Zen Buddhist monk to host local events

Apr 10, 2014
Claude AnShin Thomas

Claude AnShin Thomas, a decorated Vietnam veteran, Zen Buddhist monk, author and international advocate of nonviolence will be returning to Maine in April for three events.

There will be two evening presentations of "Finding Ways to Heal Our Wounds" in Orono, Wednesday, April 23, at 7:30 p.m. and Camden Opera House April 25 at 7 p.m. On Saturday, April 26, at Point Lookout in Northport, there will be a day-long meditation workshop with focus on veterans suffering post traumatic stress and people with trauma experience.

As founder of the Zaltho Foundation, Thomas is dedicated to promoting peace and nonviolence among individuals, families, societies and countries around the world. Thomas also brings his teachings to veterans and others dealing with the aftermath of the traumas of war and violence.

Thomas enlisted in the Army in 1965 and volunteered for duty in Vietnam where he served as a helicopter crew member and crew chief. Between September 1966 and November 1967, he was shot down on five occasions and he was wounded. As a combat soldier, he experienced the war's realities. For his actions, he received 27 Air Medals (the equivalent of 675 combat hours), the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Purple Heart. After spending several months recovering from his injuries, Thomas was given an Honorable Discharge in August 1968.

Like so many other Vietnam veterans, Thomas returned to a country divided and in turmoil over the war. Returning veterans then, like now, were experiencing high rates of alcohol and drug addiction, unemployment, divorce, homelessness, and imprisonment. Seeing what was happening around him, he became politically active, dedicating his energy toward ending the war in Vietnam and working with veterans who were facing non-acceptance and who were being socially ostracized for their service.

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress plagued Thomas bringing him to the point of being dysfunctional. The memories of the war were indelibly etched in his mind. He married but his marriage dissolved quite quickly. He had a son by another relationship but was unable to sustain this relationship and abandoned this family. Eventually, he found himself addicted to drugs and alcohol, rarely employed, homeless, and doing sporadic stints in jail.

Thomas traveled extensively and until he settled in the Boston area where he began treating his post traumatic stress. A social worker that he was working with suggested he attend a retreat for Vietnam veterans held at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, N.Y. This was facilitated by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author. Later on, Thomas spent time studying with this monk who had become his teacher. After a peace pligrimage from Auschwitz, Poland to Vietnam, Thomas took the vows of a Zen Buddhist Monk in the Japanese Soto Zen Tradition. He was ordained by Baisen Tetsugen Glassman Roshi. Here, he was given two names: AnShin (Heart or Mind of Peace) and AnGyo (Peacemaker).

Thomas is dedicated to bringing peace to a troubled world and helping veterans of all conflicts find ways to cope with their post traumatic stress. His visit to Maine will address both callings. Though rooted in the Buddhist tradition of mindful meditation practices, Thomas' message crosses into all faiths and traditions. His experiences as a combat veteran and his battle with the aftermath of the war form a bond with other veterans dealing with their issues.

Many of those who have attended the retreats at the Omega Institute can attest to the fact that minds closed for decades found that there were indeed new coping skills available to be put into practice to ease the pain of living with post traumatic stress and its associated diagnoses. The message is also important to the families of veterans and support people near to the veteran, as well as other people who have experienced trauma. This will be the format of the April 26 workshop/retreat at Point Lookout in Northport.

The two evening presentations will focus on the aftermath of traumatic experiences, methods of coping and "Finding Ways to Heal Our Wounds."

Thomas states: "We spent most of our life living in a state of forgetfulness. Sometimes when we wake up in the morning, we are consumed by suffering, full of fear, doubts, shame. But when we have the courage to touch these emotions, to establish a different relationship with them, then we have the possibility to make different choices in our life. When we live in forgetfulness, we have no choices. Our conditioned nature decides for us. The physical wounds of war and violence, although significant, cannot be considered differently than the wounds that cannot be seen. The wounds of the soul, the spiritual wounds, the psychological wounds, cut often far deeper. It is important to know that healing is not the absence of suffering but rather to process of learning to live in a different relation with this suffering. Healing and transformation are the process of being more present to our own life, to resist the conditioning to reject suffering."

Thomas does not charge for his work. To support his life and work, he relies on a Zen practice rooted in the Buddhist virtue of Dana, the belief that the act of giving benefits those who give as much as those who receive. 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." On his pilgrimages, as a part of his practice, he has journeyed with little more than the clothes on his back, no money, begging for a single meal a day and a place to sleep. With that in mind, the people of the Midcoast area are encouraged to give a voluntary donation.

Saturday, April 26, at Point Lookout in Northport, there will be a day-long meditation workshop with focus on veterans suffering post traumatic stress and people with trauma experience. Families and friends are welcomed and encouraged to attend. Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. The workshop will start at 9 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. There will be coffee, various teas, and water available at registration and throughout the day with a noon meal provided. Preregistration is suggested.

For more information and preregistration forms, please contact Jay at 207-650-0149 or jaymason48@gmail.com.

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