surviving home - documentary film 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. SURVING 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:



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 Buddhist Practice.

You see, in my life I don’t have specific goals. I simply make every effort to concentrate wholeheartedly on living now. What a savior this awareness was and is 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 facilitate 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.

poem no. 45
claude anshin thomas



spoke to



to hear



about the



lives on

in memory

as surely


the taste

of fried


on a

cold winter

morning –

I will tell you


what can

you know


the night




my dreams

in the smell

of too


blood -


mixed with

the young

and old


their intestines



their genitals


in the wrong


cut off


stuffed in



instead of


just below

the navel

waiting to -

can you listen,

can you

step through

the ideas

you ever




of social rightness

and listen

even when


want to



or vomit,


I will tell

you -

and then



of love

will be


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.

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