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Jack Kornfield on "The Progress of Insight"

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... and on pragmatic dharma at Buddhist Geeks:
http://www.buddhistgeeks.com/2015/09/bg-371-the-progress-of-insight/
I found it very interesting. He basically politely says that what MCTB and the like consider to be awakening is not the same as how it is understood in Thailand or Burma. He does end with a nice story, though, on how the different views and approaches are all a valuable piece of the bigger picture.

RE: Jack Kornfield on "The Progress of Insight"
Answer
9/27/15 12:20 PM as a reply to Caro.
I found it very interesting. He basically politely says that what MCTB and the like consider to be awakening is not the same as how it is understood in Thailand or Burma. He does end with a nice story, though, on how the different views and approaches are all a valuable piece of the bigger picture.


Wow. I'm surprised he's willing to speak for the perception of 'awakening' for the whole of Thailand and Burma.

However, there's predecent, like:

In his book Modern Buddhist Masters (he found only males to exhibit*edit: As "masters", Kornfeld found 11 males and 1 female),

he wrote, 
"Outwardly they [the masters] may seem different, even contradictory. (...) These words and systems are simply different expressions of a single underlying truth. Dhamma does not change. (...) so the words and teachings of these masters all point to the same experience, same truth."
(exerpted from page 2; I have not materially redacted his meaning just left out a short sentences and poetic analogy in a short paragraph). 

That's quite an authoritative statement.
(And it's a statement I really would not say; it assumes vast and complete knowledge that has not been inventoried to verify -- and the teachers themselves note that others among them do not have complete/right awakening!).

So Kornfield may now, again, be speaking authoritatively for all of Burma and Thailand, as you note, just changing his opinion-- that not all teachers and systems are teaching the same truth.




It may relate to necessity, as he and Ms. Brach are selling a new "Regular Price $397  Today $297" series (that's how it's sold at present online, with a line through the higher price for emphasis on the brevity of "today" (it's been promoted like this for many days))...

..and commercial meditation teachers face a very crowded field of co-vendors today.

It may be that from the commercial side he feel he needs now to differientiate himself from other brands and that he no longer feels  "all these masters point to the same experience, same truth."


What I liked about that book, Modern Buddhist Masters, is that he presented teachers who are deemed masters as contradicting one another about what is awakening, what is jhana, etc... and so this book was a great way for me to know early on to do the practice plainly for myself; not to look for coaching, validation, authority in someone else's journey, plan or (changing) understanding.

As seen, teachers/coaches/etc change their minds and when they do, then what has one practiced and bought into? 

RE: Jack Kornfield on "The Progress of Insight"
Answer
9/27/15 11:18 AM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
katy steger:

In his book Modern Buddhist Masters (he found only males to exhibit),


Not so.  Ajahn Naeb is covered in the book.

RE: Jack Kornfield on "The Progress of Insight"
Answer
9/27/15 12:45 PM as a reply to lama carrot top.
Very true, thank you. I've amended my post.

Kornfield dubbed 11 males as "masters" and 1 female for his book.
Who makes the master?
And Kornfield reminds (e.g., p6) that Dhamma was given freely, open-handedly by the founder (buddha).

Using a "woman lecturer" as example (aka: a scholar?), Kornfield recalls her question and what Lao person did:
Page 20:
One day a famous woman lecturer on Buddhist metaphysics, came to see my Lao master.
(...)
And where she asked, did he recommend they {students} start, which books and studies were best?


"Only here," he said, pointing at his heart, "only here.
"
 

RE: Jack Kornfield on "The Progress of Insight"
Answer
9/27/15 7:36 PM as a reply to Caro.
I listened to this interview earlier in the week. I wonder if Kornfield's interpretation of things may now be influenced by his long time association with Hameed Ali (aka A.H. Almaas), as he's talking a lot along the lines of "many awakenings" per Ali's POV and also a major point in his last book, Runaway Realization. Nonetheless, I think Kornfield too readily dismisses the experiences of those who did actually travel to Thailand and Burma to train and have their attainments recognized, before returning to the west as "pragmatic dharmists."

He does make one point, which I know I've read here, which also hews to experience: how has whatever doorway I just walked through changed me?

It is also interesting that earlier in the same week I listened to Thanissaro Bhikkhu's very well reasoned and presented talk on how "The True Dharma has Disappeared." Worth seeking out from audiodharma. You could certainly read both teachers' opinions as completely polarising. So interesting as they both have as core teachings Thai forest practices.

