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.

Shōho Terry Andrews

Shoho Koji,  Hearing the Dharma - Steadfast Compassion,  Terry Andrews

Shoho Koji, Hearing the Dharma - Steadfast Compassion, Terry Andrews

Beloved Terry has officially entered hospice care, while remaining at home with his loving family. His days are filled with grace, his presence and clarity are strong, and his practice is deep. I know he would love to hear from you, a brief note or call.

Terry has been an amazingly talented artist and you can see one of his beautiful drawing/paintings at MFAH in the staff show in the Beck building. It is called The Cartographer.

It is deeply inspiring to spend time with Terry as he generously shares his joy, his practice, and his deep love of his family, his sangha, and all beings. To connect with Terry, please let one of our co-tantos Louise, or Gayle, know and they will facilitate the connection.

The Cartographer , Terry Andrews

The Cartographer, Terry Andrews

New Year, New President of HZC

Laura Salazar-Hopps and Tricia McFarlin

Laura Salazar-Hopps and Tricia McFarlin

Happy New Year! New President of the Board, Laura Salazar-Hopps, assumes her responsibilities officially today, January 1. Tricia McFarlin, the outgoing President, will be standing by with support and continued participation on several committees. Zen Center is fortunate indeed to have the skilled leadership of two such talented, dedicated, and creative Zen practitioners.

Outgoing Board member Forbes Alcott will be much missed on the Board, but will continue his dedicated practice in other dimensions at HZC. Thank you Forbes!

Zack Becker and Eileen Dwyer are two new members of the Board of Directors. They are joining an awesome team. Thanks to everyone on the Board for your service. The on-going stability of HZC is a testament to the Board’s skill and dedication.

Forbes Alcott

Forbes Alcott

Eileen Dwyer

Eileen Dwyer

Zack Becker

Zack Becker

Tea with Zen Master Dogen

Tom Biddle

Tom Biddle

Mark your calendar for January 6 at 11:30

Tom Biddle will lead an exploratory meeting to prepare for a study of Dogen scheduled for February to March.

In order to prepare for his offering of a study of Dogen, the Soto Zen founder and a deep and challenging teacher of the Way, Tom Biddle has graciously offered to hold an introductory meeting to determine the interest of potential students of his class to be offered February 11 to March 11.

After a brief, general introduction to Dogen Zenji for all who are interested, an open discussion will identify the group’s particular interest in exploring one or more broad themes appearing in Dogen’s voluminous written works. Besides the major themes outlined in the book The Essential Dogen, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi and Peter Levitt, other possible broad topics include:

  1. the universal applicability of zazen and its meaning,

  2. the inherency of Buddha nature and its implications,

  3. the teaching and practice of suchness, and

  4. the way to practice with traditional Buddhist scriptures and Zen dialogue encounters, or koans.

From the input gathered in this meeting, a series of discussions on the selected themes will be held over the five Monday evenings from February 11 to March 11.

Tom is a long-standing senior member of the Houston Zen Center. He has offered studies of Dogen in past years and has offered dharma talks to the sangha as well as serving in various leadership roles over the years such as Work Leader and acting Ino.

Please, plan to attend this brief introductory session and offer your ideas as to the areas of Dogen study you would most like to pursue.

Farewell to Bruce McMills, Zen Heart


Bruce McMills, member of Zen Center for more than 20 years, died Saturday morning, December 15, in the arms of his wife Molly.

Bruce was instrumental in establishing the welcoming feeling that is still the Houston Zen Center way. Bruce always reached out to new visitors, warmly welcoming all seekers.

We will miss him very much. We will hold the 49 day ceremonies for Bruce, whose dharma name Zen Heart, Growing in the Way, is a tribute to his loving heart, his deeply generous nature.

For 49 days we will invite the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to watch over Bruce in this important time of transition.

Cards of condolence are welcome; please contact Joy in the office for the address.

Bruce preparing for sesshin.

Bruce preparing for sesshin.