At Hell's Gate
A Soldier's Journey from War to Peace
New paperback edition.The moving and redemptive story of a decorated Vietnam combat veteran who became a Zen monk and an international peace activist.
Claude Thomas was seventeen when he volunteered for active duty in Vietnam, where he became a crew chief on assault helicopters. By his eighteenth birthday he had been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people. When he returned home he was haunted by his wartime experiences and struggled with his inner demons of despair and drug and alcohol addiction. Then he attended a retreat for Vietnam veterans by Thich Nhat Hanh and became a student of Zen, going on to become a monk in the Soto Zen tradition. Today he travels the world teaching meditation and leading peace pilgrimages.
"Written with relentless courage and utter compassion, this account of violence and transformation is one of the most amazing and wonderful stories I've ever read." Michael Herr, author of Dispatches.
"Claude 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. 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.
Read an extract of this title
A Soldier's Prayer
At the age of seventeen I enlisted in the U.S. Army and volunteered for service in Vietnam. By taking up arms, I was directly responsible for killing several hundred people, and the killing didn't stop until I was honorably discharged and sent home with numerous medals, including a Purple Heart. But as I pieced together the shrapnel of my life and discovered the heart that had been shattered by combat, I discovered that there is no justified killing, no clear separation between good and bad violence, and no rectitude in war. War is just the acting out of suffering.
Arriving at this understanding and accepting the first Buddhist precept of not killing (which is also the fifth commandment), required a long march not only through Vietnam, homelessness, and jails but also through war-torn and war-scarred regions around the world, from Bosnia to Afghanistan, Auschwitz to Cambodia.
This book contains the field notes from those marches and my attempt to share the lessons I've learned, not only in the monasteries where I have trained, but in the trenches, streets, and homes where I discovered the truth of the Buddha's insight about the reality of suffering. We all desire happiness-what is good, pleasant, right, permanent, joyful, harmonious, satisfying, and easy. But life often brings frustration, dissatisfaction, incompleteness, and sorrow. It is this suffering that leads us to violence against ourselves and against others, and coming to terms with suffering is the only way ultimately to end violence and live with greater peace in the world.
I hope this book will be of benefit to those who are affected by violence and yearn for something different- peace. Everyone has their Vietnam. Everyone has their war. May we embark together on a pilgrimage of ending these wars and truly living peace.