Welcome to Guandi’s Temple – A Mystic Sanctuary of Asian Cultures in Houston
By Dr. Teresa Tomkins-Walsh
Visiting the Texas Guandi Temple can be a journey into a mystical world of Asian cultures. Within the iron gates surrounding the temple are stone statues of ancient figures and temple dogs. Inside the temple are representations of gods elevated upon altars where incense sticks burn in giant brass bowls of sand and offerings of fruit await each god’s pleasure. Texas Guandi Temple is a site for the practice of millennia-old religious traditions, but it is also a testament to the sacrifice and survival of earthly people who call Houston home.
Guandi is a figure revered in Chinese culture and Taoist tradition. Guan Yu, a general, was a mortal man until captured and executed. After death, he became the very popular Guandi. In 1594, a Ming dynasty emperor canonized Guandi as god of war and protector of China.
Guandi’s role in the founding and naming of the temple is profound and personal. Arriving in the United States from China via Vietnam in 1978, Charles Ngo and his wife Carolyn thrived in Houston, but their Fifth Ward grocery store suffered several robberies. During one particularly vicious robbery, Charles believed he would die after he shot one robber, but the other seized the gun and threatened Charles. Charles prayed to Guandi, and finally the thieves left without harming the couple.
As an expression of gratitude, Charles Ngo conceived a multi-cultural temple with the Hainam Association. Chinese deities sit in the temple, identified in both Chinese and Vietnamese. A Thai four-faced Buddha, stands on an altar adorned with flowers and beaded objects. Also from Thailand is a commanding, contemplative representation of Buddha on the back wall. Everyone is welcome to the temple, which opened in 1999, including Taoists, Buddhists or anyone who seeks respite, meditation or counsel.
As the temple’s volunteer manager, Ming Shui Huang shares the Ngo family’s devotion to Guandi. Ming’s Houston story dates to the Second World War when his father, working in the United States, joined the Army to fight. After the war, Ming’s father returned to China, where Chinese government officials destroyed all his records. Ming became curious, wrote a letter to the U.S. government and received a grant for seven days’ research on his father. Afterwards, Ming contacted the Hainam Association whose members hail from the same area of China. Invited to Houston in 2000, Ming continues as volunteer manager.
Texas Guandi Temple reveals a complicated but complementary relationship between Buddhism and Taoism. A visit to the temple can lead to deep philosophical investigation of ancient religious traditions or introduce an amazing experience in sight, sound, smell and most of all welcome.
Author Dr. Teresa (Terry) Tomkins-Walsh is historian and archivist for the Houston History Archives with the Center for Public History at the University of Houston. Located in Special Collections at the UH Libraries, the Houston History Archives collects historical documents on the growth and development of Houston with particular concentrations in energy, environmental and ethnic history. Contact her at email@example.com.