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I See You Mara!

A Considered Response to the Publication of

The Wise Heart
Jack Kornfield, Ph.D.

This morning, after having finished reading The Wise Heart last night, I was thinking over the Buddha's advice in DN 1[1] concerning a response to mis-statements concerning him and his Dhamma:

"Beggars, if those of other views should speak about the Tathagata in disparaging terms you should not for that reason get riled up, worked up, or upset, for if for that reason you were to get angry, resentful, and bear ill will, that would be an obstruction for you. If those of other views should speak about the Tathagata in disparaging terms and for that reason you were to get riled up, worked up, or upset would you then be able to determine how far what was said was well or badly said?"
"...when those of other views should speak about the Tathagata in disparaging terms you should simply break down the matter and explain that just this and that are not correct statements about the Buddha; just this and that are not to be found in him."

Although considerably fleshed out in the lengthy process of reflection, consideration, writing, editing and revision, the following is the review I constructed in my mind as I sat:

Previously, after the publication of the Dr. Kornfield's first book A Path With Heart I wrote him a reasoned, detailed, hand-written response to the fact that although his work perported to be teaching Theravada Buddhism in fact it was teaching Mahayana ideals and the fact that the two schools have completely different views as to the goals of the Dhamma, those who read his work seeking the Theravada view were being mislead, something that would be to both their disadvantage and his own. His response to me was that my letter was very long.

Since then Dr. Kornfield has written or co-authored 9 books, not including the one under review. I nave not read any of the intervening books, but The Wise Heart is 430 pages long, and if alone considered a response to my letter is, I believe, sufficient to grant me leave to respond again at length. This time I will write using a computer.[2]

The over-arching change I can discern in Dr. Kornfield's approach in the current work is that he has eliminated the idea of "Theravada" and has substituted a claim that his work reflects the universal in what the Buddha taught[3]. Just this much of a change might make one hope that there was some sort of dialogue going on here. However, I find the work to be 'slick' with regard to the promise of it's subtitle. On the one hand, if we are to read the subtitle as indicating that a selection of universal truths from the Dhamma is being made, there is hardly anything that is taken from the suttas (most of the quotes claimed to be Buddha's teachings are taken from Mahayana texts, Buddhist teachers, and commentaries) and what little does come from the suttas are selected for presentation out of context and placed in misleading contexts and often 'conveniently' translated. On the other hand if we are to read the subtitle as a promise to present the universal teachings of Buddhist psychology, Dr. Kornfield does not even make an attempt at this goal, but presents in stead a psychology of his own construction using often incorrect and misleading translations and interpretations taken out of context and placed in misleading contexts that serve the purpose of guiding the reader to the belief that the goal is happiness in this visible state.

Recommendation: Avoid at least until such time as you really know the Dhamma as taught in the Suttas.


[1] DN 1.1. Olds, translation.

[2] My handwriting (printing) (visible in some of the header art on this site and dealt with in detail in the section titled Adams' Apple, was designed to slow down the reader and additionally to give visual meaning to the words writen with it as well as to indicate the basis for the alphabets commonly used by us today.

[3] The book is subtitled: "A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology".

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