Kalama Sutra

Sangha Building at the California Events

By Caleb Cushing Our Sangha has often thought about participating in a special project that would reflect our care and understanding. I'd silently wondered who would come forth first and commit. To my surprise, it was the Sangha as a whole.

As we practiced together, our stability, joy, and gratitude grew, and so did our numbers. As a regular host, I expressed concern that my sitting room couldn't accommodate more than the 25 who came regularly. Looking with Sangha eyes, we recognized that we enjoy newcomers and we were all newcomers once. We remembered how we struggled to practice alone, and how the open door brought us together. We discussed dividing, relocating, and adding sessions, but settled on a moratorium on newcomers. However, we also determined to help new practitioners connect to existing Sanghas and build new ones. And so, our project sprouted.

Twenty-two of us attended Thich Nhat Hanh's Santa Barbara retreat. With Jack Lawlor, we organized a Sangha-building meeting, at the end of which people exchanged names and addresses and scheduled first meetings of home Sanghas. We also distributed Sangha listings, some Sangha profiles from The Mindfulness Bell, and an excerpt from Jack Lawlor's Sangha Building book.

A short time later, Thay led a Day of Mindfulness in Oakland. We printed more of the materials, and designed a sign-up program for people interested in local Sanghas. At long tables organized by cities and regions, we offered sign-up sheets with the heading "I am interested in joining or starting a local meditation group in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh." Each sheet had spaces for contact information, and a column to indicate if people could host a group. We also provided lots of pencils. A few days later, we used the same techniques at Thay's lecture in Berkeley. Between the two events, 678 people signed up. One out of eight volunteered to host a Sangha.

People signing up tended to be either relieved and joyful, or quiet and thoughtful. At the end of the Oakland event, two older women came by, clutching handbags and dressed in hand-knit white cardigans. They asked if there were any practice groups in Stockton, an old farm town in the heart of California's central valley. I directed them to the "other areas" sign-up, and they read the top page, noting one Stockton registrant. They turned the page, reading silently until one crowed, "Look! Melody's on the list, too!" They both signed up, joyfully. As they walked off, arm in arm, I heard one say, "I can't wait to get home and call Melody!"

Our Sangha is processing the names and helping organize new Sanghas. We called the 436 people from our area, let them know what Sanghas exist, and that new hosts will call later. We've invited the new hosts to practice periods where we sit, walk, offer guided meditations, and share our experiences. We encourage co-hosting, and provide each host with a list of people in their area and suggestions about scheduling the first gathering. We also expect to visit the new Sanghas in small groups.

We're providing other tangible support: lists of local Sanghas, courtesy of the Bay Area Mindfulness Community; a roster of local Tiep Hien members; some of Thay's books; reprinted Plum Village Chanting Books; and an invitation to register with the Bay Area Mindfulness Community so as to be visible to others and receive information about upcoming events. We notified all northern California Order members and Sanghas in Thay's tradition to expect inquiries. For Sanghas beyond our area, we gave lists of their locals who signed up, and confirmed that the Sanghas were interested and available to welcome the newcomers or to help them connect with other Sanghas.

The Dharma is attractive to lay people, because it can be realized in a deeply personal way. The Buddha reminds us in the Kalama Sutta:

It is fine to have doubt. Do not believe in something just because people think highly of it, or because it has come from tradition, or because it is found in scriptures. Consider whether it goes against your judgment, whether it could cause harm, whether it is condemned by wise people, and above all, whether put into practice it would bring about destruction and pain. Anything that you judge to be beautiful, accords with your judgment, is appreciated by wise people, and once put into practice will bring about joy and happiness, can be accepted and put into practice. 

Lay Sanghas model this teaching well. Organized to be responsive, accessible, and pragmatic, they are grass-roots, organic, and fulfilling. "We make the way by walking." Or as my Dharma brother Glen observes, "We're laying the track as we go, and the train's right behind us."

Caleb Cushing, True Original Commitment, is an architect and practices with the Pot Luck Sangha in Oakland, California.

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Sangha News

The Sciences of the BuddhaA Twenty-one Day Retreat for Buddhists and Scientists

By Thich Nhat Hanh


In Buddhism there are two kinds of truth: conventional truth (samvrti-satya) and absolute truth (paramartha-satya). In the framework of the conventional truth, Buddhists speak of being and non-being, birth and death, coming and going, inside and outside, one and many, etc. The Buddhist teaching and practice based on this framework helps reduce suffering and bring more harmony and happiness. In the framework of absolute truth, the teaching transcends notions of being and non-being, birth and death, coming and going, inside and outside, one and many, etc. The teaching and practice based on this insight help practitioners liberate themselves from discrimination and fear, and touch nirvana, the ultimate reality. Buddhists see no conflict between the two kinds of truth and are free to make good use of both frameworks.

