This week I speak with Jack Kornfield, the author of “The Wise Heart,” and one of the key teachers to introduce mindfulness practice to the West. Jack shares with us reflections on four decades of personal meditation practice and how this has informed how he works with students. We also explore how Buddhist insights can help us during challenging times. Whether or not it is possible to be liberated even in the midst of experiencing our neurosis and what he means by “the crystal of liberation.”
Tami Simon: You’ve mentioned to me, Jack, that you’re working on a new book, “Buddha’s Instruction for Hard Times,” and I think most people would say that we’re living, obviously, in a time that is marked by lots of aspects of it being quite a challenging time for people with the economic downturn and so many factors. What, pray tell, is Buddha’s instruction for hard times?
Jack Kornfield: Well, the first instruction from the Buddha is to say that hard times are not a mistake. You haven’t done something wrong to have hard times. The first noble truth of the Buddha, the noble truth of dukka, says that life is woven with praise and blame and gain, and loss and pleasure, and pain and disrepute for all of us. And those constantly change. So that spiritual life is not about avoiding loss and blame and difficulty but taking those difficulties that come to us and using them to awaken a wise and free and compassionate heart no matter what. And often it’s in the very difficulties that the greatest freedom comes to us.
So the Buddhist instruction in another way is to center yourself, to ground yourself, take a breath. And when you feel steady to turn toward your difficulties rather than away from them and to bow to them and say this is the measure of difficulties I’ve been granted or given at this point as many other people have in this world. What in my own Buddha nature, in the great heart of wisdom and compassion that can see these difficulties, what is the way I should respond? And so the difficulties bring you back to your spiritual center. That’s a little piece of it, anyway.
Tami Simon: I can imagine though someone listening who, let’s say, just had their health insurance taken away or was laid off from their job, and thinking okay, so this is just part of life? It certainly feels terrible.
Jack Kornfield: Well, of course. When things are hard you’ll feel terrible, and you’ll be fearful and confused and anxious and hurt and lost. These are natural. They’re also a part of what you have to bow to. And they’re the same thing that Nelson Mandela had to suffer in prison or that various other exemplars that we might say of human courage have had to suffer. And we’re survivors. We know how to do this. We know how to take what’s difficult and walk through it a step at a time and a day at a time. Not by having to answer or knowing, how to know “How do I live without health insurance?” “How do I live when I’ve lost my home?” The first thing is to just stop and feel yourself on the earth and remember who you are, because you’re not limited to the things you have or the kind of insurance you have. Your spirit is inviolable and it cannot be touched by these external circumstances, and it’s time to turn back toward that.
As someone said, the question is not the future of humanity or even our own personal future but the presence of eternity. That there’s some place in us that is still and wakeful and compassionate no matter what happens, and it’s time to tune into that.
There are many more things to say about the Buddha’s instruction for hard times.
The first is to acknowledge that hard times are really hard and not to take away the grief and fear and confusion that comes with a cancer diagnosis or the loss of a job or the addiction of someone we love, or the loss of our home, and to really honor that we have to walk through that fire and that in some way when we come to hard times, the point is not that we go and look for some refuge outside of those hard times, that will take us away from them and somehow make it all better, but to look for that within us that can endure the difficulty and pass faithfully or courageously through it. So that that which is indestructible, as one of my favorite teachers says, that which is indestructible can be found within you.
And it may mean there’s a lot of grief that we have to pass through, the ocean of tears as the Buddha described it. And it may mean that we need all kinds of support from other people. But we also have to take the time to sit still and quiet ourselves and willingly turn to face the measure of our difficulties and bow to it as if we are the Buddha and say, yes, this is what’s given to me, and yes, I can do this – because we can. And our suffering then, and our difficulties become the source of the light of our heart, of our deepest compassion.
In Tibet, in Tibetan Buddhist practice sometimes you actually pray for suffering – an amazing practice; “Grant me enough suffering that I might truly learn compassion for myself and for all beings who go through difficulty. Grant me enough suffering that I might truly learn to trust that which is in my heart an inviolable spirit that can’t be touched by that which I go through.”
And then, of course, you need to find all the kinds of support that can help you with this: the spiritual forms of support of teachers and teachings and the community support, because we’re not supposed to do this alone. My friend Annie Lamott likes to say, “My mind is like a bad neighborhood. I try not to go there alone.” Sometimes you really need your spiritual friends and your colleagues.