N.B. Kornfield's book Living Buddhist Masters was reprinted and renamed Living Dharma: Teachings and Meditation Instructions from Twelve Theravada Masters. I think it is excellent, eye opening and instructive as for the diversity of practices that are now the roots of our modern vipassana techniques.

RE: Jack Kornfield on "The Progress of Insight"
Answer
9/27/15 8:48 PM as a reply to Caro.
Caro:
...
I found it very interesting. He basically politely says that what MCTB and the like consider to be awakening is not the same as how it is understood in Thailand or Burma. He does end with a nice story, though, on how the different views and approaches are all a valuable piece of the bigger picture.


The #1 message that permeates Jack Kornfield's talks, books, etc. is (IMO) the primacy of his own authority, as it so graciously encompasses all views – earlier "the mandala of Buddhisms", and here "the mandala of enlightments".

2. His authority comes with what be can called the "butterfly"-mode background and training. "Jack Kornfield trained as a Buddhist monk in the monasteries of Thailand, India and Burma. He has taught meditation internationally since 1974…" (from the BGeeks page, and elsewhere). In half a decade or so (1967-1974) he was a monk in all of Thailand, India and Burma. (In the talk, he spent "several years" with just one Indian teacher.) To borrow terminology from Theravada (Spirit Rock claims this as their main lineage), he was barely a novice in any of those monasteries, let alone a 'majjhima' (5+ years), or a 'thera' (10+ years), not to mention 'sayadaw' (20+ years). This is a too common characteristic of Western modernist Buddhist gurus.

The stories he tells again and again (e.g. the one Caro mentions). The only book of his I've read through (The Wise Heart*) had this among other stories, which invariably blur-off into profound sounding, good-feeling generalities (truffles?). I've also heard several full-length talks, including in-person; even asked him once a seemingly simple question and got an icy, evasive answer. (At an event honoring Steven Levine several years ago, I asked whether he (Jack) thought Steven's meditative practice called "soft belly" was grounded in tradition, or an innovation by Steven. This was pure curiousity, and not intended as a challenge as to authencity; "soft belly" is one of the most powerful body-awareness techniques I've learned.)

3. It's got to sell. Just this week I've received two email ads for that program katy steger mentioned. Having attended a "concentration" retreat at SRMC (described elsewhere here -- no jhana, last two days about just "choiceless awareness", and donating), and hence being on the mailing-list, newsletters arrive regularly, mostly appeals for money, and including such an appeal when just 'news'. Apparently he's just returned from a 'sabbatical', and needs to ramp up revenue again, perhaps while the mindfulness wave is still cresting.

4. And his has become a de facto model for a successful Western master guru. I sense even Daniel Ingram falls under this influence – at least that's how I decode the perceived contrast between his quite useful 'mushroom effect' idea and the otherwise marked deference to Kornfield (at least to aspects of his style). As for the BGeeks interview: He had precious little to say about "The Progress of Insight", other than to demonstrate his authoritative knowledge of such teachings, and subsume it into his mandala omniscience, and focus on broad appeal and other platitudes.

My view (being just that) is that the emperor's clothes are getting old, s/w thread-bare.

* The Wise Heart was advertised as based on the Abhidhamma, that's often characterized as "Buddhist Psychology" (going back to the only English translation (1900) of the Dhammasangani, by Caroline Rhys Davids). From his book, my guess is Kornfield had read little more than parts of "A Comprehensive Manual of Abdidhamma" (a 11th-12th-century summary), and used it as a platform for his own core teaching – "Buddhist" psychology. Note the mention of psychology / psychologists in the BGeek interview, and other data points such as that 30-40% of SRMC and Vipassana Meditation teachers overall are various sorts of psycho-therapists (e.g. Tara Brach). Not that he isn't a highly skillful speaker and writer; passages of The Wise Heart actually brought me to tears -- briefly until the overall mushy swamp feeling set-in again.

RE: Jack Kornfield on "The Progress of Insight"
Answer
9/28/15 12:26 PM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
katy steger:

he wrote, 
"Outwardly they [the masters] may seem different, even contradictory. (...) These words and systems are simply different expressions of a single underlying truth. Dhamma does not change. (...) so the words and teachings of these masters all point to the same experience, same truth."
(exerpted from page 2; I have not materially redacted his meaning just left out a short sentences and poetic analogy in a short paragraph). 

That's quite an authoritative statement.
(And it's a statement I really would not say; it assumes vast and complete knowledge that has not been inventoried to verify -- and the teachers themselves note that others among them do not have complete/right awakening!).

