Sunday, July 29, 2012

Buddhist lay course in Houston (Dharma training)

The purpose of this blog post is to provide a brief overview of an upcoming Dharma training opportunity on the south side of greater Houston, at Chua Phap Nguyen / Dharma Spring Temple in Pearland. 
Lotus blooming in the Chua Phap Nguyen pond,
July 26, 2012.
Ordinarily on a blog post of this type, I would default heavily to the source website for the content in question.  However, in this case, the website providing course information is currently down and is not expected to be re-established until next month.  In the meantime, information about this upcoming course is not being effectively broadcast, and therefore I'm attempting to help fill that intervening gap.  Check with for future refinements to the course's sourcepage.  Information on that page, when re-established, may supersede information presented in this post.
Additionally, course information will likely be accessible via this route as well.
Chua Phap Nguyen is associated with Chuang Yen Monastery in New York, which features this Buddhist Association of the United States (BAUS) website briefly announcing their programmatic counterpart to this training.  This older PDF flyer also describes one previous year of the New York training program, and this local news piece describes the program and the experiences of participants with levels of thoroughness and depth not commonly seen in current-day commercial journalism. 

The Great Buddha statue at Chuang Yen Monastery.
Photo screengrabbed from this Return to the Center blog post.
The tentative format for the 2012-2013 Houston training class is described in the following sections.

GENERAL SCOPE. (this summary excerpted from internally-distributed course materials)

The Dharma Training Program is a three-year curriculum of Buddhist studies  that is designed to give students an in-depth understanding of Buddhism and Buddhist practice in the three major traditions--Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.  The 2012-2013 Houston  course will be led by the Chua Phap Nguyen Abbot, Venerable Thich Tri Hoang

The first year of the program provides a broad overview of Buddhism. The second year focuses on Buddhist Sutras. The third year focuses on Buddhist philosophy and applications such as science, psychology, and psychotherapy.

New students may enter the program in any of the three years and, having completed all three years in any order, are awarded a certificate.

An optional fourth year (by invitation of the teacher) prepares students to become lay Dharma teachers. Those who complete the fourth year satisfactorily may be ordained in the Dharma Teacher Order.


The following books will be studied by the group in the first year of the Houston course:
  1. Old Path White Clouds
  2. Heart of the Buddha's Teaching
  3. Tree of Enlightenment
  4. A Concise History of Buddhism
  5. Vision and Transformation
  6. Zen Women:  Beyond Tea Ladies, Iron Maidens and Macho Masters
  7. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
  8. Zen Keys
  9. Buddhism in America

Regular Classes.  The class will meet every other Saturday (with adjustments for teacher schedule, holidays, etc.) from 9:00 a.m. until noon on the following dates (with reference to the books being studied during each class). 
  • September 15, 2012 (Old Path White Clouds)
  • September 22, 2012 (Old Path White Clouds)
  • October 6, 2012 (Heart of the Buddha's Teachings)
  • October 20, 2012 - Day of Mindfulness*
  • November 3, 2012 (Heart of the Buddha's Teachings)
  • November 17, 2012 (Tree of Enlightenment)
  • December 1, 2012 (Tree of Enlightenment)
  • December 15, 2012 (A Concise History of Buddhism)
  • January 1, 2013 (Tuesday) - Day of Mindfulness*
  • January 5, 2013 (A Concise History of Buddhism)
  • January 19, 2013 (Vision and Transformation)
  • February 2, 2013 (Zen Women)
  • February 16, 2013 (The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying)
  • March 2, 2013 - Day of Mindfulness*
  • March 16, 2013 (The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying)
  • April 6, 2013 (Zen Keys)
  • April 13, 2013 (Buddhism in America)
* On these dates, the class will meditate without reading presentations or discussions. These "mini-retreats" will run from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. and may be open to non-class participants as well (space permitting - verify this with Chua Phap Nguyen directly, if you are interested in participating).  The Abbot will lead a meditation in the morning and the afternoon of each day. Participants can also have an opportunity for private consultation with the Abbot on these days. Lunch will be made available by the Temple, and each day will end with a tea ceremony. A $20 dana (donation) is requested for each Day of Mindfulness attended. 

