Oz-like, just outside Houston’s din and city limits, the Chung Mei Buddhist temple rises from the flat Texas horizon. Juxtaposed atop rural longhorn grazing land, this compound includes the meticulously clean, other-worldly Fo Guang Shan Tea Room. Built where mesquite barbecue scents and red-necks drinking Lone Star seem more appropriate, this slightly bizarre refuge may just be the perfect rendezvous for a blind date. No need to talk, just sip and contemplate.
Listen as Zhang Wei-Tiang’s flute songs emanate from CDs with names like “Tea Drops” or “Taste Zen in Tea”. And choose from among Kao Shan (green tea leaves with flowers; my personal favorite), Prosperity tea (apple blossom, lemon, kumquat, honey), Special jasmine and fruit tea, Amber tea (rosebuds and green tea), and Black Forest Tea (blueberry, Luo River flower, lemon, honey). You can take home the CDs, but you can’t buy the tea, thus providing incentive to come back.
On my last visit, the deserted room had only one other person, an East Coast tourist, urgently explaining that since credit cards weren’t taken and she had no cash, she could only pay with an out-of-state check. Was that OK? The gentle, shaved-head nun in brown-beige robes smilingly nodded assent and floated silently out, cloud-like and transcendent. The stranger and I were left alone amidst carefully displayed Buddhist devotional items, literature, a trickling fountain, and lush green plants. Mundane beings, we each pantomimed the tea room motto, written on the wall in English and Chinese, “A place where everyone can sit. Relax with a cup of tea and enjoy the nice surrounding.”
Within the tea room building, you can, of course, actually “sit ” in the Zen sense. Beyond tea, the temple offers Buddhist and Chinese language instruction, dharma groups, chanting sessions, and various celebrations. I’m far too mired in Samsara for those, but the vegetarian cooking classes are tempting. I recommend the first time you go, do it for the tea and the chance to hear, maybe for the first time, your own Monkey Mind thoughts. Observe. Be silent. Be attentive. But also, please indulge. Order a vegetarian rice dish, a Chinese pancake, or let your senses wallow in the stunningly rich, herbed mushroom, corn, and mozzarella jaffle (toasted sandwich) to accompany your tea. After this, walk outside among the Ogre and Bodhisattva statues, eerily life-size, sitting under bonsai trees or by small bridges to nowhere, like some strange miniature golf course. When you leave, light a joss stick for posterity and place it in the urn. I guarantee the only sound you’ll notice is the wind.