So Kornfield may now, again, be speaking authoritatively for all of Burma and Thailand, as you note, just changing his opinion-- that not all teachers and systems are teaching the same truth.

He actually does say pretty much the same as in your quote above, I just wasn´t very clear in my post: He compares the different experiences of enlightenment to the different facets of a crystal, all pointing to the same underlying truth. Intuitively that does make sense to me. If you believe that there is an absolute reality which exists outside of the mind and personal perception, it also makes sense that most humans hardly grasp the full nature of that absolute reality. Therefore different spiritual paths would lead to perceiving different aspects of that reality. A bit like the idea of "axis of enlightenment" that some people here talk about. Personally, that may raise the question of being selective in the spiritual practice I chose, as I may be stuck with the effects afterwards ;)


It may relate to necessity, as he and Ms. Brach are selling a new "Regular Price $397  Today $297" series (that's how it's sold at present online, with a line through the higher price for emphasis on the brevity of "today" (it's been promoted like this for many days))...

..and commercial meditation teachers face a very crowded field of co-vendors today.

I also really dislike this, or rather it makes me very sceptical of the intention of the teachers and thus of what they teach. I know some people teaching the dharma who have difficulties living of it as the practice of dana just doesn´t always seem to work well in our times and society. But I do wonder why people who are so well-known need to commercialize their teachings so much. If at least they were transparent on the use of funds, that would improve matters a lot...

RE: Jack Kornfield on "The Progress of Insight"
Answer
9/28/15 12:39 PM as a reply to CJMacie.
Chris J Macie:

2. His authority comes with what be can called the "butterfly"-mode background and training. "Jack Kornfield trained as a Buddhist monk in the monasteries of Thailand, India and Burma. He has taught meditation internationally since 1974…" (from the BGeeks page, and elsewhere). In half a decade or so (1967-1974) he was a monk in all of Thailand, India and Burma. (In the talk, he spent "several years" with just one Indian teacher.) To borrow terminology from Theravada (Spirit Rock claims this as their main lineage), he was barely a novice in any of those monasteries, let alone a 'majjhima' (5+ years), or a 'thera' (10+ years), not to mention 'sayadaw' (20+ years). This is a too common characteristic of Western modernist Buddhist gurus.
Interesting, thanks! I wasn´t aware of that.

4. And his has become a de facto model for a successful Western master guru. I sense even Daniel Ingram falls under this influence – at least that's how I decode the perceived contrast between his quite useful 'mushroom effect' idea and the otherwise marked deference to Kornfield (at least to aspects of his style). As for the BGeeks interview: He had precious little to say about "The Progress of Insight", other than to demonstrate his authoritative knowledge of such teachings, and subsume it into his mandala omniscience, and focus on broad appeal and other platitudes.
What I personally found most disappointing in the talk was that he didn´t share more of his own personal experience with the progress of insight or what else awakening means to him. And that he basically just said it´s available in every moment and everywhere rather than pointing out that is does also takes diligence in practicing. I do think that he is a charismatic and sincere writer and speaker. I was very touched by reading "After the Ecstasy, the Laundry" which gave a boost to my own practice at that point.  

RE: Jack Kornfield on "The Progress of Insight"
Answer
11/3/15 1:40 PM as a reply to Caro.
Ron Crouch has a highly thoughtful blog post up about this interview.


http://alohadharma.com/2015/11/03/what-is-pragmatic-dharma/

RE: Jack Kornfield on "The Progress of Insight"
Answer
11/4/15 2:26 AM as a reply to Derek.
Ron's is a nice blog post.

Jack and I have our similarities and differences of view and perspective. I appreciate many aspects of his work, other parts I find very limiting.

I tried to talk to him briefly in the library of Gaia House, but he scurried out of the room so fast that I wasn't able to: that was in 1999, Summer. It was very strange how rapidly he departed and gave no explanation. Too bad, really, as I will be we have a lot to talk about that would be interesting to both of us.

RE: Jack Kornfield on "The Progress of Insight"
Answer
11/19/15 4:22 PM as a reply to CJMacie.
I've noticed that with Kornfield and Goldstein both, as well a few others realted to, or associated with the first wave of Dhamma practitioners, that they seem to have some sort of contempt or disdain for pragmatic Dhamma. It is expressed, almost entirely, indirectly. They never just come out and say it.

What's their issue?

I've been reading, or should I say, trying to read, "A Path With Heart". Despite what others say about it, it seems very fluffy. It seems focused on feel good type material, and while referring to the possibility of greater, and deeper things, seems to want to stay safe for fear of scaring the reader off.

