Monday, October 15, 2007

Contemporary Buddhism Comment

October 14th, 2007
By Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés
The Moderate Voice (USA)

A Conversation with Dr. Jack Kornfield, American Buddhist Teacher trained in Thailand, Burma and India…on Burma, Buddhism, H.H. the Dalai Lama, and non-violence.

Kornfield is one of the foremost teachers of Theravada Buddhism in the West. He was trained as a Buddhist monk in Thailand, Burma and India (He is on the far right in the photo). He graduated from Dartmouth in 1967, joined the Peace Corps in Public Health Service in northeast Thailand, home to some of the last forest monasteries of Buddhist monks and nuns.

There Buddhist master Ajahn Chah became his teacher for many years. Returning to the United States, Kornfield took a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and became a founding teacher of the Buddhist Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, California.

I met Jack some years ago when we were both teaching at a symposium in D.C. His father suddenly took a turn for the worse, and Jack was called away. I joined in teaching Jack’s group in order to help, and we have had a friendship since then.

Now 62 years old, he is a soft spoken, devout man with a secular sense of humor lurking beneath the surface, a wonderful trait in a religious. He meets yearly with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, and has published twenty books.

Here is a part of our conversation from October 9, 2007, about the use of violence against violence; the potential use of violence to effect change in Burma… from one man’s deeply Buddhist point of view.
Dr.E: “Buddhists often seem simpatico with others I grew up amongst and admired; Amish, Mennonites, Quakers, Dunkards, priests, brothers and nuns of The Holy Cross – most all being people who often managed to act calmly in helping to aright injustices in the midst of mayhem all around. It’s one thing to be calm in a peaceful mountain monastery, and quite another to act calmly on a festering street corner in East L.A.

“But, right now, looking between the worlds at the murderous mayhems of our times, many hearts are breaking for the millionth time, Jack, and this time, it’s Burma again. On the newsblog I write for,, some thoughtful commenters have said, amongst other cogent ideas, that the Burmese monks and nuns perhaps ought arm themselves and overtake the junta.

“As an old believer, I know a literal warriorship pledges to strive to act with courage in the face of scorn, ridicule and aggression… but not to act in violence. Yet, I know there are warrior traditions in my faiths, amongst them, the Knights, and that there is a warrior-monk tradition in Buddhism from times of old too, as amongst some of the Samurai. Neither of these ancient traditions are portrayed well in modern works, seeming instead to have been severed from their mystical underpinnings…

“….But, thinking of the Burmese again, can holy monks and nuns arm themselves in aggression? Can this be integrated somehow in the non-violent heart of Buddhism?
Jack Kornfield: “I’d tell you a story about His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. A group of young Tibetans came to the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. They told him they were very distraught by the suffering of the Tibetans, and thought they should go back into Tibet armed. They said, “We have lost temples, nuns, monks, our culture. We want Stinger missiles for we have nomads who know the mountains and the Chinese don’t know our mountains, and we can launch from there.”

“The Dalai Lama put his head in his hands and wept. He reminded them of the Buddhist precept of no killing, no harming living beings, the precept the Dalai Lama has taught all his life as the incarnate head of Buddhism. His Holiness told the young Tibetans, “I don’t know if I have done the right thing; but I’ll step down if I have done it wrong. If I believed I have taught untruth, I would resign.”

“I’ll tell you another story. We have in our history as Buddhists, many times of being treated unjustly… Yet, I knew Maha Ghosananda, the holy man of Cambodia. After Pol Pot , one-third of the population of Cambodia was massacred. Ninety-five percent of the monks and nuns were felled.

“We were in Thailand at the time, and traveled to where refugees were from Cambodia. And Maha Ghosananda came as the elder to the refugee camps, and he asked permission from UN to reopen a Buddhist temple right there in the camps.

“It was dangerous to do. The Khmer Rouge were underground in the refugee camps. The KR said to the refugees, “You go to this man, this ceremony, and we will kill you later.”

“But, there in the midst of thousands and thousands of tiny bamboo huts, Maha Ghosananda rang a sacred bell.

“25,000 refugees came; the ones who’d’ had their village temples burned, the ones who’d survived the murders by the Khmer Rouge of their elders, their children, their sisters, brothers, parents, so that now a family was one grandparent and two children left, or one uncle and one niece, left.

“Maha Ghosananda chanted in Cambodian and Sanskrit, chanting from the Dhammapada, that “Hatred never ceases by hatred, that hatred is conquered by love, that this is the ancient and eternal law…”

“25 thousand Cambodians who had not heard the holy scripture aloud in years, were chanting and weeping.

“Ghosananda told them that no matter how bigger the revenge and hatred, those will never take us to the end of who we are.

“For fifteen years Maha Ghosananda walked back to Cambodian villages where the people had originally come from. They couldn’t take the bus for the KR and their sympathizers were still trying to harm Cambodians. So, he walked people back home. They were shot at, waylaid, threatened; there were still mines buried on the roads. But they were going back home, and he was taking them back with spirit of compassion.

“So yes, there are Buddhist warriors within the various countries. Certainly in Tibet, in some monasteries, there are warrior monks.

“But this issue is not reconciled for the mainstream Buddhists.

Violence is not seen as following the ground the Buddha respects.”

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