6 New Bodhisattvas September 15


The Bodhisattva Precepts Ceremony on Sunday welcomed six HZC members to the practice of the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts. Robert Vogler, Josh Zimmerman, Thomas Keenan, Andrew Chaney, Shane Phelps, and Wade Maggert received the precepts, with many friends and family members in attendance. Congratulations to all! The amazing cake by Bairi Parmita Derden was covered with auspicious clouds. Look closely for the names of the bodhisattvas.


Wind Power Certificate

Green Mountain Certificate.jpg

Zen Center’s Wind Power certificate arrived this week! All electricity used at Houston Zen Center, 100%, comes from renewable wind power sources, and has for more than a decade. Still, this is a hot month and we should all remember to turn unneeded lights off, and adjust the air conditioning to use less electricity. Thanks to all of you for your mindful efforts.

More from Fort Sill

Some of the thousands of paper cranes that flew to Fort Sill.

Some of the thousands of paper cranes that flew to Fort Sill.

The plans to inter children separated from their parents at Fort Sill in Oklahoma have been cancelled. Thanks to the many Buddhists, the thousands of paper cranes, the Native Americans, the Dreamers, and all the wonderful people who showed up on July 20. Thank you all for standing up. “Kind words can turn the course of the nation”, as Dogen Zenji taught. Let’s continue our powerful practice, together. You can read more about the event here, in an article by Ryūken Duncan Williams. We look forward to Professor Williams’ visit to HZC in September. Read about that here.

Paper Cranes for Fort Sill - a letter from the Abbot


Dear friends,

Join me Wednesday night July 10, and fold paper cranes to send to Fort Sill.

Fort Sill in Oklahoma is being prepared to house children torn from their families at the border. Buddhist priests are joining the demonstrators again on July 20, partly because Fort Sill was used to hold Japanese-Americans during WWII, including 90 Buddhist priests. Japanese-Americans organized the first demonstration on July 12 — remembering the suffering they endured for their unjust imprisonment. Before that, it housed Apache people.

Duncan Ryūken Williams, a priest and scholar who has written about the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans in America, has reached out to us to participate. Here are his words.

Fort Sill (Oklahoma) – WWII Japanese American Internment Camp and 2019 Detention Facility for Migrant Children

When the Department of Health and Human Services announced on June 11 that up to 1,400 unaccompanied migrant children would be transferred from Texas to Fort Sill, Oklahoma – a former WWII internment camp that held 700 persons of Japanese ancestry, including 90 Buddhist priests – I was heartened to hear that Tsuru for Solidarity was planning to mobilize a second protest on June 24 in Oklahoma. I decided to join this protest as the treatment of these children is not a partisan political issue – we should recall that a previous Democratic administration similarly used Fort Sill to house unaccompanied migrant children back in 2014 – but a question of basic human decency and our nation’s values and character; it was wrong then and it is wrong now.

I had the privilege of joining a group of 25 protestors, including six WWII Japanese American camp survivors, who traveled to Fort Sill to declare that “Never Again is Now.” Despite threats from the military police at the Fort Sill gate, the six camp survivors – all of whom were children during their wartime incarceration – made moving statements from their personal experience (see Democracy Now! coverage). A protest rally then was held in a nearby park with roughly 200 Oklahoma residents, representing a diverse cross-section of protestors: immigrant rights advocates such as Dream Action Oklahoma, ACLU Oklahoma, Black Lives Matter, and the American Indian Movement (see the LA Times’ coverage). It was an honor to officiate a Buddhist ceremony at the start of the rally – chanting the Heart Sutra while the six camp survivors offered incense in front a Buddha statue that had been carved in Manzanar in 1943, which I had borrowed from LA’s Zenshuji Temple. This ceremony was part of a healing ceremony led by Michael Topaum, the spiritual leader of the American Indian Movement, which was apropos to the fact that Fort Sill was a prisoner-of-war camp for Apache tribal members and that the U.S. has a history of forcefully removing their children from their homes and into so-called “Indian Schools.”

