Category: Jack Kornfield

The Key to Wise Thought

The Key to Wise Thought

The point of mindfulness is not to get rid of thought but to learn to see thought skillfully. The Buddhist tradition trains the thinking mind and intellect to think clearly and well. We need to plan, think, organize, imagine, and create. Considered thoughts are a great gift. Our thoughts can set a direction, bring us understanding, analyze and discern, and put us in tune with the life around us. When we rest in the heart, then we can use thought wisely, we can plan and imagine in benevolent ways.

A professor of mathematics and topography who had come to meditation was worried because his work involved hours of thought. He asked how he could practice meditation while thinking through these complex math problems. Should he try to step back and always be deliberately aware of his thinking? This made him feel self-conscious. It was confusing. I responded with a simple instruction: “First, check your motivation. Approach the math in a positive and creative way. Then, when thinking about math, just think about math. If you get competitive and worry about publishing your solution before another colleague, that’s not math. If you find yourself dreaming about winning the Nobel Prize or the Field Medal, that’s not math. Find a skillful motivation. Then do the math and enjoy the creativity of the mind.”

The key to wise thought is to sense the energy state behind the thought. If we pay attention, we will notice that certain thoughts are produced by fear and the small sense of self. With them will be clinging, rigidity, unworthiness, defensiveness, aggression, or anxiety. We can sense their effect on the heart and the body. When we notice this suffering we can start to relax, breathe, loosen the identification. With this awareness the mind will become more open and malleable. With this pause we return to our Buddha nature. Now we can think, imagine, and plan, but from a state of ease and benevolence.


This excerpt is taken from the book, “The Wise Heart”

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Heart Wisdom – Ep. 137 – Gratitude and Generosity

Gratitude is a gracious acknowledgment of all that sustains us, a bow to our blessings, great and small. Gratitude is the confidence in life itself. In it, we feel how the same force that pushes grass through cracks in the sidewalk can invigorate our own life.

Part of what we have to offer the world with our gratitude and our trust is not how accomplished and wise and thoughtful we are; we offer the world our humility, our presence, our heart, and our brokenness as well.

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Inspired New Year’s Intentions

Inspired New Year’s Intentions

We all know about New Year’s resolutions and how short-lived they can be. Consider setting a long-term intention. A long-term intention is also called a vow or dedication. In the forest monastery we would gather before dawn in the candlelit darkness and begin the sonorous morning chanting to dedicate ourselves to loving-kindness and liberation for all. The chants reminded us that awakening is possible whenever we dedicate ourselves to a noble way of life. We would vow to use the support we received as monks for awakening and compassion, for ourselves and for all beings.

In these challenging times, amidst the pandemic, climate disruption, calls for social and racial justice, and our own personal challenges, we too can pause, quiet ourselves and dedicate ourselves to our best intentions. Setting a long-term intention is like setting the compass of our heart. No matter how rough the storms, how difficult the terrain, even if we have to backtrack around obstacles, our direction is clear. The fruits of dedication are visible in the best of human endeavors.

At times our dedications are practical: to learn to play the piano well, to build a thriving business, to plant and grow a beautiful garden. But there are overarching dedications as well. We might dedicate our life to prayer, commit ourselves to unwavering truthfulness or to work for world peace. These overarching dedications set the compass of our life, regardless of the outer conditions. They give us direction and meaning.

I heard a story about an inner-city school principal who spent part of her evenings making sandwiches for the homeless. After she finished she would travel around the poorer parts of her neighborhood and distribute them. Even though her day was already full, this evening activity didn’t overwhelm her. It actually made her happy. She didn’t do it out of guilt, duty, or external pressure. They were hungry. She had food. She shared in a way that made a difference for her. Even when she was rebuffed by those to whom she offered food on the street, she didn’t feel rejected or angry, because she wasn’t doing it for the acceptance or appreciation. After some time the local media heard what she was doing and printed a story about her. Instantly she became a minor celebrity. Her fellow teachers and friends started sending her money to support her work. Much to their surprise, she sent back the money to everyone with a one-line note that said: “Make your own damn sandwiches!”

When we read something like this it is inspiring. It touches our own innate nobility and courage. But it can also bring up guilt and self-doubt: What about me? Am I doing enough?

It is good to question our own dedication, even if it makes us uncomfortable. To what have we dedicated our life? How deeply do we carry this dedication? Is it time to rededicate our life? We have to be true to our own way.

As you begin the New Year, take some time to sit and quietly reflect. If today you were to set or reaffirm a long-term intention, a vow, your heart’s direction, what would it be? It might be as simple as “I vow to be kind.” It might be a vow to build a healthy business, establish a truly loving family. It might be an intention to dedicate yourself to the healing or care of others, or to fearlessly express your creativity in the world. Once you have a sense of your long-term dedication, write it down. Then put it someplace where you keep special things. Now, as you go through the year, let it be your compass—your underlying direction—in spite of changing outer circumstances. Let it carry you.

