A Lamp in
The Darkness

Illuminating the Path
Through Difficult Times

Jack Kornfield
(Sounds True)
We've always been fond of Jack Kornfield because he was one of the first of the New Wave American masters of Buddhism who seemed to be able to laugh (at himself; at what we used to think of as "faith"). He told us of the Eskimo and a priest,

    the priest telling the man about sin and going to hell and the Eskimo asks,

    "Do those who don't know about what you are saying go to hell, too?"

    "Well, no..."

    "Then why did you tell me?"

His chapters were filled with simple, thoughtful aperçus: "The universe is not made up of atoms," he writes, "It's made up of stories."

He quotes a master who, on being asked if he was enlightened:

    Enlightened? I don't know if I am enlightened. I'm a tree. Sometimes the birds come to rest in my branches. Sometimes the leaves fall. Sometimes people use me for the shade. Who knows if I am enlightened?

Kornfield was also the first guru we ever encountered who told us what to do when you are sitting there trying to do your practice and a fly runs up your nose. In Lamp in the Darkness, he offers chapters on wisdom, compassion, peace, forgiveness healing, and awakening. The book is accompanied by a disk that contains instructions on six different meditations.

Each of these asks you to begin by connecting with the earth, for when the demon Mara appeared to Buddha, he was beset with temptations and was questioned about his worthiness: "Who do you think you are to sit on this spot and seek enlightenment?" asked Mara. Buddha reaches down and touches the earth.

Kornfield reminds us that meditation can be a royal pain, and quotes Tamara Engle about "mindful witnessing:"

    For every bored and restless sitting and every fearful fantasy, and every pain and ache I sat through, and every itch I witnessed and did not scratch, was a training for kindness.

§   §   §

Kornfield is a universalist, which means that here he quotes not only from Buddha and the Buddha mystics (Thich Nhat Hahn, the Dalai Lama) but Thomas Merton, George Schaller, Nelson Mandela, George Washington Carver ... and Elie Wiesel: "Suffering confers neither privileges nor rights."

If I have any complaints about A Lamp in the Darkness, it might be that, at 125 pages, it seems a bit thin. Usually I complain about writers being too prolix. Here we have the opposite: there is not enough Kornfield. It may be that our review copy did not have the CD which is to be released with the final book.

The pre-publication copy, did, however, come with a pleasant hand-written note from the publicist at Sounds True. She wished us well.

I tell you: Random House never did that.

--- C. A. Amantea
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