Monday, April 30, 2012

Resources for Temples and meditation groups

Resource Introductory Post (this series is intended primarily for institutions and meditation groups).

In this category of South Houston Sangha News, I'm going to concentrate ideas, perspectives, resources, and "go-by" boilerplates that can assist meditation and Buddhist practice groups in representing themselves publicly in a way that will be clearly and accurately perceived by newcomers who may be evaluating your group as a possible "home" for them. 

In other words, this blog is not just intended for seekers and learners - it's intended for institutional and group use as well. 

Some of you may be wondering, "Why would such a thing be necessary or even desirable?  If people want to learn about us, they can simply show up and we will personally provide loving kindness guidance in what we do and why."

Respectfully, my view is that this is a group-centric perspective when, in fact, a visitor-centric compassion would provide additional benefit. 

In "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying", Sogyal Rinpoche states, "When I teach meditation, I often begin by saying: 'Bring your mind home.  And release.  And relax.'" (page 63 in the 2002 paperback edition).  Release?  Relax?!  When newcomers first visit meditation groups, they often appear more like the proverbial deer-in-the-headlights than they appear as releasing, relaxing people.  There is very little in current American lifestyle that is comparable to the meditation experience; it is existentially unprecedented.  A great deal of anxiety is often experienced by people who have no idea what to expect when they first walk into a meditation center, particularly if that center is primarily associated with an immigrant population, such that there may be language and cultural as well as comprehensional barriers.  Preparing the mental states of those visitors in advance of their actual visits can ease the suffering that they associate with the initial experience of this "unknown" for them.  This easing, in turn, can help them to reduce the activity of their monkey minds and thereby enrich their initial experiences with meditation.  In summary, proper preparation can help ensure an auspicious first exposure to your group. 

So stay tuned for more specific posts on the topic of developing group resources. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Vietnamese cooking class

A lucky group of aspiring chefs learned some Vietnamese vegetarian cooking at its finest during a Saturday morning class presented yesterday in English at Chua Phap Nguyen (Dharma Spring Temple), which is located on the east side of Pearland.
Sister Phap Nghiem (pronounced similar to "Pap Neem") served as the very capable instructor.  Here she expertly peels a jicama, a vegetable that was unfamiliar to most of the Westerners in attendance. 
The first item on the menu was Vietnamese spring rolls.
Asian recipes, and vegetarian dishes in particular, tend to be very sensitive to cooking technique, because they rely on a medley of more subtle vegetable and spice flavors for taste, rather than on the stronger tastes imparted by animal products.  Here, Sister uses a stir-fry technique to prepare the "stuffing" for the spring rolls.  Note how all of the different ingredients have been cut into thin strips for stir frying.
Your blogger loves to eat but is probably a better photographer than cook, and so I had some extra fun doing "art shots" of the sky and forest as seen diffused through a close-up view of my rice paper sheet prior to hydrating it for the spring roll.  The pattern on the sheet derived from the pressing or rolling apparatus used during its manufacture.
See what I mean?  Here is my spring roll, wrapped in the same rice paper sheet as shown above, but with no special skill.  It's supposed to be a nice neat uniform cylinder, with the lettuce and mint leaves encasing the inner ingredients, and then the rice paper enveloping the works.  It's going to be fun to practice improving my technique in the future, because these things were absolutely delicious!  Sister also taught a recipe for making the peanut sauce that goes so well with these rolled critters.
The spring rolls were followed by a vegetable curry soup.
Tofu, carrots, taro root (a tuber vegetable used as a food staple throughout Asia), sweet potato, and regular potato assembled for the soup, which also included mushrooms, onions, cabbage stock, coconut milk, lemongrass, an Asian packaged product called "bean curd sheet", and several spices.
Lookin' good!!  :-)
Awesome stuff!
This class was a wonderful learning experience, with the food being rich, flavorful, and satisfying.  And the social experience equally rich, as the class was attended by a wide range of men and women, many of whom were not otherwise associated with this Temple. 

This particular class was conducted too soon after the initiation of South Houston Sangha News for me to post about it in advance, but I will announce future classes.  Future posts will also provide additional information on Chua Phap Nguyen / Dharma Spring Temple.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Kadampa teacher coming to Houston

Post Update July 6, 2013: This organization appears to have established this new webpage for the local Houston center.  Original post continues below.