Thomas Merton once advised a frustrated young activist, “Do not depend on the hope of results. . . . you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.” By aligning our dedication with our highest intention, we chart the course of our whole being. Then no matter how hard the voyage and how big the setbacks, we know where we are headed.

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Heart Wisdom – Ep. 136 – The Sacred Pause

Our meditation—our spiritual life—it’s not about becoming a good meditator. It’s about one breath at a time, one day, one moment. This is an invitation to pause, to take time, to remember the sense of mystery. With mindfulness you may discover a peace that allows you to be present, compassionate and open.

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You Are Not Alone

You Are Not Alone

Every life is filled with change and insecurity, and every life includes loss and suffering and difficulties. When we encounter difficult times in our lives, often our initial strategy is to simply run away. But we find that our troubles follow us. Paradoxically, one of the best ways to heal is to turn toward that which is injured within us. It is important to remember that the healing journey is not always about overcoming the difficulties we’re experiencing or about getting well, at least not completely. We all have the capacity to heal, but we have to discover what form that healing is to take.

One of the most difficult things about hard times is that we often feel that we are going through them alone. But we are not alone. In fact, your life itself is only possible because of the thousands of generations before you, survivors who have carried the lamp of humanity through difficult times from one generation to another. Feel yourself as part of the stream of humanity walking together, finding ways to carry the lamp of wisdom and courage and compassion through difficult times.

Several years ago I was giving a talk on compassion with Pema Chödrön in a large hall in San Francisco filled with at least 3,000 participants. At one point a young woman stood up and spoke in the most raw and painful way about her partner’s suicide several weeks before. She was experiencing a gamut of complex emotions, such as agonizing grief and confusion, guilt and anger, loss and fear. Pema had her hold it all in compassion. As I listened to her I could also feel her loneliness, and so I asked the group when she finished, “How many of you in this room have experienced the suicide of someone in your family, or someone really close to you?” More than 200 people stood up. I asked her to look around the room at the eyes of those who had gone through a similar tragedy and survived. As they gazed at one another, everyone in the room could feel the presence of true compassion, as if we were in a great temple. We all felt the suffering that is part of our humanity, and part of the mystery that we share.

If you have lost money or faith, when you are sick or a family member is suffering from illness or addiction, even when a child is in jeopardy, you are not alone. You are sharing in the inevitable trouble of human incarnation. On this very day, hundreds of thousands of others are also dealing with loss of money, a new diagnosis, or holding their sick child. Breathe with them and hold their pain mindfully with yours, sharing in your heart a spirit of courage and compassion. For thousands of generations we humans have survived hard times. We know how to do this. And when we sense our connection, we help each other.

Two women in nearby towns in northern Canada were forced to venture out on a fierce winter night. One was taking her pregnant daughter to the hospital; the other was driving to take care of her ill father. They made their way along the same road from opposite directions, through hurricane winds and pelting snow. Suddenly each was stopped on opposite sides of a huge fallen tree that blocked the road. It took them only a few minutes to share their stories, exchange car keys, and set forth in each other’s cars to complete their journeys.

As you open beyond the self, you realize that others are part of your extended family. Sylvia Boorstein, a colleague and wisdom holder, tells how in Jewish synagogues there is a yearly memorial service for the survivors of relatives whose death dates are unknown—men and women who died in the Holocaust or are buried in unknown graves. Many people will stand for the Mourner’s Kaddish prayer. In temple on this day, Sylvia writes, “I looked at the people standing and thought ‘Can all these people be direct survivors?’ Then I realized we all are, and I stood up too.”

“We are not separate, we are interdependent,” declared the Buddha. Even the most independent human being was once a helpless infant cared for by others. With each breath we interbreathe carbon dioxide and oxygen with the maple and oak, the dogwood and redwood trees of our biosphere. Our daily nourishment joins us with the rhythms of bees, caterpillars, and rhizomes; it connects our body with the collaborative dance of myriad species of plants and animals.

Nothing is separate. Unless we understand this, we are split between caring for ourselves or caring for the troubles of the world. “I arise in the morning,” wrote essayist E. B. White, “torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it.” A psychology of interdependence helps to solve this dilemma. Through the loving awareness of mindfulness and meditation we discover that the duality of inner and outer is false. We can hold all the beauty and the pain of life in our heart and breathe together with courage and compassion.

Excerpt: A Lamp in the Darkness

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Video: Gratitude and Generosity Meditation

Like the waves of the ocean, the breath rises and falls. Bring loving awareness to the breath.

