CloudWater Zendo, the Zen Center of Cleveland

Luke Erdahl

In the dichotomy between ‘immigrant’ Buddhist temples and ‘convert’ Buddhist organizations, CloudWater Zendo does not fall neatly into either category. It was founded by a man seeking to spread Buddhism to the residents of Cleveland, but it does not attempt to simplify, westernize, or otherwise change the teachings of its two Buddhist traditions. At the same time, it does not serve an Asian-American constituency at the expense of others. CloudWater Zendo, is, simply, a Buddhist temple seeking to teach and practice Chan and Pure Land Buddhism to anyone who wills it. To understand this, a history of the temple is in order.

History of the Temple

To understand the origins of CloudWater Zendo, one must begin with the Cleveland Buddhist Temple, which was founded by the Cleveland Young Buddhist Association in 1945 as a Pure Land temple that mostly served Japanese-Americans (“Home”). Interestingly, although the temple is unambiguously Pure Land, its website includes a quote from Dogen, and it notes his being a practitioner of Zen (“About Buddhism”). Shaku Shu Ho, the founder of CloudWater Zendo, was a “senior student” of a Rev. Koshin Ogui of the Cleveland Buddhist Temple. Shaku Shu Ho desired to teach Zen Buddhism to Cleveland at large, and so, in 1990 and with the permission of Rev. Koshin Ogui, he began a meditation group in a United Methodist Church. (“History of CloudWater Zendo”). In 1994, he was able to move from a borrowed space to a rented one, and he established CloudWater Zendo proper. There, the temple began winter retreats, a statue of the Buddha was acquired, T’ai Chi and Reiki courses began to be offered, and, perhaps most importantly, novice monks began to be ordained during this time (“History of CloudWater Zendo”).

In 1998, Rev. Koshin Ogui ordained Shaku Shu Ho as a sensei, or teacher. Soon after, he was ordained a full monk by a Chan master as the culmination of eight years of Chan study. Thus, Shaku Shu Ho, now named Shih Ying-Fa, had extensive experience in both Pure Land and Chan, and CloudWater Zendo certainly reflects this. In 1999, after the death of the abbot of the Dragon Flower Chan Temple in Wisconsin, Shih Ying-Fa became its abbot, in addition to being the abbot of CloudWater Zendo (“History of CloudWater Zendo”). In 2000, CloudWater Zendo moved into a space three times larger than its previous one. It is the current location of the temple. Once this space was acquired, the temple began to offer a twice-yearly “Basics of Buddhism course,” which it still offers today.


This history, however, leaves a very important topic only briefly touched. The lineage of a temple is important across the various forms of Buddhism. The full story of CloudWater Zendo’s origins begins in Hong Kong with the Chan Master T’ai Ts’ang, who gave Dharma Transmission to an American scholar of Buddhism, Dr. Holmes Welch, who afterwards took of the name of the Venerable Shih Mo-Hua. With this Dharma Transmission came an order from Master T’ai Ts’ang to found a monastery in the United States. In 1980, the Venerable Shih Mo-Hua gave Dharma Tramsission to the Venerable Shih Shen-Lung, who then became the abbot of the Dragon Flower Chan Temple, which had been founded by the final abbot of the prestigious Jinshan Monastary in Zhenjiang, China, Master Taizang Xinran. It was the Venerable Shen-Lung who gave Dharma Trasmission to Shih Ying-Fa, and it is for this reason that the Venerable Shih Ying-Fa is the abbot of the Dragon Flower Chan Temple. The Venerable Shen Ying-Fa has given transmission to the Venerable Ming-Xing, who is now the assistant abbot of CloudWater Zendo (“Lineage”).


Although this lineage is Chan, the temple also associates itself with the Pure Land tradition. Regarding the two traditions, the homepage of CloudWater Zendo’s extensive website displays the following message:

“We are dedicated to Chan Meditation (also known as Zen), the five elements school of Pure Land Buddhism (a contemporary rendering of traditional Pure Land Buddhism), the practice of traditional meditative arts and the study of Buddhist teachings. We are also the home of the Nien-Fo Order of Chan Buddhist Monks.”

This sums up neatly the traditional affiliations of the temple. Chan is the primary tradition with Pure Land a close second. The temple is sincere and dedicated to preserving both, but, as will become evident, it does not teach one to the exclusion of all others.


