Notes on Spirit Rock: Visit to Monday evening Buddhism class with Jack Kornfield


 The chairs in which the rest of us sat were good quality, in the hall. I remark on how comfortable they are, for many churches haven’t such nice chairs. For many churches, chairs are usually folding chairs. Spirit Rock is a comfortable place, more expensive and elegant than some I’ve been to like Immaculate Heart Hermitage in Big Sur. Impressed with the handsome buildings and quiet of this place of retreat, this retreat center in comfortable surroundings is set-away-from the hub-bub outside. 

Glass windows about the hall made the room light. Everyone enjoyed the hall, it appeared. They were a happy crowd.

 Call this a crowd? Perhaps, but mostly they appear as seekers. They are not disappointed in Jack Kornfield.

 Someone said Jack returned from a book tour just recently, and this was his first talk on a Monday since returning. So the big crowd. Nonetheless, he draws an interested and larger following anyway.

 We sat for 15 minutes prior to Jack Kornfield’s arrival to class. He’s been teaching at Spirit Rock for 20 years or more on compassion and wakefulness. Essentially, the evening was one of quieting the mind, ostensibly to be 35 minutes of introduction, talk, and discussion. Of course, this didn’t include about 40 minutes of meditation. It is lovely, the meditation.


Notes about the talk:

7:23 p.m. Still and quiet. Cell phone rang, and people were reminded by Jack to turn them off, and to be present.

7:40 p.m. Quiet, still. One could clearly hear a bird or birds calling outside the hall.

Jack Kornfield sits on a small, elevated stage (riser) with a Buddha behind him and  a Prajnaparamita statue. One is black, the other brown. Flowers are set between the Buddha and  Prajnaparamita statue behind Jack who is sitting. It is a simple altar. There is a desk before Jack (altar?), and a bell for ringing tto his right(not a clapper bell). He uses it at times during the talk and meeting.

 7:48 p.m. He tells us, “Rest in the space of awareness.” The bell is rung twice at 7:50 p.m.

We sat together, all so many people, in connectedness. So went one of the evening’s purposes. Jack spoke briefly about a visit to Israel and Palestine which he said was a peacemaking trip. He called it, “…very expansive.” Spirit Rock offers high callings in a big room.

One sense of the evening was the ethos, that everything spoken of is dear. The evening for many is comprised of dear moments, or so it seems. 

8:10 p.m. The bell is rung a number of times to ask people to return from the 15 minute break. There will be a talk on Jewish-Buddhist practice by a Rabbi and Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein. A man sits next to the woman on my right and exclaims to How are you? “I am wonderful.” 

8:13 p.m. The talk begins, and we are told, There is no quiz at the end. A request is made that that what people note will “resonate” with them. Jack explains he is having health issues. The 60 year old noted that, “Weird things are going on.” In a note of humor, Jack said, “One doctor asked could it just be me.” The group laughs.

 It is time to come back to ourselves, Jack said. He said those present are “seekers.”

 8:23 p.m. More stories by Jack, like aphorisms. He quotes Henry Miller briefly during the talk, among others. Jack asks, “What animates your life?” He instructs, Rest in your seat and let compassion allow you to see the world as it is observed. He reads from Rilke. He instructs, Take the seat in the midst of all things.

 8:28 p.m. Speaking about George Schaller, the primatologist Jack talks about gorillas and man. His remark speaks of presence and kindness and gentleness. He suggests those present, Sit as Buddha. He says, Our lives are made of rivers. (He said he would speak basics this evening._ He emphasizes, Every breath you take contains a molecule of Julius Caesar’s breath.

8:36 p.m. A story of Iraq illustrates a show of American respect instead of shooting in the war. He reminds those present, Take the seat in the center of your body.

8:44 p.m. Mark Twain is noted, briefly, too. Jack reads from Mark Twain and comments.

 Jack tells a story of how meditation helps its practitioner, a training it is for kindness even in the face of death. People are moved, even audibly so.

He mentions Albert Camus, James Baldwin.