RE: Jack Kornfield on "The Progress of Insight"
Answer
11/19/15 10:11 PM as a reply to Darrell.
I don't claim to speak for Jack, but I would venture that just as his and Joseph Goldstein's strand of Dharma emphasizes reducing the ten fetters (i.e. by psychotheraputizing the Dharma) and deemphasizes the altered states of jhana and path/fruit moments, pragmatic Dharma emphasizes the altered states while deemphasizing the reduction in ten fetters. Caveat: the latter point has been debated in this forum and I know there are some adherents of pragmatic Dharma that disagree with it (of which I happen to be one).

Also, pragmatic Dharma comes right out and says that you could end up have a very difficult time, all the way to (in Re-Observation) becoming psychotic, and this does not at all line up with the narrative that Jack and Joseph have propagated about mindfulness being uniformly without any negative consequence.

RE: Jack Kornfield on "The Progress of Insight"
Answer
11/20/15 7:00 PM as a reply to svmonk.
Interesting. Not to possibly fire up a debate that I'm sure has been done to death, but I've heard time and again that the Buddha described Jhana as being the primary meditation for the path. Perhaps I'm misinformed, and just plain wrong. But if that is correct, then the Western Dharma would be deemphasizing something that is essential to the path.

Reducing the ten fetters is fine, but what about cutting them entirely? I'll admit that while I'm not entirely at ease with all of pragmatic dharma, I'm *really* uncomfortable with the Goldstein/Kornfeild/Salzberg mushroom culture Dharma. Their belief that liberation isn't possible, especially for the layity is saddening. If that's true, why did the Buddha teach and why bother to practice at all?

RE: Jack Kornfield on "The Progress of Insight"
Answer
11/21/15 2:24 AM as a reply to Darrell.
Darrell:
Reducing the ten fetters is fine, but what about cutting them entirely? I'll admit that while I'm not entirely at ease with all of pragmatic dharma, I'm *really* uncomfortable with the Goldstein/Kornfeild/Salzberg mushroom culture Dharma. Their belief that liberation isn't possible, especially for the layity is saddening. If that's true, why did the Buddha teach and why bother to practice at all?

The (Western) Insight Meditation tradition doesn't say that liberation isn't possible. There's plenty of talks given by teachers at IMS and SR that are about this very possibility. Annoyingly, they often talk around the concept of enlightenment/awakening but if you know what you're doing or what to listen for, it's pretty obvious.

Also, if you listen to this Q&A talk that Goldstein gave at the ongoing three month retreat recently, he does say that stream entry, at least, is accessible to the dedicated lay practitioner (starts around 36:00 mark, IIRC).

At this point, there's plenty of talks by Theravadan teachers (Thai Ajahns and Burmese Sayadaws) that speak about Nibbana explicitly. All freely available and online, almost to the point of excess.

I offer this as someone who did get bent out of shape by the new local branch of an Insight Meditation practice center that's been my regular haunt for the past six months. "Mushroom culture" or "Dumbed down dharma," pick your poison, just don't drink it. You'll live longer this way emoticon

RE: Jack Kornfield on "The Progress of Insight"
Answer
11/21/15 9:46 PM as a reply to Darrell.
Hi Darrell,
Interesting. Not to possibly fire up a debate that I'm sure has been done to death, but I've heard time and again that the Buddha described Jhana as being the primary meditation for the path. Perhaps I'm misinformed, and just plain wrong. But if that is correct, then the Western Dharma would be deemphasizing something that is essential to the path.

There's a lot in the suttas about how to attain jhana. But there are also cases, for example of Satriputra, the Buddha's chief attendant, who attained stream entry by just hearing a monk answer a question he asked (Sariputra was a Jain at the time). The "dry insight" route has come through Mahasi Saydaw and U Pandita in Burma. Concentration isn't absent from that route, but the emphasis isn't on concentration to the point of absorption, rather in concentration on arising phenomena, a kind of concentration called konika samadhi.

RE: Jack Kornfield on "The Progress of Insight"
Answer
11/22/15 5:56 AM as a reply to svmonk.
At least, in this community, jhana gets plenty of play, as it should. I am not sure why it is so de-emphasized in many more mainstream Western meditation traditions, including those that are squarely based on traditions that get all kinds of into jhana, such as numerous Thai Forest meditation traditions, as well as even the Mahasi kids, who often teach things jhanic sometime after stream entry, just often behind closed doors, and after insight is safely established.