenShin Andersen, a Zen Buddhist nun, who are in residency this semester at Allegheny College.

“If we want the world to be different, we need to live differently because we cannot think ourselves into a new way of living,” AnShin said in a recent interview. “We have to live ourselves into a new way of thinking.”

In order to better the world, we must not only preach what we believe, but actively participate in it — to be the change we seek, AnShin said.

Claude AnShin Thomas, a Zen Buddhist monk, and Wiebke KenShin Andersen, a Zen Buddhist nun, are teaching a class in the Philosophy/Religious Studies Department at Allegheny in the fall 2018 semester.

KenShin and AnShin are teaching a class in addition to visiting other classes and leading weekly meditations this semester.

AnShin also will give a public talk on Thursday, Nov. 15, titled, “Healing Division — What Am I Afraid Of?” At the end of his talk, he will encourage dialogue through questions. The talk will start at 7 p.m. in the Tippie Alumni Center.

His experience of childhood violence, of having been a combat soldier in the Vietnam War, and now being an ordained monk for 24 years allows AnShin to speak from an engaged personal perspective as well as an informed perspective from having studied in the well-established spiritual tradition of Zen Buddhism, he said. AnShin is a Meadville native and said he began Buddhist practice as a way to address his own post-traumatic stress disorder that resulted from his combat service in the Vietnam War. One of his proudest accomplishments, he said, is having walked over 46,000 miles on pilgrimages worldwide in order to promote peace in the world.

KenShin said their goal while they are at Allegheny is to simply honor the invitation from the College — and to become a part of the larger community. KenShin is a German citizen who has built strong connections with the German-speaking community in Meadville. She attributes this to the large number of German immigrants who have settled in the area.

AnShin and KenShin note that, surprisingly, some members of the Parkhurst dining staff at Allegheny speak German, and that they have formed a friendly relationship with them.

The constant and vicious cycles of war, violence, and suffering are detrimental to the well-being of our world and communities, said KenShin. “In order to recognize the failures in our world, we must first acknowledge our own personal frailties,” she said.

The two of them cannot force students to apply the principles they are teaching; their job is to “set the table” for students, said Anshin. “We provide the resources and support necessary, but cannot implement the practices into the individual lives of students,” he said.

“In their previous residencies on campus, AnShin and KenShin made such an impact on students, faculty and staff, and the community at large, that we wanted to have them with us for an extended period of time,” said Jane Ellen Nickell, Allegheny chaplain and associate dean. “Having them teach and visit other classes, offer workshops and regular meditation sessions, and meet with a range of groups has allowed us to embed mindfulness practice and Buddhist teachings more deeply into campus life. Our hope was to better equip folks for dealing with stress and an understanding of a major world religion that under-represented on our campus.”

To learn more about AnShin’s story, you can read his book, “At Hell’s Gate – A Soldiers Journey From War To Peace,” (Shambhala Publications) about his experiences, or visit the website of his foundation, which was formed to work with other veterans.