The Roots of
Buddhist
Psychology

Jack Kornfield
(Sounds True)
There are the four noble truths, the six senses, the eight-fold path, the 10,000 sorrows and the 10,000 joys. There are the masters, asking such questions as "How come you want what you don't have and don't want what you do have?"

There's wanting, and avoiding, and being gooned out. Grasping and gimme more and if I have it I'm going to be happy. There's also fear, pushing away, it hurts too much, I can't take it any more. And finally, confusion --- "What am I doing here? Who are all these people? What is going on?"

There's walking through the rice paddies at dawn carrying the begging bowl and the sun coming up and the mist and the feeling of peace, knowing that the people give to you not because they have to but because you represent the sacredness they hold most dear. It's the mystery of gravity, the mystery of the galaxies, the mystery of the heart.

There's "offering a wise heart to the world" resting in your true nature, recognizing the clear light ... remembering "who you were before you were." There's the Eskimo and the priest, the priest telling the man about sin and going to hell and the Eskimo asks, "Do those who don't know about what you are saying go to hell, too?" "Well, no..." "Then why did you tell me?" There is Jesus looking around heaven, seeing these drunks lying around, others gambling and carrying on. So he goes to St. Peter and says, "Why are you permitting these people to come in?" And St. Peter says, "Don't blame me. It's your mother. Every time I turn someone away she lets them in the back door."

In these twelve tapes Jack Kornfield takes us into his deepest understanding of Buddhism. He brings more than thirty years of study and meditation, along with a PhD in clinical psychology and his multifold readings. He is an artful teacher, all the time speaking with such apparent simplicity. "The universe is not made up of atoms," he tells us, "It's made up of stories."

And he has so many of them: personal experiences of meditation, tales from his own growing up, memories of Thailand and Burma and India, meetings with remarkable men --- not the least of whom have been his various masters.

And through his words and art --- and he is an artist --- Kornfield is able to yolk everything together into a memorable nine-hour treatise on Buddhism: its history, practice, the scariness of it, the good of it, the reality. He may be pretending to tell us the all and everything of the psychology of Buddhism, but in truth, he is conveying to us the art of a life spent in seeking that truth.

Buddhism, it is said, can, through teachings and through meditation, bring one as close to The Mystery. And yet Kornfield tells of one of his peers reading through the entire Encyclopædia of Religion, studying the 80 - 100 of them: Toltec, Shintoism, Mayan, Jewish, the various forms of Christianity, Hindu, Islam, the twelve different Buddistic systems. When he finished, he knew that all were wrong because they were just words hiding that what cannot be described. "It is the mystery that no religion can explain," he explained. The books --- the Koran, the Bible, the Mahabharata, the Tao, the Kabbala --- are just words. The truth of it rests elsewhere: within.

We thus begin to see Kornfield as an example of what he is attempting to teach us. He comes across as a man who like all of us has seen suffering, like all of us has tried to find ecstasy, like all of us seeks the path. "But," he reminds us, "the path is no path at all. It is a circle going right back to the beginning, back to our hearts."

I listened to these tapes twice. First to write what you have here now. Then once more because I wanted to. It worked, or rather, Kornfield worked his magic on me. I now find myself reciting some of his stories by heart. The master who was asked by his students if he was enlightened.

    Enlightened? I don't know if I am enlightened. I'm a tree. Sometimes the birds come to rest in my branches. Sometimes the leaves fall. Sometimes people use me for the shade. Who knows if I am enlightened?

Or the concept of the "near enemies" --- those precepts that shadow the Buddhistic virtues. The near enemy of compassion being pity. The near enemy of equilibrium is distance, not caring. The near enemy of joy is grasping, "I gotta get more ... as if [he says] there weren't enough joy in the world for us all to have some."

And the innumerable voices, readings to flesh out the concepts. Thomas Merton. Krishnamurti. Brecht. Rumi. Rilke. Alan Watts. The Bible. Thich Nhat Hanh. Milton Erickson. Mae West! ["When I have to choose between two evils, I usually pick the one I have never tried before."] The Dalai Lama. Walt Whitman. And Don Juan...

...telling us to remember that death is off there to the left, just outside our field of vision. Whatever we do, wherever we go, we are best off to never forget him, to acknowledge his presence, even --- at times --- address him directly.


--- L. W. Milam


NB: Somewhere in the duplication process
Sounds True speeded up Kornfield.
His voice, at least in my version ---
emerges as a neo-tenor,
about a quarter-octave above normal.
I know because we received, in the same package,
his twelve tape
Buddhism for Beginners,
in which he speaks with far less haste,
and far more bass.