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- Jack Kornfield on Buddhist Geeks
Jack Kornfield on Buddhist Geeks
I have to say, parts made me a little uncomfortable and disappointed that pragmatic dharma is still, essentially, pooh-poohed by Mr. Kornfield. But I do take away a central message, that attainments are just attainments unless they are in some way transformative.
shargrol wrote: It was pretty bad, which is good. Good to have the rhetoric out there so blatantly.
I agree, he was not really pulling any punches, which was unexpected. The only thing he really did was hold off naming names...but then Vince took up the mantle there. If I were running the interview, I would have "agreed to disagree" on ultimate attainments, and reigned it in to simple stream entry: as an experience, does he believe householders' experiences are genuine?
Jack Kornfield as an author and teacher in a general and public sense, is of no particular importance in this system: maybe I find what he has to say interesting or useful; maybe I don't. But he is not MY teacher, so-- no problem either way. It's like reading any author on any other subject: makes a good case for his premise/ makes a poor case for his premise.
The need to resort to impersonal authority on very personal matters-- that is interesting, though. That seems worth examining.
The best parts of the interview for me:
1. Jack Kornfield says "lighten up"
2. Jack Kornfeld says existence is groundless
I really liked both of those moments.
Different strokes for different folks though, no worries. And I guess I got what I paid for!
It'd be interesting to hear Vince's thoughts if he happens to see this.
Chris Marti wrote: I didn't take Kornfield's comments as an appeal to authority as much as a description of a practice regime that he "grew up" under. At the end of the interview Kornfield tells a story, anticipating just this kind of reaction, about those who are revolutionaries and those who are stodgy, traditionalists. It is well worth listening to the entire session.
I thought that story was great. Generally, I really *like* JK; he is a good communicator, and I enjoyed some of his books. I think my reaction to some of his comments (and again, there was a lot of good stuff in the interview) was for some misplaced desire for vindication, or acknowledgment, that PD is real as opposed to something "the Burmese" would find amusing.
I'm quite confident that someone who is fully dedicated, lives without a wife, a family, a job, the whole modern hubbub, will have a much deeper experience of practice than me. There is no doubt about this. So that person's experiences and my experiences are probably miles apart in terms of depth and possibly in many other areas. I have no idea whether that matters to the result. And that's kind of what Kornfield says. We just don't know, and that's the standard story in this life
If people think their life practice isn't as deep as a monastic's, then maybe they aren't engaging with it to the degree they should. Chances are, people's lives are a completely wild jungle and there are tigers roaming everywhere and endless devas requesting instruction, you just have to see it!
Not trying to be contrary, but I think people tend to romanticize and cede too much to monastics.
(For what it's worth, it is a very common practice for IMS teachers to deflect any questions about progress, attainments, enlightenment, etc. to the Burmese/Thai teachers that they studied with. It's a good method for dealing with questions in a group setting that are ultimately not helpful to the practice session/retreat. I also appreciate it as a way of keeping people humble and motivating further practice, but it is an obvious rhetorical device. Clearly, as Daniel points out, there is a reason the teachers are worthy of sitting at the front of the room.)
To be fully dedicated is to be fully dedicated-- in whatever are your conditions: sick/well, imprisoned/at liberty; ordinary life/monastic life; rich/poor...
Makes sense, that if there IS a "happiness not dependent on conditions", it is to be found in whatever conditions exist; and the belief that it can be obscured by some conditions-- is itself the source of obscuration.
Whatever conditions (time, place, posture, mental activity, teacher/teachings-- all of 'em) I believe to be the precondition of enlightenment... must be let go. "Killing" may be overly dramatic for simply allowing things to flicker into and out of our attentive awareness, but sometimes it takes an over-statement to command attention.
I doubt it is so simple as "depth" and "deeper" and "practice" vs. "modern life". I've been reading a lot about mid-century monastics lately (e.g. Ajhan Mun) and while aspects of their lives do seem quite deep, they also seem quite narrow. Which is fine, but I think there is a certain deepness to navigating the whole modern hubbub that in many ways is as difficult and deep as jungle practice.
I think deep more or less requires narrow, at least in this arena. I was using "deep" in the sense of the amount of attention (let's say percentage of my total time) that I can devote to a thing given my lifestyle. I cannot spend hours and hours in mediation every day. It just won't happen. So my attention is spread over many, many things over the course of my day. I'd call that "shallow." So deep and shallow are not judgmental words in this sense. They simply describe how much attention I can give to this thing versus that thing during the day, week, month, etc. How much attention I can give a thing is, at least in some sense, a measure of depth. I have no idea if depth is good or bad when it comes to awakening. I can make a pretty good case either way, as you've started to do in regard to shallow.