The format for each Saturday class is anticipated to be as follows:
  • 15-minute sitting meditation
  • 1-hour summary presentation by the class participant assigned for that date
  • 45-minute breakout group discussions
  • 20-minute walking meditation
  • 25-minute group discussion
  • 15-minute sitting meditation
End-of-Year Retreat
April 26, 27, and 28, 2013 - Retreat at Chuang Yen Monastery in New York.  The cost for the retreat is anticipated to be a $150-250 donation to the monastery (to help cover food and lodging), plus airfare and ground transportation for each participant.  Details on this retreat will be published separately. 


The requested dana for this training program itself is $125,  Payment is required within the first few weeks of the initial start date (September 15) but early payment is appreciated.

Note that the suggested donations for Days of Mindfulness retreats plus end-of-year 3-day New York retreat costs cited above are in addition to the course costs.  Therefore, the total for engaging in all scheduled activities associated with this first-year course is anticipated to be approximately $800. 

The description above is tentative and subject to future updates and refinements.  This blog post may be re-edited to reflect such changes.  And again, check with for course information as well. 
Flowers blooming on the Chua Phap Nguyen grounds,
July 26, 2012.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

How many Buddhists in greater Houston?

The Buddhist blogosphere (e.g., here, and here) is all a-buzz with the results of this recent Pew Forum study, which revises upward (in fact, almost doubles) previous estimates of Buddhism prevalence in the United States.  According to that study, between three and four million people nationwide declare themselves to be Buddhist.

It raises the obvious question:  Given this new information, how many Buddhists are there in greater Houston?
Small statue on the grounds of Chua Phap Nguyen / Dharma Spring Temple, Pearland, TX.
An estimate can be derived in a couple of different ways.  First, a straight percentage calculation can be done using the population for "greater Houston" (which is defined by the U.S. Census as an "urbanized area").
Yikes, that's hard to read. 
Go to this link if you'd like legible information.
The July 2011 total population estimate for greater Houston is 6.08 million persons.  Taking the Pew population prevalence at face value (between 1% and 1.3%) yields somewhere between about 60,000 and 80,000 local Buddhists.
Growing, growing, and growing, Buddhist or otherwise. 
Total area population graph from this economic development source
It would be interesting to further refine (or at least corroborate) that number with an estimate based on the local population composition itself, rather than by simply applying national statistics.  Here, it's easy to get confounded by statistics that pertain to "Houston" (the City of) and "greater Houston" (the metropolitan area).  According to the 2010 Census racial statistics for the City of Houston, 6.4% of the population is Asian.  Extrapolating this regionally and coupling it with the Pew estimate that 14% of Asian Americans are Buddhists yields a local population of about 54,000 just from the membership contributions of Asians alone.  Pew Forum also noted that roughtly one third of American Buddhists are not Asian.  Assuming this same ratio holds true locally, the total number would then be estimated at roughly 82,000 local Buddhists, which is in line with the general estimates given above.  However, this estimate may be a little inflated, because greater Houston's Asian population is a bit larger than the 5% national average

The Pew study also reveals that Vietnamese identification with Buddhism is particularly strong, and is, in fact, the only measured Asian nationality for which Buddhism dominates.
Screengrabbed from here.
Well-known Houston blogger Tory Gattis has described the recent substantial migration of Vietnamese Americans to the greater Houston area, building on descriptions published by the Los Angeles Times and other sources.  Tory estimated that there were 85,000 Vietnamese Americans in Houston as of 2006, but also referenced a HAIF thread which estimated 160,000 - 180,000 within the greater Houston area.  Census numbers can be difficult to tease apart, but this blog article estimated 104,000 Vietamese Americans in the Houston area as of 2010.  Taking that number, which is the middling estimate, and coupling it with the Pew percentage, would yield approximately 45,000 local Vietnamese American Buddhists alone.

