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No religion unexplored by Arizona artist

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Posted: Saturday, June 23, 2007 3:19 pm | Updated: 6:37 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Religious explorer Thomas Pearce can offer a dizzying account of his 56 years of rambling through the canyons of faith — Catholicism, Unification Church, Hinduism, Taoism, Unity, Confucianism, Zen Buddhism and others. He somehow loves and embraces them all because “there are no exclusive religions.”

Religious explorer Thomas Pearce can offer a dizzying account of his 56 years of rambling through the canyons of faith — Catholicism, Unification Church, Hinduism, Taoism, Unity, Confucianism, Zen Buddhism and others. He somehow loves and embraces them all because “there are no exclusive religions.”

The Mesa man has lived in 22 states, can count 23 full-time jobs, spent four years hitchhiking more than 10,000 miles, lived in Japan for eight years and explains, “I have been a spiritual seeker since I was in high school.” He has an economics degree from the University of Massachusetts and two master’s degrees.

A former world religions instructor at Mesa Community College, Pearce was working on his doctorate in religions through Arizona State University but became dissatisfied because “I was getting too minuscule in my topic and so irrelevant, and I wanted to be relevant.”

These days he is an online instructor through the University of St. Francis in Illinois. He is also at work raising interest in his “Ritual Light Enterprises” and what he has coined “Zenography,” using the arts of Japanese Zen Buddhism to get people to see another reality.

Zen is one of the four major groups within Buddhism, most practiced in Japan, in which followers seek enlightenment through introspection and intuition. It emphasizes mind-to-mind transmission.

On his computer, Pearce has produced “Zenography: Buddhist Photographic Designs,” which he describes as “a deliberate attempt to manipulate the viewers’ perception of reality, resemble gardens, or try to capture existential or symbolic elements of the Zen Buddhist quest for enlightenment.” He hopes to get it published and marketed, especially in Japan, where he taught English. “The book really is my life,” he said, “it is a testimony of my faith, like you have never seen in any religious text in the world.”

“I didn’t make the art in order to sell it,” he said. “I just made it as an expression of my own faith.”

Pearce, a contemporary Buddhist abstract artist, said that because Zen Buddhist meditation “sensitizes the mind to realize the unity of the natural world and the mental world, Zenography pictures use a variety of natural props such as mounted rocks, flowers, candles and cloth.” He strives to mix images on panels, often in jarring juxtaposition.

He recently returned from a two-week study at the San Francisco Zen Center. He said Zen Buddhism seems to be a growing interest, especially among college students.

Last month, he launched the East Mesa Bodhisattva Club with many goals: study of the nature of the world’s religion, practice of meditation and dance, study of the ideal relationships with humanity and nature, exploration of Japanese culture and the support of “the work of the International Prayer for Peace Network.”

“As a religious ideal, the path to the bodhisattva (meaning 'enlightenment being’) is truly the most universal Christlike path,” Pearce said. “Instead of entering perfect enlightenment (nirvana), the bodhisattva vows to return to the cycles of rebirth until all beings gain enlightenment.

“When I was very young, I was a very devout Catholic, but then I decided I didn’t believe in God … or anything,” said Pearce, who was born and raised in Sharon, Ohio. He chose to not “take other people’s words for the existence of God” and clung to a desire to significantly help the world. Pearce studied psychology in college but dropped out during the Vietnam War and went on a hitchhiking odyssey, holding down such jobs as a resort gardener, working on a salvage boat in the Los Angeles harbor, selling commercial art, plumbing, building fiberglass boats and selling commercial art.

Pearce said his adventures helped him value the Hindu concept of ashrams, the four stages of life: moving for those of learning, looking after others, turning to meditation and finally, sannyasa, when the person turns from the worldly to sacred and spiritual pursuits.

The bodhisattva calls to everyone “who has the intent to improve themselves for the sake of the world,” Pearce said, who practices with chanting and “gazing,” a meditative position with the eyes half-closed, “you’re looking out without intent.”

“You won’t find Buddhists who are exclusive,” he said, noting how in Japan, for example, children will be blessed in Shinto traditions, have Christian weddings and Buddhist funerals.

“I have been to China and all over Asia, but I am not a traveler,” Pearce said. “I try to go only to places to study the religions.”

“A lot of students ask me if they need to believe in reincarnation in order to be a Buddhist, and I say, 'No, except for the mind-set that it is all a learning process,’ ” said Pierce, a widower. The Christian concept of heaven can be viewed as another kind of reincarnation, like the next phase, he said.

“It’s not essential that you think one way or another about coming back here to have a physical body or so, but everything you do is meant to improve your heart, mind and body.”

The key, he said, is to be on that path to enlightenment where “you are actually working for the sake of all sentient beings, all humanity.”

“If you screw up in this lifetime and you find yourself in a terrible hell situation, it’s not a problem, because then you are there as the person who is trying to better themselves to help the people around them.”

Thomas Pearce

For more information, call (480) 654-3711 or visit rituallight.com

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