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surviving home - film documentary featuring claude anshin thomas and other veterans

Today, there are over 20 million U.S. military veterans who have put their lives on the line in service to their country. But for many, surviving war is just the beginning. SURVIVING HOME is an award-winning documentary that follows veterans of multitude generations as they adjust to life after military service. It is featuring Claude AnShin Thomas and other veterans.

Through intimate vérité footage and interviews filmed over the course of eight years, the film uncovers a detrimental gap between military veterans and the civilian populace they protected while also exposing a ...

culture of silence that prevents many veterans from talking about their experiences in war. Through the bravery of the men and women who open up their lives and share their stories in this film, audiences are introduced to a diverse community of veterans who have discovered inspiring ways not only to survive but also to thrive back home, transforming their lives, and continuing their service to others.

2018 Best Film at the Chicago International Social Change Film Festival and Best Documentary Feature at 2018  GI Film Festival, and Audience Award at 2018 Vail Film Festival.

Directors: Matthew Moul, Jillian Moul

Featuring: Claude AnShin Thomas and others

Duration: 1 hour 25 minutes

Links to view the film:

Amazon

Vimeo


claude anshin about what is essential in zen buddhist practice and how goals get in the way

I have come across and read books in my study that focus on or imagine things that one can wish for, goals that one wants to accomplish. While reading I notice that I find it quite exhausting to formulate specific goals. I question the placement of goals in relationship to Zen Buiddhist Practice.

You see, in my life I don´t have any specific goals. I simply make every effort to concentrate wholeheartedly on living now. What a savior this awareness has been for me! Because I always found that goals...

distracted me from now. From this present moment.

This does not mean that the topic of goals is not something that I also face. I just don't spend too much time with this topic. For example, I could (and often do) state that a goal for me is the commitment to end all wars in my lifetime. Another example of a goal could be that I would like to see every person who comes to a Meditation Retreat, a practice period, to experience the fullness of life. Really, experience life in all of its purity.

This could be understood as a motivation for me to do what I do (living the life of a mendicant Zen Buddhist Monk). But in the end, this is not really the motivation for me to do what I do. I do what I do, because it is the only thing in my life, in my experience that makes sense.  

This brings me back to the topic of goals as these pertain to my life experience. I never actually had the goal to become a monk. I never had the goal to facilitate retreats. I never had the goal to write a book. I just lived my life wholeheartedly committed to waking up. I did not, however, have any idea about what waking up actually meant. I wanted to stop repeating the cycles of suffering in my life that kept me trapped in feelings of powerlessness, helplessness, frustration, ignorance and greed. This could be interpreted as a goal. However, I did not know if breaking free of these cycles was possible, and I didn’t have any idea how to achieve this.

I think that study gives me insight into how people are directed to engage with their life in relationship with the interconnected world they are part of. What I have come to understand that what can be gained through study is a glimmer of insight into the psychological self, the places where I create separation. What can be gained through study is the information that I can build a more conscious relationship with the causes and conditions of my life that keep me trapped in certain repeating cycles, so that my relationship to these repeating cycles can change.

The information gathered through study, in and of itself, will not faciltate living differently. I must have a disciplined spiritual practice so that this information can be transformed into action. The disciplined spiritual practice that makes the most sense to me is Zen Buddhist practice because Zen Buddhist practice and daily life are not two things.

Zen Buddhist practice also makes the greatest sense to me because the only true goal is no goals - to discover what prevents me from really living in this moment. To discover how I am constantly in resistance, how I am replaying cycles of suffering, and what can I do to stop.  

This is what I do. And if this is helpful to you, you are welcome to take any part of it and use it for yourself.


zaltho recognized by the board of chaplaincy certification

The Zaltho Zen Community has been officially recognized by the Board of Chaplaincy Certification, Inc. This means that members of our faith community can be endorsed by Zaltho to become Zen Buddhist chaplains (after completing training through the Association of Professional Chaplains). Sangha member Eden MyoShin Steinberg is currently completing her final year of training as a hospital and hospice chaplain and will apply for full board certification in 2021.


veiled in pride and bitterness - a military wife's story

My eyelids were swollen and heavy from tears. “Don’t wake up, don’t wake up,” I thought. This dreaded day is here. With my arm outstretched longing to feel the warmth of my soul mate, the sheets are cold and the bed is empty. All I hear is the distant sound of my husband and our children talking quietly. This is the last time they will see their daddy for a year. This is deployment number four.

