becoming a monk

Questions and responses with Claude AnShin Thomas

Question: How was your transition from a soldier to a monk? Was it difficult?

Answer: What I can tell you is that it was not intentional. I didn’t just decide to become a monk. Right up until the last moment before getting ordained I kept some reservations in my mind. In the end, I said to myself that I will enter into this path not half-heartedly or conveniently, but to see what is going to be revealed to me. And if what is going to be revealed to me doesn’t work or make any sense to me or doesn’t support me, then I will stop. My ideas of what it means to be a monk have changed over the years. And: it is also true that I am still a soldier. I don’t serve in the military but I am still a soldier.

Question: Would you please say something about how to deal with frequently recurring feelings of insecurity and inadequacy?

Answer: I’m not a psychologist. My experience from living a disciplined spiritual practice is that if these feelings are frequent and recurring, then I am still allowing them to define me.  Then I need to ask the question: how am I identified with these feelings and how does this identity protect me from actually being responsible for my life and for the interactions I have with the people around me?

Question: I find it often difficult to decide if it is time to act or if it is time to wait. What helps you to make that decision?

Answer: I trust. I just trust. I make a decision, and I see what happens. Also, I am aware that to not make a decision is also making a decision. So, I just trust. If I take an action and if things don’t go as smoothly as I would like them, then this becomes a learning opportunity. I remind myself that I am of the nature to make mistakes. From those mistakes I learn and I develop. I simply have to look at and have to constantly be conscious of my motivations behind the decisions that I make. Often I don’t understand those motivations until I make a decision, take an action (or not) and then see how it unfolds. Also, I pay attention to that still, small voice that we call intuition.

Question: What is your understanding of this term “Right Livelihood” within the Noble Eightfold Path?

Answer: My understanding of right livelihood  has changed over time. Essentially, what I always look at is: how can I use what I have received to benefit all humankind and all existence? For example, when I look at the properties that are the Magnolia Zen Center, I look at how the structures serve this practice and serve the individuals who come here. I make every effort to care for the structures as I would care for the people who live in them and as I would care for myself. When I care for myself, I care for others and I care for the entirety of existence.
     What are my essential motives with what I have received? I need to understand that what I have received has not so much to do with me. Yes, it does, but not so much. It has more to do with how that what has been given to me can serve others and all existence. If you ask me another time, I might have a different response. But this is what shows itself regarding right livelihood right now.

Question: Would you please talk about punishment. Is there room for it whenever there is no harm intended and does it really correct people?

Answer: I will tell you: If I stand in front of you with a club or a knife or a gun or a belt or a whip or a harsh word delivered with intensity and I tell you to jump, you will ask me how high. The threat of punishment seems to work but does it really? What I know is that violence is not a solution. Because even if it seems it work, it doesn’t really work. I can frighten you, I can intimidate you, and it appears that I can get you to do what I want you to do. But violence is not a solution because it only leads to more violence. Violence only gets more violence; anger only gets more anger; hatred only gets hatred. Also, I have to remember that just because I think there is no harm intended doesn’t mean there isn’t harm delivered. 
     I can remember there was a time in my life where I was really lost. I was lost in all of the conditioning I inherited, and I didn’t know that. Whenever I felt out of control, I would then project blame onto the external world. I would say that it was the external world that was out of control and that I needed to control that. All in the effort to not feel uncomfortable. I can remember grabbing a person, pushing them up against a wall and then with my fist hitting the wall right beside their head. I could tell myself that they deserved that. I could tell myself that what I was doing was ok because I didn’t really hit them. But the consequences of my action were deep and powerful. There is nothing I can do to change what was. Sometimes I have deep regret for these kinds of actions. But what I can do is stop doing such behaviors. Hitting is never a solution, include hitting children.
     My parents used corporal punishment. I would get spanked, they used a belt, brush, wooden spoon to slap and punch me. After every such occasion the parent who did that would always say to me that they did that to teach me a lesson because they loved me. What did that teach me about love? That love equals violence. My son has never been struck by me. I have never spoken to him in anger. And yet he has suffered. Not so much because of what I have done but the fact that I was absent for quite a period of time in his life.
     I cannot change what was, but I can change what is in me. As I am, the world becomes. As I heal, I heal for all past generations. The problem is never external. It is always with self. Even though it appears to be external, how I respond to it, that is the point. And it is necessary that I want to do things different. When I feel powerless in a circumstance, I need to ask myself: what can I do? That is a question I need support with in such circumstances.