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At Hell's Gate Hardcover – 1 Sep 2004

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 23 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Vital and necessary reading 3 Sept. 2004
By RaleighObserver - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a deeply inspiring and relevant book. It is part memoir, part social and spiritual commentary, and part instruction manual. It is a tonic we can all benefit from.

With courage, unblinking honesty and clarity, Claude AnShin Thomas shares with us the story of his life. Abused childhood, intensive combat in the Vietnam War, social dysfunction, alcohol and drug addiction, homelessness, failed relationships -- and eventually his path to waking up, to living out a commitment to be awake and to live in mindfulness. Thomas chose to become a Buddhist monk as his expression of that commitment, but his story is universal. Non-Buddhists can benefit as much from this book as Buddhists can.

This book is about violence and war, the causes of violence and war inside of all of us, what it means to stop that war, and how vital it is to take that step. Thomas draws the very real parallels between our internal emotional experience and our external reality. If we are at war inside ourselves, if we condone violence in ourselves and in our lives, then violence will inevitably arise in the world around us, and war will inevitably arise as one expression of that violence. Thomas writes, with clarity and conviction borne of experience, that stopping the war can only happen when we stop hiding from our suffering and anguish, when we completely and fully own who we are in our greatest insights and our worst delusions. Once we take this step of not hiding, we can then make real choices and chose to live differently. We can chose not to support violence in our lives and in the lives of others. Our lives can become more vital, more real, and then, as Thomas shows us, real joy is possible.

Thomas more than realizes all these things: he lives them, and what he presents to us in this book is his own life as an example, a great, personal wake-up call. Thomas' life is that of one who "walks the walk". As he shows us his life, Thomas asks us to make our own commitment to wake up, to live differently, to stop the violence.

There are instructions in mindfulness practice here, very practical and simple ones. There are exhortations to live mindfully and wake up. And mostly there is Thomas' story, instructive and inspiring, showing us that all of this is possible. It is possible to own all of who we are and change our lives. If someone with Thomas' background of deep, relentless suffering can do it, we all can.

This book has tremendous relevence to all of us as our country and the world continues in the cycles of war and violence. It should be required reading. Highly recommended
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Let there be peace on Earth and LET IT BEGIN WITH ME. 27 Feb. 2005
By Groovy Vegan - Published on
Format: Hardcover
"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.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Amazing Journey from Viet Nam Soldier to Zen Monk 12 Dec. 2004
By D. Buxman - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most interesting books of personal transformation that I have ever read. The author's odyssey from an abusive childhood, through bloody combat in the Viet Nam War and his subsequent struggles with addiction, followed by his discovery of a path to inner peace is extremely fascinating. I was touched by Mr. Thomas' candor in addressing the damage that had been done to him, as well as the damage that he had inflicted upon others as a soldier. If you have ever wondered if a path of non-violence was possible, this book offers a practical example that a person can hope to emulate on a personal level. I especially enjoyed the accounts of the author's walking journeys across Europe and America that he undertook as Zen pilgrimages.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
An Important Book 14 Sept. 2004
By Susan - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book tells an amazing story: how one man, abused in childhood, a combat soldier in Vietnam, a homeless drug addict, found the means for healing. Beginning with an encounter with Thich Nhat Hanh (the Vietnamese Monk) and then Bernie Glassman Roshi (Zen Peacemaker Order), he came into alignment with the pain of violence--his own and others. Now a mendicant monk, he has much to teach us about where the responsibiity for violence really lies--within us all. A powerful (and very readable) book.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Wow... 25 Jan. 2005
By W. S. Bradley - Published on
Format: Hardcover
As a Desert Storm Veteran and novice Buddhist practitioner wrestling with my own demons, in many ways I felt I was reading my own story...of the 100+ books I've read on Buddhism, this one has touched me in a way like no other, and has motivated me to throw myself more diligently into my spiritual practice. While all of us wish to rid ourselves of anger and unkind behavior, the author inspires and even compels us to start the healing process within ourselves that will enable us to do so. At Hell's Gate goes much beyond being a must read for combat vets: anyone wrestling with scars of the past who truly wants to live a life of peace with family and society as a whole will find this book to be truly remarkable.
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