Friday, June 29, 2012

Rothko Chapel

Sometimes Google Alerts gang up on me:  they conspire to implore me to post about a resource that I wouldn't otherwise rank as an immediate priority given this blog's primary focus, which is helping people to connect with the local nuts-n-bolts of the Buddhist and non-Buddhist meditation resources that they are seeking, mainly local Temples and lay groups. 

Such was the conspiring case this week with respect to the Rothko Chapel.  First, it was featured on June 22 by Houston Chronicle in a blog post titled "Things to do in Houston before you die".
Screengrab courtesy of Houston Chronicle.
Screengrab courtesy of Houston Chronicle.
As recommendations go, it seems an unlikely bedfellow to be joined thematically with visiting the Beer Can House and indulging in restaurant tours and sporting events, but there you have it.
And second, it was featured this morning in this HuffPost article titled "At the Rothko Chapel:  Art, Meditation, and Reverence".  This frontispiece quote resonated with me:
Courtesy of the Huff Post Arts online edition.
Screengrabbed from
Well said.  This is precisely why I have spent much of my life practicing photography as a hobby, and why I chose to produce Dhammapada Houstoniana (full blog publication to follow).  Contemplating art is a gateway to more comprehensive perception, whether that art be in the form of the masterful abstract renderings in Rothko, or in the form of the ordinary photography in which I engage.  It's easier to make headway in this business of perception when the scene has been conveniently frozen for the viewer - it's a baby step, in other words.  From practising raw perception in a still-frame mode, one then graduates to the more challenging task of being similarly effective in the dynamic stream of constantly-flowing moments. 

That said, let me summarize some of Rothko's logistical parameters for those of you who may wish to visit for meditative purposes.
Screengrab courtesy of Rothko Chapel Image Gallery
What strikes me about this image is the sense that the surrounding art is so much bigger than the meditator, yet at the same time, it's not belittling of the meditator, and not overpowering of the meditator.  I see this as reflecting how we should view our own egos: not reality's main event by any means, but something to be perceived and acknowledged as an integral part of that reality.
Rothko Chapel is located in Houston's Museum District
3900 Yaupon Street, Houston TX  77006...
...but sometimes presented instead with a Sul Ross address.
As of June 2012, Chapel hours were listed as 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, except during special events.  Check the Visitor Information tab on their website to confirm, and you can also check their calendar.

The Chapel has scheduled monthly noon-time public group meditations throughout 2012.
Screengrabbed from this page.
Individual meditation can be conducted at any time, however, and the Chapel maintains a diverse list of reference texts on hand for those who wish to study the wisdom directly during their visit.  The listed titles include (but are not limited to) the following, which will be familiar to many Buddhist practitioners:
The HuffPost author described Rothko as "one especially fine place in the United States where silent meditation in the presence of great modern paintings is encouraged".  We sure are lucky to have it in this place we call home. 
Screengrabbed from the homepage at

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Chua Linh Son in summer bloom

For introductory information on this Temple, please see this previous post.


I was driving back from a business meeting today and had time, in 100-degree weather, to stop in at Chua Linh Son.  I did not have time to go into any of the buildings or speak with anyone, but a gentleman affiliated with the Temple indicated that it was OK for me to walk around outside, where I snapped the short photo tour below.  If anyone with Chua Linh Son views this post and would like full-resolution copies of these photos, please email me and I can send them.  Thank you!

Looking due west toward the main building.
Blooming flowers were everywhere!

Stucture that houses the bell shown below.
I bet it sounds amazing!

Another flowering plant in full summer swing.
Good potential for walking meditation...
except maybe not when it's 100 degrees outside...
Houston's most well-known summer bloomer:  crape myrtle.
The famous fifty-foot reclining Buddha statue.
Beautiful lily.
The First Five.
Sitting benches around the walkways.
Different kinds of fruit were growing in addition to the beautiful flowers.
Stand and deliver.
The place was alive with the constant chicka-chicka-chicka sound of cicadas. 
This is a not-so-good pic of one in a cypress tree. 
Hibiscus close-up.
Many different statues and stopping points
on the walk around the Temple grounds.
Melons growing on the ground, too.
This guy is almost ready to pick. 
Some of the small statuary in tucked-away places.
Contemplative shadows.
Some type of lily, I think.
Another small statue in a sheltered pagoda.