Shift your attention from the breath to all the sensations in your body. With mindful loving awareness, notice the whole field of sensations. If there are areas of pain or stiffness, bow to them and hold them with kindness. Hold them as you would a child who is going through a hard time. Notice how this kind loving awareness allows for the tension and knots to soften in their own way.

Now as an expression of gratitude, say thank you to your own body for caring so much, for holding so much as you move through the days and nights. Tell your body, “I’m ok just now—you can relax. You can rest.”

Now bring your attention to your heart that carries so much. Notice all that your heart has been holding: longings, fear, love, worry, frustration, excitement, sadness, appreciation, doubt, deep love. Say thank you to your heart for caring so much, for trying to help and protect you. Tell your heart, “I’m ok just now—you can relax. You can rest.” Let your heart be at ease.

Now bring your attention to your mind that produces a stream of thoughts, images, pictures, plans, memories, ideas. Feel the energy of the mind, creative, sometimes obsessed, analyzing, exploring, opening. Say thank you for working so hard to take care of you, to protect you. Tell your mind, “I’m ok just now—you can relax. You can rest.”

Notice that you’re not your body, feelings, thoughts. You are the loving witness, you are consciousness itself. You are the loving awareness that acknowledges the body, heart and mind. Relax into loving awareness. You are the silent, vast witness to it all.

For more teachings like this, please subscribe to my YouTube channel HERE.

This meditation was originally livestreamed by Spirit Rock on 11/22/21.

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Jack Kornfield on the Bowing to Elephants Podcast – Ep. 26

Jack Kornfield on the Bowing to Elephants Podcast – Ep. 26

In this episode of “Bowing to Elephants,” Jack and Mag Dimond discuss:

Jack’s love for Burma and his time studying in the monasteries there

Bodhisattva vows and how they help refocus us when things get difficult

The life of a monk vs. the life of a layman (Jack has lived both!)

The joys of being a grandparent

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Video: Gratitude and Generosity Dharma Talk

Gratitude is a gracious acknowledgment of all that sustains us, a bow to our blessings, great and small. Gratitude is the confidence in life itself. In it, we feel how the same force that pushes grass through cracks in the sidewalk invigorates our own life. Gratitude does not envy or compare. Gratitude receives in wonder the myriad offerings of rain and sunlight, the care that supports every single life.

For more teachings like this, please subscribe to my YouTube channel HERE.

This talk was originally livestreamed by Spirit Rock on 11/22/21.

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Meditation on Gratitude and Joy

Meditation on Gratitude and Joy

Let yourself sit quietly and at ease. Allow your body to be relaxed and open, your breath natural, your heart easy. Begin the practice of gratitude by feeling how year after year you have cared for your own life. Now let yourself begin to acknowledge all that has supported you in this care:

With gratitude I remember the people, animals, plants, insects, creatures of the sky and sea, air and water, fire and earth, all whose joyful exertion blesses my life every day.
With gratitude I remember the care and labor of a thousand generations of elders and ancestors who came before me.
I offer my gratitude for the blessing of this earth I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the measure of health I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the family and friends I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the community I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the teachings and lessons I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the life I have been given.

Just as we are grateful for our blessings, so we can be grateful for the blessings of others.

Now shift your practice to the cultivation of joy. Continue to breathe gently. Bring to mind someone you care about, someone it is easy to rejoice for. Picture them and feel the natural joy you have for their well-being, happiness, and success. With each breath, offer them your grateful, heartfelt wishes:

May you be joyful.
May your happiness increase.
May you not be separated from great happiness.
May your good fortune and the causes for your joy and happiness increase.

Sense the sympathetic joy and caring in each phrase. When you feel some degree of natural gratitude for the happiness of this loved one, extend this practice to another person you care about. Recite the same simple phrases that express your heart’s intention.

Then gradually open the meditation to other loved ones and benefactors. After the joy for them grows strong, turn back to include yourself. Let the feelings of joy more fully fill your body and mind. Continue repeating the intentions of joy over and over, through whatever resistances and difficulties arise, until you feel stabilized in joy. Next begin to systematically include the categories of neutral people, then difficult people and even enemies until you extend sympathetic joy to all beings everywhere, young and old, near and far.

Practice dwelling in joy until the deliberate effort of practice drops away and the intentions of joy blend into the natural joy of your own wise heart.

Excerpt: The Wise Heart

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Heart Wisdom – Ep. 135 – The Forgiving Heart

With mindful loving awareness, we can step out of the tyranny of self-judgment, judging ourselves for all the things we haven’t done right… We can forgive ourselves for being a learner in this life. I mean, did you get a manual when you were born? Are you supposed to be an expert?

We can let go. We can put down the burdens of resentment. We can see anew with a heart of tenderness and compassion. We can engage this world and care for it in a very different way.

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