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Buddhist monk gives insights on healing, transformation

Tim Mutrie

Ordained Zen Buddhist Monk Claude AnShin Thomas is in Aspen to give a lecture tonight at 7:30 p.m. and to lead an all-day retreat Saturday. Both events will be held at the Aspen Community Church.

“I talk about healing and transformation from a Buddhist perspective – from the teachings of Shakya Muni Buddha, rather than institutional Buddhism,” Thomas said. “When I talk, what I make an effort to do, is offer people practical tools, based in Buddhist teachings, that can help them in their daily lives, regardless of their beliefs or non-beliefs. These tools can help them live more fully.”

Thomas said meditation is one of the tools he teaches. He said he’ll teach participants numerous styles of meditation, among the 10,000 varieties that exist.

“Meditation is the ability to experience life directly at the present moment,” he said. “It’s not a particular moment, but the present. It’s also about expanding the breadth of meditation.

“I introduce people to Buddhist teachings in a secular way – my mission isn’t to convert people to Buddhism, but to teach people who are looking to live life more fully to do so,” Thomas explained. “With these tools, people can learn to better explore their own traditions.”

A decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, Thomas was wounded and shot down five times as a helicopter crew chief. His life went into decline following his wartime service, characterized by drug and alcohol addiction and homelessness.

“The way my life went was a result of my inability to wake up to the nature of the suffering that was Vietnam,” he said. “So what I offer people, through my presence, is the example of what can happen when we do not wake up. The nature of suffering is that decisions get made for us. We pretend that everything’s OK, when really it isn’t.”

In 1991, Thomas discovered Buddhist teachings and began righting his life. He was ordained as a Zen priest in 1995, and now he devotes his time toward promoting peace through pilgrimages and meditation. He recently completed a pilgrimage walk from New York to San Francisco.

“When I became ordained, I took vows of mendicancy, [to be a spiritual wanderer who vows not to work in a gainful way], to live in the moment and to place myself in a position to be of service to the teachings,” Thomas said. “It’s part of the teachings of Dana, which is selfless giving.

“Many people may not have experienced the extreme of material deprivation that I’ve experienced,” Thomas said. “But what I ask people to do is not to compare their life to mine, but to identify with the essence of these experiences – homelessness is the material manifestation of other issues. For other people, homelessness might be being trapped in a loveless relationship; for others, it might be living in a four-and-a-half million dollar house, and not being happy. Somewhere they can connect.”

For additional information and/or to register for the Naropa Institute-sponsored event, call Dennis Tuma at 923-4090 or Walt Dickson at 925-5070.


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