Category: Jack Kornfield

Jack Kornfield & Katy Butler remember Thich Nhat Hanh on KCRW’s “Life Examined” Podcast

Jack Kornfield & Katy Butler remember Thich Nhat Hanh on KCRW’s “Life Examined” Podcast

Thich Nhat Hanh, beloved teacher, monk and visionary, died on Jan. 22, 2022. KCRW’s Jonathan Bastian spoke with me and journalist Katy Butler about “Thay’s” life, legacy, and practices of mindfulness, compassion, and interconnectivity.

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Jack Kornfield on the Mindrolling Podcast with Raghu Markus – Ep. 425 – Intuition, Negativity, & Forgiveness

Jack Kornfield on the Mindrolling Podcast with Raghu Markus – Ep. 425 – Intuition, Negativity, & Forgiveness

Jack joins Noah Markus & Raghu Markus for a conversation weaving together Thich Nhat Hanh, Ram Dass, intuition, negativity, creativity, forgiveness, and letting go.

One of Thich Nhat Hanh’s remarkable gifts—and there were many—was his ability to take what are profound and sometimes also complex Buddhist teachings, and make them transparent and available to everyone.

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Heart Wisdom – Ep. 139 – The Art & Heart of Forgiveness with Trudy Goodman

In this podcast, Jack Kornfield and Trudy Goodman discuss the art and heart of forgiveness, and how forgiveness is an expression of what it means to live with loving awareness.

“It’s really an act of mercy of your heart to say, ‘Alright, I can do this, I can forgive in some way.’ And a lot of it is forgiving of yourself; we’re so hard on ourselves, and we define our lives by our worst moment—as if that’s really the truth.”—Jack

“When you sit down to be with yourself and meditate, maybe you aren’t going to just follow your breath that day, maybe you’re going to radiate some compassion to yourself or to somebody else, maybe that’s what’s called for. I like to begin this practice with forgiving ourselves, because without that, it’s really hard to genuinely forgive anybody else.”–Trudy

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Necessary Healing

Necessary Healing

True maturation on the spiritual path requires that we discover the depth of our wounds. As Ajahn Chah put it, “If you haven’t cried a number of times, your meditation hasn’t really begun.”

Almost everyone who undertakes a true spiritual path will discover that a profound personal healing is a necessary part of his or her spiritual process. When this need is acknowledged, spiritual practice can be directed to bring such healing to body, heart, and mind. This is not a new notion. Since ancient times, spiritual practice has been described as a process of healing. The Buddha and Jesus were both known as healers of the body, as well as great physicians of the spirit.

Wise spiritual practice requires that we actively address the pain and conflict of our life in order to come to inner integration and harmony. Without including the essential step of healing, students will find that they are blocked from deeper levels of meditation or are unable to integrate them into their lives. Many people first come to spiritual practice hoping to skip over their sorrows and wounds, the difficult areas of their lives. They hope to rise above them and enter a spiritual realm full of divine grace, free from all conflict.

Some spiritual practices actually do encourage this and teach ways of accomplishing this through intense concentration and ardor that bring about states of rapture and peace. Some powerful yogic practices can transform the mind. While such practices have their value, an inevitable disappointment occurs when they end, for as soon as practitioners relax in their discipline, they again encounter all the unfinished business of the body and heart that they had hoped to leave behind.

True maturation on the spiritual path requires that we discover the depth of our wounds: our grief from the past, unfulfilled longing, the sorrow that we have stored up during the course of our lives. As Ajahn Chah put it, “If you haven’t cried deeply a number of times, your meditation hasn’t really begun.” This healing is necessary if we are to embody spiritual life lovingly and wisely. Unhealed pain and rage, unhealed traumas from childhood abuse or abandonment, become powerful unconscious forces in our lives. Until we are able to bring awareness and understanding to our old wounds, we will find ourselves repeating their patterns of unfulfilled desire, anger, and confusion over and over again. Healing can develop in part through a systematic spiritual practice.

Another kind of healing takes place when we begin to bring the power of awareness and loving attention to each area of our life with the systematic practice of mindfulness. The Buddha spoke of cultivating awareness in four fundamental aspects of life that he called the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. These areas of mindfulness are: awareness of the body and senses, awareness of the heart and feelings, awareness of the mind and thoughts, and awareness of the principles that govern life. (In Sanskrit these principles are called the dharma, or the universal laws.) The development of awareness in these four areas is the basis for all of the Buddhist practices of insight and awakening.

