“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