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 SRU graduate recounts Vietnam horrors; current life as Zen monk 



September 21, 2009

CONTACT: K.E. Schwab


SRU graduate recounts Vietnam horrors; current life as Zen monk    


SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Claude Anshin Thomas, a Zen monk, international peace activist, award-winning author and Slippery Rock University graduate, will deliver a public lecture at 7 p.m. Sept. 24 detailing his horrifying experiences and life during and after military service in Vietnam.

           The free lecture will be presented in SRU's Advanced Technology and Science Hall and is expected to be filmed as part of a feature-length documentary co-directed and co-produced by Emmy-nominated producers Jillian Moul and Matthew Moul. The documentary, currently titled "Surviving Home," explores the lives of veterans of the U.S. armed forces, focusing on the challenges they face on their return to civilian life. The documentary may be entered in the Sundance Film Festival, the Tribeca Film Festival, the Toronto Film Festival and the Hawaii Film Festival.

           Thomas volunteered for active military duty at age 18 and served as a crew chief on assault helicopters in Vietnam. By the end of his duty tour, he had been awarded numerous medals, including 27 Air Medals, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart. He witnessed horrifying cruelty, narrowly escaped death on multiple occasions and was responsible for many Vietnamese deaths. 

            When Thomas returned home he found, like many Vietnam veterans, that he continued to live in a state of war. For years, he struggled with severe post-traumatic stress, drug and alcohol addiction, isolation, suicidal tendencies and homelessness. He had hoped for a hero's welcome, but was instead greeted by a young woman in the Newark Airport who spat in his face. Tormented by the memories of killing and of seeing his fellow soldiers killed, Thomas suffered without answers.

            In 1990, after more than 20 years of misery, he attended a meditation retreat for Vietnam veterans led by the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, and said it dramatically changed his life. Through Buddhism, he learned that healing could never come through the avoidance of more suffering. After spending years trying to sleepwalk through life, he experienced joy in becoming what the Buddha called "awake" - mindful of the gift of the present moment. Now a monk, Thomas leads retreats and talks with other victims of violence all over the world. 

           Thomas, who teaches in the U.S., Europe and Asia, is founder of the Zaltho Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes peace and nonviolence in and among individuals, families, societies and countries supporting all efforts to attain this goal through whatever peaceful and nonviolent means available.

            His book, "At Hell's Gate; A Soldiers Journey from War to Peace" won the 2005 Omni Media Nautilus Book Award for Best Autobiography/Memoir, and the 2005  Spirituality and Health Award for Best Spiritual Book. A book signing will follow Thomas' address.

            His campus visit is being sponsored by the departments of philosophy, English and professional studies, and the College of Humanities Fine and Performing Arts.

            Thomas graduated from SRU in 1974 as a secondary education major.

            For more information contact Andrew Colvin, assistant professor of philosophy, at 724.738.4996. 

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.

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