“In these pages you will find the Dharma … Dharma is kept alive by those who follow the path,” writes Jack Kornfield, the beloved American Buddhist teacher and co-founder of Spirit Rock meditation Center, near where I live in San Francisco.
For the past two months I have had this little book in my messenger bag, a compilation of selections that Kornfield tells us will “bring the Dharma eloquently to life for us in our own time, place and culture.” Indeed it is full of inspiration, and has been a treat to open it, never knowing what treasures will await on the page, as I ride the train during evening rush hour, as I relax at home after supper, when I read after my morning meditation.
Title: The Buddha Is Still Teaching: Contemporary Buddhist Wisdom
Author: Selected and edited by Jack Kornfield
Available from: Shambhala, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.co.uk Kindle Store; Amazon.com and Amazon.com Kindle Store.
The selections are generally quite short, ranging from one sentence to a few paragraphs, and they are drawn from many teachers who have inspired my own Buddhist practice over the years. I have been making a practice of reading one selection from this book and then just savoring it as I look around the crowded train, has I take in the silence of the evening, or as I make breakfast.
This book is “dedicated to the generation of teachers who have so beautifully carried the lamp of the Dharma to the West” and is organized in four sections: Wise Understanding; Compassion and Courage; Freedom; and Enlightenment and The Bodhisattva Path, drawn from 75 different teachers. A reader could stay with one section for a while and look for connections between the teachings, or could skip around, allowing the teachings to mix spontaneously. She could read one selection a day or finish a whole section. There are many ways to enjoy this book.
I have enjoyed rediscovering quotes from books I read long ago, now re-reading them with fresh eyes. Words that seem timely and wise from familiar teachers like Dilgo Khyentse, my own teacher’s teacher, from Thich Nhat Hanh, Shunryu Suzuki, Pema Chödrön and Charlotte Joko Beck. And also from teachers less familiar to me, such as Taizan Maezumi, Tulku Thondup, and Noelle Oxenhandler. There is a balanced representation of teachers from different traditions. And I enjoyed hearing the voices of so many women Buddhist teachers. The book has a lovely format. It is small, but dense, the pages are beautifully laid-out and the font is pleasing to the eye.
Jack Kornfield introduces the volume as “a Buddhist treasure: the equivalent of new Buddhist sutras.” He reminds us that the teachings of the Buddha are “the Lion’s Roar, words of fearlessness and unshakable freedom”. I would agree that the wisdom of the Buddhist teachers in this book do point to this fearlessness and freedom. I was, however, surprised to find that not all entries were by Buddhist teachers. In fact, there were even three entries by Gandhi, whose words Kornfield explains “echo those of the Buddha.” He describes these entries as “the good medicine of the Dharma.”
I would argue that Gandhi’ sentiments are not appropriate in such a book, and are not taken by all as “good medicine.” Gandhi was not a Buddhist, he was a Hindu. In his political career Gandhi had a lot of conflict with the community which some refer to “The new Buddhists”, those traditionally considered in Hinduism as “untouchable”, who were followers of the social reformer Dr. Ambedkar. Gandhi opposed many meaningful reforms that would have fundamentally changed the injustice of the caste system in newly-democratic India, and he called the oppressive, non-Buddhist, caste system “the backbone of Indian society.” Gandhi is not a hero to this community, and it seems insensitive to include him in such a lovely volume, considering the ways he blocked Dr. Ambedkar’s political reforms. It is also particularly ironic, since one entry of Gandhi’s is entitled “Religion and Politics”. This selection ends by saying that “those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.”
I believe it would have been more inspiring and more appropriate in such a book to include a quote from Dr. Ambedkar, who actually converted to Buddhism, as a way of escaping caste oppression. “Buddhism alone among the world’s religions,” Ambedkar wrote, “is compatible with the ethical and rational demands of contemporary life.” In terms of “Religion and Politics,” Ambedkar famously said, “My final word of advice to you is educate, agitate, and organize. Have faith in yourself. With justice on our side, I do not see how we can lose our battle. The battle to me is a matter of joy. The battle is in the fullest sense spiritual.” This is “the Lion’s Roar” for our times.
