Sky Creek Dharma Center was founded in 2004, when Amos Clifford determined to realize his dream of starting an American-style Buddhist meditation facility in Chico, Calif. His goal was to provide a permanent location for the several local Buddhist meditation groups then meeting in yoga studios, churches, members’ homes and other less-than-ideal locations.
With the support of his own Slowly Ripening Sangha, which was in the tradition of the Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, he located and leased a large house north of town that was suitable as a practice center. It had a spacious, hardwood-floored room that could serve as a meditation hall, a well-equipped kitchen, and rooms for guests and offices. It also was located in a quiet area away from traffic and bordering a city park.
Within a matter of months, Slowly Ripening Sangha was joined by two other practice groups that also met weekly. One was in the Serene Reflection tradition (Soto Zen) and was affiliated with Shasta Abbey, a monastery in Mt. Shasta City; the other was Heart of the Lotus Sangha, which practiced vipassana (insight) meditation and was associated with Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County and Mountain Stream Meditation Center in Grass Valley.
Eventually a “twenty-something” group, called Dharma Buffet, joined the center, as did a Taoist study group, an Adyashanti group and a Pema Chodron group (the latter two meeting monthly).
Together, these groups form a unique entity: an eclectic collaboration of members of several different traditions who had come together to practice in their different but similar ways. As this suggests, these groups have more in common than they have differences. Their focus is on meditation and the healing and personal transformation that a meditation practice can foster.
The dharma center is also testimony to what different groups can accomplish when they work together. Since its inception, it has formed a board of directors, become incorporated as a non-profit, tax-exempt religious organization, developed steady sources of funding, and purchased its building. And, in addition to holding its regular meditation gatherings five days a week, it has hosted numerous guest teachers and lecturers, weekend-long meditation retreats, Buddhist celebrations such as Wesak (Buddha’s birthday), and other, similar events.
In addition it has established a strong presence in Chico and Butte County as a center for meditation studies. The number of people who attend its events has grown every year.
It also has provided a template for Buddhist groups elsewhere that are interested in working together to create and maintain a practice center. Buddhists comprise the second-largest religious group (after Christians) in the Western United States. Many of them are immigrants from Asia who brought their religion with them, but a growing number are American-born practitioners who are developing a form of Buddhism that reflects their emphasis on meditation as a practice that can change lives—and change society—in healthful ways.