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Newcomb Greenleaf

People @ Goddard

Real name

Newcomb Greenleaf, PhD


People @ Goddard

Residency Sites: Plainfield, VT


After spending much of my life teaching mathematics in mainstream academia, I am utterly delighted to find myself at home at Goddard, where, instead of looking for mistakes to mark wrong, I can focus on finding and appreciating what is right and precious. My sense of the right and the precious is deeply informed by many years of Buddhist practice, study, and teaching. Recently the Zen teacher David Loy, the environmental historian William Cronon, and the activist Lierre Keith have energized me to take a deep Buddhist look at the looming ecological disaster that awaits not just humanity but also Mother Earth. As a participant in the dialogue between Buddhism and Western science, I look at the relationship of body and mind, at the nature of consciousness, through the bifocal lenses of Buddhism and science. My contribution to an early Mind & Life dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama was published in the book Gentle Bridges. Recently I have been an active participant in the splendidly interdisciplinary SAND conferences ( I have a great liking for Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC), which strikes me as a sophisticated version of the Buddha’s Right Speech. NVC suggests Restorative Justice as a guiding principle for our criminal justice system. Inside prison I have taught NVC and meditation as complementary skills very useful for someone locked in a room with a lot of anger, his own and that of others. On a Restorative Justice panel in my home town of St. Johnsbury, I have found that NVC guides my presence and participation. As “the math guy,” during residency I am continually confronted by the pain and anxiety that surround the academic subject to which I devoted a large chunk of my life. Now I am passionately devoted to healing the wounds of our toxic system of math education, and am convinced that all students can complete the “math as lived experience” requirement in a way that is at least meaningful and perhaps even joyfully healing. This aspiration is being realized in the ongoing construction of the Joy of Math website ( Now, I have my own issues with mathematics, particularly with its arrogant assumption of transcendence, of absolute truth. Yet I do still take joy in math, these days particularly in Japanese Temple Geometry, which refers not to the design of temples, but rather to the Edo period in Japanese history, when the borders were closed to Western influence. Geometry was cultivated in Zen and Shinto temples as a discipline that was simultaneously intellectual, artistic, and spiritual, with no “practical” applications whatsoever. Temple Geometry has inspired the essay “Mathematics and War: from Sacred Geometry to Pearl Harbor” and the slideshow “Geometric Art / Beautiful Geometry”, which can both be found at

Educational Background:

PhD in Mathematics, Princeton University; BA in Mathematics and Physics, Haverford College.

People @ Goddard

People @ Goddard