And then another part of the Buddhist teachings is not to believe all your thoughts. Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded, says the Buddha, but once mastered, no one can help you as much – not even your father or your mother. You can see the way your mind constantly moves from the present moment, from the reality of the present into all kinds of fantasies and memories and how it should have been and how it might be. That famous line from Mark Twain where he says, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.” We can take even our difficulties and elaborate and go all the way down the road where we’re out on the sidewalk with a shopping cart, homeless, you know, and helpless in some way. And to learn how to look at the thought stream itself and know, oh this is thoughts or this is worries, and to trust the space of awareness. To bow to it and say, yes, and here we are now, to live in the reality of the present, a day at a time and a moment at a time with great compassion and a profound trust.
There are so many parts to the teachings of Buddha’s instructions for hard times. And underneath them, perhaps, is the pointing to our own capacity to do this. You know how to do this and the universe will help you.
As the poet Pablo Neruda writes, “You can pick all the flowers, but you can’t stop the spring.” And in some way even in devastation and great loss, as we Braille our way through it, we will find our way to centeredness, to understanding, to a great peace of heart that is who we are –even in the midst of that– to carry our light no matter what happens.
Tami Simon: It’s amazing to me, Jack, to think of a teaching where you pray for suffering so that your heart can open, in the sense that so many of the teachings in today’s American spiritual marketplace are about quick steps to happiness, only happiness, getting the kind of happiness you want. The whole idea…
Jack Kornfield: Yeah, they’re all about kind of trying to console yourself and find a better way.
Tami Simon: Well to the point where when you’re suffering you think there must be something wrong with me that I’m suffering, because if I were following the right spiritual regimen right now, I clearly wouldn’t be suffering.
Jack Kornfield: That’s right, and suffering is the first noble truth of the Buddha. This is part of human existence and it always will be. It’s only the first truth. There’s also the truth of liberation from suffering. That it’s not until we actually face and pass through our difficulty that we can find that light in ourselves that cannot be extinguished. And the Buddha said in his very last words before he died, “Make of yourself a light.”
Tami Simon: What I think I’m pointing to, too, is that what I notice a lot is that when people who are spiritual practitioners go through a period of great suffering, sometimes some people can feel like they’re failing in some way.
Jack Kornfield: Yeah. You can’t fail (laughs). That’s great. That’s one of the beautiful things about spiritual life. You can’t fail. It’s not about success or failure. We get lost, everybody gets lost, and then there’s a moment where you wake up and say, “Really lost, wasn’t I? Really anguished, wasn’t I? This was so frightening! This was great fear!” You’re bowing to Mara and say, “Ah, Mara, you’ve shown me the worst fear now. You’ve shown me anguish. I’ve lived through anguish.” And you bow and say, “Yes, this, too.” And take your seat as the Buddha in the center of the world, in the timeless reality. It’s not about failure. One Zen master said that strictly speaking a Zen master’s life is one continuous mistake. A Zen master, Dogen, said his life is one mistake after another. It’s not about failure. We always are making mistakes. That is to say, one circumstance to learn from after another. This is life.
Tami Simon: When you think about the times that we’re in and whatever inspired you to write a book like “Buddha’s Instruction for Hard Times,” do you feel that these times are harder than other times?
Jack Kornfield: They’re harder than some and not as hard as others. I was sitting talking to my Mom, who’s in her late eighties, sitting there with my daughter. Grandma Joyce was talking to my daughter and describing what life was like when she grew up. There were not many motor vehicles. The street lamps were still gas lit, and the iceman came around and put ice in your icebox, and there were more horses on the street, and [she talked about] the changes that she’d seen in the course of her life. And she was going through the Great Depression and the second world war, and other difficult times that she’d lived through. These are part of our humanity, and they come to us. And even if it’s good times, it’s kind of a myth. You go around and think people are doing well, but there are people who suffer from depression and stress and loss and divorce and cancer even in good times. Difficulties will come to us. And we are creatures of spirit that know how to do difficulties when we touch our Buddha nature, when we can rest in the timeless place in us that is always present.
