claude anshin thomas' new book

      Quotes from Readers

  • “I’m so enjoying the book. Reading it before and after I sit each day. I’ve had to fight the impulse to tear through it in a day, but I’ve waited a long time for another book from you and I want to savor it!!! I love it’s direct writing . When I began my practice - 30 years ago next year- I must have lost 7 years working through the esoteric ramblings of eastern roshis who wrote about meditation in a convoluted, almost koan-like manner.

  • To see the practice told this way now, done so well and direct is to get right to the matter and will be such an enormous gift to anyone who picks this book up. Can’t wait to talk about it at length when I’m done.”

  • “Hey, just have to say again that I could have ripped through this book in one sitting, but I am purposely savoring every page of it reading one or two when I sit. There is gold to be discovered on every page that not only works for people who have been sitting for a long time like me, but for people just coming to the practice. It’s such an incredible book. Such useful teachings. I have bought and gifted it to five people! Thank you for writing this. I bow deeply to you.
    This book continues to be a source of unfolding wisdom that I am so grateful to have. A deep bow to you.”

  • “I love the entire design of the book. it feels good in your hands too.”

  • “I am writing to express my appreciation for Claude AnShin’s new book,Bringing Meditation to Life. I just want to let you know how much I am loving it. I am so grateful to have this little book on my bedside table, to go to sleep with one of the readings and wake up with another. It brings me back to so many of the conversations we have had over the years. Thank you for your devotion, your wisdom and all you do to support the teachings.”

and then your soul is gone by kelly denton-borhaug

Moral Injury and the Forever Wars
What Americans Don't Want to Hear
By Kelly Denton-Borhaug

Kelly Denton-Borhaug, has long been investigating how religion and violence collide in American war-culture. She teaches in the global religions department at Moravian University. She is the author of two books, U.S. War-Culture, Sacrifice and Salvation and, more recently, And Then Your Soul is Gone: Moral Injury and U.S. War-Culture.

This summer, it seemed as if we Americans couldn’t wait to return to our traditional July 4th festivities. Haven’t we all been looking for something to celebrate? The church chimes in my community rang out battle hymns for about a week. The utility poles in my neighborhood were covered with “Hometown Hero” banners hanging proudly, sporting the smiling faces of uniformed local veterans from our wars. Fireworks went off for days, sparklers and cherry bombs and full-scale light shows filling the night sky.

But all the flag-waving, the homespun parades, the picnics and military bands, the flowery speeches and self-congratulatory messages can’t dispel a reality, a truth that’s right under our noses: all is not well with our military brothers and sisters. The starkest indicator of that is the rising number of them who are taking their own lives. A new report by Brown University’s Costs of War Project calculates that, in the post-9/11 era so far, four times as many veterans and active-duty military have committed suicide as died in war operations.

While July 4th remembrances across the country focused on the symbols and institutions of war and militarization, most of the celebrants seemed far less interested in hearing from current and former military personnel. After all, less than 1% of Americans have been burdened with waging Washington’s wars in these years, even as we taxpayers have funded an ever-more enormous military infrastructure.

As for me, though, I’ve been seeking out as many of those voices as I could for a long, long time. And here’s what I’ve learned: the truths so many of them tell sharply conflict with the remarkably light-hearted and unthinking celebrations of war we experienced this July and so many Julys before it. I keep wondering why so few of us are focusing on one urgent question: Why are so many of our military brothers and sisters taking their own lives?

The Moral Injuries of War

The term moral injury is now used in military and healthcare settings to identify a deep existential pain destroying the lives of too many active-duty personnel and vets. In these years of forever wars, when the moral consciences of such individuals collided with the brutally harsh realities of militarization and killing, the result has been a sharp, sometimes death-dealing dissonance. Think of moral injury as an invisible wound of war. It represents at least part of the explanation for that high suicide rate. And it’s implicated in more than just those damning suicides: an additional 500,000 troops in the post-9/11 era have been diagnosed with debilitating, not fully understood symptoms that make their lives remarkably unlivable.

I first heard the term moral injury about 10 years ago at a conference at Riverside Church in New York City, where Jonathan Shay, the renowned military psychologist, spoke about it. For decades he had provided psychological care for veterans of the Vietnam War who were struggling with unremitting resentment, guilt, and shame in their post-deployment lives. They just couldn’t get on with those very lives after their military experiences. They had, it seemed, lost trust in themselves and anyone else.

