Category: Jack Kornfield

Retreat is a Benevolent Rest

Retreat is a Benevolent Rest

I recently finished my own 12-day retreat. Sitting in the springtime is delicious. I am reminded of one of my favorite passages from the mystic Thomas Merton:

“The spring rain I am in is not the rain of cities. It fills the woods with an immense and confused sound… I listen, because it reminds me again and again that the whole world runs by rhythms I have not yet learned to recognize, rhythms that are not those of an engineer….The rain surrounded the whole cabin with its enormous virginal myth, a whole world of meaning, of secrecy, of silence, of rumor. Think of it: all that speech pouring down, selling nothing, judging nobody, drenching the think mulch of dead leaves, soaking the trees, filling the gullies and crannies of the wood with water, washing out the places where construction has stripped the hillside! What a thing it is to sit absolutely alone in the forest at night, cherished by this wonderful, unintelligent perfectly innocent speech, the most comforting speech in the world, the talk that rain makes by itself all over the ridges, and the talk of the watercourses everywhere in the hollows. Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, the rain. As long as it talks I am going to listen.”

Here, in the drought of California, we are waiting for more rain. Fortunately in meditation we can also find a gentle inner rain. Sitting day by day, gradually my mind became quiet, and my heart softened. My body felt lighter as tension dropped away, and with deepening samadhi the world became luminous, inner and outer. Walking outside, the spring trees exploded their blossoms and unfurled their tiny buds and chartreuse leaves with each warmer day.

It wasn’t all easy. I was carrying the shared images and concerns of our global suffering, the wars and climate change and injustice……all needed to be respected. I knew I wanted to respond….but first I had to become centered and quiet and deeply loving. There were also periods of restless thought and grief for personal losses, and spontaneous meditations on death. And in the midst of it, growing stronger, the vast, still refuge of loving awareness itself, the spacious witnessing of the dance of life, ineluctable, ever-changing, precious, empty and full, bringing compassion and courage and tenderness.

The retreat ended and as always I felt deeply inspired, refreshed, renewed, full of appreciation for the natural opening and flowering that grow out of mindfulness and silence. Yes, I want to get up and help tend and heal the world, and now can do so with a more peaceful and strong heart.

Even a short period of retreat is a benevolent rest, a stepping outside of busy daily rounds, and our ordinary identity. Released from the tyranny of time, we are invited into the reality of the present, to see the mystery of life anew. This is a blessing we need as humans, much like food and water. My teacher Ajahn Chah called it food for the heart. It is available to you too.

Find ways to take regular retreats. Long ones, short ones, daily mini ones. Take five minutes to do nothing, walking under the spring trees outside work. Sit silently on the grass or the balcony or the porch, or on your zafu. First breathe with compassion for your busy self and then put down all your plans. Open yourself to wonder. Let your heart be fed and your spirit renewed.
May it be so.

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Heart Wisdom – Ep. 144 – A Peaceful Heart in a Time of War & the Legacy of Thich Nhat Hanh

This dharma talk was recorded on 2/28/22. I had planned to talk about Thich Nhat Hanh, the great and wise Zen master and teacher who died recently at age 95. But it seemed critical to also acknowledge the grief of the war in Ukraine.
As it says in the Buddhist teachings (and in other wisdom teachings), in this world, hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed. There has to be a better game than war for human beings. We have to look at the war within ourselves as well. Thich Nhat Hanh’s instruction was to stop—stop making enemies. Make prayers. Make blessings. This is our moral task.

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Finding the Middle Way

Finding the Middle Way

Buddhist psychology is neither a path of denial nor of affirmation. It shows us the paradox of the universe, within and beyond the opposites. It teaches us to be in the world but not of the world. This realization is called the middle way. My teacher Ajahn Chah talked about the middle way every day. In the monastery we contemplated the middle way. At twilight, a hundred monks could be found seated in the open-air meditation pavilion, surrounded by the towering trees and dense green forest, reciting these original verses: “There is a middle way between the extremes of indulgence and self-denial, free from sorrow and suffering. This is the way to peace and liberation in this very life.”

If we seek happiness purely through indulgence, we are not free. If we fight against ourselves and reject the world, we are not free. It is the middle path that brings freedom. This is a universal truth discovered by all those who awaken. “It is as if while traveling through a great forest, one should come upon an ancient path, an ancient road traversed by people of former days. . . . Even so have I, monks, seen an ancient path, an ancient road traversed by the rightly enlightened ones of former times,” said the Buddha.

The middle way describes the middle ground between attachment and aversion, between being and non-being, between form and emptiness, between free will and determinism. The more we delve into the middle way the more deeply we come to rest between the play of opposites. Sometimes Ajahn Chah described it like a koan, where “there is neither going forward, nor going backward, nor standing still.” To discover the middle way, he went on, “Try to be mindful, and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings, like a clear forest pool. All kinds of wonderful, rare animals will come to drink at the pool, and you will clearly see the nature of all things. You will see many strange and wonderful things come and go, but you will be still. This is the happiness of the Buddha.”

Learning to rest in the middle way requires trust in life itself. It is like learning to swim. I remember first taking swimming lessons when I was seven years old. I was a skinny, shivering boy flailing around, trying to stay afloat in a cold pool. But one morning there came a magical moment lying on my back when I was held by the teacher and then released. I realized that the water would hold me, that I could float. I began to trust. Trusting in the middle way, there is an ease and grace, a cellular knowing that we too can float in the ever-changing ocean of life that has always held us.