I make my way into the kitchen, veiled in pride and bitterness. My whole life greets me with somber ...

smiles as the aroma of Colombian roast tickles my nose. My knight in shining armor reaches out his strong rugged hand and our embrace is interrupted by two tiny arms snaked around my legs. Morning hugs for mommy. I ease myself onto the couch with my hero and our little boy as I pulled our princess into my lap. Today will be more challenging than all the other times; this trip to the “beach with no ocean” as my husband calls it, is 4 times longer than any of the others. Of course, I go through all the same motions to make it normal for everyone, especially the children. I make breakfast and small talk. The smell of smoky bacon, eggs and toast dance through the air and I place plates before my sweet little family. I take my place and stand at the counter. With a coffee mug in my hand, I try to remember every line of his face, every image of this moment.

After breakfast I help him pack. Just like all the times before, I am a puppy dog following him from room to room. I am lost without him when he is gone. Tears well up in my eyes and that all too familiar feeling rises up in my throat. I swallow the knot back down and give him a weary smile. I give him an “everything will be alright” nod, but he can see in my eyes that I am devastated. One year, two children, alone and worried. I can do this. I have to do this. He pulls me in for an embrace bringing me back from my anxious thoughts. “It will be over before you know it,” he says. I giggle and roll my eyes and he grins down at me because we both know that is a lie.

The day passes so quickly. It does not slow down even though I find myself begging for a few more hours. The house is loud with laughter thanks to the tickle monster as the sun sinks into the horizon. The sky is painted glorious hues of orange, purple and pink; clouds are in the distance. In an instance the sun is gone, the sky opens up and rain pours down emulating my tears from earlier. It is time. It is time for me to accept this may be the last day I have with my husband, my hero, the father of my children. It is time to drop off the strongest man I know and send him to what is known as the “triangle of death”, Sadr City, Iraq.

The silence in the car is deafening. I grip the steering wheel until my hands become numb. I can only hear his breathing and the pounding of my heart in my ears. The car guides itself into the parking spot as I have completely blacked out. I am numb. I fight back the tears watching my babies kiss their daddy goodbye for what could be forever and will certainly feel like it. Now it is my turn. I am facing him, studying his expression and he gives away nothing. I memorize his chiseled jaw and deep blue eyes so when I close my eyes, it will be all I see. His face is handsomely lit from the lamppost above us where moths flirt with each other in the hazy yellow glow. I have forgotten how to speak and have no words. Once again I hear promises for his return. I lean in to kiss his face and taste the salt of his tears and it breaks me. I quietly vow strength, love, fidelity, honor and patience and he strides away, looking back only once.

My eyes are cast downward as I climb into the car. I sit up straight, giving off the impression of strength to my small children. Tears pool in my eyes and I can wait no longer; they are a river flowing, soaking my shirt below. As I make my way home, I begin the countdown, 364.

Jennifer People


veterans profile: scott angyo cole

What year/how old were you when you joined the military?

I was 22 years old when I commissioned in the military from the Virginia Military Institute.  I began my ROTC there at 18.  I had wanted to enlist at 17 but I did not have parental approval.  

Why did you enlist in your branch of service?

I got the United States Air Force by a very circuitous route.  I started as a Marine Corps ROTC candidate and my very first evaluation was ...

from a USMC Major that I didn’t care for, and it said “Absolutely no potential unless he catches on fire” if his intent was to motivate me, it failed.  If his intent was to move me out of the USMC, it worked and I continued with Naval ROTC and was slated to be a Surface Warfare Officer.  Just prior to graduation and commissioning, the USN said they couldn’t take most of us because we didn’t have 3.0 or higher GPAs (mine was 2.7).  I was disheartened that it appeared my military career was over before it started.  The USAF got word that a dozen USN candidates had just been let go and put a sign up that said 2.5 GPA or better, come see us.  I ran to them and was sworn in that day.  It was one of the most fortuitous sets of circumstances and I had my career.

How many years did you serve and what unit/units?