Classical science, as seen in Newton’s theories, is built upon a framework reflecting everyday experience, in which material objects have an individual existence and can be located in time and space. Quantum physics provides a framework for understanding how nature operates on subatomic scales, but differs completely from classical science, because in this framework, there is no such thing as empty space, and the position of an object and its momentum cannot simultaneously be precisely determined. Elementary particles fluctuate in and out of existence, and do not really exist but have only a “tendency to exist.”

Classical science seems to reflect the conventional truth and quantum physics seems to be on its way to discover the absolute truth, trying very hard to discard notions such as being and non-being, inside and outside, sameness and otherness, etc. At the same time, scientists are trying to find out the relationship between the two kinds of truth represented by the two kinds of science, because both can be tested and applied in life.

In science, a theory should be tested in several ways before it can be accepted by the scientific community. The Buddha also recommended, in the Kalama Sutra, that any teaching and insight given by any teacher should be tested by our own experience before it can be accepted as the truth. Real insight, or right view, has the capacity to liberate and to bring peace and happiness. The findings of science are also insight; they can be applied in technology, but can be applied also to our daily behavior to improve the quality of our life and happiness. Buddhists and scientists can share with each other their ways of studying and practice and can profit from each other’s insights and experience.

The practice of mindfulness and concentration always brings insight. It can help both Buddhists and scientists. Insights transmitted by realized practitioners like the Buddhas and bodhisattvas can be a source of inspiration and support for both Buddhist practitioners and scientists, and scientific tests can help Buddhist practitioners understand better and have more confidence in the insight they receive from their ancestral teachers. It is our belief that in this twenty-first century, Buddhism and science can go hand in hand to promote more insight for us all and bring more liberation, reducing discrimination, separation, fear, anger, and despair in the world.

In the beautiful setting of Plum Village, from June 1-21, 2012, scientists and Buddhists will practice sitting together, walking together, and sharing their experience and insight with each other. The practices of mindfulness and concentration can help scientists to be better scientists and in this way, Buddhism can act as a source of inspiration, suggesting directions for future investigation and discovery. Conversely, we will explore how insights from science can be useful, not only to develop technology and improve our material comfort, but to reduce the suffering of individuals, families, and society. This retreat will bring a lot of joy and confidence in both traditions as we find out that good science and good Buddhism can be much and do much for the well-being of the world.


Thirty Years of Plum Village

On June 16, 2011, during lunchtime in the Assembly of Stars Meditation Hall in Lower Hamlet, Plum Village, Thay called the brothers and sisters who were twenty-nine years of age, including the lay friends, to come up in front of the Sangha. Thay shared that the year they were born, Plum Village was also born—that they were the same age as Plum Village. Next year, they will be celebrating their birthday along with the 30th Anniversary of our beloved Plum Village community. Thay invited this group, and the whole community of the Plum Village tradition in France and the world, to help contribute to an anniversary celebration. Let us come together to nourish our brotherhood and sisterhood and to deepen our practice. Let us look into how we can celebrate Plum Village in a meaningful and deep way. Let us find ways to record and share the history of the Plum Village manifestation as a gift for our beloved teacher, Thay. To contribute your ideas and energy, please contact Brother Phap Dung at phapdung@dpmail.net.

Love Resounds Remembering Nathaniel (Nacho) Cordova, True Mountain of Compassion

By Jerry Braza


On July 16, 2011, our brother Nacho Cordova died in a motorcycle accident near the Oregon coast. Nacho continues to ripple like a wave through the hearts of his family, the worldwide academic community, and the Sangha. At his memorial service, one word resounded like a bell of mindfulness: LOVE.

Nacho clearly wanted the best for every person, as demonstrated by his deep, mindful presence and practice of loving-kindness. His Dharma name, True Mountain of Compassion, exemplify his ability to be there for others, especially when they were suffering. Despite his busy schedule, he found time to listen deeply and often followed the listening with compassionate action. His warm smile was a reflection of his open and loving heart. Nacho had the unique ability to bring joy and water the seeds of love in every person he met, and he left everyone feeling that they were his best friend. Through his practice he found a refuge within, and he had the ability to see all perspectives clearly, which allowed him to be centered and available with a clear mind and loving presence.

Nacho’s favorite quote was by Basho: “The temple bell stops, but the sound keeps coming out of the flowers.” Nacho continues in all that is beautiful in our world as well as in the hearts and spirits of his wife, Michelle, and his children, Alex, Phoenix, and Terra.


In remembrance of Nacho, please consider honoring the family with a comment or reflection on the beautiful blog that began the day he died: http://nacho-cordova.blogspot.com/

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