The cofounder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center and one of America’s leading teachers of Buddhism, Jack Kornfield reflects on what he calls “Buddhism 101”—simple practices for a more mindful and peaceful life.
Why do you think there now seems to be such an interest in Buddhism among Westerners?
There is an epidemic of stress and increasing speed in people’s lives in modern culture. Buddhist practices, what the Dalai Lama calls the “science of mind,” are based on ways to train ourselves to well-being, mindful presence, ease, and joy, based on the fundamental dignity and value of every human being.
How does Buddhism fit into the Western concept of religion?
In parts of the world, Buddhism functions as a religion—with temples, services, and a whole set of practices. However, the original teachings of the Buddha are not a religion, and they are what interest people in America. They are practices for improving health, clarity, understanding, wisdom, and loving-kindness.
As a young Ivy League graduate in the 1960s, what led you to train in an Asian Buddhist monastery?
What brought me was my own difficulty. There was a great deal of suffering and conflict in my upbringing. When I heard about Buddhist teachings as a way to deal with difficult emotions, I realized I needed this as much as any other form of education. So I went to find a renowned Buddhist teacher to help me—and he did.
What is Buddhism 101?
Buddhism 101 is this: human beings can create happiness or suffering depending on their own states of mind and heart. It is possible to learn to release the sufferings of the past and live with a joyful and free spirit, no matter what the circumstances.
How do we increase our capacity for compassion?
Practice. There are beautiful trainings for visualizing people you love and care about most, and sensing your concern for their suffering. This opens the gateway of compassion in your heart, and then with practice—you can extend this compassion to others around you, finally seeing people around you, and people everywhere, as being someone else’s child. And just as you feel concern and compassion for your own children, your compassion spreads to all you encounter.
For more with Jack Kornfield, check out Super Soul Sunday - Oprah & Jack Kornfield: The Awakened Life airs Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 11 a.m. ET/PT on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network