Every summer, minds thirsting to discuss important religious, social and political issues of our time gather at the southwest corner of New York, the location of the not-for-profit Chautauqua Institution.
Chautauqua brings together prominent leaders and educators from around the world. This summer, the president of ABC News David Westin and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor are the keynote speakers.
Joining them as part of Chautauqua’s Special Studies program is Columbia College professor Anthony Alioto.
Alioto serves as the Schiffman Chair in Ethics and teaches religious studies, philosophy and history. He has been a recipient of the Outstanding Professor of the Year, Faculty Member of the Year and the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. He is also the author of “A History of Western Science” and “Toad Familiar.”
His students’ encouragements led him to apply for a position at Chautauqua.
“It was nice of them, but I had a vague idea about the institution and no real interest,” Alioto said.
To appease his students’ relentless at-
tempts for his application, he sent a copy of his class syllabus and the formal application to Chautauqua. It came back to him in
the spring in a mix of excitement and fear
when he received notification of his appoint-
ment to the Special Studies program.
Alioto is teaching a course that began Monday. The session focuses upon issues regarding “The Meteoric Rise of China and India.” Alioto’s course, “The Buddha and Buddhism,” will examine patterns of thought and spirituality, practice inner development through the dharma (the path to enlightenment) and get a general overview of the Buddha, according to the course syllabus.
Although Alioto was originally hesitant to accept the position, the opportunity to share something that he has devoted a large part of his life to led him to accept the position.
“I am fortunate enough to teach a hobby,” Alioto said. “No, it’s more than a hobby. It’s a lifestyle.”
Meditation and the practice of mindfulness outside the classroom have been routine for Alioto for the past 20 years.
“Siddhartha,” a novel by Herman Hesse, brought Alioto into an out-of-the-ordinary, new world where pain and suffering is a valued part of everyday life. He later met Buddhists while serving in the Army, and he continued to study this area of religion by visiting different Buddhist monasteries.
“I am not just an observer, looking at some dusty artifact, but an internal practicer,” Alioto said.
He believes he has much to offer the institute.
“I’m not the great Dalai Lama,” Alioto said. “But I do hope to give people a good experience that may help others gain interest in Buddhism.”
While not teaching, Alioto plans to get lost in the atmosphere that Chautauqua has to offer.
“Wandering around, listening to lectures on religious studies, art presentations and trying not to make a nuisance out of myself would be nice,” Alioto said.
For $52.50 a day, anyone can take part in the serene atmosphere, expansive recreational facilities, religious ceremonies that reflect Chautauqua’s Christian heritage and educational courses tailored to various age groups.
The nine-week session has a different focus each week which includes the media and news, family, 21st century cities and the future.