"Buddhist psychology offers meditation, cognitive strategies, ethical trainings, a powerful set of practices that foster inner transformation. But it starts with a most radical vision, one that transforms everyone it touches: a recognition of the innate nobility and the freedom of heart that are available wherever we are," writes Jack Kornfield, an internationally acclaimed meditation teacher and bestselling author of many books including A Path With Heart and After the Ecstasy, the Laundry. He is cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and of the Spirit Rock Center in northern California. He also holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and regularly gives seminars to mental health professionals. In this richly developed work filled with heart-affecting stories and a dazzling array of thoughtful quotations, Kornfield explains the breadth and depth of Buddhist psychology.
The Buddha presented experiential teachings and practices to deal with suffering, to achieve contentment or happiness, and to be free. It all starts with an appreciation of our own goodness or nobility. Kornfield knows how difficult it is for many in the West to accept this, and so he shares three practices that can help us connect with the underlying goodness of others. One is to shift the frame of time and to see the person as a small child, still young and innocent. Another is to visualize the person at the end of life, open and vulnerable with nothing to hide. The final practice is to accept the person as a fellow traveler dealing with his or her own problems and yearning for happiness and liberation just like us.
In a chapter on "Holding the World in Kindness: A Psychology of Compassion," Kornfield discusses scientific research that has uncovered brain cells called "mirror neurons" which enable us to "feel the emotions, movements, and intentions of others." We are wired for empathy and connection with those around us. Although we in the West still define courage in terms of battle or competition, spiritual teachers of all stripes have taught us that compassion can open our hearts to our neighbors. Later in the book, Kornfield explains the bodhisattva's path for healing and mending the world.
Investigating your own mind is an important dimension of Buddhist psychology. One meditation teacher says that the average person has 17,000 thoughts a day. Kornfield suggests we try counting them:
"Try an experiment. At the end of this paragraph, put this book down, close your eyes, and try to count your thoughts for one or two minutes. Sit quietly and wait for them, like a cat at a mouse hole. Number each one. See what happens."
In a challenging piece on unhealthy mental states (grasping, aversion, and delusion) and healthy mental states (wisdom, love, and generosity), Kornfield reveals the tactic of letting go of those states which cause sorrow and fostering those that create joy. An equally fascinating exploration is the author's coverage of the grasping or greed temperament, the aversive temperament which revolves around judgment and rejection of experience, and the deluded or confused temperament. We also appreciated Kornfield's cogent discussion of desire and his contention that Buddhism does not condemn this aspect of human nature. He assesses the compulsive desire behind consumerism, the rise of prosperity consciousness, and an alternate view of abundance. To bring abundance to life, one can cultivate generosity as a joyful way of being through service or visualizations of devotion to the welfare of all.