I served for 20 years, 4 months, and 1 day officially retiring 1 Feb 2015 (though my last day was in December of  2014 before terminal leave).  I served with many units to include: Missile and Spacelift Maintenance at Vandenberg and Cape Canaveral Air Stations (30th MXS and 45th OSS respectively).  Then I began my career as a flyer and went to flight training at Navy Pensacola followed by a decade at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base with only a one-year interruption on a staff tour in Korea.  At Seymour I flew as a back seater in the F-15E Strike Eagle for the 333, 334, and 336 Fighter squadrons with two Operational Tours in the 336 FS Rocketeers (Yellow Tails).  I then moved on to a flying Staff tour at Shaw AFB, SC, and culminated my career flying Operational and Weapons Testing at Eglin AFB in the Strike Eagle.

Which practice forms (sitting, walking, working, eating, or Deep Listening and Mindful speech) have been important and supportive in your daily life?

In my daily life, sitting meditation has been the most I’ve practiced, and therefore, the most beneficial.  I sit every morning before I start my day and do my recitations (and some ritual) and it helps settle me prior to starting.  Having said that, as I’ve learned from our practice, everyday life and meditation are not two different things.  My meditation takes on different forms and I use the skills I learned from the structured meditations (working, writing, listening) as I go throughout my day.  I can tell when I’m off and I alert myself to breathe and re-start, usually after I should’ve, but better late than never.

What drew you to Zen practice? 

I was drawn to Zen practice when I first talked to a friend of mine regarding Buddhism in South Carolina.  It was a practice he used to support his life.  I tucked that away in my brain and never pushed it until I met Claude AnShin Thomas.  When I met him, it was at a time I was struggling with my active duty service and the costs of war, which I was still in.  He led me to a book  published by Shambala, and I was pleasantly surprised when it was him on the cover! I read that book in one sitting.  I don’t believe in coincidences (like what lead me to the USAF above) and I believe our meeting happened when it was supposed to.

How does Zen Practice influence your daily life?

Zen practice calms my crazy head in my daily life.  I have lots of thoughts and “frets” regarding what might happen.  Zen practice allows me to recognize those thoughts, return to  exactly where I am, and move on, without chasing those thoughts.  

What does it mean to you to be a part of this practice community?  

Being a part of this Zen community and sangha means a lot to me. I miss it when I drift away due to travel or an unnecessarily busy life.  To have the ability to have a focused practice and face to face interaction is invaluable to me.  

Who is/was the most inspirational person in your life and why?

The most inspirational person in my life is my wife, Diana.  She and I discuss our growth mentally, physically, and spiritually a lot.  Without her I would not make nearly the effort in my daily life that I could be in those areas.  To watch her and her efforts is extremely inspirational and I’m lucky to have a partner such as her.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

Two things: 1. First and foremost a forest ranger.  I get to do this today as an environmental advocate and scuba instructor in the Gulf of Mexico.  2. A Marine like my  grandfather.  That didn’t quite work out as a Marine, but I did serve as have all males in my lineage.

What one word would you use to describe your Zen practice?

Persistently intermittent (I know that’s two words); one word: Important


words of appreciation

"I must express to you my gratitude for introducing me to the benefits of meditation. There has never been a time such as this that the practice has been more necessary in my life. The world has so become mind-boggling to me that I can only keep a semblance of balance by relying on sitting with regularity, morning and evening. I am so thankful that Joel found you when he most needed you, and that I was smart enough to tag along. Please take care, stay well, and continue doing what you are doing."

- J.A.S.


coping with anger during the pandemic: a question and response

A question from a student:

How can I let go of anger when I see my friend taking actions that risk spreading the coronavirus?

(Background: The friend in question is not following safety guidelines about social distancing and thinks there’s no problem with her actions.)

AnShin’s response:

The only thing I can do with such people is not be like them, not act like them. There is really nothing that I can do to change their behavior. To be angry, in some respects, makes sense, but it is also a waste of time. To address your question further I will share a story with you. 

My age qualifies me for special hours of shopping during the pandemic. They call it “Senior Shopping.” (I am 72.) I have never identified as a senior citizen, but according to my chronological age I am. So, I thought I would try this out, and I went to a supermarket on the first day that “Senior Shopping” hours were implemented.

I arrived a bit early so that I could be more relaxed. As I was coming into the parking lot, I saw a group of about 15-20 people gathered in a tight group at the entrance door, waiting for it to open. I was surprised and dismayed that they were not social distancing or wearing masks. I instantly made the choice to stay in my car. 