We know this. If you look in the mirror you notice that you’re older, right? Almost everybody does. But the interesting thing is that you don’t feel older, and that’s because it’s just the body that is growing older, and somehow the consciousness that witnesses the body growing older knows that this is not all of who I am. This isn’t who I really am. And this spirit –my teacher Ahjan Cha called “the one who knows”– is outside of time. And we have this timeless freedom to see the dance of life within us when we take the time to ground and center and quiet the mind and open the heart, then we take even the difficulties and say, yes, these, too, are part of the journey.
Tami Simon: Now you mentioned that we know this in our “Buddha nature.” What do you mean by that? Everyone regardless of whether or not they’re Buddhist has something that’s called Buddha nature? What’s that?
Jack Kornfield: Yes, every child that’s born is born with innocence and purity. If you look at little infants you can see it. Of course, they have their needs and their fusses and their desires, but also this tremendous purity and innocence. And they have a connectedness with the world that within the Buddhist tradition is called the great heart of compassion.
We are wired to know our connection with all things. We are wired to know how to survive and live in this world. Modern neuroscience talks about mirror neurons, where the cells in our distributed nervous system throughout our body actually resonate with the cells of nervous systems of people around us, and now it can be measured. In the same way, not just on a neuroscience and biological basis, there is in the one who knows in us, a longing for ease, freedom, compassion for ourselves and others that is innate in us. And this is what I’m calling Buddha nature.
Tami Simon: So our natural heart, if you will?
Jack Kornfield: Yeah, I mean, it’s funny, there’s an old joke I heard a long time ago. It’s not even a joke, it’s a true story of Pope John the twenty-third, who made all those changes during the Vatican Council in the Catholic Church and struggled a lot as I think any leader does in this world, and he said, “Sometimes I would be lying in bed and half asleep dreaming about all the problems that I face and think I really want to go and talk to the Pope about this. And then I’d wake up and remember, ‘Oh, I am the Pope.’ ” And there’s some way in which we might say, “Oh I really want to talk to the Dalai Lama about this,” or to whoever it is that we admire, and then in some way when we quiet ourselves –if we take the time, whether it’s to meditate or to pray or to sit in the garden for a time and just take our seat there and listen to the wind and look at what wants to grow itself out of the earth again, to quiet the mind, open the heart…– we touch that which is timeless in our self, and remember: We are what we seek.
Tami Simon: So, you mentioned sitting in a garden and potentially meditating and, I know Jack you’ve been meditating now for four decades?
Jack Kornfield: Yeah, something like that.
Tami Simon: That’s a long time.
Jack Kornfield: Yeah, a long time.
Tami Simon: I’m curious when you look at this four decades of meditation practice, what has surprised you about what you’ve discovered, and, if anything, have you been disappointed at all, as well, by what you’ve discovered about meditation?
Jack Kornfield: Oh, I haven’t been disappointed at all. I mean I could say I was disappointed when I discovered that my personality wasn’t going to go away. People thinking as I did, oh I’m going to get a new, much better, more enlightened personality. But the personality isn’t what gets enlightened. You know you get a body when you’re incarnated and you get a certain personality. And that’s how it is. Enlightenment isn’t about that. It’s not about ideas of perfection.
I’m not disappointed at all. It’s been absolutely wonderful and what I’ve learned, which has taken me a long time –I’m kind of a slow learner, perhaps– has led me to the place where when I meditate I don’t really seek anything. I sit. I open myself. If I’ve been really busy and running around and so forth, then there might be tension or stress. And I let that release. That’s just sort of the body; physical. And I rest in a kind of open awareness. Maybe sometimes I might shift to loving kindness and compassion. But often it’s there in that open awareness, and things are the way they are, and I’m at ease in the midst of them. So I don’t really try and do anything, and my life is my life and it’s not about changing it. It’s really about finding a great space of presence and awareness that can see the dance of life and participate in it. Both participate fully and somehow not be so caught in it – and I’m not anymore.
We’ll see. I mean I don’t know what’s going to happen when I die. I’ll be interested to see. Maybe I’ll be kicking and screaming saying, “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die!” I don’t know. But I feel like I really learned how to rest in the way things are, and it’s wonderful. And it took a long time. There was a lot of meditation where I released tensions and where I dealt with the trauma that I carry from my childhood. And various kinds of anger and fear and things came out. And that was also natural, but it wasn’t the culmination of it. That’s just the kind of natural purification that happens if you meditate. You come back to center and so forth. But it’s not leading you or me to a state of something you hold onto – it’s actually leading to openness and presence.
