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Jack Kornfield, PhD, is a psychologist and founder of two of the largest Buddhist centres in America. His books are classics, selling well over a million copies, and have been translated into twenty-one languages. In addition he teaches to large crowds all over the world.
Jack Kornfield trained as a Buddhist monk in the monasteries of Thailand, India and Burma. He has taught meditation internationally since 1974 and is one of the key teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness practice to the West. After graduating from Dartmouth College in Asian Studies in 1967 he joined the Peace Corps and worked on tropical medicine teams in the Mekong River valley. He met and studied as a monk under the Buddhist master Ven. Ajahn Chah, as well as the Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw of Burma. Returning to the United States, Jack co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, with fellow meditation teachers Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein and the Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, California. Over the years, Jack has taught in centers and universities worldwide, led International Buddhist Teacher meetings, and worked with many of the great teachers of our time. He holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is a father, husband and activist.
His books have been translated into 20 languages and sold more than a million copies. They include,
- A Path with Heart: The Classic Guide Through The Perils And Promises Of Spiritual Life
- A Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology
- After the Ecstasy, the Laundry;
- Teachings of the Buddha;
- Seeking the Heart of Wisdom;
- Living Dharma;
- A Still Forest Pool;
- Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart;
- Buddha’s Little Instruction Book;
- The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace,
- Bringing Home the Dharma: Awakening Right Where You Are,
- No Time Like the Present: Finding Freedom, Love, and Joy Right Where You Are
Perhaps the most important book yet written on meditation, the process of inner transformation, and the integration of spiritual practice into our Western way of life, A Path With Heart brings alive the possibilities of inner peace, wholeness and the achievement of happiness. Written by a teacher, psychologist and meditation master of international renown, this is a warm, inspiring and, above all, practical book. Its gentle Buddhist wisdom will guide you through the ups and downs of contemporary living, such as addiction, psychological and emotional healing, problems with relationships and the difficulties of achieving a balanced life of simplicity.
In undertaking a spiritual life, we must make certain that our path is connected with our heart, according to author and Buddhist monk Jack Kornfield. Since 1974 (long before it gained popularity in the 1990’s) Kornfield has been teaching Westerners how to integrate Eastern teaching into their daily lives. Through generous storytelling and unmitigated warmth, Kornfield offers this excellent guidebook on living with attentiveness, meditation and full-tilt compassion.
Part of what makes this book so accessible is Kornfield’s use of everyday metaphors to describe the elusive lessons of spiritual transformation. For example, he opens with “the one seat” lesson taught to him by his esteemed teacher. Literally it means sitting in the centre of a room and not being swayed or moved by all the people and dramas happening around you. On a spiritual level it means sticking “with one practice and teacher among all of the possibilities,” writes Kornfield, “inwardly it means having the determination to stick with that practice through whatever difficulties and doubts arise until you have come to true clarity and understanding.” The same could be said for this “one book.” Among all the spiritual self-help books, this is a classic worth sticking with and returning to–a highly approachable teacher who can only lead to greater clarity and understanding. –Gail Hudson
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
DID I LOVE WELL?
Even the most exalted states and the most exceptional spiritual accomplishments are unimportant if we cannot be happy in the most basic and ordinary ways, if we cannot touch one another and the life we have been given with our hearts.
In undertaking a spiritual life, what matters is simple: We must make certain that our path is connected with our heart. Many other visions are offered to us in the modern spiritual marketplace. Great spiritual traditions offer stories of enlightenment, bliss, knowledge, divine ecstasy, and the highest possibilities of the human spirit. Out of the broad range of teachings available to us in the West, often we are first attracted to these glamorous and most extraordinary aspects. While the promise of attaining such states can come true, and while these states do represent the teachings, in one sense, they are also one of the advertising techniques of the spiritual trade. They are not the goal of spiritual life. In the end, spiritual life is not a process of seeking or gaining some extraordinary condition or special powers. In fact, such seeking can take us away from ourselves. If we are not careful, we can easily find the great failures of our modern society’its ambition, materialism, and individual isolation’repeated in our spiritual life.
In beginning a genuine spiritual journey, we have to stay much closer to home, to focus directly on what is right here in front of us, to make sure that our path is connected with our deepest love. Don Juan, in his teachings to Carlos Castaneda, put it this way:
Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself and yourself alone one question. This question is one that only a very old man asks. My benefactor told me about it once when I was young and my blood was too vigorous for me to understand it. Now I do understand it. I will tell you what it is: Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good. If it doesn’t, it is of no use.
The teachings in this book are about finding such a path with heart, about undertaking a path that transforms and touches us in the center of our being. To do so is to find a way of practice that allows us to live in the world wholly and fully from our heart.