Jack Kornfield himself says that the task of selection was difficult, and I can only imagine that it must have been so. This is, in fact, a lovingly-compiled book and a source of inspiration in many ways. Kornfield writes in his introduction that the book demonstrates that “two and-a-half millennia have nothing to diminish the freshness of the Buddha’s teaching, or their universal applicability of our lives.” Yes! Kornfield also writes that, “The Buddha insisted that his awakened disciples, when traveling to new lands, teach the Dharma in the language and vernacular of their times.” If we believe that the Buddha’s teachings are universal, and appropriate to our times, then let us expand that view to our fellow Buddhists who live outside the United States, and have embraced Buddhism as a way of rejecting 3,000 years of an oppressive caste structure.
The instructions are to read the selections in this book slowly, to listen to them. “Let these luminous words bring The Buddha’s awaking to your own heart and mind. Reflect on them, practice them, let them transform your life.” It is a lovely invitation. Eh ma ho!
“These are the teachings that are good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end.” Gautama Buddha
Thank You Dayamudra for a lovely review of Kornfield’s book. It makes me want to rush out and buy it with the way you have written about its treasure inside. You have graced the pages magificently and embraced the content so eloquently also.
But, and there’s always a but, isn’t there?
A Review is not neccessarily an ideal platform for expressing any views whether opposing or otherwise, that incorporate religion or any controversial topic. We have to accept Gandhi for trying to release the quagmire of uneducated status quo views and thoughts of those oppressed millions.
I think the clarification of excerpts in all of this, is Kornfield’s selection of the book title – “The Buddha Is Still Teaching”. Yes, he still teaches and we’ll never stop learning. Perhaps some food for thought in selecting Gandhi was, to use Kornfield’s words, “The Good Medicine of The Dharma”.
Those words reflect to me how differing views only offer up alternative thinking and even in some cases are a reinforcement of Buddha’s Teachings. The ‘Good Medicine’ is not seen as an antidote, but more of how we can contemplate and embrace other beliefs and strive for further understanding.
Thank you once again Dayamudra for a lovely review.
Yours in the Dharma,
“A Review is not necessarily an ideal platform for expressing any views whether opposing or otherwise, that incorporate religion or any controversial topic.”
Excuse the crudity of the expression, but “sez who?” This is a review about a book on religion. And you’re saying there’s some “rule” that the reviewer shouldn’t express any views “opposing or otherwise” on the topic? That seems odd.
“We have to accept Gandhi for…” Actually I’ve no idea what you’re trying to say in that sentence, but I’d say we should embrace and celebrate whatever good Gandhi achieved in his life, and mourn and critique whatever he did that contributed to human suffering. By insisting on preserving the caste structure and the brutally humiliating practice of “untouchability” Gandhi was on a moral par, in my opinion, with racist Southerners who insisted on separate drinking fountains for blacks and whites. He may have done good, but he also did harm.
Well, thanks for that Bodhipaksa. But it certainly seems like quite an affront on what observations I have made or rather have observed within the above writings. To use the words as such, “And you’re saying there’s some “rule” that the reviewer shouldn’t express any views “opposing or otherwise” on the topic? That seems odd.”
What rule? There is no rule. That’s rather a biting observation and out of context within the parameters of the discussion. If a Reviewer makes a comment on their perceived views , then of course, they have to subject themselves within the realms of the Internet as to any possibly opposing view or perceived interrogation of their premise of what they are actually expressing or have stated.
To introduce such controversy within the realms of a basic review is of course warranted but in some circumstances can initially undermine to a degree of what the actual topic, discussion or review is even about.
As you’ve no doubt observed already, I think Dayamudra has done a magnificent job of reviewing and I applaud her loudly and give thanks again. As a Buddhist myself, I love and also appreciate other people’s viewpoints and in what direction they and we are continuing to head towards the ultimate goal.