Tami Simon: So I’m just backtracking for a second when you say that the personality hasn’t changed. What do you mean by your personality?
Jack Kornfield: Well, you know, if I were to take the Myers-Briggs Jungian personality test, I’m extroverted. I have some introverted side, but I’m extroverted and I’m intuitive more than a sensation type – living in my body and so forth is less dominant. I have certain patterns. I’m really speedy and quick, both to see things and quick to analyze and want to do stuff. It’s very different than other people that I’m around. People in my family – there’s somebody who’s a very different personality. Who’s way slower than I am, who’s much more connected with their body and their garden and so forth. And that’s just how I am. And that’s part of the personality.
There’s all these different ways of looking at personality. There’s the enneagram, and maybe I’m a three on the enneagram, a doer. And so part of my personality is to keep doing things. And now I do things –it’s lighter now– it’s there, but there’s more a sense of space and being behind it. I’m just proud of. I don’t know if that helps.
Tami Simon: Yeah, it helps. I think part of what I’m curious about is what parts of our lives transform through meditation and especially talking to someone who’s dedicated so much of their life to both meditating and teaching meditation. And are there parts of our lives that meditation doesn’t really touch? I mean if I want to improve my relationships, is meditating enough, or do I also need…
Jack Kornfield: No! It’s not! I mean you just asked three good questions. You’ve been meditating, for twenty years, too, or thirty years. You know that. Of course not! Awareness is enough. Attention, compassion, wisdom are enough. But the formal meditation is only one part of training. Basically, what I’ve learned over the years is that attention and understanding in one dimension of life doesn’t necessarily translate into another. So that you can have Olympic athletes who know their body exquisitely and down to every part and every cell, who are still emotional idiots. Or you can have university professors who are Nobel laureates and incredibly brilliant, and can’t find their body. Or you can have somebody who has a lot of emotional understanding, but has all kinds of unconscious and delusional thoughts about things.
So it turns out that in the Buddhist tradition, what’s talked about as the foundations of mindfulness, that you actually have to develop the capacity for presence and then bring it to the body in the physical world. You have to bring it to feelings. You have to bring it to mind and all its stories and the way the mind works. You have to bring attention and beliefs. You have to bring attention to the world of relationship –right speech, right action, right livelihood– all those connections.
And [you have to bring attention] to the underlying spiritual principles of it all, attention to the dharma. And when you do that as a mandala then wisdom starts to permeate all the areas of your life. But it turns out that you actually have to deliberately pay attention to it. You can’t sit and meditate and have some fabulous insight about love and boundless compassion and selflessness, and then go and expect your relationship is going to be really cool. Because what happens is you get in a relationship and it’s a different dimension of your being, and sometimes some of that carries over, but half the time you get triggered and you’re back in your trauma and you’re little again and you’re confused. And then you actually have to deliberately say, “This is practice as well.” And then it turns out that all those areas can become places of freedom and awakening.
Tami Simon: How do you recommend to meditators that they work on these other areas of their life? Do you recommend that they try to bring this meditative awareness, so “My relationship is now a form or meditation”, or, you know, “Hey, I’m going to directly go into couples therapy.” Everything’s different. Whether it’s business… “How am I going to bring meditation to my business life? Well, I’ll go to…”
Jack Kornfield: Tami, I am an all-of-the-above kind of person. What you’re talking about is really skillful means. And we’re both wise enough now, culturally and we have resources, so that if you’re having a lot of trouble with your relationship, as I have had in the past, get help. There are great books. Sounds True has all kinds of good sets of CDs and things from some of the best teachers and practices on relationships. There are workshops, there’s therapy. Learn to make your own patterns and fears and confusions conscious, so that you can release them and have a freer and wiser heart in relationship.
