Jack Kornfield: The Many Facets of Awakening

Patheos is pleased to be participating in this years Wake Up Festival, being held on August 14 – 18 in Estes Park, Co. Jack Kornfield is a featured presenter at The Wake Up Festival and author of A Path with Heart, A Lamp in the Darkness, Meditation for Beginners, and dozens of other highly-acclaimed books and audio learning programs.

In an Insights at the Edge podcast interview with Sounds True publisher Tami Simon, Jack Kornfield speaks of the many facets of awakening, what he calls the “crystal of awakened consciousness.” In any given moment, each of us has direct access to the liberating qualities of love, clarity, peace, kindness, and joy. By taking a moment to behold the mystery of this creation, we are able to become luminous vessels for these awakened energies to move out into the world.

Jack Kornfield: There’s a beautiful passage in the Dhammapada where the Buddha says,

“Live in joy and love even among those who hate; live in joy and peace even among the troubled.”

Yes, there are troubles in the world. There’s war and hatred, there’s sickness and difficulty. And there is also an undying spirit, an inviolable consciousness that is born in each of us. It is who we are, and it’s everything and it’s nothing. We can step out of our small sense of self and awaken to this reality. One of the reasons people get confused about freedom, enlightenment, and liberation is because this awakened consciousness has different facets or different dimensions, a bit like a crystal. If you hold this luminous crystal up to the light and turn it, it will take a beam of white light and refract it into the many colors of the spectrum.

In the crystal of the awakened consciousness, one facet is love. When you rest in presence and pure awareness, sometimes everything is experienced as love because you’re connected with all that is, and love is simply the nature of being. If you turn the crystal one more facet, everything is seen as emptiness, and you experience directly the transparency and tentativeness of this life, where everything that arises for a time and then passes away like a dream. Each moment of every day is new and then it vanishes. Where is that day? Where is that moment?

If you turn the crystal yet once more, everything becomes vast silence, a timeless silence which surrounds all activity, all words, all movement. This silence is always here. If you turn it again, there is tremendous bliss, ananda in the Sanskrit language, and everything is blissful, it’s called causeless joy. Another facet of awakening is perfect clarity. The awakened heart and mind can be experienced as clarity itself, pure knowing. Other facets can arise such as absolute peace or purity or freedom or compassion and so on.

What often happens within the various spiritual paths is that a person will have an experience of awakening, and will experience and embody that awakening through one facet of the crystal, whether it is peace, love, emptiness, or joy. And then people get confused and think that that’s what the awakened heart is. It’s really love and it’s all about love, or it’s really about emptiness, letting go, and seeing the transparency of the world like a star at dawn; or a flash of lightening in a summer cloud, an echo, a rainbow, a dream. Some other people think that awakened consciousness is really about fullness or presence, being completely present for every moment, but these experiences are only one of the dimensions of awakened consciousness. Understanding these different dimensions as facets of awakening can help with the confusion surrounding the different spiritual paths. They’re not leading to different places, but rather reflect the luminous and liberated aspects of consciousness itself. These qualities are not far away; in fact, they are right here.

Tami Simon: As I hear you talking about this crystal, I wonder, Jack, is the implication here that we are this crystal?

Jack Kornfield: Yes, but it’s not personal. It’s not you, Tami, or me, Jack. It is who we really are. It is our collective true nature. It’s a mysterious thing. Nobody knows why they were born or where they come from. How did we get into this funny-looking body that has a hole at one end in which we regularly stuff dead plants and animals? It’s bizarre that we got here, incarnated into this world with these bodies. No one knows how this world came into being. It is a creation of consciousness itself. It’s extraordinary, a mystery. And the point isn’t to be trying to perfect this body or personality in some way, but to step into awareness and rest in the reality of the mystery.

And then, of course, you play the game of life because you got to be incarnated. You are the mystery incarnating itself, and it’s beautiful when you remember. It’s also painful and awesome and it contains unbearable beauty and unfathomable pain—the ocean of tears and galaxy of bliss. And I don’t say that lightly. But it’s what we have.

Tami Simon: The ocean, the galaxy, you can’t really say those kinds of things lightly. They’re huge, you know.

Jack Kornfield: Yes, or the oceans. The Buddha said, “Which do you think is more my friend, the water in the four great oceans or the tears that you have shed on this long way of taking birth again and again?” Whatever you believe cosmologically, we all know the tears of the world. We each carry a certain measure of those tears in our hearts. And at the same time, the Buddha says to live in joy even among the afflicted. Live in joy, luminosity, and peace even among the troubles of the world. Remember who you are.

We have so many different practices we can engage with to open us to this mystery: to take the time to meditate, to quiet the mind, to open the heart, to take time in nature, to read your favorite poem, to listen to music that touches and inspires your heart, to watch a film of courage or that makes you laugh and gives you perspective, to be with teachers that remind you of who you are, or to teach somebody else so that you’re reminding them from your deep understanding. These are all skillful means. And then you see the areas of your life where you’re still really foolish. The beloved zen poet Ryo Kan said of himself, “Last year a foolish monk. This year, no change!.” And with growing awareness you can see where you’re caught or where you suffer or where you create suffering. You can then turn toward the difficulties that arise in your life with compassion, bow, and say, these too are part of human incarnation. Use whatever has come to awaken patience, understanding and love. Know that the freedom you seek can be found right here where you are.

 

  • Peter Mountain

    “Live in joy and love even especially among those who hate; live in joy and peace even especially among the troubled.”
    That’s the only way I know to survive the pilgrimage through the valley of the shadow of death.


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