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- Published on Amazon.com
"Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me." Buddhist Monk, Claude Anshin Thomas, doesn't mention this song in his book, "At Hell's Gate," but this is the song that went through my mind as I read it and which beautifully sums up Thomas' main message to his readers. Thomas writes, "Ultimately, all responsibility and all action begin with the individual, and so it is here that we must start. In it's simplest form, nonviolence is rooted in the knowledge that we have the capacity to act violently and aggressively and that we make a conscious choice not to do so."
Claude Anshin Thomas knows the evils of violence first hand. "At Hell's Gate" is his story from his personal hells of child abuse, Vietnam combat, and post traumatic stress disorder, to his futile attempts to cope which made his life more of a hell which included drug abuse and alcoholism and which helped lead to chronic unemployment and homeless. His healing began when he attended a meditation retreat for Vietnam War veterans lead by the distinguished Vietnamese Zen Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. Here he learned tools that truly brought him peace including telling his story, and meditation. Also, he unlearned his war indoctrination where anyone Vietnamese was seen as the enemy. To get the most out of this book, don't just read this as Thomas' story, but use his story as inspiration and guidance for healing your traumas and for changing how we think and act as a citizen.
Thomas points out that everyone has their Vietnam, their war, their hell, their suffering, be it child abuse, domestic violence, street violence, etc. When we don't come to terms with our suffering, we often unconsciously are violent against ourselves and against others. Reflecting on his father abusing him many years before, Thomas realized his father didn't intend to do any harm, but was acting out his suffering. Thomas provides us tools which worked for him on how to come to terms with our suffering, which include specifics on deep listening and mindful speech and meditation. Even Thomas, a Buddhist Monk, still finds it challenging to avoid using foul language and giving a certain finger gesture in traffic, and he provides specifics for calming ourselves in traffic. For this reason alone, everyone should read this book!
Thomas' self-help advice to the reader goes beyond dealing with our individual suffering, but rethinking and changing how we think and act as citizens, which is brilliantly illustrated by a memory from Thomas: When arrived back in the States after the Vietnam War, a beautiful young woman came up to him. Thomas assumed she would hug him or kiss him or perhaps thank him, as was the experience of his father's generation when they returned from World War II. Instead, she spat on him. Thought question: For those of us who espouse peace, are we behaving peacefully? Are we poster children for peaceful behavior? Thomas writes, "We [Vietnam vets] were the scapegoats for an entire country, for an entire culture that didn't want to take responsibility for its actions and decisions."
Wars don't just happen, they're sold to us by our government, by officials we as a group elect (or whom we allow to be elected by others when we don't vote). "Many people continue to believe that in certain circumstances we should kill to prevent further killing."
Thomas points out that "that argument has been used to justify preemptive strikes, to maintain a nuclear arsenal that could destroy the planet a hundred times over, to uphold the death penalty. It is being used as a rationale for the current occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan-and it was also the argument that the Fascists and the Nazis used to justify their agenda in Europe." Thomas writes "my hope is to help people discover what a terribly dangerous argument this is." Part of selling war to our society is the dehumanization and scapegoating of others. Thomas points out that "When we dehumanize others, we lose our own humanity. This doesn't just happen in the military: It happens through television, in the movies, in magazines; it happens on the street, it happens in stores and in the workplace."
Through his informally written yet powerful story and the tools he provides, Thomas invites us to wake up, to work on healing our suffering, to help others heal theirs, and to do our part to create a truly peaceful society within ourselves, our personal relationships, and our nation. "Peace is not the absence of conflict; it's the absence of violence within conflict," says Thomas.