The Monk and The Stripper: Practicing Mindfulness in Las Vegas

Enter-at-your-own-risk-Fotolia_34600995_XS-300x300-1“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.” Jiddu Krishnamurti

One day, driving down the main strip in Las Vegas, I saw a billboard with the Buddha’s picture, saying, “Your thoughts create your world”.

I’ve known this since I was a little boy in Sri Lanka, but I know Americans still wrestle with this idea, so I was happy to see this quote in the middle of the strip.

Suddenly, I felt a hard push and I heard a crash. Someone had hit me!

Being jolted forward scared me, but because I practice mindfulness, I was able to keep calm while the person who hit me got out of her car.

She was shouting the F word into her cell phone. This used to bother me, but I hear it all the time here. I hardly notice it anymore.

I got out of my car, wearing my maroon robes as usual. I am small, bald and brown. I wear simple sandals. It’s pretty obvious that I am a Buddhist monk.

The girl from the other car hung up the phone when she saw me.

“Crap! I hit a priest! ”

I told her that I was actually a Buddhist monk and that we should call the police.

She started to cry, begging me. “No police! Please no police!”

“Ok,” I said, smiling.

She was surprised. “What do you mean, ok?

“I mean, ok.”

I still wanted to exchange insurance cards, though. The Buddha taught monks to be kind, not foolish. Whenever I fly, I smile to myself when the airport workers tell us to put the oxygen masks on ourselves before we try to help someone else. The Buddha taught this more than 2500 years ago, and it is still important today.

“We must become our own best friends. We have to love ourselves, before we can really love anyone else. ”-Bikkhuni Vimala

The lady told me her records were at work and she asked me to follow her there. I said ok and walked back to my car. I guess she could have taken off.

You might think that I trust too much, but as a monk who practices meditation, I’ve learned to trust my inner guidance. I trust people because I trust myself.

I wish that you could trust yourselves more, especially when it comes to trusting your own internal good sense. We call that your Buddha nature.

When the woman stopped her car and walked into a building, I followed her. I wondered what she did for work.

It was dark and loud inside. I had never been anywhere like this. There was a big screen in front of me and I started to sweat when I realized what was on the screen:

Women. Dancing with almost no clothes, or with no clothes at all!

I was a Buddhist monk in a strip club. What would people think? In Sri Lanka, monks don’t even drive and they certainly don’t go to strip clubs.

Two big men came and asked me to follow them.

I took a few, deep breaths. I rubbed my eyes, under my glasses.

Then, my Buddha nature reminded me; I could practice equanimity; observation without judging. This is not easy, even for me, and I’ve been a monk since I was 11.

As I followed the bouncers back into the club, I made myself smile at the women dancing and the men watching. I wish you could have seen their faces as a monk passed by. They were sweating worse than me.

I still laugh, thinking about all of us sweating, even though the air conditioning was on full blast.

I thought I was practicing compassion as I walked past the bar, thinking that if the woman knew their value, they wouldn’t earn money by stripping and the men wouldn’t be entertained by watching then. Then, I did my best to let that thought pass. It was just another judgment.

Some of the men left as I walked past. I think they felt embarrassed when they saw me, just like I felt when I first came into the club.

The woman who hit me was crying in a tiny back room. She said she was sorry.

I smiled at her. She asked me why I was smiling.

“You were just in an accident!”

“Yes, but still I am happy. Why aren’t you happy?”

“I hit a monk! I am a single mom and a stripper! I can’t imagine what you must think!’

It was funny. She was thinking just what I was thinking a few minutes before. I decided then that I didn’t care what anyone thought. I just wanted to help.

“Want to know what I think? I think that you should meditate to calm down.”

She looked surprised and the bouncer next to her said,

“Well, let’s just do what he says.”

I led them in a short meditation, telling them to wish themselves happy, well and peaceful. I let them know that self-love is a noble act.

 I told them I could smile when the girl was crying because I love myself.

I told them that if I jumped into her boat, we would both drown. We have to stay in our own boats.

My insurance agent got a big kick out of this story and he asked me about meditation. Now my insurance agent and the stripper practice meditation. We are friends to this day.

I tell you this story to make you smile and to let you know that anyone can practice meditation. You don’t have to be a monk and you don’t need any special training.

Breathe quietly. Close your eyes. Think, “May I be happy, may I be well, may I be peaceful.” Then think, “May they be happy, may they be well, may they be peaceful.” Then focus on your breath while you sit quietly with yourself and let your thoughts just be.

If you do this every day, you will be happier.

May you be happy, well and peaceful.

“My main message is not about Buddhism.  I don’t want anyone to believe anything.   I just want them to know that they can heal their wounded minds, and help more people, with a simple loving kindness meditation practice.   Mary, loving kindness is a force, just as powerful as your armed forces.  That’s what I want people to know. “-Venerable Bhante  Sujatha, Chief Sanganayaka, North America.




Story written as told by Mary Gustafson, the author of My Wish.










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