I admire you greatly Bodhipaksa and remember this; all I am saying is that all paths lead to one. Whatever ways and means we use to arrive there, then it is all good. We have to accept whatever others have done before us. Whether it is harm or good, most have tried in their own ways and ultimately it is within those realms that they may well dwell.
Thank you for your time and as always,
Yours in the Dharma,
To be honest I have great difficulty figuring out what you’re trying to say, so I may have misinterpreted you, and if so then I apologize. I think what you’re saying is that if a reviewer states their opinion on the internet then other people may express their disagreement. Well, that’s fine. A book reviewer’s task is to convey their opinions about the book, and sometimes people will disagree about those opinions.
I’m afraid we part company in thinking that “all paths lead to one.” The Buddha was very aware that this is not the case, and was unrelentingly critical of spiritual teachings that reinforced clinging, delusion, and hatred. One of the social phenomena that he was most critical of was pigeonholing people by caste. Gandhi, in this particular aspect of his spiritual practice, was on the side of tradition, and unfortunately that tradition was, and is, mired in cruelty and injustice. The “path” of judging others’ worth by their birth does not lead anywhere near awakening. On the contrary it leads away from compassion and wisdom.
Adrian- Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate what you have written and your kind way of expressing your opinions. I would like to add a bit more from my perpective. When I read this book I was saddened, as I wrote, to see 3 quotes from Gandhi. And I found it quite challenging to express my response to this inclusion. I didn’t want to make the review about my own views on Gandhi, or turn the review into a long lecure on Dr. Ambedkar. As you point out, the reviewers own views can cloud the review, and so I sat and sat with the book for many weeks before I was able to write somethng that I felt would be helpful and balanced to western readers.
Here is why I criticized the Gandhi inclusion:
1. There has been a revival of Buddhism in India, thanks to Dr. Ambedkar, his social justice movement against the brutality of the caste system and his own personal conversion to Buddhism in 1956. He is a great figure in modern Buddhism, so if a 20th century Indian humnaitarian should be included in a book like this, then it really should be Ambedkar.
2. Of course Jack Kornfield could not include everyone in this book- understood. But Ambedkar was a Buddhist. Gandhi wasn’t.
And 3 inclusions?
3. Gandhi does not represent the ideals of Buddhism to the generations of Buddhists who are inspired by Dr. Ambedkar. For them, and they are my dear brothers and sisters in the Dharma, Gandhi’s inclusion in such a book is offensive. I tried to explain this briefly, but there is certainly a lot to say on this topic. I did not go into the details of, for example, the fast Gandhi took to oppose Ambedkar’s politial reforms, such as The Hindu Code Bill, which would have assured uniformlegal protection for those considered “untouchable” across India at the time. The Dalits see this fast by Gandhi, almost to death, as a violent act in opposition to justice, and not in keeping with the principles of ahimsa.
4. Lastly, as this disussion shows, it is very very difficult to ever criticize Gandhi to western Buddhists, or share with them the painful relationship Dalit Buddhists have with Gandhi. It is certainly made worse that these same Buddhists know nothing about Dr. Ambedkar, do not understand the brutality of the caste system, as it even exists today, and are constanly quoting Gandhi to them!!
I believe it is time Western Buddhists became a bit more educated in these areas and more sensitive to the “whole story” of Gaandhi adn his relationship to modern-day Indian Buddhists.
I submit these comments as part of an ongoing conversation, and I hope they may be helpful.
Yours in The Dharma, Dayamudra
Thank you Dayamudra and now I understand. This was much more lucid than ‘sez who’ and I really appreciate your time in explaining this and your thoughts on the subject. I guess an education on the perspective you have entailed is needed by myself and possibly others. Thanks again, Adrian.
And thank you, Adrian. May the conversation begin with us and may all beings benefit. with metta, Dayamudra
(And please forgive all the typos in my previous message. I am in India at the moment, typing on a friend’s ancient keyboard. I probably should have proofread more carefully before “sending”!)