My Dharma message at the protest was “How do paper cranes fly?” The small group of protestors were in fact joined in spirit by the thousands who had folded the origami cranes. But what can paper cranes do to alleviate the suffering enduring by so many? One of the classic Buddhist symbols of liberation is likened to a bird soaring freely in the sky. We say that for the bird to fly, it needs both wings: the wing of wisdom and the wing of compassion. What I witnessed at Fort Sill was the embodiment of all the elements necessary to make paper cranes fly. The enormity of our current challenge may seem overwhelming, but Buddhist practice does not shy away from challenges – our bodhisattva vows include “Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them all. Desires are inexhaustible; I vow to put an end to them. The dharmas are boundless; I vow to master them. The Buddha’s Way is unsurpassable; I vow to attain it.”

Buddhist Memorial Service at Next Protest at Fort Sill [July 20, 2019]

Dream Action Oklahoma (affiliated with United We Dream, the nation’s largest immigration youth-led network) is organizing a coalition of groups in Oklahoma for another large protest at Fort Sill on Saturday, July 20 and Tsuru for Solidarity has been invited to participate. I have been asked to coordinate a Buddhist memorial service at this upcoming rally. Back on May 13, 1942, nearly 90 Buddhist priests, under the watchful eye of the guards pointing machine guns on them, officiated a joint funeral service for three Japanese men who died at Fort Sill. One of them, Kanesaburo Oshima, was shot in the back of the head by one of the guards the day before the funeral. One internee wrote, “Nothing is more transient than human life. . . Smoke from the burning incense stung our eyes. ... the pitiful death of a fellow countryman whose life was shattered when his blood stained the distant desert sands of the Oklahoma plain as the glowing evening sun sank beyond the horizon.”

While it is unlikely that we can assemble such a large group of Buddhist priests to fly out to Oklahoma on July 20 to honor our ancestors, I would like to appeal to Buddhist leaders of all lineages to support this memorial service. We will dedicate any merit derived from the chanting of sutras at the service to the three men who passed away during their WWII incarceration; to all those who suffered at Fort Sill in the past; to the seven children who have died in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol in the past year; to all the migrants who are facing such difficult circumstances currently; and to the guards and others who are overseeing the children to pray for the prevention of history repeating itself.

How Can Buddhists Get Involved?

Since the protest at Fort Sill, I’ve received numerous communications asking, “How can we help?” “Are there ways in which Buddhists can show support for those who are being detained or participate in non-violent protest?” I would like to propose three possible ways to show your concern and support.

1) ATTEND – if your time and resources permit, please join us at Fort Sill on July 20. Let me know if you or a representative from your Sangha can make the trip to Oklahoma by emailing me at Duncan@duncanryukenwilliams.com Your name will be added to the Sangha Support Group.

2) FOLD A PAPER CRANE – your spirit will be present at Fort Sill and other locations wherever Tsuru for Solidarity takes the origami paper cranes, including a major future protest at the White House in Washington DC. Please send your cranes to Houston Zen Center. For instructions on folding these cranes, please take a look here. Your name will be added to the Sangha Support Group if you email me about your paper crane folding project.

3) DONATE – please support this memorial service and other future actions of Tsuru for Solidarity by making a donation of any amount to this inspirational Japanese American initiative at their GoFundMe site. Your name will be added to the Sangha Support Group if you email me about your financial support.

In the Dharma,

Duncan Ryuken Williams

Soto Zen Buddhist Priest, USC Professor, and author of American Sutra

Sangha Week at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center

The June practice week at Tassajara, the mountain monastery in California which opens its doors to sincere visitors in the summer, was a wonderful experience for our intrepid group of 14. We arrived on Monday June 15, and shared the morning schedule of meditation, followed by work, with the monks and residents of the monastery for 5 days. In the afternoon, our schedule was loose; we hiked, participated in classes and discussions, swam in the stream or at the pool, and finished with a dinner with guests, followed by evening zazen or a dharma event. On Saturday June 15, we drove over the mountain and returned to our various homes, refreshed and invigorated. Sangha Week allowed our Houston sangha (along with friends from around the country) to slowly melt into the Tassajara Sangha, becoming one sangha, practicing together.

Rev. Gyōzan Royce Johnson and Debbie Rios, fording the stream.

Rev. Gyōzan Royce Johnson and Debbie Rios, fording the stream.

Kent Rutter and Zack Becker, Tassajara kitchen.

Kent Rutter and Zack Becker, Tassajara kitchen.

Andrew and Rick preparing to cross over.

Andrew and Rick preparing to cross over.

Our 2019 travelers — minus a couple who were elsewhere.

Our 2019 travelers — minus a couple who were elsewhere.