The April - July 2012 issue of the greater Houston continuing adult education periodical called Leisure Learning Unlimited lists a course entitled "Modern Buddhism - Buddha's Guide to a Joyful Life" to be delivered in the Greenway Plaza Area on three successive Saturdays (May 5, 12, and 19) from 10:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.  The cost is nominal (approx. $60).  There does not seem to be a separate internet URL describing the syllabus for this short-course, but a bit more information is available on page 28 of this PDF (download advisory:  5 megabyte file). 

In my mind's eye, I can hear the obvious question that would arise in many members of the greater Houston Sangha:  "What the heck is Kadampa?!"

The short answer is thisThe New Kadampa Tradition is an international Gelug Buddhist school begun in 1991 by this Tibetan monk.
Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso - Spiritual Director of the New Kadampa Tradition - International Kadampa Buddhist Union. NKT-IKBU ©New Kadampa Tradition
Reproduced from Wikipedia by permission.
Additional third-party description of the school can be found at this Wiki site (note that it bears a neutrality flag suggesting that some of the information may be disputed by some contributors).   

Kadampa Buddhism appears to be popular mostly in other regions of Texas, especially the DFW area, with center listings in Arlington, Coppell, Dallas (2), Fort Worth, Plano, and Grapevine.  There do not appear to be any standalone centers listed for the Houston area...
Screengrab from:
...but upon digging a bit deeper, it appears as if there may be one affiliated location, which is described elsewhere on the internet as a dance school.  The Kadampa listing for it bears the Austin telephone number for the center to be described below:
Screengrab from the same ASP cited above.
The instructor for this upcoming Leisure Learning Unlimited class, Gen Kelsang Ingchug, is a Western Buddhist nun who reportedly derives from the Chittamani Kadampa Buddhist Center in southern section of Austin (William Cannon / Sunset Valley area). 

I've sent an email to this center welcoming this teacher to Houston, announcing that South Houston Sangha News is available for the transmission of information and updates to the wider Houston community, and encouraging the sharing of this information blog for the benefit of all seekers.

As always, if anyone has updates or additional information regarding this post, please comment below or email me at

Friday, April 27, 2012

Houston Buddhist Vihara

This is one in a series of "Profile" posts in which different local Buddhist groups and Temples will be described so that seekers will understand fully in advance what to expect should they decide to visit.

POST UPDATE:  July 6, 2013.  In May 2013, I received an email from Bandula Jayatilaka, who indicated that the Vihara is now hosting a short meditation and discussion session in English every Friday starting at 7:30 p.m.  The Vihara's website has not yet been updated. 

As of January 2012, Houston Buddhist Vihara was open to Buddhist followers from all ethnic groups, but there were no English language programs offered, and no English-speaking Bikkhus (monks) in residence.

Regrettably, this is not the impression that seekers will currently get from the internet:
Using the generic unquotemarked phrase 'Houston Buddhist' results in the Vihara's website ranking at or near the very top of the search results.
The Vihara's English-language website is among the most sophisticated and beautiful of local designs.
Screengrab from:
Furthermore, the website makes explicit reference to English language programs.  However, note the date at the bottom of each webpage.  As of today, that date was listed as 2006 - six years old.
Yesterday I described a case in which an English-speaking member of the convert community attempted to participate in a different local Temple and failed to find any English Dharma presentations on two successive visits.   

I had the same experience with Houston Buddhist Vihara.  After reading and being impressed by their well-designed webpages, I stopped by several times during 2011, and could not find any English-speaking members, residents, or program references.  I wasn't sure whether this result was due to my own misunderstanding of their current schedule, or because the Vihara had changed significantly relative to its own web descriptions.  I was able to resolve the issue about two months ago by tracking down a Bikkhu previously associated with this Vihara - Basnagoda Rahula.  Bhante Rahula has ties to our area, having graduated from the University of Houston Clear Lake (in fact, he launched one of his books there a few years ago).  In an email to me, he confirmed that the Vihara currently has no English Sangha programs.

As always, if you have updates or new information to contribute regarding this Temple, please contact me at

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Chua Linh Son, Santa Fe, Texas

UPDATE to the post below:  August 7, 2012 and July 5, 2013:  Chua Linh Son announced the launching of their website, which can be accessed at (but was subsequently found to be unavailable).  I'm keeping this original blog post intact because of its relative Google ranking.  Check the Chua Linh Son category label to the right for future posts about their programs.