The same in business, of course. The areas that are difficult or where you can feel confused, get skillful help. It’s not all that complicated. And it doesn’t mean that the whole point is to go to the gym and work out and have good couples therapy and then go to money workshops and then work on your personality and try and make yourself a perfect person. It’s not about perfecting yourself. It’s about finding in your meditation and in your spiritual life a place of centeredness and freedom and wakefulness, and then noticing that there are certain areas of a life where that doesn’t translate yet so well because of past trauma, because there’s confusion and a kind of veil. And saying “Alright, what will it take to bring the same wisdom and compassion and love there, too?” It’s not about an ideal.
You know this beautiful passage: If you can sit quietly after difficult news; if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm; if you can see your neighbor’s traveled to fantastic places, without a twinge of jealously; if you can happily eat whatever’s on your plate; if you can love those around you unconditionally and fall asleep after a day without a drink or a pill; if you can always find contentment just where you are… You’re probably a dog!
We have all these great ideals about, “Oh, my god, I’m going to be this great, enlightened person!” and those are just ideas. You are yourself, and the point is to be yourself and to find a freedom in being yourself. And find a freedom to love in each of these areas, which wants to come out of you and is possible for you, as you are, as Tami is and as Jack is and as each person is. It’s not being somebody else. It’s not by imitation. And it doesn’t mean that you still don’t have stuff.
I’m here at Spirit Rock as we do this podcast, and there’s a wonderful young Tibetan lama here, who’s teaching here this week along with some of our teachers, named Minja Rimpoche, who wrote a book on joy. He’s a very happy and joyful lama, and in the first part of his book he talks about being recognized as a living Buddha and a reincarnate lama as a young man, and then having years of anxiety attacks. And he said it was really kind of difficult because people would look at him as if he’s the living Buddha, which he was supposed to be, and at the same time he would be terrified. And how he practiced with it, and how he learned to both first accept it and then transform it.
So the point isn’t that we’re supposed to make ourselves somehow different, but actually to be who we are, to hold who we are with great compassion and the spacious wisdom to say, “Yes, this too!” but this isn’t the end of the story. The freedom of our life is the end of the story.
Tami Simon: So you’re saying the freedom to be who you are, even with your “stuff,” which is different than whatever your personality is – our unique enneagram type, this unique expression. I get that but your stuff is your other…
Jack Kornfield: Your neurosis, if you will. Ram Das talks about how he’d become the connoisseur of his neurosis. There’s a way in which you know that’s not who you really are. And so you’re less caught in it and it’s less powerful and there it is.
Tami Simon: So liberation exists with stuff in the midst. Okay.
Now, I’m curious, and looking at this four decades of practice and teaching how your approach to working with meditation students has changed potentially. Are you teaching in a different way?
Jack Kornfield: Oh, it’s changed in a number of ways. When we first started teaching retreats almost forty years ago, thirty-five years ago, Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, colleagues and friends, we taught people very much the way we had learned in monasteries of Thailand and Burma and India with a great deal of effort and a kind of striving, because that’s how we were taught. And it turned out it didn’t work very well in this culture. People just used the meditation then to add to the judgment that they already had, and it enhanced the tendency toward unworthiness and self-criticism.
So one of the biggest changes that we all made was to surround the practice of meditation with loving kindness and compassion. That’s the ground within which we pay attention, because real attention and liberating awareness is that which doesn’t judge. And it’s not just a cerebral not-judging, but it’s really the openness of the heart that says, “Ah yes; this too.” It’s like Buddha bowing even to Mara and saying “I see you, Mara. I see all these things.”
If you look in the Buddhist texts, it turns out that after the Buddha’s enlightenment when Mara –who’s the archetypal symbol of difficulty and evil in the Hindu and Buddhist mythology– comes with his armies of temptation and aggression and doubt on the night of the Buddha’s enlightenment and the Buddha becomes liberated from Mara, Mara returns in the Buddhist texts forty or fifty times after that, and the Buddha says, “Oh, Mara, is that you again? I see you.” And there’s a kind of wisdom. So instead of judgment, there’s tremendous compassion. That’s the ground of meditation, and then you can have real awareness. Now that’s one big change.
Another is from the striving, much more to the sense of presence itself. The game isn’t to make the effort to have something happen, but rather the effort to be present, to relax into the reality of the present, to rest in the space of awareness and know what happens.