To the approximately 70,000 local Buddhists out there, I say hello and welcome.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dhammapada Houstoniana: VERSE 14

The Dhammapada Houstoniana is an image macro project in which excerpts from the classic Buddhist scripture are contemplated within the context of life on the upper Texas coast. Individual verses will be published from time to time in blog entries, and if you would like a complete PDF copy of the project, please email me. For a more complete explanation of The Dhammapada, please see this introductory post. Click on each verse JPG below to enlarge and improve image resolution.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Calling all Temples...

...if you are a Buddhist or meditation Temple or lay group, please feel free to contact me so that I can do the best possible job of representing your organization here on South Houston Sangha News. 

The internet is often the primary means by which many people connect with the information resources that they need.  South Houston Sangha News is like most other websites on the internet: it tracks its visitor paths and records those statistics so that I can know what people are searching for, and thereby tailor my publications to become more responsive to those searchers.  This blog's recent statistics on Temple searches tell an interesting story:

This is a partial screengrab from the statistical compilation.  You can see that this user input into Google the search string Empty Field Zen Houston, and Google ranked this South Houston Sangha post as the number one most relevant hit for that - in other words, ranked the blog post higher than it ranked the website that is maintained by the group itself!  And that blog post was less than a month old at the time of the Google user's search.
If you are a Temple that does not yet have its own website or perhaps does not have an English website (both are true of a significant number of local Asian groups and Temples), this is even more important.  People will search for you online regardless of what you have or don't have, and South Houston Sangha News may end up being their only source of online information about you right now.  For this reason, we'd like to be able to provide as much accurate detail about you as we possibly can. 
Once again, this post returned as the number one hit for the entered search string.  This particular user was looking for information about events at the Vietnamese Buddhist Pagoda located in the City of South Houston...
...and here's an example for Linh Son.  Both of these Temples have no known web presence of their own at the current time.  South Houston Sangha News is usually within the top five ranked Google results provided to online seekers of both.
Additionally, if you maintain an email "blast list" for Temple or group events, please ensure that my email is on it.  Thank you, and I hope to hear from you via southhoustonsangha -at- gmail. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Dhammapada Houstoniana: VERSE 7

The Dhammapada Houstoniana is an image macro project in which excerpts from the classic Buddhist scripture are contemplated within the context of life on the upper Texas coast. Individual verses will be published from time to time in blog entries, and if you would like a complete PDF copy of the project, please email me. For a more complete explanation of The Dhammapada, please see this introductory post. Click on each verse JPG below to enlarge and improve image resolution.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Dhammapada Houstoniana: VERSE 2

The Dhammapada Houstoniana is an image macro project in which excerpts from the classic Buddhist scripture are contemplated within the context of life on the upper Texas coast.  Individual verses will be published from time to time in blog entries, and if you would like a complete PDF copy of the project, please email me.  For a more complete explanation of The Dhammapada, please see this introductory post.   Click on each verse JPG below to enlarge and improve image resolution. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Rothko revisited

For an introduction to Rothko Chapel, including information on public meditation times, please see this previous post

My husband and I stopped by Rothko this past weekend and I thought I would round out the photo coverage with some exterior shots.  Interior photography is not allowed, so I did not bring a good camera, but here are a few cell phone shots.

The "broken obelisk" sculpture,
which is dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr.
I am not able to identify the wonderful bamboo species used for the hedge.  It looks a bit like b. malingensis, but given the age of the hedge, I'm not sure that cultivar would have been available in our area at the time it was planted.
Looking back toward the entrance to the Chapel.
Welcome sign.
I was amazed at these crazy-looking flowering vines growing near the nearby Chapel administrative building.  I hadn't seen these before in Houston, but they are purple passion flowers, and Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has a write-up on them