The Des Moines Zen Center was established in 1992. It follows Japanese Soto Zen Buddhist principles. An initial workshop presented by Rev. Nonin Chowaney, Abbot of the Nebraska Zen Center, marked the inception of the group which began to sit regularly at the Thoreau Center on Kingman Boulevard in Des Moines.
In August of 2000, Rev. Zuiko Redding of the Cedar Rapids Zen Center and Rev. Shoken Winecoff of Ryumonji Zen Monastery near Decorah came to Des Moines to help a few members of the Des Moines Zen Center prepare for lay ordination by sewing small ceremonial robes called rakusus. The following year, with the rakusus completed, Shoken led the lay ordination ceremony called jukai at the Thoreau Center. Eventually in 2001, the sangha outgrew its space and moved to an apartment in the Drake area. By 2010, the group had moved again to the South of Grand area.
The Des Moines Zen Center owes a debt of gratitude to the generosity of many Zen teachers. Initially, several Des Moines Zen Center members traveled to Omaha to participate in sesshins with Nonin, and Nonin came to Des Moines to lead sesshins. Several members have now developed a deep affiliation with Ryumonji Zen Monastery, with members going there to practice, and Shoken coming to Des Moines to guide and support the sangha. The head priest of the Des Moines Zen Center, Eido Espe, is a dharma heir to Shoken.
Over the years, the Des Moines Zen Center has benefited greatly from its relationship with several additional monks and priests from Japan and the United States, particularly dharma heirs of Dainin Katagiri Roshi, late abbot of the Minnesota Zen Center. Later, Daiyu Klumpf, student of Harada Roshi in Japan, supported the Des Moines Zen Center and led sesshins, as did the scholar and translator, Shohaku Okumura, student of Kosho Uchiyama, abbot of Antaiji Monastery in Japan. The Des Moines Zen Center has also had a long and warm relationship with Teijo Munnich, Abbess of Great Tree Zen Temple in Alexander, North Carolina.