Of the temple’s regular events, three are explicitly Chan or Zen (Zen meditation, which is three times a week, a weekly introduction to Zen meditation, and a weekly Zen tea), one is explicitly Pure Land (twice-monthly Five Elements meditation), two are Buddhist but not limited to one tradition (a thrice-monthly “Buddhist Service,” and monthly meetings of the Kuan-Yin Society, “dedicated to promoting compassion throughout the world), and one is not limited to Buddhism at all (weekly Qigong) [“Welcome”]. Thus, it seems fitting to begin a discussion of the temple’s Buddhist traditions with Chan, a term that is used interchangeably by the temple with “Zen.” The temple describes Chan as “a way of looking directly at our own True Nature… …It is a direct realization of our own true nature” (“What is Chan”). The same description goes on to read,

“A famous saying describes Chan practice, among others, as “a finger pointing to the moon.” The moon’s brilliance is there for all to see, and the finger points the way… …The essence of Chan has little if anything to do with rites, rituals, and so forth, even though these may be employed as a means of encouraging mindfulness.”

The temple’s writings on Chan include descriptions of several variations of the lotus position and how to assume it, but it warns the reader not to attempt any of these on his own, cautioning him to first be taught by someone experienced (“Mediation Basics”). This betrays what is already quite clear, namely, that the temple intends that its writings be read by anyone and everyone, even beginners. Chan practice is elaborated upon thusly:

“Pay attention to the rising and falling of the abdomen while you release whatever perceptions may arise.  It’s like allowing the dirt particles in a glass of muddy water to settle to the bottom when the glass is put down, leaving nothing but clear water.  When your mind is focused and calm, begin the basic practice: just dwell in this still, peaceful mind without comment.”

Neither the Linji school nor the Caodong school is explicitly recommended, and the temple’s simultaneous embrace of Pure Land Buddhism suggests that both are considered at least partially valid. However, Linji is quoted in a side panel, vaguely suggesting a preference for his teachings (“History of CloudWater Zendo”). Interestingly, the provided history of Chan openly denies certainty that Bodhidharma was a real person and stresses Taoist influence on Chan (“What is Chan”). This explains the ying-yang symbol in the temple’s logo.

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 11.41.20 PM

Pure Land

The temple’s other tradition, Pure Land, also originates from China, and the temple’s writings on the tradition’s history speaks highly of its being used by Chan practitioners, but it also acknowledges Pure Land as a tradition in its own right (“History of Meditative Pure Land Practice”). According to the temple, the term “Pure Land” refers to two things. These are the “essential enlightened nature,” and “a literal realm of rebirth in which the impediments to cultivation are non-existent, enabling one to purify one’s karma without hindrance” (What is Pure Land Buddhism”). The Buddha Amitabha is discussed, as is his Pure Land, the vows he took ensuring the arrival of certain people there, the tripod of “practice,” “aspiration,” and “faith,” and the five elements of the Five Elements School (“What is Pure Land Buddhism,” “Meditative Pure Land Buddhism”). These important five elements are Earth (representing study of sutras), Water (representing recitation), Air (representing veneration), Fire (representing visualization), and Space (realization of ones’ true nature) [“Meditative Pure Land Buddhism”].

An apparent contradiction between Chan and Pure Land is addressed on a FAQ page on the temple’s website. On the one hand, Chan makes no guarantee of enlightenment, but on the other, Pure Land appears to teach that Amithaba is the source of enlightenment for those who work in concert with his vows. The answer given is that Amithaba is none other than “Boundless Compassion and Wisdom,” and the Pure Land is none other than “Purified Mind.” The practices of the five elements aid us in attaining these things, and Amithaba merely facilitates and teaches this process (“Frequently Asked Questions”). This is by far the most advanced question on the page, which otherwise answers basic questions about Buddhism.