We also have developed a deep respect for the need for healing that people bring to meditation. It used to be that people thought, in all these meditation centers around America, Tibetan and Zen and Hindu and so forth, you meditate and it would take care of all your problems. But it turns out that often when we sit, in the stillness and openness of attention, the traumas we carry, which almost everyone carries, the deep disappointments, the losses, which are all held in the body, as well as in the heart, they start to reveal themselves; they start to release. And instead of saying, “That’s not spiritual; let me focus on the light,” or “Let me focus on the mantra or the Buddha or whatever,” these [traumas, disappointments, losses] are the practice itself.
And so what we’ve learned is to include all the difficulties and traumas and energies of life that are our own personal history as the ground for compassion, as the ground for liberating attention to know them. And that’s a big shift. It brings a wholeness into meditation, rather than seeking some particular state.
There are states that can be helpful and useful to navigate between samadi states and jana states and deep states of emptiness and insight and so forth, but they have to be connected in the long run with the personal. The universal and the personal have to be connected. We need to rest in our Buddha nature or remember our Buddha nature and we also have to remember our social security number and our area code and our zip code. And the two dimensions –the paradox of life of the personal and universal– the two dimensions need to be tended to, and held together somehow in the heart, for us to be free.
Tami Simon: Now I know someone who works here at Sounds True who just came back from doing a month-long retreat at Spirit Rock, and I asked him, “What practice were you doing?” And he reported that he was actually spending quite a bit of time doing the practice of inquiry, and I thought, Ah, I had no idea that Jack taught inquiry to students in retreat. So I was very curious about that and I thought our listeners might be curious as well.
Jack Kornfield: There are in the Buddhist tradition 84,000 skillful means. And in the forest monastery where I lived, we had many practices. Sometimes there were practices of contemplation. “Who am I?” was a contemplation. It was the first meditation given to new monks. When you shave your head and enter into the deep forest grove with the ritual of ordination, with the circle of elders around you, the first meditation they give you is the meditation in which you reflect on the parts of your body, on your hair and your skin and nails and teeth and heart and lungs and bones and blood and muscle and ask, “Is this who I am? Who am I really?”
It’s the first contemplation and the first deep inquiry. And it’s given to you in that way, because the monastic life in the Buddhist tradition, all of the teachings, are to liberate you from the small sense, what’s called the body of fear, the sense of separation that’s untrue, back to your true nature. And so yes, we work with samadi practices and concentration practices, and we work with heart practices of compassion and loving kindness, and we work with insight practice and contemplations and inquiries and various other disciplines, and all these are a part, rich part, of the Buddhist tradition.
Tami Simon: Now you mentioned inquiring into “Am I the blood and bones, who am I, really?” And who knows what you might really feel on your deathbed. Would it be this state of peace, or will it be some kind of kicking and screaming. None of us really know till we’re actually there. But I’m curious in that inquiry for yourself what you’ve discovered about what your sense of who you are is, outside of being alive in a physical body, beyond death.
Jack Kornfield: I’m just sitting quietly and smiling. I feel so deeply happy and so deeply free and it doesn’t mean that I can’t get caught, you know, that somebody around me or someone in my family can’t say something where all that stuff gets triggered, but it has nothing to do with who I really am and with true nature. And knowing this, is resting in this great timeless presence, which is what I am, what we all are. That’s the game.
Tami Simon: So this conversation is officially called Insights at the Edge. Part of what’s interesting to me is to find out what the edge is for you, both in your professional life, meaning what you’re working on now creatively that’s really your edge of contribution and then also your personal edge – what’s happening in your personal life that’s an edge. So I’d love for you to talk about those two things, Jack, if you would.
Jack Kornfield: Well, I want to stay with the other thing for a moment, first. There’s a beautiful passage in the Dama Pada where the Buddha says, “Live in joy and love even among those who hate; live in joy and peace even among the troubled.” There are troubles in the world. There’s hatred, there’s sickness, there’s difficulty. And there is also an undying spirit, an undying inviolable consciousness that is in each of us, that is who we are, and it’s everything and it’s nothing. To speak about liberation, one of the reasons people get confused about freedom and enlightenment and liberation, is that awakened consciousness has different facets or different dimensions, a bit like a crystal. So that if you hold this luminous crystal up to the light and turn it, it will take the beam of white light and refract it into the many colors of the spectrum.