I thought to myself, Here is a group of people who are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, and they are ignoring the instructions about keeping physical distance, about wearing masks and gloves. I could also say that I was angry. At the same time, I have some understanding of how these behaviors come about. When people are living detached from their feelings, they become detached from the reality of their situation and the impact that their behavior has on the world around them. This is what ignorance looks like. They put themselves and others at risk because of their detachment and ignorance. 

What then can I do about this? All I can do I can do is model the kind of behavior that I have been informed is helpful and supportive during the pandemic. I can take care of myself in a visible way. When I’m in public I can wear a mask, keep myself at least 6 feet from others, wear gloves.

I hope your friend will be OK—and that the people she is associating with will also be OK. But my wish for you is that you take care of yourself. With as much grace and compassion as you can manage, model the behaviors that are respectful of the current health circumstances. I also wish you the best with your anger. Please don´t let it poison you.


veteran living newly as a monk

When I ponder the topic of how being ordained has been for me, I remember getting my hair cut. Claude AnShin gently dragged the razor against the skin of my head after Scott machine clipped the thicker clumps of hair. A group of onlookers made small talk during a very tender moment leading up to the ordination ceremony. How curious it is that this was 5 months ago. The thing about ordination: maybe it is more about other’s projections and expectations than it is the dynamic reality of living. I shave my head twice a week working against the growth I knew happened when my hair was long. The stubble growth is now a more understandable interval. I don’t know what it means to be ordained, or to look a certain way, to be in possession of stamps and certificates that say, “Full Ordained Zen Monk in the Soto Zen Tradition.” But I do know what has lead me to this point. With a lack of direction and a life of both curiously disguised and more obvious self-destruction, I simply kept coming back, again and again, to Claude AnShin, the practice, the sangha. At the first veteran’s meditation retreat in November 2007, I was desperate for direction and consumed by fear. From there, it was a simple process of doing the next thing, saying yes to the invitation to the formal retreat in December. Then the next after that and so on. Today I continue just to continue. When I experience grave doubt about it all, not just Zen practice, but the everything of life, I touch my suffering. I regularly experience a felt sense of deep offense, indignation, dislocation, my mind tearing apart what is blocking my escape. Then the doubt passes. And I simply return, again and again, to the practice, to the cushion, the meeting, incense offering, the clippers and razor…

There is the idea of ordination as I see others see me, their projections, assumptions and leading questions are informative. As far as I know, I should be cloistered, neutered, pasty with sublimated desires bursting forth in bad acts, and living among the same. One of my friends asks me why I shave my head - as if there is a correct answer. No matter what I say doesn’t seem to satisfy them or me.

There is the internal perspective in how I live in my skin. What does ordination mean to me, how does it change me, etc.. All I can say is I feel closer to my ordained sangha members, those who have taken a similar step. I feel closer and more connected to my ordaining teacher. The closeness is not unlike the bonded connection to others in my Ranger platoon, or with my children, only disarmed. If anything, I feel the ordinary of ordination when its definition refers to, “being elevated” among the lay people. I ask, how do I elevate myself or others and how do I deepen into what is ordinary?

Last, I take responsibility for myself for however the teachings may manifest in my life, in my actions, speech and consciousness. At the moment, this seems a manageable prospect, but other moments, it is terrifying. To continue to learn, evolve, and question my thoughts and feelings as they form my perceptions, sometimes this feels a glacial pace. Other times, life is a blur, where my gaze and focus can barely rest on something still enough to be reckoned.

- Dave MyoKo Edgar


about chūdō zendo in chile

I was very close to sell this place, the meditation hall here in Santiago de Chile.  What made me change my mind, was AnShin when he came here for the first time.  AnShin explicitly urged me to continue with the practice here... and here we are!!  Practice has firmly settled since then.  I also changed the place’s name soon after his visit. Before, it was simply named after the street’s name. This place’s name was “Joaquín Godoy Zendo”. When AnShin left, I changed the name to “Camino Medio Zendo”, and now, for simplicity, I have just translated “Camino Medio” (which means “Middle Way”) into Japanese. This is the origin of Chūdō. -- Michailo O'Ryo AnGyo Judic


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