Late in Mahatma Gandhi's life when he was asked if he was a Hindu, he replied: "Yes I am. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew."
Possibly surprising to my family, friends, and readers, I completely identify with this statement. All religions are beautiful, shaped according to place and time. As people's customs, rituals, and temples become familiar, the better we understand one another. We are all human and if there is one creator, we are created with a fantastic array of devotional practices. One place to observe Hindu and Buddhist devotees honoring love and peace for all of humanity is in Stafford, Texas.
The small town 1 hour southwest of Houston affords even the most budget conscious to a trip to the other side of the globe. Take a day to go temple hopping and discover new worlds and magnificent architecture.
A world away at home in Houston, Texas.
Intricately carved limestone entrance of the Mandir.
A Hindu Mandir is a place of love, peace, and harmony open to all.
The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is the first traditional Mandir in North America. The structure is built with 33,000 individually hand carved pieces in India from Turkish limestone and Italian marble. The 16-month construction was like assembling a giant 3D jigsaw puzzle with over 1.3 million volunteer hours. A Hindu Mandir is built for worship, prayers, and the realization of God according to ancient Hindu texts. The teachings of the founder Bhagwan Swaminarayan is "to serve society through individual development in promoting spirituality, nurturing growth, unity, and selfless service in diverse communities around the world." (www.baps.org)
Inside the temple, members pray to the deity while leaving offerings of food, flowers, and light. We were overwhelmed by the beauty of the devotion to peace and love and the expanse of geometrical carvings in marble. No photography is allowed inside. Afterward, we walked among the fountains, gardens, and a museum of Hindu history. All are welcomed but dress appropriately in long pants and skirts. Bring sunglasses as the sun reflects brightly on the pure white stone of the Mandir. For information about hours of operation, location, and dress code click here.
Before entering the Temple, everyone must take off their shoes. The elephants at the bottom are symbolic. For centuries, elephants helped build the great shrines of India with their strength and size.
Nearby, is a second temple devoted to Humanistic Buddhism. The Chung Mei Buddhist temple offers a serene space to contemplate the meaning of life over a delicious cup of tea and lunch. "The temple is not only a place of worship and meditation but also embraces education through classes in various subjects from art to cooking. It is also a place for people to gather"
We sampled a cup of tea that was peacefully pleasant and enjoyed a vegan lunch appetizer. The Water Drop Teahouse is open 11-4 for tea and a vegetarian lunch is served 11-2. Most impressive were the volunteers high on service. Joy overflowed in their sincere welcoming to the temple and in their service of food and tea.
Chung Mei Buddhist Temple
Lovely fragrant teas made by devotees; Black Forest and Special Fruit Tea. It is believed monks have attained enlightenment by simply drinking tea.
Cody and I enjoyed a wonderful day temple hopping in the summer sunshine. We were touched by the devotion to peace and love for humanity by both faiths, Hindu and Buddhism. Each temple was unique to its original culture. People from all backgrounds attended as devotees and visitors. The day was unusual. We felt far, far away from our daily lives. My appreciation for the multicultural population of Houston increased beyond the dazzling variety of local ethnic cuisine. It contributes to my well being knowing there are people praying for a better more peaceful world filled with love.
For more information about each temple visit the following websites for times and events.
The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir www.baps.org
Chung Mei Buddhist Temple http://www.houstonbuddhism.org