In the crystal of the awakened consciousness, one facet is love. And when you rest in presence and pure awareness, at times everything is love because you’re connected with everything, and that’s simply what existence is; like gravity, only more so. If you turn the crystal one more facet, everything is emptiness, and you feel its transparency and its emptiness, and everything that arises, arises and passes away like a dream, every moment, every day is new, and then it vanishes. Where is that day? Where is that moment? If you turn the crystal one more facet, everything becomes one vast silence; this enormous silence that surrounds all activity and our words and movement that is always here. If you turn it another facet, it becomes tremendous joy, bliss –ananda is the word in Sanskrit– and everything is joy. And another facet, and it’s clarity, the awakened heart and mind is simply clarity itself; knowing. And you turn it another facet, and it’s absolute peace.
What happens in spiritual paths often is that a master or a tradition will have an experience of awakening, will embody that awakening in one facet or another –in peace or love or emptiness or joy– and then people get confused and think that’s what the awakened heart is. It’s really love and it’s all about love, or it’s really about emptiness, letting go and transparency like a star at dawn and a flash of lightening in a summer cloud, an echo, a rainbow, a dream. Or some other people think that it’s really about fullness or presence, being completely present for every moment. And those are the dimensions of awakened consciousness. And we discover that to be true when we rest in pure awareness, love, when we step out of the small sense of sense, this is revealed to us. And to know this, sort of helps with the confusion of the different spiritual paths. They’re not leading to different places, but to these fundamental luminous and liberated aspects of our true nature of consciousness itself. And we know this, and it’s not that it’s far away, it’s not in the Himalayas, and it’s not just some great guru or lama or swami or mama or something. We actually have tastes of this. We know this in ourselves. It’s not far away. It’s here.
So now you wanted to ask about new things; what’s my cutting edge and creativity…
Tami Simon: As I hear you talking about the diamond. Is the implication that we are that diamond?
Jack Kornfield: Of course. Yes. But it’s not personal. It’s not you Tami, or me Jack. It is who we really are. It is our collective true nature. It’s this mysterious thing. Nobody knows how they were born, where we come from. How did you get into this funny-looking body that has a hole at one end, in which you stuff dead plants and animals regularly and grind them up with the bones that hang down, and glug them down through the tube, and ambulate by falling one direction and catching yourself bipedally and fall the other direction catch yourself. It’s bizarre, how we got in here, and this world. No one knows how this world came into being. It is a creation of consciousness itself. It’s extraordinary. This mystery, and the point isn’t to be trying to perfect this body or personality in some way, but to step back and see and know in the heart this mystery and rest in the reality of the mystery.
And then, of course, you play the game of life because we get to be incarnated. We are the mystery incarnating itself, and it’s beautiful when you remember. And it’s painful and it’s awful and it’s unbearable beauty and unfathomable pain – the ocean of tears and the galaxy of bliss, and I don’t say that lightly. But it’s what we have.
Tami Simon: The ocean, the galaxy, you can’t really say those kinds of things lightly. They’re huge, you know.
Jack Kornfield: Well, yeah, or the oceans the Buddha said, “Which do you think is more my friend, the water in the four great oceans or the tears that you have shed on this long way of taking birth again and again – whatever you believe cosmologically. We do know the tears of the world. We each carry a certain measure of those tears in our heart. And at the same time, he says, “Live in joy even among the afflicted; live in joy and luminosity and peace even among the troubles of the world. Remember who you are.”
And all the different practices to take the time to meditate, to quiet the mind, to open the heart, to take the time in nature, to read you favorite poem, to listen to music that touches and inspires your heart, to watch a film of courage or that makes you laugh and gives you perspective, to be with teachers that remind you, or to teach somebody else so that you’re reminding them from your deep understanding… They’re all skillful means. And then you see the areas of your life where you’re still really foolish. The first thing you discover in life, is you’re a fool, someone said; the last thing you discover, is you’re the same fool. Sometimes you think you understand, and then you wake up and say, “Oh, yeah;” you know, “this, too.” And from that place you see the places where you’re caught or you suffer or you make suffering, which we all have, or the great difficulties that come, and you turn toward them and bow and say, “This, too, has come to me. Now let me use this to awaken true compassion and patience and understanding and freedom to be found right here.”
Tami Simon: Wonderful! Well thank you! Thanks, Jack, for the conversation.
Edited by Leon Hieros