For the time being, I will use this blog post as a general information site for this Temple, because I have not yet found a website for it in either English or Vietnamese.  If anyone knows of a homepage or other Temple-sanctioned or Sangha-sanctioned representation in either language, please email me at so that I can update accordingly. 

Linh Son Temple, or Linh Son Pagoda as it seems to be alternatively known, was brought to my attention last night by another English-speaking Sangha member who described her attempts to visit it.  I'm not sure how she first heard of it, but she made two different trips hoping to hear a Dharma talk delivered in English, and on neither visit was she successful.

This kind of experience is unfortunately common in our area (a similar thing happened to me also at a different local temple; more on that later) and, once again, is the kind of result I hope to rectify via the sharing of information in this blog.

Even the act of finding Linh Son in a geographical sense is a challenge; I only managed to do it by zeroing in based on descriptions provided by other bloggers and Flickr users.
This is how Google plots its internet-reported address of 1334 FM 646 (Google can't make up its mind whether the address is in Dickinson or Santa Fe).  Nothing but residential subdivisions in this area.
I figured I could cruise through some aerial photos, sorting through the jumble of ranchettes, light industrial warehouses, miscellaneous subdivisions and trailer parks that characterize this area, and zero in on it by searching for evidence of a 50-foot reclining Buddha statue.  At that size, he'd be bigger than any ranchette's back-yard swimming pool and should therefore be visually obvious...

Wow!  The place is actually HUGE!
Going by the general description "on Hwy 646 between FM 1764 and FM 517", this becomes easy to find.  It's geographical coordinates are as follows:
29.4214, -95.0923
Bloggers "Livin' to Drive" produced this wonderful, lighthearted blog post that describes their encounter with Chua Linh Son.  In conjunction with that, they published this selection of their photos of the Temple grounds. 
Downsampled screengrab from the compilation at!i=1192449945&k=UYoMK
Linh Son is actually listed in Wikipedia's tabulation of the world's tallest statues, albeit with no more information than I myself could locate!
Question mark?  Question mark?
Screengrab from
The inauguration of this Temple was actually written up in this feature piece on The Buddhist Channel, which apparently piggybacked off a Galveston County Daily News article that no longer seems to be available online. 

And guess what else??  There is (or at least there was, as of 2008), an English Sangha group there.  I know this because, despite not having found a homepage or other official representation, I found (drumroll, please!) some of their Dharma talks uploaded to YouTube.  

So thank you, T., for bringing Chua Linh Son to my attention.  Here, better late than never, is one of the Dharma talks you had been seeking (and there's a whole series of them on YouTube).  This is an interesting one because the Venerable is responding to a question from an English Sangha member about how to deal with Christians who are opposed to his study of Buddhism.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Vipassana Fellowship's 12-week course

UPDATE MAY 24, 2012:  For a detailed review of the course referenced below, please see this post
This blog will focus on Houston-related news and events, but there are some resources that may be of interest to local practitioners despite being internet-based and/or associated with more distant locales. For this reason, they will be included here.

The next Vipassana Fellowship on-line meditation course begins five days from now on April 30 and, as of today, was still accepting enrollment for this session. 
Icon from the homepage
I'm actually enrolled for this session, having signed up about two months ago.
I like to vet and validate independent offerings before engaging in or reporting on them, and that was difficult to do in this case, as there don't seem to be many published assessments of this course.  Shambhala SunSpace announced one of the 2009 course sessions, but did not provide any description or viewpoints regarding it.  Dr. Jim Hopper of Harvard University included it in a list of meditation resources that he published, also without commentary or feedback.  Fellow Blogspotters The West Wight Sangha did review the course quite favorably in this 2009 post

For those of you who are new to meditation and Buddhism, "vipassana" is a form of silent meditation that derives from the Theravada tradition of Buddhism, which is the oldest of the three main branches. 
A discussion of Theravada vs. other traditions is beyond the scope of this blog post, but if you would like a quick introduction, you might want to check out this easy-to-understand timeline available on Wikipedia.  For the moment, suffice it to say that Theravadin-style insight meditation has much in common with other silent meditation techniques, and is suitable for a wide range of Buddhist and non-sectarian practices. 
Screengrab from
In making my selection, I was drawn to the Vipassana Fellowship's course for a number of reasons.
  1. It is easily accessible, in being delivered over the internet.  I've had good experiences taking professionally-accredited continuing education courses online, as well as (gulp, I'll admit it) an online defensive driving course (yeah, it was a momentary loss of mindfulness that led to a speeding ticket, but that was a long time ago).
  2. The cost of $125 was in line with similar non-profit offerings. 
  3. This organization's website was mature and uncluttered, presenting just the necessary information with no frills, distractions, monetization, or ornamentation.  I was particularly impressed with their FAQ page.
  4. They reference two of my favorite authors, Theravadin nun Ayya Khema and well-known author Bhante G.  In light of this, I suspect that I will have existing famiarity with some of the material to be covered.
Anyway, I'll post thoughts and commentary on this course after I grow to learn more about it, which should begin to happen next week.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dixie Dharma

