claude anshin on the topic of love

Question: What place does love have in your Zen practice?

Response: In truth I think that the whole notion of love, as we commonly conceive of it, is dangerous. There are so many ideas about what love is and so much harm created in the name of love. Love seems to be a word that is used to express a powerful emotional reaction to someone or something, and this strong emotional reaction might not really have anything to do with love.

What I have personally discovered through my Zen practice, and what I understand from the Buddhist teachings that I have studied, is that when we deal with words like “love,” there must also exist its opposite. So, wherever there is love, there also must be hate. The two cannot exist independently from one another. Too often we only want to see love without its counterpart. When its counterpart shows up, we are shocked, or we pretend it is not there because it does not match with our ideas of what we want to be happening.

In Buddhist practice, and in Zen practice in particular, the focus of our intention is to come to a place of understanding beyond the intellect. Through Zen practice I have become able to recognize that in me exists both love and hate.

I’m often asked about love during public talks and retreats, and I often turn to the standard examples of what “great love” is. The story of Romeo and Juliet is a classic example of how Western culture defines love. But how did that story end? Both died. Is this great love or something else? Obsession? Grasping?

How many times in our personal lives have we met our “great love”? Usually more than once. When a new “great love” doesn’t fulfill our expectations, we usually ignore what the world is communicating to us. We simply go off again in search of “the one.” But always we are driven by the press to fulfill our ideas of love, those ideas that have been programed into our being through our family lineages and our culture.

In exploring the concept of love, I often point to my own childhood. Every time I was physically punished by my parents--after I was pushed, slapped, hit, beaten--my parents would tell me that the punishment that I received was because they loved me. This violence and humiliation was presented to me as a form of love. My story is not unique. It was then only natural that, as a young man, I felt that out of love for my country I must be willing to fight and give up my life. In any conversation about love, we need to be willing to see how we have been conditioned to construct our ideas of it, and we must become willing to look at where these ideas have led us.

Extract of an Interview with Claude AnShin Thomas by Barbara Voedisch

solar update!

We are glad to report that most of the buildings at the Magnolia Zen Center are now running on solar energy and have been doing so for the past four months. It has been a wonderful feeling to know that we are, in a concrete way, supporting planet Earth by reducing our carbon footprint. It’s also good to know that we have a stable, independent energy source, that we are supporting local workers, and that we are setting an example for our local community.

One building is awaiting solar panel installation in the near future. These solar systems are designed to cover 100% of the electricity needs of each building. If our systems produce more energy than needed, the excess energy is automatically sold to the power company

Many of you supported us in going forward with this project. We thank you so very much! Thus far we have raised $23,400 of the total cost, which was $80,000.


Please help us reach our funding goal!

how zen practice supports me as a hospital chaplain

by Eden MyoShin Steinberg, Vice President of the Zaltho Foundation

Twice a week I am the nighttime on-call chaplain at a Boston hospital, available to come in for emergencies. One such night, I was sitting down to dinner with my family, when my pager went off. Its piercing sound filled the room, and I could feel a kick of adrenaline in my body. That jolt was accompanied by thoughts: “Oh no...” “Really? Now?” And, “I hope I can handle this.”

The text on my pager reads, “A patient just died in the ICU during a code blue.[1] The family is here. Please come in.” Without a grounding in Zen practice, I would be lost in such situations. I wouldn’t realize it, but I would be lost: swept away by thoughts, emotions, insecurities, hopes. Thanks to our practice, as the tension builds in my body, and as my thoughts and feelings start to shoot off in many directions at once, the voice of practice speaks calmly to me saying, “Breathe.”

I call the doctor back, confirming that I’m on the way. She can’t speak for long. The ICU is too busy. Mid-sentence she’s interrupted, apologizes, and hangs up.

I notice my heart rate increase. I notice fear. I also notice that it feels good to be needed and wanted. I’m not wearing appropriate clothing at the moment (too casual), so I charge up the stairs to my bedroom to change into more professional clothes and get my hospital ID badge. What to wear? I’m pushing clothes around in my closet, not finding what I’m looking for, getting flustered, worrying about taking too long. My mind is starting to race.

The voice of practice speaks to me again: “Slow down. Slow is fast. How you get dressed, how you handle your clothing right now is the same as how you will provide support to the family and staff. No rushing.”

I take a breath, slow my movements, change my clothes with attention, and leave the house. Getting into the car offers me another opportunity to steady myself, to ground myself in the present moment rather than rushing forward in my mind. In gassho, I say the driving gatha: “I am sitting in my car. I know where I’m going. When the car goes fast, I go fast.” I bow and start the car.

As I drive, I notice my thoughts accelerating again: “I wonder what’s happening at the ICU. They are waiting for me. Will I get there quickly enough? They are counting on me. Will I meet their expectations?” Practice again says, “Breathe. Pay attention to what you’re doing right in this moment. If you take care of this moment, the rest will take care of itself.

