On My Bookshelf: “The Buddha is still Teaching” by Jack Kornfield


image acquired through stealth from Shambhala Publications.

Almost as a supplement to his popular “Teachings of the Buddha”; Jack Kornfield brings the practice of Buddhism into modern times with “The Buddha is Still Teaching” by showing a thread of continuity between the original teachings of the Buddha, the evocative instructions of the ancient enlightened ones and the modern teachings of road-side Bodhisattvas and store-front Buddhas.

The book is arranged in four chapters, each focusing on a specific aspect of the Buddhist tradition (Wise Understanding, Compassion and Courage, Freedom, Enlightenment and the Bodhisattva Path).  Each chapter is then made up of pithy instructions from modern masters that cast a reflection of the Buddha’s original words.  While not academic or historical in nature, Kornfield’s book strives to place the emotion and poignancy of the Dharma into a modern modality. 

Generally he was successful with a broad assortment of excerpts from many modern masters of the Theravadan, Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions.  Specifically I enjoyed the teachings of Aajhn Chah, Pema Chodron, Sharon Salzburg  and Suzuki Roshi as I am familiar with each but when placed in the context of each other a broader tapestry of the evolving nature of the original teachings began to emerge.  When this was overlain by quotes from political leaders such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.; secular practitioners such as Jon Kabat-Zinn as well as a poetic boot-heel from Gary Snyder, you feel that the thread of Dharma does indeed bury deep.

The book represents a broad view of Buddhist teachings and such a task is a difficult one and not everyone will be pleased as  many of the excerpts were … questionable in my opinion and I was left wondering “why that one?” or “why that person?” Since this book was heavy on teachers that are very well known in the convert community (those similar to Kornfield) it would have been nice if some lesser known teachers were given an opportunity to shine.

But again, it is easy to nit-pick at a task like this. My only major complaint that is that if this book had inclusions from some primary texts and older commentaries, it would have been much more engaging.  To see that Dharma is both the teachings and the path to and from those teachings would have been much more apparent.  Perhaps another notable author will pick that one up.

Take Home Message:  A quick and worthy read but not something that I would keep on my shelves. The blunt and short expressions of compassion and wisdom coupled with amazing sensitivity and maturity resounded like death poems but without comparisons to older texts, it just feels like a book of daily affirmations.  Good affirmations and well written but affirmations none-the-less.  Now stop messing around!  You have two breaths to state the meaning of your practice in the comments…Go! Do it now!