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At Hell's Gate: A Soldier's Journey from War to Peace Paperback – January 10, 2006
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"Thomas's presentation of this difficult experience is searingly honest."—Shambhala Sun
"This gripping spiritual memoir bears witness to the transforming meditation and mindfulness in the life of a Vietnam Veteran."—Spirituality and Health
"Let me start by simply recommending that you buy, read, and think about Claude Anshin Thomas's book, At Hell's Gate. It was a long time coming but worth the wait, especially in this time of war and rampant violence."—Turning Wheel
"What gives Thomas's perspective so much weight is that it carries the rare and undeniable authority of one who has seen firsthand the extremes of both good and evil that lie in the human soul."—What Is Enlightenment?
"This is a book of great power. Thomas's story has the power to heal, to inspire, to teach."—John Laurence, former CBS News correspondent and author of The Cat from Hué: A Vietnam War Story
"A powerful, wise, and genuinely profound spiritual odyssey from the insanity of violence (in the world, within ourselves, and in the assumptions of American culture) to the peace and compassion of mindfulness practice. Thomas beautifully models Zen teachings in his daily life, and by doing so he enlightens and liberates us all."—Charles Johnson, winner of the National Book Award for Middle Passage
"Claude Anshin Thomas has been an inspiration to me. Our world urgently needs to listen to him tell of his life in war and then in peace."—Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Woman Warrior
"In these strange times, when fear and aggression often seem to be the only responses we can imagine to a perceived threat, this powerful book provides an honest, open-hearted, and very moving testimony to the power of Buddhist practice to break this cycle. Thomas is a hero in the truest sense of the word: having undergone an epic trial, he has generously come back to help others in need."—George Saunders, author of Pastoralia and CivilWarLand in Bad Decline
"Thomas's journey from the killing fields of Vietnam to the path of peace and pilgrimage testifies to his—and our—powerful urge to awaken. At the same time, this is not a pretty story. Anshin Thomas has lived in hell, knows its smell and taste, and continues to confront it every day of his life. Yet he remains undeterred in his work to make peace in himself and the world at large."—Bernie Glassman, author of Instructions to the Cook and Bearing Witness
About the Author
Claude Anshin Thomas went to Vietnam at the age of eighteen, where he received numerous awards and decorations, including twenty-seven Air Medals, a Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Purple Heart. Today he is a monk in the Soto Zen tradition and an active speaker and Zen teacher in the United States and Europe. He is also the founder of the Zaltho Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes peace and nonviolence (www.zaltho.org). This is his first book.
Top customer reviews
Many of the more popular writers, argue for putting aside rituals that have become part of practice in Asian countries, putting aside a literal belief in the idea of reincarnation, and an empahsis on compassion and meditative practices. They argue these accomodations are both promising, and are inevitable, anyway. Then there are those who brook no compromise whatsover. Claude Thomas Anshin's, autobiographical, "At Hell's Gate," is a daunting, challenging, and ultimately inspiring look at a man who, through a sincere, if severe, dedication to the dharma, overcame drug addiction, PTSD, and a deep personal history of violence, to live as 'pure' a buddhist life as is possible in our life and times. Fascinating reading for those wrestling with the issues of adapting the practice to life in the West. Check out one of his dharma talks' on youtube: Claude AnShin Thomas, FAU Talk Boca Raton March 2013, to get an idea of what I'm talking about ...
When Thomas and his fellow vets returned home from the war, our society and culture attempted to wash its hands of its responsibility in that war by marginalizing those who had served, which reminds me of this quote by David Foster Wallace: "It's in the democratic citizen's nature to be like a leaf that doesn't believe in the tree it's part of." The excessive violence and trauma he experienced in Vietnam was exacerbated by the public's distrust of the veterans, so he isolated from other people and sought relief in drugs.
Thomas recovered from his addictions in 1983 and went on to be ordained as a Zen Buddhist monk and took the vows of a mendicant: to not own property, to not live in a monastery or reside with any permanence indoors, to not be gainfully employed and to commit to wander as a spiritual practice. To accept the inevitable suffering of life, he says we must practice mindfulness, which he defines as: "a state of existence that arises as we become more aware of our habitual impulses, our conditioned nature, our patterns of thought and behavior, and begin to stop allowing the habits to dictate how we respond to the world."
The gist of "Hell's Gate" is that suffering is not something to run from. It's to be embraced, because without suffering, there can be no joy.
David Allan Reeves
Author of "Running Away From Me"