This excerpt is taken from the book, “A Path With Heart”

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Transforming Anxiety and Difficult Thoughts

Transforming Anxiety and Difficult Thoughts

In Buddhist psychology, the instructions for thought transformation are very explicit. The Buddha instructs his followers, “Like a skilled carpenter who removes a coarse peg by knocking it out with a fine one, so a person removes a pain-producing thought by substituting a beautiful one.” The carpenter’s peg is a practical description of how we can remove unhealthy thought patterns such as self-judgment, worry and anxiety by thought substitution. What is required is the selection of a helpful substitute and repeated practice. Repetition is key. Repetition, compassion, and the belief that the painful cycles of thought can be transformed all have a part in developing new patterns of thought.

The most common replacement thoughts are variations on the practices of loving-kindness and compassion. When a repeated negative thought arises, one of worry and anxiety, of self-criticism or depression, first study it. When does it arise? How often? What is its tone of voice? Does it appear as words or have images too? What story does it want you to believe? How painful is it to hear it over and over? Now that you see it clearly, you can say to the thought, “Thank you for trying to protect me, but I’m OK now.”

Then choose a suitable replacement such as:
“I am a compassionate person, I care for people.”
“I care for myself.”
“May I be safe and protected.”
“I will live with a peaceful heart.”
“A day at a time.”
“I will live with trust and kindness.”

Even so, some patterns of unhealthy thought—jealousy, anger, fear, unworthiness, and anxiety—are so stubborn they are hard to tame by simple substitution. For these thoughts, the Buddha offers more forceful methods. His instructions continue: “And when there still arise patterns of unskillful thought, the danger that thoughts will cause pain and suffering should be clearly visualized. Then, naturally, like the abandonment of garbage, the mind will turn from these thoughts and become steady, quiet, clear.” We can actually feel the danger when we are possessed by thoughts of jealousy or anger, or we are in the grip of anxiety. These tighten and stress our whole body. They keep us from rest. And when we consider acting on them, we know the results could be regrettable.

It is important that we don’t judge ourselves when we see these thoughts; they are just thoughts! The transformation practice is simply to set a powerful new intention. We can see that certain thoughts are unbidden, impersonal, and unhealthy thoughts are painful and do not have our best interest in mind. Out of compassion for ourselves we can feel their danger. “Like unhealthy garbage,” says the Buddha, “we can put them down.” Or we can visualize sweeping them out of our body down to become manure for the earth. Then we can add a skillful replacement.

Still, some patterns of destructive thought are so strong that even more forceful measures are needed. The Buddha tells us to “deliberately and directly ignore these thoughts, turn away, giving no attention, as if shutting our eyes or quickly looking away from a disturbing and harmful sight.” And if such patterns continue, “the wildly unskillful thought stream should be gradually slowed and stilled by slowing the breath step by step as if gradually slowing one’s pace from a run to a walk to standing.”

Now we are talking about thought patterns that are “sticky.” We all know them from experience, when a fear or doubt or obsession just won’t go away. The thoughts may be unpleasant, but our mind gets in a groove and we don’t know what to do but stay there. For example, the thought of letting go of our ex-lover becomes a form of thinking about him or her. Ignoring the thoughts and walking mindfully and breathing slowly may reduce them. If not, the Buddha recommends a final and rarely used last resort: “Such thoughts should be met with force, teeth clenched, tongue pressed against the roof of the mouth, determined to constrain, crush, and subdue these thoughts as if constraining a violent criminal. In this way does one become a master of thought and its courses. In this way one becomes free.”

As we can hear, these are not sweet “self-esteem” practices, looking in the mirror every morning and saying, “I am a loving person and the world will give me what I want.” The destructive habits of mind can be tenacious. There is an element of fierce determination and courageous self-discipline needed to take them on. When we do, we discover that we can train and direct our own mind. What a blessing!

Practice: Recognizing Our Mind States

Visit the Pandemic Resources page on my website for meditations & other materials.

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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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Video: Setting an Intention of the Heart Dharma Talk

When we sit quietly and face the stillness, we start the feel the grief that we carry—and the immense beauty of life.

When we get quiet we can see in a new way, as Pablo Neruda writes in “Keeping Quiet”:

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much….

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.

Life is what it is about…

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Make of yourself a light. It’s never too late to start over and set an intention of the heart. It could be as simple as “I vow to be kind.” 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.

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

This talk was originally livestreamed by Spirit Rock on 12/20/21.

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