As Tropical Storm Harvey continues to flood many areas of Texas and Louisiana, Buddhists in the Houston area are pitching in with disaster relief work.

The storm, which at more than 50 inches of rain has already set an unofficial record for the most rainfall during a single storm, made a second landfall in southwestern Louisiana early Wednesday morning. Harvey has been responsible for about 46 deaths so far, according to Texas officials.   

On the ground, members of the Houston Zen Center are volunteering at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston, which is sheltering some 9,000 people who evacuated or were rescued from their homes.

Gaelyn Godwin Roshi, abbot of the Houston Zen Center, told Tricycle that she and other members of the center had been volunteering since Monday. 

“Walking into the convention center felt like a release. People felt relieved,” Godwin said. “The kids were well-protected and the adults could finally sleep.”

Godwin said that the Zen Center, where she lives, is safe and dry. The center was prepared to welcome displaced people, but the neighborhood was cut off by flooded roads. To help, she recommends donating to the Houston Food Bank or directly to the Houston Zen Center.  

The abbot also added that local Buddhist centers are staying in touch and seem to be faring well. 

“My plan is to drive around today [Wednesday] and see for myself,” Godwin said. 

Raul Teran, vice region leader for the Soka Gakkai International’s Houston Buddhist Center, said there are about 30 affected households from their local community of 1,500 practitioners. 

Teran said the center is organizing supplies, such as water, canned food, toiletries, deodorant, soap, towels, first aid, and pet food, for their members. 

The center itself was not impacted by nearby flooding, but has canceled activities and meetings this week as they “try to get back to normalcy.”

Dawn Mountain, a Tibetan Buddhist Center located in Houston, is also structurally safe from the storm. Myokei Caine-Barrett, bishop of the Nichiren Shu order of North America and resident minister of Myoken-ji Temple, said the center is dry and has power and water. We will provide updates on other centers as that information becomes available.  

Other Buddhist temples around the city are providing shelter to displaced Houstonians.

Brandon Lamson, a member of the Houston Zen Center who also teaches at the University of Houston, said that he had recently moved to “The Heights,” a neighborhood in northwest central Houston that is about 30 feet higher than downtown.

“Our streets turned into rivers for a couple of nights, but we’re really fortunate compared to other parts of the city,” Lamson said.

Lamson, who is also a meditation teacher, said he started checking in with other members of his Buddhist community shortly after the storm hit. He’s already led a Facebook Live meditation class and has another one planned for Friday, in addition to volunteer work at the convention center.

“I think people are looking for stability in the midst of everything,” Lamson said, adding that his guided meditations have focused on lovingkindness practice for the city, as well as helping practitioners feel grounded in their body.

If you’re a Buddhist in an area damaged by Harvey or traveling to do relief work, we’d like to hear about your experience. Please email wendy@tricycle.org.

Temple
Dharma to your inbox

Sign up for Tricycle’s newsletters