When I arrive at the ICU I’m directed to the patient’s room and see a large crowd of people gathered inside: four family members plus three medical staff. I take another breath, enter the room, and introduce myself. I see the lifeless body in the bed, still attached to the machinery of the ventilator. But at this moment, the dead person is not the focus. There’s a heated discussion going on. The people in the room barely register my arrival. I observe the scene, allowing it to inform me.

The focus of everyone’s attention is a man in his 60s or 70s, perhaps the patient’s spouse. One of the medical staff is saying to him, “Your blood sugar is too high, but you’re not our patient. We can’t treat you here. We recommend that you go to the Emergency Room. It’s on the other side of the campus. We can’t take you there, but we will call an ambulance for you to get you there safely.”

The man responds, “When you called me to tell me to come back to the hospital, I was eating dinner. I jumped in the car without taking my insulin. I don’t want to go to the ER. When I get home I’ll take my insulin.”

“We recommend you get medical attention.”

A middle-aged woman in the room says, “Dad, I’m worried about you.”

“I’m OK. Really.” The man looks over at the medical staff and calmly says, “Respectfully, I decline your advice. If you want me to sign something saying I release you from responsibility, I’ll do that. Really. I deal with this all the time. It’s not an emergency. I want to stay here with my wife.”

The members of the medical team agree to have him sign a waiver and then leave the room. I wonder if he’s making a good decision, but he seems calm and clear. I can understand not wanting to spend hours in the ER when your wife has just died.

Once the medical team clears out, I meet the family: two adult daughters, a teenage grandson, and the husband. We start to talk. I ask them what happened. They tell me that the patient, Deborah, had been in the hospital for several days. Today she had two cardiac arrests and died during the second one.

The husband tells me that he witnessed the first one, and how scary that was. “They told me I had to get out of the room while they worked on her, but I wouldn’t leave. They got her heart going again. Then she seemed like she was getting better and would be alright. Her fever went down. The doctor said that was a good sign. When I went home, I was feeling really hopeful.” He begins to cry.

I breathe and let him cry. There’s nothing that needs to be said by me. The daughters and grandson begin to cry as well. One of the daughters says to me through her tears, “She was the best mother.”

We start to talk about Deborah. They all tell me how loving, generous, and fair she was, how well she treated everyone. They told me she had had a very difficult childhood but went on to be a great mom “despite what happened to her.” The husband told me that they started dating when they were teenagers and had been married for 51 years. “Tomorrow I’m going to wake up without her!” He begins sobbing. I hold the space, saying little, allowing them to give voice to their grief in their own way and time.

As they continue to speak, there’s a lot of crying and then at times, as they tell stories about her, there is actually laughter. Then back to crying. Sometimes we’re all just silent.

As time passes, Deborah’s body is slowly changing color. When I arrived it looked pale white. Now it has turned pale yellow. At one point the family and the nurses work on taking off Deborah’s wedding ring, which was stuck, and take off her earrings.

The husband asks several times how he is supposed to handle getting the body to the funeral home for cremation. A simple process is explained to him (all he has to do is select a funeral home and they will pick up the body and take care of everything), but it’s hard for him to absorb this. He quickly forgets and asks again. I remember learning in my training that witnessing traumatic events impacts cognition. His mind is struggling to process simple instructions.

Zen practice supports me in just staying steady and present as the family goes through all this--not attempting to change or fix anything. Nothing can be fixed, and nothing needs to be fixed. The situation is what it is. There is shock. Sorrow. Feelings of love and appreciation for Deborah. Confusion. Disbelief. Tears.

At one point the nurse comes in, sees the family crying, and, due to her own discomfort, sort of pushes me forward saying, “Do you want the chaplain to say a prayer?”

I’m annoyed. I want to allow the family the space and time to decide for themselves what they need. The family looks at each other and then at me and says, “Sure.” But this seems like an attempt to please the nurse or to be polite. Now everyone is looking at me.

“Is prayer something that was meaningful to your mom?” I ask.

One of her daughters responds, “Mom was raised Catholic, but she stopped going to church.”

Then the husband says, “But she liked to pray.”

The daughter says, “Yes, she was very spiritual.”

“Did she like traditional Catholic prayers, or was her prayer practice more personal and spontaneous?” I ask.

“She prayed in a personal way,” her husband explains.

“OK, well, if you like, I could say a personalized prayer for her.”

“Yes, we’d like that,” says one of the daughters.

“OK,” I say. I notice within myself some fear rise up, some pressure to perform. There’s the thought, “Uh oh. Everyone’s looking at me. Am I really the chaplain? Am I qualified to do this?” I take a deep breath, step toward Deborah’s body, clasp my hands in front of my body, and lower my head. “God, I’m here with Deborah and her loving family. There’s so much warmth and love in this room, and a lot of sorrow.” I pause, feeling my way to the next words. “We release Deborah into your care.” The daughters and the grandson burst into tears. “Please bless her and keep her. May she find comfort and peace in your presence forever.  Amen.”