Buddhist teaching invites us to discover this ease everywhere: in meditation, in the marketplace, wherever we are. In the middle way, we come to rest in the reality of the present, where all the opposites exist. T. S. Eliot calls this the “still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;/Neither from nor towards; . . . neither arrest nor movement.” The sage Shantideva calls the middle way “complete non-referential ease.” The Perfect Wisdom Text describes it as “realization of suchness beyond attainment of good or bad, ever present with all things, as both the path and the goal.”

What do these mysterious words mean? They are attempts to describe the joyful experience of moving out of time, out of gaining or losing, out of duality. They describe the ability to live in the reality of the present. As one teacher put it, “The middle path does not go from here to there. It goes from there to here.” The middle path describes the presence of eternity. In the reality of the present, life is clear, vivid, awake, empty and yet filled with possibility.

When we discover the middle path, we neither remove ourselves from the world nor get lost in it. We can be with all our experience in its complexity, with our own exact thoughts and feelings and drama. We learn to embrace tension, paradox, change. Instead of seeking resolution, waiting for the chord at the end of a song, we let ourselves open and relax in the middle. In the middle we discover that the world is workable.

This excerpt is taken from the book The Wise Heart

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Heart Wisdom – Ep. 143 – Loving Witness Meditation

Notice as you feel the breath, that who you are is not this breath, or this body, but you are loving awareness, the loving witness. You are consciousness itself—open, spacious, letting the breath breathe itself. Experiences can rise and fall in a field of loving awareness. Notice how emotions, feelings and thoughts rise and fall like the waves of the ocean; you are the loving witness to them all.

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The Illusion of Separateness

The Illusion of Separateness

 

Once we learn to quiet our mind, the next step is seeing the truth. We deliberately turn toward the difficulties of the world, and shine the light of understanding. “The enemy,” said Ajahn Chah, “is delusion.” Delusion blames others, creates enemies and fosters separation. The truth is that we are not separate. War, economic injustice, racism, and environmental destruction stem from the illusion of separateness. It is delusion that separates us from other humans, the trees and the oceans on this increasingly small planet. When we look truthfully, we can also see that no amount of material and scientific advancement will solve our problems alone. New computer networks, innovative fuels and biological advances can just as easily be diverted to create new weapons, exacerbate conflicts and speed environmental degradation. Economic and political change will fail unless we also find a way to transform our consciousness. It is a delusion that endless greed and profit, hatred and war will somehow protect us and bring us happiness.

More than half a century ago, President Eisenhower, who had been the Supreme Allied Commander of the forces that won the Second World War, gave a remarkable address. Speaking just before he left office, Eisenhower, the world’s most respected military man, spoke out against the madness and unchecked growth of the defense industry worldwide. “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children…This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.” President Eisenhower spoke of the immense cost of the military industrial complex which, like the prison industrial complex and the foreign policy power complex, chooses power and profit instead of compassion. We must learn that this will not make us safe. Collective wellbeing arises when we govern by wisdom and loving-kindness instead of fear. “Human beings should refrain from causing harm to one another and not allow their actions to be based on hatred and greed,” said the Buddha, in words that speak directly to modern times. “They should refrain from killing, from stealing. They should refrain from occupations that bring suffering, from weapons trade, from any actions that bring the enslavement of others.” Through these words, he was not proclaiming a religious code. He was providing a social psychology for the happiness of individuals and the collective. In facing the truth, we choose to bear witness to our personal and collective suffering with compassion.

In the end, the unarmed truth will come out. Martin Luther King said, “I still believe that standing up for the unarmed truth is the greatest thing in the world. This is the end of life. The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may.” These words describe the moral and psychological power that steps out of delusion and tells us the truth.

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

 

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Video: A Peaceful Heart In A Time Of War And The Legacy Of Thich Nhat Hanh

Tonight I had planned to talk about Thich Nhat Hanh, the great and wise Zen master and teacher who died recently at age 95. But it seems critical to also acknowledge the grief of the war in Ukraine. As it says in the Buddhist teachings (and in other wisdom teachings), in this world, hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed.

There has to be a better game than war for human beings. We have to look at the war within ourselves as well.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s instruction was to stop—stop making enemies.
Make prayers. Make blessings. This is our moral task.

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

This talk was originally livestreamed by Spirit Rock on 2/28/22.

The post Video: A Peaceful Heart In A Time Of War And The Legacy Of Thich Nhat Hanh appeared first on Jack Kornfield.

Video: Compassion in a Time of War Meditation

May your struggles and sorrows be eased. May you hold yourself in great compassion. May you be safe and protected. May your heart be at peace. May your life be at peace.

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

This meditation was originally livestreamed by Spirit Rock on 2/28/22.

The post Video: Compassion in a Time of War Meditation appeared first on Jack Kornfield.

Heart Wisdom – Ep. 141 – How and Why We Become Enlightened

In this podcast, we explore how we can experience the qualities of enlightenment at different times and in different ways.

The qualities of the awakened heart—of love, of compassion, of a deeper joy, of greater freedom—they grow in us as we bring our self to the experience of life from spacious attention, rather than being lost in it.

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