Zen Buddhism Las Vegas Style
Over the years I’ve thought of meditation and eastern religions as something magical and mystical and for wild thinking individuals, but surely not for me. Yet, the intrigue of it all has led me to investigate its allure via reading and lately of deeper investigation including my visit to The Zen Center of Las Vegas and a chat with it’s Abbot, Zen Master Thom Pastor (Ji Haeng is his Zen name).
A simplistic explanation is that Zen Buddhism teaches that all human beings have a Buddha-nature, within them, but for many the Buddha-nature has been clouded by human desire for group thinking and lack of knowledge. To overcome these obstacles Zen promotes meditation that leads to a sudden breakthrough of insight and awareness of ultimate reality.
As Thom explained love, compassion, equanimity, in the moment, anger release and removal of the I/my/me from our thoughts are words and phrases that lie at the base of Zen beliefs. Meditation is the vehicle to find or reach them. The practice of Zen is centered on moving us steadily towards knowing and loving ourselves while living in the now.
Have you ever experienced the moments of total focus on the now that comes from playing music or sport? Thom compared these fleeting moments in the now to what Zen provides on an everyday basis. He is a musician of some renown and found Zen 30 years ago after reading a book that provided him the realization that Zen and meditation would produce the same focus that he felt playing his wind instruments. Playing for people like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and a host of other famous singers he built a solid career in the music world. He has found the same renown in the world of Zen and is the 79th Patriarch; Buddha was the first, of his branch of Zen.
Walking past the tennis court that is now converted into a fitness area He shared Master Shoda Hirada’s thought that Zen enters through the body not the mind. Sport and fitness focus the mind on the activity at hand and free the body to be open to Zen’s entry.
Building on this premise the center recently welcomed Lori Harrigan-Mack a three time Olympic Gold Medal winner in women’s softball and Hiroshi Allen, a long time member of the USA Karate team and Karate instructor to address the similarities between their sports and meditation. Both spoke of the total focus of their minds on what they were doing at the moment as the key to success in their sports. Similarly, meditation frees the mind to focus on the now while fostering success at finding peace and loving ones self.
It is spring in Las Vegas and the gardens of the Zen Center of Las Vegas are flourishing in the mild weather. Thom leads me on a tour out to the waterfall and onto the bridge over the pond that lies at its base. As we walked I asked Thom why more people did not practice Zen and the art of meditation. “Meditation and the Zen that we practice are like peeling an onion. Thin transparent layers of opinion, judgment, and like/dislike are slowly removed as a person goes deeper and deeper. Many people build a moat around themselves to protect a false identity of I/my/me. This results in anger that is expressed via harsh speech, bumper stickers and irrational beliefs. People love their drama and they think that they would be nothing (no thing) without it. “We had a T-shirt that said in Chinese “Mind Makes Everything”. People are indoctrinated into group thinking and hold tight to it. Zen shatters these beliefs and we find that everything is unfolding in an orderly manner and we find pure consciousness. Fear of losing their identity prevents people from taking the first step, yet if they would just step over the moat they will find their true identity along with peace and compassion.
One of the benefits of meditation is the rediscovery of compassion. As Thom says: “Compassion is not something we aspire to it is our original nature. We can return to it no matter where we are. Focus on I/my/me pushes compassion is pushed to the side. Yet, we can rediscover it and find equanimity – If someone is hungry give them something to eat, thirsty, give them something to drink.”
The Zen Center is designed to provide an environment that is conducive to meditation and finding compassion. It sits as an island of peace in a hectic city that surrounds it. Stroll the walking meditation path through the orchard, past the waterfall and into the bamboo grove and you will get a sense of the peace that meditation and Zen might bring. It is a jewel that sparkles in the desert of Las Vegas.
The Center provides a place to seek one’s self in it’s gardens and Dharma room as well as the ideal place for weddings that are typically held in the amphitheater in the heart of the beautiful and peaceful gardens.
Visitors are encouraged and their participation welcome. Classes are offered in meditation and Zen for those who wish to progress on that path. Don’t forget the gift shop, I bought my first Zen beads there) with proceeds going to help support the Center.
Whether you are a Las Vegas local, seeking a break from your activities on the strip or come to see the natural beauty surrounding it, put The Zen Center of Las Vegas on your itinerary. You’ll be glad that you did.