We’re all quiet for a few moments as some family members cry. One of the daughters turns to me and says thank you. I’m always surprised how powerful a few words of prayer can be for some people. There’s nothing complicated about the spontaneous prayers I’ve learned to say for Christian patients and their families, but these simple words can have quite an effect and help people to access their feelings.

The family tells me more stories about Deborah. There’s more crying and eventually more laughter. I marvel at all the different emotions that can surface at a time like this. I appreciate witnessing the flow. After about an hour, the family reaches a place where they feel ready to go home. We say goodbye, I go and check in with the staff, and then I go home.

Though I didn’t say or do all that much outwardly during this visit, it was intense for me. Just holding the space for this family and bearing witness to the intensity of their feelings had an impact on me. Also, spending an hour in the presence of a dead body, watching it change color, watching its jewelry be removed, was a powerful reminder of my own mortality--and that of everyone I love. Fortunately, I have a spiritual practice and a sangha that support me in being present with my own suffering and uneasiness so that it doesn’t have to overwhelm me or control me. Over time, through practice, I know that I can find peace with my unpeacefulness.

Without the support of a consistent meditation practice--one that I’m encouraged to bring off the cushion and into my whole life--I would not have been able to remain relatively quiet in this type of situation. I would have started filling the space with words--trying desperately to say the “right thing” that would somehow make everyone feel better. In the past, that was how my conditioning manifested in such situations.

Today I understand that I don’t need to go around attempting to rescue people in such situations (though this is a lot easier for me to practice with strangers than with those closest to me). I also have come to understand the truth of the words we say in the Invocation of Avalokiteshvara: “Just by listening, we already relieve a great deal of the pain and suffering in the other.” That’s fundamentally what I offered this family gathered around their loved one’s dead body--that and a quality, nurtured through practice, of being willing to not rush, to not attempt to force the situation in any particular direction, and to remain steady and open.

[1] A sustained effort to resuscitate an individual after cardiac or respiratory arrest.

get to know veteran keith goffin - zaltho board director


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

I enlisted in the delayed entry program on February 17, 1982. I was 17 years old and departed for active duty May 24th, 1982.

2. Why did you enlist in your branch of service?

I enlisted in the US Army as I wanted to be a paratrooper and jump out of aircrafts.

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

I served the both the active and reserve forces from February 17, 1982, thru January 1, 2016, at which point I retired.

A and B Co. 1st Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group

151st Infantry - Long Range Surveillance (LRS)(ABN)

AOB 51, 2nd Battalions 5th Special Forces Group

Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR)

A and B Co., TF10, 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group

US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC)

Special Operations Joint Task Force Afghanistan (SOJTF-A)

642nd ESC, 7th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade (ABN)

F Co., 229th Military Intelligence Battalion (DLI)

4. Which practice forms (sitting, walking, working, eating, or deep listening and mindful speech) have been important and supportive in your daily life?

Sitting is the root form of an active spiritual practice and I enjoy the self-introspection as well as deep listening and mindful speech which I actively use throughout everyday interactions.

5. What drew you to Zen practice?

A Veterans Retreat initially brought me to the Magnolia Zen Center and it was the brutal honesty of the practice with Buddhist monk Claude AnShin Thomas and the deepening of my spiritual practice which have illuminated my world.

6. How does Zen Practice influence your daily life?

Practice keeps me focused on the importance of my interconnectivity with all. It’s a wake-up call for not following the mass consensus and to ask myself daily, “What am I willing to do daily to make this a better world?” Practice has taught me how to speak, act, walk, talk and develop “the change I want to see.” I continue my learning by staying out of my head and staying away from thinking up my own stories.

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

I have created lasting friendships, spirituality, reflection, insight, and a way to view “myself” within a likeminded group of spiritual practice.

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

I really do not have a single overriding inspirational person in my life. I do think the WW2 generation coming out of the depression era in the United States and building a system in which valued education, medicine, small business, a housing, and income that could provide for a nuclear family is very inspirational.

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

As far as career, I wanted to be an emergency room physician, and throughout my life I just wanted to be a good person whatever that meant.

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



survival - a poem by veteran everett cox

She put her face right into mine.

I mean,

right into mine.

You know how to survive,

she said.

You know how to stay alive.

I want to survive, too. 

You tell me, she said, 

her face still in mine,

how to stay alive

I'm out 8 years.

I'm barely hanging on.

I told her what I knew.

Go into nature.

Be physical.

Use your hands.

Put them into the earth.

Find camaraderie.

Doesn't have to be vets.

Get out.

Make the effort. 

She bit my soul,

chewed hard my words,

in her terrible terror.