Still, Shay found that none of the typical mental-health diagnoses seemed to fit their symptoms. This wasn’t post-traumatic stress disorder — a hyper-vigilance, anxiety, and set of fears arising from traumatic experience. No, what came to be known as moral injury seemed to result from a sense that the very center of one’s being had been assaulted. If war’s intent is to inflict physical injury and destruction, and if the trauma of war afflicts people’s emotional and psychic well-being, moral injury describes an invisible wound that burns away at a person’s very soul. The Iraq War veteran and writer Kevin Powers describes it as “acid seeping down into your soul, and then your soul is gone.”

A central feature of moral injury is a sense of having betrayed one’s own deepest moral commitments, as well as of being betrayed morally by others. People who are suffering from moral injury feel there’s nothing left in their world to trust, including themselves. For them, any notion of “a shared moral covenant” has been shattered. But how does anyone live in a world without moral guideposts, even flawed ones? The world of modern war, it seems, not only destroys the foundations of life for its targets and victims, but also for its perpetrators.

Difficult Truths from Those on the Front Lines of Our Wars

For civilians like me, there’s no way to understand moral injury without listening to those afflicted with it. I’ve been doing so to try to make sense of our culture of war for years now. As a religious studies scholar, I’ve been especially concerned about the ways in which so many of us give American-style war a sacred quality. Think, for instance, about the meme that circulates during national holidays like the recent July 4th, or Veterans Day, or Memorial Day: “Remember that only two forces ever agreed to die for you: Jesus Christ and the American soldier. One died for your freedom, the other for your soul; pass it on!”

How, I wonder, do such messages further shame and silence those already struggling with moral injury whose experiences have led them to see war as anything but sacred?

It’s been years since I first heard Andy, a veteran of the Iraq War, testify in the most personal way about moral injury at a Philadelphia church. He’s part of a family with a long military history. His father and grandfather both served in this country’s wars before, at 17, he enlisted in the Air Force in 1999. He came to work in military intelligence and would eventually be deployed to Iraq.

But all was most definitely not well with Andy when, after 11 years in the Air Force, he returned to civilian life. He found himself struggling in his relationships, unable to function, a mess, and eventually suicidal. He bounced from one mental healthcare provider to the next for eight years without experiencing the slightest sense of relief. On the verge of ending his life, he was referred to a new “Moral Injury Group” led by chaplain Chris Antal and psychologist Peter Yeomans at the Crescenz VA Hospital in Philadelphia. At that moment, Andy decided this would be his last effort before calling it quits and ending his life. Frankly, given what I now know, I’m amazed that he was willing to take that one last chance after so many years of suffering, struggle, and pain to so little purpose.

First published in TomDispatch

even a blade of grass by wiebke kenshin andersen

Even a Blade of Grass
By Wiebke KenShin Andersen

Many years ago, I read this quote from Thomas Jefferson: “There is not a single blade of grass that does not concern me.” It moved me that someone was willing to express their deep care for a blade of grass, something that many consider insignificant. Years ago,  I perceived this level of care and generosity as something unattainable.

My early impressions of generosity were formed on the farm where I grew up. Neighboring farmers sometimes helped us with the harvest in the summer, and, in return, in the evenings a long table was set in the kitchen and my mother prepared a delicious meal. Eating together at the end of a hard work day is one of the best memories of my childhood. I still remember that I found it very generous of my mother that she offered a meal in addition to the work agreement.

I also remember when my father, who was usually emotionally unapproachable, invited a foster child from our village to visit the farm to learn to milk a cow and drive a tractor. I was surprised that my father would do something for no direct gain, donating his time in this way. But that day I saw my father exuberant, serene, and even a little happy.

Through Buddhist practice I realized much later that no matter what happens, there is always something in return when one is generous, due to the law of karma, of cause and effect. The effect simply does not always take place in the moment and not in a linear way. When I act with generosity, often I do not know when or how the effect will take place. Freedom in giving is when I give simply to give. And yet it may be that I start at the point where I still have expectations of something in return. That's fine. Even such giving is good, not free, but good.

It’s said that those who cannot receive cannot truly give. I also want to look at this: How am I with receiving what is given? How am I at asking for help? I want to remember that giving and receiving can bring about joy, and yet joy is not always associated. I find a more neutral attitude to be more liberating: I give just to give. Sometimes it feels great, sometimes neutral, and sometimes it feels rather awkward. All these experiences have their place.

For example, in the spring of this year I fostered two tiny kittens for a local cat shelter. I had to bottle-feed them for about 5 weeks every 3 hours. Some nights brought me to the limit of my patience and resilience where I felt that I could strangle these sweet kittens. It was uncomfortable to admit these feelings and thoughts. But through practice I’ve learned that by deeply feeling and looking, change becomes possible. So, I made an effort to not deny these thoughts and feelings.

