Desert Dharma

At 7:30 pm on April 27, 1998, two events were taking place within a mile of each other. Nestled between the neon and glitter, bright lights and buffets of the Las Vegas Strip, the Aladdin Casino's luck had run out. Nostalgia has no identity in Glitter Gulch, history affords no accommodations. A thirty-year landmark of the Las Vegas Strip was stripped from view, imploded in the name of progress. As one era came crashing down in a heap of metal girders and dust, the second event inaugurated a different age in Southern Nevada. A mile from the change-hungry mob surrounding the ill-fated casino, the dedication and renaming of the Mojave Desert Zen Center was also underway.


Like some Rat-Packed showroom from the sixties, Zen Master Seung Sahn addressed a standing-room-only crowd. The detonations from the Aladdin thrummed in the distance, each a firecracker-like pop of precise destruction. Zen Master Seung Sahn, his Zen stick in hand, hit the table three times, the sharp raps mimicking each explosion. He spoke in his native Korean tongue, with Mu Shim Sunim translating:


"In this desert, an oasis has appeared. If there is no oasis in the desert, there is no place for people to drink water, and if you have no water to drink, you soon will die. Las Vegas has been called the city of desire, or the city of sin. A Zen Center in this city of desire is just like a beautiful oasis appearing in this very dry desert. We cannot help but say that this gem, this oasis, is the result of hard work by our abbot Thom Pastor and Dr. Ju-Choen Lee. This effort will produce much more dharma water. This dharma water will give great enlightenment to the thirsty students, and will help save many beings.


"Our Buddhism is not just getting happiness for ourselves. Our Buddhism is finding our own mind light and using this illumination to shine on all beings. If we find this mind light together, then this truly can become Great Brightness Zen Center. Dae, or great, means no opposites. Myung, or bright, means no shadow. If we acquire our true nature's light, then there is no shadow. Soen Won means Zen center. This place is Dae Myung Soen Won, meaning Great Brightness Zen Center, or No Shadow Zen Center. I hope that everyone travels to this Great Brightness Zen Center, discovers their true nature light, and saves all beings from suffering."