Buddhism at Large

In giving a description of Buddhism as a whole, the first sentence written is, “Buddhism, is, quite simply, a path of liberation from suffering” (“What is Buddhism”). However, against what one might expect for a temple designed to spread Buddhism in Cleveland, the traditional account of the Buddha’s life is recounted in its fullness, karma, samsara, no-self, gods, and demons not excluded. In describing the Buddha’s act of leaving his home, an act for which there are multiple traditional accounts, it merely records that he gave his possessions to his family and left (“What is Buddhism”). The four noble truths and the eightfold path are recounted concisely. The following, rather pluralistic message summarizes the introduction:

“North Americans can now avail themselves of a wide variety of Buddhist forms.  From Ch’an to Tibetan to Pure Land and beyond, every sect of all three divisions of Buddhism is represented here.  Buddhism does not actively seek converts, which means that people of any faith tradition are welcomed and encouraged to take advantage of Buddhist teachings and meditative practices to strengthen their own spirituality.”

Besides this perspective, emptiness and mindfulness are taught as “key Buddhist teachings,” true to the temple’s Mahayana affiliation, and the temple recommends taking vows of refuge in the three refuges, preferably in the presence of a Buddhist altar (“Key Buddhist Teachings,” “Taking Vows of Refuge”).

However, despite being so full of Buddhist tradition, the temple is not directly subject to any other temples or organizations (“The Begging Bowl”). Its main affiliate is the Dragon Flower Chan Temple, because of the personal link through their common abbot. Two loosely affiliated groups are the very small Zen for Greater Canton/Akron and Zen and Buddhism for Tasmania, Australia (“Golden Wisdom Zen Meditation,” Buddha-Heart Fellowship”). Beyond this, not even the Cleveland Buddhist Temple is mentioned as an affiliate.


In keeping with Shaku Shu Ho’s original goal for the temple, the temple offers many opportunities for people not experienced in Buddhist practice, but it also does not neglect Chan and Pure Land practice. Consequently, it appears to have a combination of all segments of Cleveland residents, Asian-American and not, old and young, monastic and lay. Indeed, the temple is involved in distinctly American matters. For example, the temple posted a phonetically-written transliteration of the Dharani of Great Compassion on its website with the instruction that it should be chanted leading up the 2018 US Midterm Elections so that “the spirit of Universal Compassion” will permeate the election (“Dharani of Great Compassion”). In this respect, Shaku Shu Ho’s goal of spreading Buddhism to Cleveland has been fulfilled.

Meditation Hall 2

Works Cited

“About Buddhism,” Cleveland Buddhist Temple, Cleveland Buddhist Temple,


“Begging Bowl, the,” CloudWater Zendo: The Zen Center of Cleveland, Zen Society of Cleveland,


“Buddha-Heart Fellowship,” CloudWater Zendo: The Zen Center of Cleveland, Zen Society of Cleveland,


“Dharani of Great Compassion,” CloudWater Zendo: The Zen Center of Cleveland, Zen Society of Cleveland,


“Frequently Asked Questions,” CloudWater Zendo: The Zen Center of Cleveland, Zen Society of Cleveland,


“Golden Wisdom Zen Meditation,” CloudWater Zendo: The Zen Center of Cleveland, Zen Society of Cleveland,


“History of CloudWater Zendo,” CloudWater Zendo: The Zen Center of Cleveland, Zen Society of Cleveland,


“History of Meditative Pure Land Practices,” CloudWater Zendo: The Zen Center of Cleveland, Zen Society of Cleveland,


“Home,” Cleveland Buddhist Temple, Cleveland Buddhist Temple,


“Key Buddhist Teachings,” CloudWater Zendo: The Zen Center of Cleveland, Zen Society of Cleveland,


“Meditation Basics,” CloudWater Zendo: The Zen Center of Cleveland, Zen Society of Cleveland,


“Meditative Pure Land Buddhism,” CloudWater Zendo: The Zen Center of Cleveland, Zen Society of Cleveland,


“Our Chan Lineage,” CloudWater Zendo: The Zen Center of Cleveland, Zen Society of Cleveland,


“Taking the Vows of Refuge,” CloudWater Zendo: The Zen Center of Cleveland, Zen Society of Cleveland,


“Welcome,” CloudWater Zendo: The Zen Center of Cleveland, Zen Society of Cleveland,


“What is Buddhism,” CloudWater Zendo: The Zen Center of Cleveland, Zen Society of Cleveland,


“What is Chan,” CloudWater Zendo: The Zen Center of Cleveland, Zen Society of Cleveland,


“What is Pure Land Buddhism” CloudWater Zendo: The Zen Center of Cleveland, Zen Society of Cleveland,