Friends Pam Walton and Abbot Gaelyn in front of the dining room.

Friends Pam Walton and Abbot Gaelyn in front of the dining room.

Shuso Ceremony - Accomplished!

Shuso Hondo Dave Rutschman answered the participants’ questions during the Dharma Inquiry Ceremony. It was a wonderful, warm, inspiring ceremonial conclusion to the year-long Practice Period of Daily Life. Thank you to all who attended the ceremony, participated in the practice period, and kept the Houston Zen Center vitally active during this year of practice.

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"B" for Buddhist - a message from Duncan Ryūken Williams


Dear Friends,

It’s now okay to be a Buddhist in the US — but it hasn’t always been so. Duncan Ryūken Williams will be at Houston Zen Center in the Fall to present his work on the story of the treatment of Buddhist Japanese Americans in the US during WWII. It is fascinating work, and I thought you might be interested. With palms together, Abbot Gaelyn

Dear Friends:

Memorial Day is observed on May 27th, for remembering and honoring people who have died while serving the United States Armed Forces. All U.S. military personnel wear a dog tag, or a metal identification tag used to identify dead or wounded soldiers, that includes medical information such as their blood type, and personal information, such as religious preference, but during World War II, Buddhism wasn't acknowledged by the Army as an American religious choice. The Japanese Americans serving in the 442nd/100th/MIS could choose "C" for Catholic, "P" for Protestant, "H" for Hebrew (or Jewish,) a blank for no religious affiliation, but no "B" for Buddhist. During the wartime incarceration and the immediate post-war years, Buddhist groups advocated steadily for a "B for Buddhism" campaign, urging the US military to recognize Buddhists who served their country.

When one young Buddhist asked that his dog tag be marked “Buddhist,” a “scornful Caucasian officer [said] ‘Let me tell you that we don’t have the Buddhist religion in the American army. Pick another one.’ [I] then chose Protestant, and when the officer asked [me] why I selected Protestant, [I] said, ‘Because I protest!’ and was promptly assigned latrine duty by the angry officer.

It also wasn't until post-war that the military symbolically recognized Buddhism as part of American culture and history at the national cemeteries. In 1948, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu (commonly known as the Punchbowl) was established as the final resting place of some 15,000 military members killed in during World War II. It took numerous years and heated debate in Congress, but eventually, Buddhist veterans were honored for their service by having a Dharma Wheel, symbolizing the Eightfold Noble Path, engraved on their headstones. Additionally, eight Bodhi trees — representing the Eightfold Path with a species of tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment — were planted in a special section of the cemetery.

The U.S. government’s recognition of the sacrifices of the Japanese American Buddhist soldiers who served their country during WWII came only after sustained community activism and the solidarity of non-Japanese American military and political leaders who stood up for the idea of honoring veterans of all backgrounds. In addition to Memorial Day, we might also note the efforts of those who saw the value of recognizing Asian Americans more broadly as constitutive of the building of America as a nation. Back in 1977, House Representatives Norman Y. Mineta and Frank Horton introduced a resolution to proclaim the first ten days of May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Week. May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843 and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, which was largely built by Chinese immigrants. President Jimmy Carter authorized this in 1978, and in 1990, Congress passed a bill extending the commemorative week to a month, which is why we now celebrate May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

These stories are reminders of the sacrifices made to achieve the place we have in history, and how the work of advocates, activists, and even politicians have helped Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to be part of the larger American story.

Kindest regards,

Letter from the prison sangha


Many of our members correspond with people living inside prisons in Texas, as well as in other states. Maite’s new correspondent from Texas has told her his story of coming to practice and we thought we would share it with the wider sangha here.

After describing his realization that his “militant atheism” was not serving him with all that he faced in prison, Matt started attending a Buddhist service and began reading, learning about the benefits of meditation but not able to bring himself to sit down and try it. When he had the opportunity, he took refuge in the three treasures of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, but, “within a couple of days, back to the same old samsaric grindstone: expectation and disappointment, excitement and boredom, attack and defense, seeking and fleeing.” It was only after a difficult conversation with his mother on the phone when she confessed her great fears of death and suffering from breast cancer that he came to meditation.

