Join us for Dharma and Justice: Abolition with guest panelists Jasmine Syedullah, Justin von Bujdoss, and Rima Vesely-Flad. This online event will take place on Tuesday, February 22, from 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm ET. Click here to register for the webinar.
*ASL Interpretation will be provided.
With nearly 2.3 million people locked up behind bars, the United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. Moreover, Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color are disproportionately targeted for criminalization and incarceration. With the Bodhisattva vow calling for the liberation of all beings, how should American Buddhists contend with the present reality of mass incarceration and its origins in the 13th Amendment? Are Buddhist notions of liberation aligned with the movement to abolish jails and prisons? Are there alternative ways of thinking about the current retributive justice system that are rooted in the dharma?
To engage with these challenging issues, Union Theological Seminary’s Thích Nhất Hạnh Program for Engaged Buddhism presents the Dharma and Justice Dialogues Series on Abolition. Please join guest panelists Jasmine Syedullah, Justin von Bujdoss, and Rima Vesely-Flad as they explore this important topic. Union students Weishin Huang and Gregory Smith will serve as facilitators for this rich conversation.
Dr. Rima Vesely-Flad is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Social Justice, and the Director of Peace and Justice Studies, at Warren Wilson College. She is the author of Black Buddhists and the Black Radical Tradition: The Practice of Stillness in the Movement for Liberation (NYU Press ,2022) and Racial Purity and Dangerous Bodies: Moral Pollution, Black Lives, and the Struggle for Justice (Fortress Press, 2017).
Jasmine Syedullah is a queer black feminist political theorist of abolition, as well as co-author of Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation (North Atlantic Books, 2016). She joined the Program of Africana Studies to teach prison studies at Vassar College in 2019 and holds the first Assistant Professor line there. Her current book, Stay Truant: The Loophole Matrix of Ms. Harriet Jacobs’s Anyday Abolition, reads the fugitive writings of formerly enslaved mother Harriet Jacobs’s and her abolitionist spirit of freedom as a protofeminist foundation for contemporary carceral race and gender studies.
Before joining the faculty at Vassar, Syedullah taught at the University of San Francisco and the University of California Santa Cruz where she completed her PhD in Politics with a designated emphasis in Feminist Studies and History of Consciousness. Her research is published in Abolition: A Journal of Insurgent Politics, The Journal of Contemporary Political Theory, Society and Space, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, and Truthout.
Out in the world, Dr Sy, as she is affectionately called, is a certified yoga teacher and mindfulness facilitator. She also supports the continued work of the Radical Dharma Movement Project by bringing embodied practices of liberation to spaces of social justice, community organizing, and institutional change across occupied Turtle Island.
Lama Justin von Bujdoss (Repa Dorje Odzer) is an American vajrayana Buddhist teacher, writer, and the is a co-founder of Bhumisparsha an experimental Buddhist sangha along with Lama Rod Owens. He is the author of Modern Tantric Buddhism: Authenticity and Embodiment in Dharma Practice published by North Atlantic Books, contributor to Buddhism and Whiteness: Critical Reflections published by Lexington Books. From 2018 through 2021 Lama Justin served as the Executive Director of Chaplaincy and Staff Wellness for NYC Department of Correction where he also served as Staff Chaplain from 2016 through 2021. He also has experience as a hospice and hospital chaplain as well. He was ordained as a repa, a lay tantric yogin in the tradition of Milarepa, by His Eminence Gyaltsab Rinpoche. Lama Justin has presented on Buddhist practice at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, University of Chicago, Wellesley, Columbia and has led retreats at a variety of dharma centers and is passionate about helping to create the conditions for authentic embodied tantric Buddhist spiritual practice in the West.
Weishin Huang (he/they) is a first-generation Chinese American, having immigrated to the U.S. with his family after the pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. They are dedicated to the work of healing and transforming the intergenerational impact of state violence, particularly for those involved in the criminal legal system. He is pursuing a dual degree in Buddhism and Interreligious Engagement at Union Theological Seminary and an MSW at Columbia School of Social Work. Previously, Weishin was a theater artist and worked in the NYC non-profit cultural and civic sector for nearly two decades. He is a sangha member of the Brooklyn Zen Center, where he also serves as the Board Chair.
Gregory Smith worked in the youth development field for 7 years before coming to Union Theological Seminary to pursue a Masters in Divinity studying Buddhism and Interreligious Engagement. While serving as a counselor and teacher within NYC public high schools, he received the Zen precepts from his Dharma teacher, Nancy Mujo Baker, in 2019. As a way to integrate spiritual practice with his professional life, Gregory enrolled at Union and presently serves as a chaplain intern at Rikers Island. He is currently interested in developing abolitionist informed systems of care.