Vietnam veteran, Zen Buddhist monk to lead meditation retreat
Camden — Claude AnShin Thomas, Vietnam veteran, Zen Buddhist monk and author, will visit the Midcoast during the first week of May.
Founder of the Zaltho Foundation, AnShin is dedicated to promoting peace and nonviolence among individuals, families, societies and countries. Originally from Northwestern Pennsylvania, Thomas joined the U.S. Army in 1965 and volunteered for duty in Vietnam. There he served as a helicopter crew chief from September 1966 to November 1967, a time during which he was shot down on five separate occasions and wounded.
As a soldier, AnShin experienced the type of violence that imprints on one's soul. He was injured and suffered the abnormal reality of being required and encouraged to kill as many enemy troops as possible. He received 27 Air Medals, the equivalent of 625 combat hours, as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart. He received an honorable discharge in August of 1968.
Thomas returned to the U.S. to find a country that in theory supported the war, but practiced a very different reality. He saw and related on a deep personal level to the suffering that his fellow veterans were experiencing: the divorce, drug addiction, unemployable, high rates of suicide, homelessness and imprisonment. He became increasingly politically active, dedicating his energy toward ending the war in Vietnam and working to address the plight of veterans who were returning to a state of being ostracized and of nonacceptance.
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress plagued AnShin to the point of dysfunction. The war indelibly in his mind, and eventually found himself homeless, spending stints in jail, unemployed, and addicted to drugs and alcohol. Images of the war replayed in his mind and ultimately led to the destruction of his marriage and abandonment of his children.
He spent time wandering the globe, including Europe, Asia and Iran, and eventually returned to Boston. Still severely affected by post-traumatic stress disorder, he began working with a Cambridge social worker who encouraged him to attend a retreat for Vietnam veterans run by the well-known Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, N.Y. where he studied various forms of mindfulness meditations. This led him to travel to France to work directly with the Vietnamese community there, and to a peace pilgrimage to Auschwitz, where Thomas took 16 vows to become a Zen Peacemaker. He was given two new names: AnShin (Heart of Peace) and Angyo (Peacemaker). The man previously tortured by the violence he had suffered and committed became a man dedicated to bringing peace to all those with whom he came in contact.
As an ordained Zen Buddhist monk, AnShin embraces his call to peace by organizing and participating in peace pilgrimages. He leads groups of monks on foot, clothed only in robes and carrying no money, through towns where they beg for food and lodging. This zen practice is rooted in the Buddhist virtue called dāna, and the belief is that the act of giving benefits those who give as much as those who receive. People in the Midcoast are invited to host AnShin and his assistant as a part of this practice.
As Thomas said in 1999, ""The act of giving itself is of immeasurable benefit to the giver: for it opens up the heart, diminishes for a moment one's self-absorption, and places value on the well-being of others. The simple gesture of offering a flower, or an act of service, a kind thought or a simple meal is in fact a sincere form of practice. The size or value of the gift is of almost no importance - the act of giving itself generates a thought-moment devoid of greed and full of loving kindness."
Currently, AnShin participates in meditation retreats and workshops with war veterans throughout the United States and Europe. The workshop that will take place Saturday, May 4 at the Camden Opera House will lead veterans, their family and support through mindful meditation practices, that can help heal the wounds of trauma as an alternative or addition to more tradition therapies.
The workshop will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., (sign-in from 9 to 9:45 a.m.) and is open to war veterans, their family (above 16 years old only) and support. The fee for the day, which includes lunch and coffee, tea and water, is $30 per person. Pre-registration is required by contacting Jay Mason at firstname.lastname@example.org or 650-0149.
In addition to the workshop, a presentation and book signing of Thomas' book, "At Hell's Gate: A Soldier's Journey from War to Peace" will take place at the Owl and Turtle book store on Bay View Street in Camden Wednesday, May 1, at 6:30 p.m.
"Peace is not an idea. Peace is not a political movement, not a theory or a dogma. Peace is a way of life: living mindfully in the present moment... It is not a question of politics but of actions. It is not a matter of improving a political system or even taking care of homeless people alone. These are valuable but will not alone end war and suffering. We must simply stop the endless wars that rage within... Imagine, if everyone stopped the war in themselves — there would be no seeds from which war could grow," Claude Anshin Thomas said in a news release.
For more information about Claude AnShin and his works, or for interviews, visit Zaltho Foundations website at zaltho.org.