Is it a meaningless coincidence, or is it a case of great minds thinking alike?  Three days after this blog was started in the hopes of helping to network local Buddhist organizations, thirty-five minutes after I published a post in which I referenced the difficulty in raising a religious-minority teenager here in the Deep South, and thirteen minutes after I emailed Ken Chitwood thanking him for his previous Quan Am post, Ken published this review of the new book "Dixie Dharma".
Ken's review is great, and I have nothing to add to it at this point. 

However, I can tell you folks on the south side of Houston that Barnes & Noble Clear Lake does not carry this book.  Furthermore, the salesperson with whom I spoke told me that it's not a book that they plan to stock, although it can be special-ordered.  It can also apparently be ordered directly from the publisher, including in e-book format.  I just ordered one from Amazon, which FYI reportedly has 14 more copies currently in stock. 

I'll report further on this one after I get done readin'.

Dharma in Real Life

I'm going to begin a post category called "Dharma in Real Life" that will explore situational applications of the Dharma in day-to-day American experience.  This will draw from both my family's experience and the activity of others (incidentally, if you have a story of this nature that you'd like to tell, you can either comment on specific posts or email me at and I'll post it for you either anonymously or as a credited source, whichever you'd prefer). 

My husband and I are blended-family parents of a teenage daughter who is growing up as a religious and racial minority here in the Deep South, and whose life largely revolves around current American consumer culture and our local public school system.  Does this reality present daily (often hourly) challenges to my mindfulness?  You better believe it.  Does our social environment require me to consciously revisit the Dharma as a means of coping?  To an extent that I can scarcely believe.  Am I regarded by others with misunderstanding, suspicion, and sometimes outright hostility because my activities reflect interpretations that draw from the unfamiliar (to most Americans) wisdom of the Dharma instead of a more culturally-accepted wisdom tradition such as Christianity?  Just about every freakin' day.  There's much to be learned and shared within this arena of awareness, and none of it is remotely philosophical, lofty, or theoretical - it's nitty-gritty everyday practical stuff.

Those of you who grew up in the 1960's and 1970's may recognize that the phrase "Dharma in Real Life" is a transpositional pun, a play-on-words of "Drama in Real Life", a popular Readers' Digest magazine column.
This is a random example of a published compilation of "Drama in Real Life" stories presumably selected from the magazine.  This popular and long-running pop literature series has been described as "gripping and hard to put down".  Here's a a link to a relatively recent example from the Canadian edition of Reader's Digest.  Screengrab above from
When I first decided to apply this punny reference to this blog category, I thought to myself, "I better go online and apologize to whichever Dharma practitioner was the first to make the explicit association between these two."  But to my surprise, there apparently hasn't been any other cross-cultural word play of this type.
It doesn't seem to matter which search string I use - I can't find any relevant associative references.  Plenty of people use the generic phrase 'dharma in real life', but I could not locate any specific titular usages, nor any reference to Reader's Digest.
At any rate, stay tuned for what hopefully will be gripping and suspenseful Dharma stories.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A port in a Google storm

This morning, I sent emails to twelve local Buddhist Temples and organizations announcing the availability of this blog space for the transmission of information about Buddhist-related and meditation-related events.  Twelve is by no means the entire local selection of Temples and groups, but it's a start.

I mentioned in that email that this will be a noncommercial, unsponsored blog.  In keeping the blog non-monetized, it will help ensure that no favoritism toward any given lineage, institution, or group is implied, and that no personal profit is being sought. 

