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A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life Paperback – June 1, 1993
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In undertaking a spiritual life, we must make certain that our path is connected with our heart, according to author and Buddhist monk Jack Kornfield. Since 1974 (long before it gained popularity in the 1990s), Kornfield has been teaching westerners how to integrate Eastern teaching into their daily lives. Through generous storytelling and unmitigated warmth, Kornfield offers this excellent guidebook on living with attentiveness, meditation, and full-tilt compassion.
Part of what makes this book so accessible is Kornfield's use of everyday metaphors to describe the elusive lessons of spiritual transformation. For example, he opens with "the one seat" lesson taught to him by his esteemed teacher. Literally it means sitting in the center of a room and not being swayed or moved by all the people and dramas happening around you. On a spiritual level it means sticking "with one practice and teacher among all of the possibilities," writes Kornfield; "inwardly it means having the determination to stick with that practice through whatever difficulties and doubts arise until you have come to true clarity and understanding." The same could be said for this "one book." Among all the spiritual self-help books, this is a classic worth sticking with and returning to--a highly approachable teacher that can only lead to greater clarity and understanding. --Gail Hudson
About the Author
Jack Kornfield is an internationally renowned Buddhist teacher and meditation master, and a cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society and of Spirit Rock Center in Northern California. A former Buddhist monk, he holds a PhD in clinical psychology. His books include A Path with Heart, Buddha's Little Instruction Book, and After the Ecstasy.
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I must admit that I'll probably never explore the original Buddhist texts, so I'm grateful for a teacher who has done so and is willing to make their essence accessible. Kornfield is never condescending or obscure, which in my case leaves me wanting to learn more. There's humor but an unblinking insistence that we press on.
For those who don't know him, Jack Kornfield is a meditation teacher and psychologist who is one of the founders of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin county. He spent several years studying as a monk in Asia, has a PhD in psychology, and as of the writing of this book, had been practicing and studying meditation and Buddhism for over twenty five years.
Though grounded in Buddhist psychology, the principles of spiritual practice the book touches upon are universal. At its core, the book speaks to the possibility of living a genuine spiritual practice in our every day lives. That is to say, to discover an enduring well-being and happiness here and now.
You may be wondering how is it possible to reconcile the ancient teachings of the Buddha with the ways of our modern life. After all, the relative simplicity of life twenty five hundred years ago is in stark contrast to the technological complexity of today’s living.
The Buddha spoke of one thing and one thing only: suffering and the end of suffering. Given today’s high levels of depression, suicide, drinking, smoking, drug addictions, pornography addiction, rape, murder, genocide and war, it’s safe to say that the vast majority of humans experience varying degrees of suffering and unhappiness. So the Buddha’s teachings are perhaps as relevant today as ever.
Using today’s language, Jack Kornfield shares the enormous breadth and depth of this body of wisdom perhaps as best as it can be summarized in one book, and he does so in a remarkably elegant and beautiful way, the medium being the message. Indeed, it would be hard to find an author with a deeper understanding of the Buddha’s teachings. But it wasn’t always this way. As a child, he suffered at the hands of an abusive father and sought refuge and clarity in the east.
He shares that the great challenges of modern society are consumerism, individual isolation and ambition. Though the first two are more obvious, the third one is perhaps less so since ours is a country that holds personal ambition in high regard. He provides deep insights like how the momentary satisfaction of buying a consumer good does not come from the acquisition but rather from the ending of wanting. He teaches that stopping the war within and stopping the war without and coming to rest in our heart is the beginning and the end of spiritual practice.
His own journey of healing to a place of wholeness, peace and ease didn’t just come from thousands of hours of meditation. It was also a long and arduous process of reclaiming his emotions and healing through individual and group therapy. In the beginning, he felt satisfied that he had cultivated his mind to deal with difficulties, but in time he realized that to be truly awakened one must fully inhabit one’s animal body. This goes against our common understanding that cultivating the mind is enough.
He writes about dealing with and naming difficulties, which can be the source of our awakening. He speaks of discovering selflessness and a healthy sense of self or true self. He writes about common everyday difficulties such as codependency and acting out old patterns of relating like fear and blame as well as finding a teacher to support us on our path. The book is both descriptive and prescriptive, mostly inspiring us to live the wisdom of the ancient teachings here and now.
A Path With Heart could be summarized by Zen master Dogen who said, “To be enlightened is to be intimate with all things.” As it says in the Buddhist texts, “Awakening is not something newly discovered; it has always existed. There is no need to seek or follow the advice of others. Learn to listen to that voice inside yourself just here and now. Your body and mind will become clear and you will realize the unity of all things. Do not doubt the possibilities because of the simplicity of these teachings. If you can’t find the truth right where you are, where else do you think you will find it?”
Buy this book, you won’t regret it.
As we know, Mark Twain advised us, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do.”
Good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end.