Caring for cats has become an essential part of my life and practice. It even shows my evolution in Buddhist practice, especially the point that interconnectedness can develop.  Working with cats has allowed me not to act so much from my head but that my decisions and my contact can come from a more intuitive place within me. That's why this work appeals to me.

So now a blade of grass does actually concern me.

zen questionaire hilary moreno, zaltho advisor

  1. When and where was your first encounter with Buddhist practice?
    My dad always pushed us to learn about all religions and to not become blinded by one or another. He said all forms of religion and spirituality have equal importance and share so many commonalities. I’m not clear on when I first became interested in Buddhism - my guess is it was in my high school years when I moved from the North to the heavily religious South and was forced to explain why I didn’t go to church over and over again. Buddhism made the most sense to me when I asked myself questions about what I believed. There was a kindness to it, a non-judgmental presence, a non-evangelic stance. It just existed and if you were interested then explore more. I purchased lots of books and learned what I could. 
  2. What do you like best about your Zen Buddhist practice?
    I liked that it was non-judgmental, non-evangelical. It just was. The idea that the Buddha existed in all of us, that we could seek that out in others even if they were of other faiths.
  3. What has been a challenging aspect in your Zen Buddhist practice?
    Staying in the present moment was so difficult when I was younger and struggling to find my place in the world and understand life on life’s terms. As I get older it gets easier for me to just be where I am. Letting go of expectations is also tough for me but when I manage to do it my life feels so much lighter.
  4. Name one thing you changed as a result of your Zen Buddhist practice?
    The ability to find joy and peace even when life is difficult. Knowing if I’m in the present moment then I will experience pure moments of delight and awe every day. It helps me to stop fighting things I have no control over and thus lowers the amount of stress I feel at times.
  5. What would be an ordinary moment in your daily life that feels truly joyful for you?
    Listening to my children laugh with each other always fill my heart.
  6. What is something that you are deeply grateful for at this time?
    My health and my sanity and the joy my life holds.

veterans profile john evans

John Evan’s Veterans Questionaire

  1. What year/how old were you when you joined the military?
    I joined in 2002. I entered the delayed entry program while I was still in high school. So technically I was 17 years old.
  2. Why did you enlist in your branch of service?
    I chose the army because my sister had joined actually a year before me. And we had a cousin who joined a year before her. And they were both talking about what a great time they were having in Hawaii working at Tripler Army Hospital. I thought that it sounded like a good time. So, I join the army and became a medic.
  3. How many years did you serve and what unit/units?
    I served on active duty for four years. I was with the 3rd armored cavalry regiment. Support squadron medical troop. I was in both treatment and ambulance platoons. We provided overall medical support for the entire squadron. Setting up field aid stations and providing ground evacuation.
  4. Which practice forms (sitting, walking, working, eating, or deep listening and mindful speech) have been important and supportive in your daily life?
    I would say all of them. Anywhere I can integrate these practices into my life, the better off I find I am. Slowing down, connecting with my breath and detaching from my ironclad beliefs, the happier I am. The less time I can spend listening to my own thoughts as if they were true, the better off I am. 
  5. What drew you to Zen practice?
    I had just come home from the army back in 2006. I was taking a positive psychology class. I was wearing my “unwellness” and my professor walked up to me and handed me a book. And he said, “Just read it”. The book was titled At Hell’s Gate.  I can remember being absolutely struck by the testimony and relaying of AnShin’s experiences. I thought to myself what an incredible transformation. I was so conflicted with my participation in the Iraq war and the narrative that had brought the US military forces into that conflict. I couldn't seem to make sense of anything. The idea of resolutely looking at the seeds of violence in the futility of war was the only direction that seemed to make sense.
  6. How does Zen Practice influence your daily life?
    By slowing down I can appreciate the beauty in mystery of life. Finding joy in the simplest of things.
  7. What does it mean to you to be a part of this practice community?
    Being as new as I am to this community with what I would say is sporadic participation at least in the formal settings, it is hard for me to say. But what I will say is that I believe that the work Zaltho is doing is vitally important to the preservation of the human species.
  8. Who is/was the most inspirational person in your life and why?
    I would have to say my grandmother. She passed away in September 2020. She truly was an inspiration to me. Coming from a rather dysfunctional home and upbringing, she was the only model of service in my life. She dedicated her entire life to the service of others. She worked during the 70s and 80s to build programming in upstate New York to help place individuals with mental and physical disabilities into the workforce. She advocated for those who could not advocate for themselves. She loved deeply and without conditions. If it hadn't been for her, I'm not exactly sure where I would have ended up.
  9. What did you want to be when you were a child?
    Sadly, I don't really recall.
  10. What one word would you use to describe your Zen practice?