Item ID : 4295

Kornfield, J. (2000). After ecstasy, the laundry. New York: Bantam Books

Kornfield, J. (2000). After ecstasy, the laundry. New York: Bantam Books

Item ID : 4295

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This book covers a very rare subject  in the literature on spirituality. It asks what happens after enlightenment experiences. “What happens when the Zen master returns home to spouse and children? What happens when the Christian mystic goes shopping? What is life like after the ecstasy?” (p. xiv)  Usually accounts of various mystical illuminations end  by leaving the impression that from there on everything was settled. Kornfield claims, that is not how things work. “Enlightenment does exist” (p. xiii) but it doesn’t last. Spiritual teachers may undergo very influential transformative experiences, yet their struggle lies in living in the world. “It is not enough to touch awakening. We must find ways to live its vision fully” (p. xix).

Despite accounts of perfect enlightenment in all traditions, Kornfield has not seen such cases.

The book is divided into four parts. The first part explores the call to the spiritual life. The next part described awakening experiences. The third part shows that that there is not enlightenment retirement, and the fourth part discusses living enlightened life in the world. All parts are replete with fascinating stories of numerous seekers and their journeys.

Kornfield begins by exploring what draw one to spiritual life? “We don’t know all the reasons that propel us on a spiritual journey, but somehow hour life compels us to go. Something in us knows that we are not just here to toil at our work” (p. 5). However, “The most frequent entryway to the sacred is our own suffering and dissastisfaction” (ibid.) Another door to spiritual life lies in childhood innocence lost. This if found in experiences of people who experience connectedness in their childhood, and are reminded of this quality as adults. Sometimes the call to the spiritual life is a call from beyond.

The spiritual journey is an arduous one. “We must find a vessel, an honorable practice to carry us on this journey, a trustworthy discipline that is able to bring us back to the present  and open us to mystery” (p. 25). While we may try several traditions, eventually, according to Kornfield, “what matters is the sincerity that we bring to the way we have chosen, a perseverance and willingness to stay with it and see what opens within us” (ibid.).

In many cases the spiritual path begins by a struggle with bodily sensations. Meditation brings tension to the surface. With this bodily struggle comes the emotional struggle towards the opening of the heart. It then moves to the struggle of the mind with its doubts, ambitions, fears etc.

The Buddha described four ways in which the spiritual life unfolds: a) quickly and with pleasure, b) quickly yet painfully, as one undergoes a radical experience such as near-death. c) gradual and with pleasure and d) gradually and with suffering. Throughout the book Kornfield brings examples of these. The most common path however is the fourth one according to Kornfield (p. 97).

An important theme throughout this book lies in refuting various claims about the spiritual path such as that it must entail remarkable experiences and revelations (p. 103). Thus when one wonders “why hasn’t some taste of enlightenment or perfection revealed itself to me?”   Kornfield states: “The truth is it probably has, but we have not noticed it or recognized it. It is like the invisible air that surrounds us, that sustains our life” (p. 104). Thus enlightenment is not a binary. It is a process of unfolding in which minor satoris preceed major satoris which lead to genuine awakening (p. 109).

The lesson about spiritual practice is not about knowledge but “about how we love. Are we able to love what is given to us, to love in the midst of all things, to love ourselves and other?” (p. 105).

The spiritual path is not linear. In a sense there is a progression of purification, release and openness, yet, “whatever happens does not happen in a straight line…We cannot capture freedom and place it in time” (p. 116).

“All spiritual life is preparation for transition, from one state to another, from one circumstance to another” (p. 126). Kornfield suggests that after three-monts of silent retreat one is to expect twelve months of transitions states that will fluctuate between joy and disappointment. The rule of thumb suggests that those who have been five or ten years in a monastery would require five to ten years fo transition to reestablish their lives in a grounded way. Kornfield offers several stories reflecting these transitions.

Another myth shattered is that emotional awakening is not about becoming a different person. A great teacher is not necessarily a great person. He may be short-tempered, not east to get along with, or poses many demands. Kornfield describes Ram Dass for example, who was asked after several years of spiritual discipline wheterh his personality had been transformed. He laughed and said no – I only  became a “connoisseur of my neuroses” (p. 200).

While some may thing that the path of the monk and the renunciant is the pure path. “The sacrifices of a family are like those of any demanding monastery, offering exactly the same training in renunciation, patience, steadiness, and generosity”| (p. 228)

  Audiences
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  Cultural
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