When we ask, ‘Am I following a path with heart?’ we discover that no one can define for us exactly what our path should be. Instead, we must allow the mystery and beauty of this question to resonate within our being. Then somewhere within us an answer will come and understanding will arise. If we are still and listen deeply, even for a moment, we will know if we are following a path with heart.
It is possible to speak with our heart directly. Most ancient cultures know this. We can actually converse with our heart as if it were a good friend. In modern life we have become so busy with our daily affairs and thoughts that we have forgotten this essential art of taking time to converse with our heart. When we ask it about our current path, we must look at the values we have chosen to live by. Where do we put our time, our strength, our creativity, our love? We must look at our life without sentimentality, exaggeration, or idealism. Does what we are choosing reflect what we most deeply value?
Buddhist tradition teaches its followers to regard all life as precious. The astronauts who leave the earth have also rediscovered this truth. One set of Russian cosmonauts described it in this way: ‘We brought up small fish to the space station for certain investigations. We were to be there three months. After about three weeks the fish began to die. How sorry we felt for them! What we didn’t do to try to save them! On earth we take great pleasure in fishing, but when you are alone and far away from anything terrestrial, any appearance of life is especially welcome. You see just how precious life is.’ In this same spirit, one astronaut, when his capsule landed, opened the hatch to smell the moist air of earth. “I actually got down and put it to my cheek. I got down and kissed the earth.”
To see the preciousness of all things, we must bring our full attention to life. Spiritual practice can bring us to this awareness without the aid of a trip into space. As the qualities of presence and simplicity begin to permeate more and more of our life, our inner love for the earth and all beings begins to express itself and brings our path alive.
To understand more deeply what evokes this sense of preciousness and how it gives meaning to a path with heart, let us work with the following meditation. In Buddhist practice, one is urged to consider how to live well by reflecting on one’s death. The traditional meditation for this purpose is to sit quietly and sense the tentativeness of life. After reading this paragraph, close your eyes and feel the mortality of this human body that you have been given. Death is certain for us’only the time of death is yet to be discovered. Imagine yourself to be at the end of your life’next week or next year or next decade, some time in the future. Now cast your memory back across your whole life and bring to mind two good deeds that you have done, two things that you did that were good. They need not be grandiose; let whatever wants to arise show itself. In picturing and remembering these good deeds, also become aware of how these memories affect your consciousness, how they transform the feelings and state of the heart and mind, as you see them.
When you have completed this reflection, look very carefully at the quality of these situations, at what is comprised in a moment of goodness picked out of a lifetime of words and actions. Almost everyone who is able to remember such deeds in this meditation discovers them to be remarkably simple. They are rarely the deeds one would put on a résumé. For some people a moment of good ness was simply the one when they told their father before he died that they loved him, or when they flew across country in the midst of their busy life to care for their sister’s children as she was healing from a car accident. One elementary school teacher had the simple vision of those mornings when she held the children who were crying and having a hard day. In response to this meditation someone once raised her hand, smiled, and said, ‘On crowded streets when we get to parking spaces at the same time, I always give the parking space to the other person.’ That was the good deed in her life.
Another woman, a nurse in her sixties who had raised children and grandchildren and had lived a very full life, came up with this memory: She was six years old when a car broke down in front of her house, steam spouting from under the hood. Two elderly people got out and looked at it, and one went off to the corner pay phone to call a garage. They returned to sit in the car and wait for much of the morning for a tow. As a curious six-year-old, she went out to speak to them, and after seeing them wait for a long time in a hot car, she went inside. Without even asking them, she prepared a tray of iced tea and sandwiches and carried the tray out to them on the curb.
The things that matter most in our lives are not fantastic or grand. They are the moments when we touch one another, when we are there in the most attentive or caring way. This simple and profound intimacy is the love that we all long for. These moments of touching and being touched can become a foundation for a path with heart, and they take place in the most immediate and direct way. Mother Teresa put it like this: ‘In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”
Some people find this exercise very difficult. No good deeds will come to their mind, or a few may arise only to be rejected immediately because they are judged superficial or small or impure or imperfect. Does this mean that there are not even two good moments in a lifetime of one hundred thousand deeds? Hardly! We all have had many. It has another more profound meaning. It is a reflection of how hard we are on ourselves. We judge ourselves so harshly, only an Idi Amin or a Stalin would hire us to preside over their courts. Many of us discover we have little mercy for ourselves. We can hardly acknowledge that genuine love and goodness can shine freely from our hearts. Yet it does.
To live a path with heart means to live in the way shown us in this meditation, to allow the flavor of goodness to permeate our life. When we bring full attention to our acts, when we express our love and see the preciousness of life, the quality of goodness in us grows. A simple caring presence can begin to permeate more moments of our life. And so we should continually ask our own heart, What would it mean to live like this? Is the path, the way we have chosen to live our life, leading to this?