Rest well, for your work here is complete.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Dhammapada Houstoniana: INTRODUCTION

Category Explanatory Post.  The Dhammapada is a famous book of 423 Buddhist verses.  It forms part of the Pali Cannon, the oldest collection of scriptures still in existence. 

The Dhammapada's verses are little snippets of wisdom analogous in their general idea to the Book of Proverbs.  Their short versified format makes them adaptable to transformative works.  I've created this kind of derivative which I have titled "The Dhammapada Houstoniana", tagline "Excerpts from the classic Buddhist scripture contemplated within the context of life on the upper Texas coast".  Because Blogger does not allow content hosting at this time, the only way I can publish it on this blog is via PDF conversion and uploading of individual JPGs, which I'll post sequentially as reflective pieces from time to time.

Meanwhile, if you are an educator or would otherwise like a complete PDF copy of this volume, please email me via southhoustonsangha - at - gmail. 

Note that I produced this volume for nonprofit educational uses only.  I've abided by "Fair Use" precedents of U.S. copyright law in reproducing minor amounts of nonqualified copyrighted content, namely certain other authors' Pali translations of verses (those by Thanissaro Bikkhu and Acharya Buddharakkhita were produced with a qualifying blanket provision permitting nonprofit uses with attribution). 

I have always believed that the upper Texas coast is undersold and under-appreciated as a place in which natural beauty can be found, if only people would take the time to look.  It's not in-your-face majestic like the Rocky Mountains or postcard-picturesque like many other American geographies, but it has a subtropical vibrancy which I do find inspiringly spiritual.  Perhaps after viewing my image macro collection (all but two of the photos are mine), you'll acquire a deeper view of the subtle beauty that surrounds us as well.

Here is the cover and introductory page.  About fifty individual verses will follow gradually in future posts.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Empty Field Zendo (League City)

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.

The Empty Field Zendo of League City Texas (not to be confused with the Oregon group of the same name) meets at the Unity Church of the Bay Area which is located near the intersection of League City Parkway and State Highway 3.
1911 Hwy.3 South, League City, Texas 77573
Screengrab from Googlemaps
Close up of the location which, interestingly, is only about fifteen hundred feet from the Diamond Way Clear Lake Buddhism building to the northwest on Dakota Street. 
Meditation meetings are currently held every Sunday evening from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm at this location (check their website to confirm that this has not changed). 

As of this blog post, Empty Field Zendo had developed a highly organized and useful set of web pages to describe its structure and activities.
Partial screengrab of the homepage at
Minimalist, in authentic Zen style.
The homepage entry is dated January 2011, but I did check with the group and verified that the site information is still up-to-date as of June 2012.
The pages explain succinctly the organization and protocols for meditation meetings.  For this particular group, it is especially important to familiarize yourself in advance of what to expect, because meditation sessions are conducted in silence.  Thus, if a visitor does not have foreknowledge of the practices, there will be little obvious guidance upon arrival at a typical sitting.  To address this issue, a pre-registration procedure is articulated on the website:
A wealth of additional information is available on the Empty Field website, including Dharma talks and suggested readings.
Zen minimalism or not, the reading references page includes this uber-cool Amazon widget that I wish I had known about the other day when I published a list of potential "Buddhism 101" references

Note that they recommend a few volumes by Steve Hagen, whose "Buddhism Plain and Simple" was also one of my recommendations. 
The Empty Field Zendo is currently led by Sensei Ray Cicetti of Morristown New Jersey. 
Sensei Ray Cicetti.
Photo screengrabbed from Sweeping Zen (URL below)
Sensei Ray Cicetti doesn't have a separate Wiki page but is named as one of eleven Dharma successors on Jesuit Priest Robert Kennedy's page.  Cicetti is also profiled on Sweeping Zen, which is a Zen meta-website.  The Empty Bowl Zendo website can also be accessed for additional information on this teacher.

When I contacted this group to confirm the up-to-datedness of their website information, the representative noted that a retreat is scheduled in July 2012:
Screengrabbed from 

Moderator's Viewpoints.  As with all Temple and group profiles, an attempt is made to include mention of any relevant external accounts of the group and/or its leadership, although a thorough evaluation is beyond the scope of this blog post and beyond the expertise of this blogger.

As of the date of this blog post, the first several pages of Google search returns revealed that Ray Cicetti is affiliated with the Zen Peacemakers organization, and is also a psychotherapist in private practice in New Jersey.  He is also listed as a founding member of the Clear Mountain Zen Center in New Jersey. 

