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Lions Roar : January 2014
Spirit Rock at Twenty-five N 1975, three young Americans who had recently returned from years of meditation and study in Asia embarked on an experiment. Starting with the strict Vipassana meditation in which they were trained, Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, and Sharon Salzberg would teach dharma in the West as a col- laboration among Buddhism’s different meditative traditions. It was a radical approach, but it worked. Today, the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, which they founded that year, is one of America’s most renowned meditation centers, and the Insight Meditation community one of the most influential in American Buddhism. In 1984, Jack Kornfield joined with Insight teachers James Baraz, Sylvia Boor- stein, Anna Douglas, and Howard Cohn to found a new center in California. It started as a series of Monday-night talks in community centers and people’s homes. In 1998, Spirit Rock Meditation Center was opened on 411 acres of beautiful undeveloped land in the San Geronimo Valley of Marin County, about forty-five minutes from San Francisco. Today, Spirit Rock is a nexus, serving forty thousand visitors a year. It is close to the city, yet completely in nature. It offers deep residential retreats and popular after- noon programs. It upholds the core teachings of Vipassana but complements them with diverse traditions, including Native American religion, dance, neuroscience, kirtan, and all schools of Buddhism. The center is known for its commitment to diversity, offering programs for teens, children, LGBTQ people, and people of color. The famed Monday-night talks continue, now with a parallel program for kids. To celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary, Spirit Rock this year launched a $15.6 million capital campaign to upgrade its facilities (www.spiritrock.org/ capital_campaign). This will allow Spirit Rock to generate its own solar power, accommodate twice as many guests in the meditation hall, start offering her- mitages, and expand its programs for children and families. The discussion presented here between Insight teachers Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein was the centerpiece of a gala evening in support of the campaign. —SAM LITTLEFAIR–WALLACE SPIRITROCKMEDITATIONCENTER/WALTOPIE deepening and strengthening that neu- ral pathway in the brain. The more fre- quently we think about or ponder certain kinds of thoughts, the more established these pathways become. So we are creat- ing our lives. We are creating our future lives through the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that we’re having now. So it’s essential that we understand which are wholesome thoughts—those are the pathways worth deepening—and which thoughts and emotions are unskillful. Those are worth letting go of so we’re not uncon- sciously deepening their pathways. This discerning of what is skillful and unskillful is taking place on the rela- tive level. At the same time, we under- stand that at the more ultimate level, all thoughts are empty. They’re really very unsubstantial. There’s not much to them, whatever their content is. So a lot of meditation practice is precisely to see the empty, insubstantial nature of thought. That helps us let go of the unskill- ful ones because we see how empty they are. As the late Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn put it: There’s no right and no wrong. Everything is essentially empty. But right is right and wrong is wrong. And that’s how we have to hold it. That’s how our practice can deepen and incline the mind toward the joyous, awakened side of things. Jack Kornfield: Or, in Suzuki Roshi’s sim- ilar phrase, you are perfect the way you are, and there is still room for improvement. We all face adversity, conflict, and fear in our lives. How does Buddhism help us deal with them? Jack Kornfield: The first thing is not to see aversion and affliction as necessar- ily someone’s fault. They can be, but the first noble truth of the Buddha is that life inherently entails suffering. There is gain and loss, praise and blame, joy and sorrow, birth and death, sweet and sour, and light and dark, and our existence as human beings is interwoven with these 40 SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2014