D.: How does a grihasta (householder) fare in the scheme of moksha (liberation)?
M.: Why do you think you are a grihasta? If you go out as a sanyasi [mendicant monk], a similar thought (that you are a sanyasi) will haunt you. Whether you continue in the household, or renounce it and go to the forest, your mind haunts you. The ego is the source of thoughts. It creates the body and the world and makes you think you are a grihasta. If you renounce the world, it will only substitute the thought sanyasi for grihasta and the environments of the forest for those of the household. But the mental obstacles are always there. They even increase in new surroundings. There is no help in the change of environment. The obstacle is the mind. It must be got over whether at home or in the forest. If you can do it in the forest, why not in the home? Therefore why change the environment? Your efforts can be made even now, in whatever environment you may be.
One could argue that life outside the monastery could accelerate practice, since one is exposed to a wide variety of personalities, motivations, and situations. Moreover, one learns from powerful “household” gurus, that is, the parents, siblings, partners, and offspring. But, as Chris says, YMMV.
Broadly, seeing as I now do my own agencylessness and God’s play and agency, I now think that people will find what they’re looking for, so I’m not too fussed about whether particular methods of teaching are pernicious (as, say, the critique of ‘mushroom culture’ is). I would like to see JK question some of his own assumptions here though. I found JK’s POV frustrating in various ways but didn’t totally disagree with it.
I agree with JK inasmuch as I do think there’s an issue both with people’s expectations of what level of practice will lead to what results, and with too-close readings of PoI (I had a tingle in my leg, it’s dissolution! I felt happy, it’s third jhana!) Many people claiming PD PoI achievements, particularly in a short space of time, seem to me to feel tight, overegoic and defensive, absence of which are traits that I now look for in someone who I would describe as having travelled further along the path. Personally I don’t believe in PoI anymore as such, or in the importance of jhanas or fruitions or whatever, but that’s just me. It’s interesting that when Daniel first wrote his book, he still thought that this had to be done with lots of retreat practice, whereas that is no longer at all the generally-held PD perspective.
On the other hand, what does it say if, as in the models JK mentions of ‘the real thing,’ people do months of intensive practice, and still only 10-15% will experience PoI, or jhana, or whatever it is? (though you could of course read this as karma).
And in the Pali canon, people are waking up all the time. Again, one could say this is down to the presence of the Buddha but if it becomes something that is impossible to talk about or imagine, it seems to me that this is characteristics of a reaction against Western achievement-culture, rather than something based on the canon.
Which is probably my biggest point, that JK appeals to canon/authority on various issues, but not in a consistent way. I.e. his view of ‘consciousness’ is not to be found anywhere in the Pali canon though maybe in some of the Thai Forest masters. He notes that Nisargadatta still experienced ‘negative’ emotions arising as such, and says that ‘enlightened saints’ may not actually exist, yet wants to maintain a model of ‘deeper’ states and an awakening so profound that no-one achieves it or talks about it (despite four-path awakening being openly discussed, at least among monastics, in the Pali canon). It seems to me very much a conceptual mishmash, which is fine until you’re using disparate parts of it to defend certain perspectives. Patrick Kearney, who's a lay Theravada teacher, has an interesting critique of this here .
The most important thing I can say here is that one of the things about the awakening that I’ve experienced is that one of its primary characteristics is that I’m no longer looking for more. So there may be ‘more’ or ‘deeper’ and it may or may not happen to me in the future, but I am no longer goal-oriented toward it, so in that sense the question becomes irrelevant.
Which leads to the question of monastic vs householder practice – I think Western householders often have a tendency to be defensive about monastic practice being seen as better or deeper, but personally I just see them as different vocations. It’s a particular problem for Theravada influenced paths because the Theravada model is clearly one which sees ordination as the only way to full awakening.
Having spent long periods of time both on silent retreat and living in monasteries, I can tell you that monastics aren’t living a carefree dream life with all the time in the world to meditate and none of the cares and distractions of household life (as compared to the hard deal of householders); and that intensive practice is really, really hard. But the vice versa doesn’t hold either. Probably really the only people in a position to comment are those who’ve lived both ways, and even they will have a bias to whatever one they landed up on finally.
As a Tantrika I have a householder path which has always been the model in my tradition, but I also recognise that if I spent much more time meditating I would have mental abilities which I don’t have now, same as any other activity. But I don’t see these abilities as central for awakening, but rather as things that some people may take pleasure in cultivating. I don’t gel with either Daniel or Kenneth’s perspective on these issues much now, but one of them had a piece talking about riding a bike which I think is apt here – some people want to spend all their time riding bikes and be able to do amazing wheelies and ride unicycles, others want to get from A to B. Neither is better or worse, but either one is riding a bike.