Additionally, as Moderator, I sometimes draw repeated emphasis to facets of particular groups that may be of particular importance for beginners to understand, and to that end, I offer the following observation. 

As suggested by the descriptions above, Empty Field Zendo's meditation sessions demand a greater degree of protocol precision and discipline than do those of some of the other local area sitting groups that have been profiled on this blog.  This degree of intensity is reflected in the schedule that they have developed for each session:
Screengrabbed from:
Beginners are advised to evaluate their own personal circumstances in order to determine whether they would be physically and psychologically ready to participate in three 25-minute sitting meditations in a single meeting (beginners often commence by engaging in about 20 minutes of practice per day, which is much less time). 

As always, if you have additional relevant information on this group, please comment below or email me at southhoustonsangha - at - gmail.  Thanks!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

FILM: "My Reincarnation"

Quick note here about screening times for this upcoming film to be shown by the Houston PBS station... I had to drill through many web pages before I found these local times, and so I thought I'd reproduce them here simply because it was so difficult for me to find this info:
Screengrabbed from:
There's a bit more information about the film at this site.  If you fish around the PBS website, I think you can also find links that will allow you to watch it on your hand-held device in advance of the TV screenings. 

I found out about the film via a Shambhala Sun blog post of this morning.  I'll leave you with its trailer:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

"Buddhism 101" books

In one of last week's area meditation sessions, a newcomer asked the question,
"What is the best 'Buddhism 101' type introductory book to buy?"

The question is very obvious but the answer is tricky and depends in part on which approach would be the best fit to the beginner's personality.  I've read about two dozen books written in the Western Buddhism context by now, and not a single one of them jumps out at me as THE obvious beginner reference.  So I did what any decent blogger does when faced with a dilemma of this type: I started asking my contacts.  Here are some of the responses that I received:

Screengrabbed from:
Not to be confused with the Thubten Chodron book of similar name ("Buddhism for Beginners"), but I bet that one would be pretty good also. 
Written from a strong secular perspective.
Cover shot screengrabbed from: 
One contact revealed that, when he walked into a local big-box chain bookstore and asked the same question, this is what the clerk handed him:
Not a bad choice, actually.  Gunaratana is a stunning writer.
Cover shot screengrabbed from:
 I myself would add to these possibilities the following:
It's written with exceptional clarity and simplicity, but because the author is an American Zen priest, some folks might find it to be a bit harsh or clipped in its tone, owing to the Zen perspective.
Cover shot screengrabbed from:
I also see no reason not to include this American classic, especially for folks who wish to avoid sectarian perspectives:
Cover shot screengrabbed from: 
Hope this helps!!  If anyone else has additional suggestions, please feel free to email me or add them to the comments section below.  Thanks!!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Zen Island Fellowship, Galveston

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.


The Zen Island Fellowship (ZIF) meets in the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Galveston County building which is located within the City of Galveston.
502 Church Street, Galveston Texas
Map screengrabbed from GoogleMaps.
Close-up of the UU building location.  South of UTMB.
As of this blog post, ZIF sported a beautifully-designed and complete set of informational web pages.
Screengrab from the homepage at: 
The pages explain succinctly the organization and protocols for meditation meetings, with information useful to visitors:
Details for newcomers.
Screengrabbed from
ZIF is currently listed by Wikipedia as being one of eight groups (all but one located in America) currently under the guidance of Zen Master Dae Gak. 
Zen Master Dae Gak, image screengrabbed from Wikipedia.
ZIF is correspondingly affiliated with Dae Gak's Furnace Mountain Retreat Center, which is located in Kentucky.

Moderator's Viewpoints.  As with all Temple profiles, an attempt is made to include mention of any relevant external accounts of the profiled group and/or its leadership, although a thorough evaluation is beyond the scope of this blog post and beyond the expertise of this blogger. 

As of the date of this blog post, the first ten pages of Google search returns revealed little third-party informational resources for Dae Gak or his affiliated groups.  Wikipedia makes biographical mention of a licensure disciplinary action (as well as being a Zen practitioner, he is (or was) a practicing psychologist in the state of Kentucky), an event which was echoed on a few Buddhist discussion boards such as this one.  Amazon carries a few of his published works, including one published in April 2012 and an older volume that received mixed reader reviews

Additional relevant information was not found during internet searches.  As always, please contact me via southhoustonsangha - at - gmail if you have anything to add.