FTR – Hello Claude. Thank you for your time. We met you on the side of the road while we were bicycling through Florida. Can you tell us a little about yourself (age, occupation, where you grew up, etc)?
Claude – Just now I am 65 years old, I am a Zen Buddhist Monk and I grew up in Waterford, Pennsylvania.
FTR – You mentioned the prolific walking you have done in your life. How many miles all told?
Claude – All told somewhere between 45 and 48,000.
FTR – What inspired you to do the walking?
Claude – The practice of Pilgrimage is an ancient practice that was used by monks for century’s as a way to clarify the question of insight. I wanted to experience what ever this practice had to offer to me.
FTR – How many countries have you walked in and which ones?
Claude – Somewhere in the neighborhood of 33 different countries and 18 different States.
FTR – Which countries have you walked completely across?
Claude – All 33 plus all 18 states.
FTR – How many people usually went with on the journeys and what did a day on the road look like?
Claude – The numbers would vary. I have walked with as few as 3 and as many as 1,000. We would get up in the morning and do 20 minutes of sitting meditation followed by a series of recitations. Eat what ever food was available then start walking. We would walk about 2 hours and then rest for 10 minutes, we would keep this routine until we had walked 18 to 20 miles or to the next village which ever was first. When we arrived in the next place we would then approach the churches first asking for a simply place to stay and simple food to eat. Because we walk without money, having to beg for everything. If no one offered us a place to stay or food to eat then we slept outside, did not eat and then walked to the next place. However, before turning in for the evening we would sit for a period of 20 minutes followed by a series of recitations. here would you sleep? We slept where ever a space was provided and if not then we slept outside. We did not carry any tents.
FTR – What would you eat?
Claude – We ate whatever was donated to us, however we did not eat any meat, fish or poultry.
FTR – It is a long way from Waterford, PA and becoming a Buddhist Monk…can you share how that happened and how long the process took?
Claude – This story is best explained in the book “AT HELL’S GATE, A Soldiers Journey From War To Peace” published by Shambhala.
However, here is a short biography:
“Claude AnShin Thomas was born 1947 in Meadville, Pennsylvania. His childhood began his exposure to violence and abuse. At the age of 18 he volunteered to serve in the Vietnam. He served there as a helicopter Crew Chief from 1966 – ‘67. He was shot down on five occasions and was wounded once, receiving the Purple Heart and carries the responsibility for the death of many people.
After his return to the US, he experienced years of unemployment and social isolation. He began to walk a Buddhist path in 1990 and received novice ordination into the Japanese Soto Zen Buddhist tradition in December of1994.
Claude AnShin deeply realized that the roots of war are within each one of us and that our acceptance of our own vulnerability, aggression, fear, and individual suffering is the starting point of peace. “When war ends here within us, then war ends. If everyone ends the war within oneself, then there are no seeds any longer from which war can grow: “At HELL’S GATE- A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace”, Shambhala 2004.
Today Claude AnShin speaks internationally in religious and secular communities about cultures of violence and how they can become transformed. He visits war-torn countries, places of past and current suffering, hospitals, schools, and prisons. He facilitates mindfulness meditation retreats, long distance pilgrimages, street-retreats and practice days in former concentration camps, etc.
He is also the founder of the Zaltho Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization that promotes nonviolence and transformation.
FTR – What did you learn about people from all the traveling?
Claude – One of the most striking things is that those who have the most share the least – and those who have the least are the most generous. Also, I was very moved by the basic goodness of the majority of the people that I have come in contact with all over the world.
FTR – What did you learn about yourself?
Claude – That Pilgrimage is not a journey to an external holy place. The Holy place is self, with the understanding that self is not separate from all that is included in this experience that we call life.
The Four the Road Family warmly thanks you Claude.
~The Four The Road Family
P.S. Want to get interviewed? Go on an epic adventure!
Or, if you have, let us know. We would love to share your story with our growing reader base.
If you haven’t yet, we hope that a fire is kindled within you that won’t be snuffed out until action is taken. Be inspired….
Thank you for bookmarking and shopping through our Amazon link. It helps us pay the light bill. 😉 You can find it on any page of our site. Just look for the Amazon Search box on the right side of the screen.