MIMS, Fla. — It could very well be the most peaceful place in Brevard County.
Tucked away in a secluded area of Mims, the White Sands Buddhist Center is a magnificent sight you almost have to see to believe.
A wooded path lined with positive affirmations leads to a sprawling park where towering statues encircle a quiet pond.
“Every step of the journey is the journey,” a sign reads as you enter.
The 30-acre site just off Aurantia Road is near silent, except for the trickling of a nearby fountain, chirping birds and a soft breeze rustling through the trees. A series of statues rise nearly three stories in the air with intricate displays of flowering plants and paved stairways leading to their bases. The center is open daily from dawn until dusk and all are welcome, said Ron Henderson, a staff member who gives tours of the facility Wednesday through Sunday.
There are currently three massive statues that sit before a temple, a house for nuns and monks, a social dining hall, a gift shop and meditation areas. A fourth will be added in the coming months.
The massive statues include a “Nirvana Buddha,” which depicts Siddhartha, the original Buddha whose teachings are the basis of most Buddhist practices. The Nirvana Buddha shows Siddhartha depicted at age 80 just before his death. He has a smile on his face because he is at peace, said Henderson. The statue weighs 40 tons and is about 30 feet long, massive in all respects.
Across a landscaped park, a younger Siddhartha, depicted at age 35, stands in front of a house that is currently home to one nun and three monks. The statue is 35 feet tall and about 200 tons, said Henderson, and is the largest Buddha statue in the state. Across the pond stands Mother Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of peace and compassion. Avalokitesvara is a female Buddhist figure who greets Buddhists in the afterlife, helping the dead achieve nirvana or become reborn. The statue is 32 feet tall and weighs around 60 tons. She is framed by tall pillars and palm trees, a centerpiece of the sprawling facility.
A fourth statue of a baby Buddha will be added this summer and stand facing Mother Avalokitesvara. It will also rise 35 feet and weigh 200 tons. The statute will be the final addition to the center, said Henderson, and is the result of a fundraising campaign. It costs about $80,000 to get the statue sculpted in Vietnam. It then costs around $200,000 to ship the statue and another $50,000 to set it in place. The statues are made of granite and sit atop a concrete base. White Sands gets its funding completely through donations, said Henderson and money is not collected from visitors. “A plate is never passed,” he said.
White Sands was formed in 2005, and Mims was chosen as the location for its tranquility, and, of course, because the price was right, said Henderson. Buildings were erected in 2006 and the statues arrived in 2012.
The center sees about 100 visitors a day during peak times. During the summer months, when it heats up, there are fewer guests.
But the White Sands Center is so much more than just monuments or a backdrop for pictures. It’s a place for meditation and enlightenment for the more than 50 members of the Buddhist temple, many who are Vietnamese. Members travel from all over the county and as far as Daytona and Orlando to reach the grounds, which hosts a service each Sunday. The services are announced by a monk who rings a 2,200-pound bell for a half hour, calling members to the temple. At 9:50 a.m. the services begin and run about 2 hours, including a meditation, Dharma talk and a vegetarian lunch. Shoes must be taken off before entering the temple and members sit on the floor. Services are led by Zen Master Khai Thien.
“There is no discrimination here. It doesn’t matter your gender, your race, your education,” said Henderson, and Buddhists do not believe their practices conflict with other religions because “you’re not worshiping a god.”
It’s about reaching enlightenment, which he described as having “no cravings.”
“You’re not suddenly smarter,” he said. “You just give up all desires, which is very difficult for humans.”
To be a Buddhist at White Sands, members are asked to take an oath in front of the abbot and promise not to kill, lie, steal, abuse substances or engage in sexual misconduct.
While the White Sands Buddhist Center may be a quiet place for meditation on most days, there are celebrations, including a large Lunar New Year festival. The festival hosts about 550 people and includes an elaborate Chinese dragon dance and the release of Chinese lanterns. White Sands Buddhists also celebrate the Buddhist Birthday each April and an Ullambana celebration that honors mothers, fathers and other elders. Retreats are also hosted quarterly for members and the grounds have also played host to weddings. The only rule is all food on the premises must be vegetarian.
Still, membership is not needed to visit the center, which is open to all who want to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life, find a place for quiet thinking or just check out the mammoth statues. Whatever the reason for visiting, there is one thing that rings true for most — it truly is one of Brevard’s most hidden treasures.
Information from: Florida Today (Melbourne, Fla.), http://www.floridatoday.com