Westlock Mediation Centre getting a makeover
Decade-old centre located south of Westlock brings in Buddhists from around the world
Tuesday, Apr 11, 2017 06:00 am
Peter Trang loves being the caretaker of the Westlock Meditation Centre … most of the time.
“It’s very peaceful, when they’re not doing construction, anyway,” he said with a laugh.
Trang, or Thay Duc Tang as he is known in his temple, is overseeing the centre’s latest development, a Lotus Pagoda.
The hexagonal building will ultimately connect with the retreat’s kitchen building and mediation hall and will serve as an dining hall for monks and pilgrims, as well as connect with living quarters for guests.
Construction on the Pagoda began in January and is expected to be wrapped up by summer.
“It’s the centerpiece of the whole area,” he explained, adding that the Pagoda was part of a larger 10-year plan that the Edmonton Buddhist Research Institute, which owns the centre, had laid out with an engineer.
“Every year we’re just kind of adding on stuff. We want to build the basic infrastructure so people can stay and practice.”
The centre serves as both a haven for mediation and mindfulness among practitioners in the area as well as a gathering point for Buddhists from around the world. Trang said the centre has four retreats yearly and roughly 80 per cent of the people who attend come from out of the country.
“Usually we have about 30 that come out and practice. In the summer we have the most people, between 500-700 people who come out and practice with us for 10 days,” he said. The larger summer retreat runs from Aug. 1-10 and attracts people from Europe, Australia and the United States.
Trang noted that a large part of the construction was for visitors so they could have a place to stay while attending retreats. However, that isn’t everything they’re working on.
“We’re also planning to have a place for people to store their loved one’s ashes,” he said.
“We’re going to add another 14-metre tall Buddha statue at the man-made lake, hopefully by next summer.”
He also said plans are underway to build a new bell tower and a meditation garden.
While the general idea behind Buddhism is freeing yourself from worldly attachments, Trang noted that the centre served as a bit of an economic boost for the area as well.
“Once in awhile when we get groceries we bring guests in with us to the Town of Westlock and show them around. We also bring youth out to the Rotary Spirit Centre,” he said. “Locally, we have weekly meditations here every Wednesday at 7 p.m. We’ll have people come from Westlock and Edmonton to mediate from us. Usually five to 10 people.”
The centre was built after the Edmonton Buddhist Research Institute purchased the quarter section in 2007. Trang said the practitioners were attracted to the area’s quiet.
“My teacher, Thay Phap Hoa, wanted to build a centre that was outside of the city. A place that’s ideal for practice. Also it has a lot more parking space,” joked Trang.
“But really giving people a place to dive deeper into their practice, because the closest town is Westlock and it’s quite far.”
Trang noted that the centre is chiefly intended for practicing mindfulness, meditation and chanting.
The Edmonton Buddhist Research Institute subscribes to the philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism, which teaches that enlightenment can be attained in a single lifetime and is reachable by anyone.
“There’s two schools of thought, there’s Mahayana which we are which is kind of the Buddhism that changes with the time,” explained Trang. “There’s another branch, called Theravada Buddhism. They are a Buddhism that kind of retains everything from during the Buddha’s time. They even wear the same kind of saffron robes of the Buddha, whereas in the Mahayana tradition we change with the times. For example, back then monks didn’t drive or have computers but in this day and age we have to practice with those.”
He added that Mahayana is more of a “back to basics” style of Buddhism.
“We have more emphasis on mediation, chanting and the pure mind concept.”
Trang added that the centre was not exclusively for Buddhists, pointing out that facility had been used for retreats Christian groups, ecological groups and other peace-minded organizations.
All the construction costs are being covered by donations to the society.
Trang invited people interested in the centre to an open house in the fall after the construction is finished.