Continuing from written notes, he says, To take a seat in the midst of things takes courage. Practice becoming the space of awareness.

 8:48 p.m. He says, We are here and now. This is the place of freedom.

 George Washington Carver is mentioned.

 8:53 p.m. Jack says something about, the madness of the spiritual life. He offers as a statement, The Buddhist nature within you. Things are as they are, he tells everyone in the hall.

 9:09 p.m. The talk ends. He offers, Let’s sit for a few minutes. There are 3 bells. Everyone chants, as invited.

 End of evening.


Located on 410 acres in rural west Marin County, 30 miles north of San Francisco, upcoming retreats and talks in July are described by Spirit Rock by these titles:


In a series of classes, “How to be an Earthling: Evolution as a Guide to Spiritual Liberation and Ecological Healing.”


“The Neuro-dharma of Love – Using Brain Science and Buddhist Wisdom to Illuminate the Heart of Important Relationships.”


“What do we do Now? The Buddha’s Teachings for Difficult Times”


“LGBTQ Awakening the Heart of Love and Wisdom: A Daylong Retreat for the Queer/Bi/Trans Community.”


“The Bodhisattva Path and Vows.”




Excerpt from a book by Jack Kornfield, “from “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.”


         When I found myself becoming a Buddhist monk in a forest monastery of Thailand over thirty years ago, I had to learn how to bow. It was awkward at first. Each time we entered the meditation hall we would drop to our knees and three times respectfully place our head between our palms on the stone floor. It was a practice of reverence and mindfulness, a way of honoring with a bodily gesture our commitment to the monk’s path of simplicity, compassion, and awareness. We would bow in the same way each time we took our seat for training with the master.

         After I had been in the monastery for a week or two, one of the senior monks pulled me aside for further instruction. “In this monastery you must not only bow when entering the meditation hall and receiving teachings from the master, but also when you meet your elders.” As the only Westerner, and wanting to act correctly, I asked who my elders were. “It is traditional that all who are older in ordination time, who’ve been monks longer than you, are your elders,” I was told. It took only a moment to realize that meant everybody.

         So I began to bow to them. Sometimes it was just fine – there were quite a few wise and worthy elders in the community. But sometimes it felt ridiculous. I would encounter some twenty-one-year-old monk, full of hubris, who was there only to please his parents or to eat better food than he could at home, and I had to bow because he had been ordained the week before me. Or I had to bow to a sloppy old rice farmer who had come to the monastery the season before on the farmers’ retirement plan, who chewed betel nut constantly and had never meditated a day in his life. It was hard to pay reverence to these fellow forest dwellers as if they were great masters.    

         Yet there I was bowing, and because I was in conflict, I sought a way to make it work. Finally, as I prepared yet again for a day of bowing to my “elders,” I began to look for some worthy aspect of each person I bowed to. I bowed to the wrinkles around the retired farmer’s eyes, for all the difficulties he had seen and suffered through and triumphed over. I bowed to the vitality and playfulness in the young monks, the incredible possibilities each of their lives held yet ahead of them.      

         I began to enjoy bowing. I bowed to my elders, I bowed before I entered the dining hall and as I left. I bowed as I entered my forest hut, and I bowed at the well before taking a bath. Ater some time bowing became my way – it was just what I did. If it moved, I bowed to it.     

         It is the spirit of bowing that informs this book. The true task of spiritual life is not found in faraway places or unusual states of consciousness: It is here in the present. It asks of us a welcoming spirit to greet all that life presents to us with a wise, respectful, and kindly heart. We can bow to both beauty and suffering, to our entanglements and confusion, to our fears and to the injustices of the world. Honoring the truth in this way is the path to freedom. To bow to what is rather than to some ideal is not necessarily easy, but however difficult, it is one of the most useful and honorable practices.       

         To bow to the fact of our life’s sorrows and betrayals is to accept them; and from this deep gesture we discover that all life is workable. As we learn to bow, we discover that the heart holds more freedom and compassion than we could imagine.


The Persian poet Rumi speaks of it this way:

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.


A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.