In my "Welcome" post, I mentioned three reasons that inspired me to develop this blog.  There was actually a fourth reason:  the recent Quan Am Festival at Houston's Vietnam Buddhist Center
Quan Am statue from Wikipedia. 
Houston Chronicle reported on that very large festival so extensively that it actually made the front page of the newspaper's electronic version, complete with thirty-three photographs (!).  And yet upon reading that story, I realized that, not only had I (an avid daily news reader) not heard about the festival in advance, I hadn't even heard of the Temple itself.  When I Google "Houston Buddhism", no mention of this Temple occurs in the first seven pages of links.  In fact, the Chronicle story ranks higher in Google popularity than the Temple itself, despite the fact that the Temple appears to be extensively developed, and (for instance) claims to have the largest Quan Am statue in the Western hemisphere.   

These types of results are not ideal.  While information about this Temple is probably easily accessible to the well-integrated Vietnamese immigrant community, other searchers attempting to discover it would face a difficult task. 

To the end of promoting the exchange of such information across immigrant, convert, and secular meditation communities, please consider forwarding the South Houston Sangha News website link to your friends and like-minded associates.  If you have your own blog, please consider adding this site to your blogroll.  Even if you yourself have no interest in reading regular posts here, you can still be a benefit to other searchers by increasing this site's web traffic.  Google ranks its search returns largely by number of clicks on a site.  The more clicks, the easier this site will be for new searchers to find.

Within the past week, I have had two different associates say to me, in reference to another local Temple, "I have driven by that Temple several times, but I haven't stopped in, because I don't know what's there."  This is the kind of hesitancy and confusion that I hope this blog can help alleviate.  It can be extremely stressful for American convert Buddhists and non-sectarian meditators to search for a Sangha home.  Some American Christian churches respond to searchers using assertive recruitment tactics (random examples here and here; milder forms of recruitment are reportedly common at many other churches).  Any visitor to these churches is vigorously pursued with telephone calls, lectures, and even unannounced visits from congregational recruiters at their personal residence.  Some people may wonder if they would be subjected to a similar type of pressure if they were to visit a local Buddhist group or Temple.  This anxiety coupled with lack of basic knowledge of the different facilities can conspire to keep people away who might otherwise benefit from (and bring benefit to) a Sangha association.

I hope to rectify some of that confusion via a future series of "profile" descriptions of our local groups and Temples.  Until that time, thanks again for reading. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Welcome to South Houston Sangha News!  As the left sidebar description indicates, this is a blog where news, information, and announcements pertaining to meditation-related and Buddhist-related events and groups will be published (note that it is not necessary to be a Buddhist in order to be a meditator; more about that later). 

The focus of this blog primarily (but not exclusively) will be on accessible events and developments on the south side of greater Houston, simply because travel times to "Inner Loop" and other locations may be prohibitive for all but the largest special functions (e.g., weekend events). 

I, your Moderator, was inspired to commence this effort for the following reasons:
  1. I live in Clear Lake and, over the past year or so, I've had a heck of a difficult time researching and personally investigating different meditation and Buddhist resources.  I did not find a coherent "starting point", resource compilation, or summary reference that would have assisted me in making systematic inquiries as to what groups exist in our area, what those groups practice, or whether they would be suitable for me. 
  2. Having thus far participated repeatedly in three different local sitting groups, I've heard the same frustration expressed by other searchers, who are specifically looking for resources on the south side of Houston because they have concluded that it's not practical for them to travel routinely to any of the established centers that have existed within urban Houston for some time now.
  3. I was struck by a sentiment expressed by author Richard Hughes Seager in his book "Buddhism in America", as follows:  "I was surprised to discover that people in the Kagyu community in Woodstock, New York were generally uninformed about developments among Gelugpas in Ithaca, a few hours' drive away.  My incorrect assumption was that the two groups would make communication between them a high priority because they were both in the Tibetan tradition.  Instead, they were primarily preoccupied with far-flung developments related to their own communities." (p. 233 in the 1999 paperback edition).  Seager's implication here is that there would be an obvious benefit to cross-communication between different local Buddhist and mediation groups.  This idea is consistent with my own view, particularly in the case of nascent convert groups which are usually small and characterized by leadership that is often restricted to contributions by senior lay members.  We practitioners may apply a variety of different labels to ourselves, but if we are engaged with Buddhism and/or meditation in any of their myriad forms, then we have much in common, much to offer, and it simply makes sense for us to know something of each other! 
So tune in regularly for updates and information, and if you have news to share from your own group or organization, please email it to me at SouthHoustonSangha - at - so that I can post it here. 

Thanks for viewing, and may we all be a benefit to one another.