Teo Chew Temple located in Houston’s Chinatown
The Teo Chew Temple is a Vietnamese Buddhist Temple located in southwest Houston. My husband and I spotted the ornate rooftops when we were walking through the nearby Arthur Storey Park one day. We made a mental note to find out more about the structure at a later date.
This last week we had a list of several things in this same part of the Houston Metro area to check out since they were relatively near one another. After wandering through Evelyn’s Park in Bellaire, we next visited the Vietnam War Memorial. A short distance from the war memorial is where this beautiful temple is located.
The Teo Chew Temple is situated in a residential neighborhood. A large free parking lot is located in front of the temple past entrance gates. There is so much to attract one’s eyes when visiting for the first time! A beautiful circular fountain with carved marble zodiac animals representing the 12 months of the year is noteworthy.
Splashing waters of the fountain are below the central figure of Quan Am. She is also known by other names. Quan Am is considered to be a divine being (a bodhisattva) who helps people through hardships and suffering. People pray to her much like some Christians pray to the Virgin Mary.
Prior to ever entering the Teo Chew Temple there is much to view outside.
Bright red picnic tables are placed in a tree shaded grassy area where stone lions buffer both sides of an elaborately carved wall.
On the ground in front of the stone wall is a patterned image the symbolism of which has meaning to those who are familiar.
Stone benches as well as a covered open air gazebo also adorn the grounds outside of the temple.
Stone lions guard the exterior of the Teo Chew Temple. The male and female lions are always placed with the male on the right and female on the left as one looks at the entrance of a building from the outside. They symbolically take on a protective role and have been found in religious art several hundred years before the birth of Christ.
This temple while described as a Vietnamese Buddhist Temple also has influences from China. The Teochew people who came here from Vietnam operate this sanctuary of worship and reflection.
Ancestral worship is important to Buddhists. They also revere their many different Gods. There are 14 major Gods represented in this temple. There are Gods representing wealth, nobility, virtues and even a God of war among others.
There is a pervasive scent of incense and people place burning incense sticks in front of the gods to whom they kneel and pray. Gifts of food are also placed at tables in front of each diety figure.
One person inside of the temple spoke English. I did ask permission to take photographs and she said that it was okay to do so. She also handed a sheet of paper to us describing some of the statues of the Gods which we were viewing.
While we were visiting the temple there was a steady flow of individuals as well as couples paying homage to their Gods and ancestors. Other than the ringing of a gong on occasion which seemed to coincide with visitors entering the temple, people were very quiet, meditative and respectful.
Regarding the gifts of food, we were told that some people bring them and those who need the food can take from the offerings. Prior to leaving, the lady interpreting some of what we were viewing told us to wait. She presented us with a large Gala apple, held her hands together in a prayerful pose, bowed and wished us luck. There is such a friendly and welcoming atmosphere inside of the temple.
Colors carry much symbolism in many cultures. The abundant use of the color red in Vietnam as well as China has the meaning of joy, vitality, celebration, luck, good fortune and happiness. Gold symbolizes wealth and riches.
The building to the left of the one with the 14 major Gods is one honoring ancestors who have passed on to the next life.
Names, dates and in many instances images of the deceased are found in the room to the front. In the second room and third are urns with ashes of the deceased.
Unlike mausoleums that I have visited, this second building housing urns and memorials seemed beautiful and alive. There were food offerings here in addition to some flowers and the burning of incense. The people paying homage to their ancestors all appeared to be serene.
Modest dress is appropriate if wishing to visit this beautiful temple. Donations are welcomed.