“I returned to my bunk afterward and tried my usual stress-avoidance strategy: sleep. No go. Just rolled restlessly with an agitated mind. Tried to read, couldn’t do that either. Didn’t want to talk to anyone or go anywhere. Finally, a thought popped up: Isn’t this exactly what Buddhist practice is supposed to be for? Isn’t this what refuge is for?”

He sat on the concrete floor of his cell and chanted the Heart Sutra and the refuges, sitting in meditation for twenty minutes. He calmed down a little, then got back on his bunk and felt agitated again. Back to the floor he went. He says, “That night I fell to my practice purely as an escape, a way to slow and calm my agitated mind and self-created suffering. But it was a start, a real one this time. The next morning, I sat again, and the day after that, and after that. Slowly the calmed mind turned to a more insightful one. I started to see how much of my suffering over my mom’s cancer had nothing to do with my mom or her suffering. I was struggling with a lot of guilt. Guilt over being locked up and not being able to be there for her.”

With time, he found himself able to be there for her “a little more fully, a little more presently” and was grateful “for what was and a little more accepting of what could be. Nothing was different, but it all was.”

His mother is now in remission and he says, “I’ve always come back. I finally had the truth of refuge in direct experience, and always knew how to go back when I inevitably needed it again.” He tells of a time later when he came back to Suzuki Roshi’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, a book he had been unable to comprehend in his earlier studies. He found a passage in which Suzuki Roshi gives the hypothetical situation of one’s children suffering. The parent can’t do anything to relieve the anxiety. Sitting meditation is, as he says, “the best way to relieve your suffering even in such a confused state of mind.”

Our friend says, as he read these words, “every word resonated direct and true to my experience. I knew this was something true, something I wanted to be part of and study and follow and live like nothing else I’d ever known. I’ve considered myself a student of Zen ever since.” He confesses that he still has a tendency to intellectualize practice, but “with no regrets and much gratitude to all my spiritual ancestors who guided me and all the karma that placed me here at this time and place in my life. I’m definitely a better, more beneficial person now than I’ve ever been before.”

Land Blessing Ceremony

Mary Carol Edwards and Harwood Taylor

Mary Carol Edwards and Harwood Taylor

On Saturday April 13, friends and sangha members gathered on Lay-Entrusted Dharma teacher Mary Carol Edward’s 11 acres of land in Alvin to request the blessing of all the Buddhas in the 10 directions for her new Green Star Wetland Plant Farm. We walked the perimeter of the wildflower-bedecked land, pausing at all the cardinal points to invite the Buddhas of each direction to support and bless this land. Please feel free to ask Mary Carol for details on her plan to grow millions of wetland plants to help restore and protect the landscape that surrounds and supports each of us.

Walking the land

Walking the land

Making an altar

Making an altar

Shōhō Terry Andrews

Terry H. Andrews, Shōhō Kōji

Terry H. Andrews, Shōhō Kōji

It is with sadness that we share with you the passing away of our dear friend Terry. He died on Saturday March 2. The steady presence with which he met the last few months of his life is an enduring gift to all of us, his family and friends alike. We have observed the traditional powerful ceremonies for Terry, and we will continue to care for him by invoking the protection and guidance of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas every 7th day for 49 days. You are invited to attend any of these ceremonies. Here is a link to the ceremonial schedule.

Jeri Lynn, Terry’s beloved wife, and Terry’s children are profoundly grateful to all you for your care and attention during Terry’s illness. Jeri Lynn invites you to a gathering of remembrance for Terry at the family home on Saturday March 23, noon. You are invited to offer remembrances, stories, and/or anecdotes about Terry. Please contact the office for directions; their home is very close to HZC.

The formal funeral will be held at Zen Center after 100 days, on May 25. The time will be announced later. Everyone is invited to attend the solemn funeral ceremony, followed by a reception in Terry’s honor. Terry’s Dharma Name is Shōhō Kōji, Hearing Dharma, Steadfast Compassion. Terry’s obituary appeared in the Houston Chronicle on March 12, 2019, link here.

Dharma en español

Merilyn Oliveros

Merilyn Oliveros

Traducción en vivo de inglés a español está disponible todas las semanas en el Houston Zen Center! Merilyn Oliveros es una de las bodhisattvas que transforma el dharma. Si necesita más información, favor de enviar un correo electrónico a la oficina.

Live translation from English to Spanish is available every week at Houston Zen Center! Merilyn Oliveros is one of the bodhisattvas who transforms the dharma. For more information, email the office.