Jack Kornfield

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Date: 2002
Document Type: Biography
Length: 846 words
Content Level: (Level 4)
Lexile Measure: 1160L

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About this Person
Born: 1945 in United States
Nationality: American
Occupation: Religious leader

Family: Born 1945; married; children: one daughter. Education: Dartmouth College, Ph.D. (psychology), 1967. Addresses: Office: Spiritwalk Foundation, P.O. Box 1022, Thousand Oaks, CA 91358.


Meditation teacher, 1974--. Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand; cofounder, Insight Meditation Society, 1972; founder, Spirit Rock Center; Spiritwalk Foundation, instructor.



  • (With Sunnu Bhikkhu) A Brief Guide to Meditation Temples of Thailand, World Fellowship of Buddhists (Bangkok, Thailand), 1978.
  • Living Buddhist Masters, Unity Press (Santa Cruz, CA), 1977.
  • (Editor, with Paul Breiter) A Still Forest Pool: The Insight Meditation of Achaan Chah, Theosophical Publishing House (Wheaton, IL), 1985.
  • (With Joseph Goldstein) Seeking the Heart of Wisdom: The Path of Insight Meditation, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 1987.
  • (Editor, with Christina Feldman) Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart: Parables of the Spiritual Path from around the World, Harper SanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 1991.
  • A Path with Heart: A Guide through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1993.
  • (Editor, with Gil Fronsdal) Teachings of the Buddha, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 1993.
  • Buddha's Little Instruction Book, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1994.
  • (Editor, with Christina Feldman) Soul Food: Stories to Nourish the Spirit and and the Heart, Harper SanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 1996.
  • Living Dharma: Teachings of Twelve Buddhist Masters, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 1996
  • (With Thieh Nhat, Bastan-Dzin-Rgya-Mtsho, and the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso) Buddhism in the West: Spiritual Wisdom for the Twenty-first Century, 1998.
  • After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, Bantam (New York, NY), 2000.



Jack Kornfield is a Buddhist meditation teacher and ordained Buddhist monk, and also holds a doctorate in psychology. He has written and edited several books on meditation and Buddhist thought. Kornfield became interested in Asian thought and meditation in the late 1960s, when he found that his education at Dartmouth College did not provide the answers he sought. He told Jeffrey Mishlove in an interview for the television program Thinking Allowed, "I met very good scientists and very bright people, but they weren't necessarily wise. They didn't necessarily live with their families or their associates or the world around them in a heartful and wise way." He then entered the Peace Corps and was sent to northeast Thailand, the location of some of the world's oldest forest monasteries. There, he began to study Buddhism under the teacher Achaan Chah. He eventually became a Buddhist monk, living and studying in Thailand, Burma, and India before returning to the United States in 1972. He co-founded the Insight Meditation Society and earned a doctoral degree in psychology. The two disciplines, psychology and Buddhist practice, seem linked to Kornfield, because, he told Mishlove, they both deal with "issues of human happiness." Like clinical psychology, Buddhist practice aims at releasing people from old wounds, from their pasts, and from attachments that cause suffering.

Kornfield summed up his teachings about meditation by telling Mishlove, "You can use meditation to discover, in your body and your heart and your mind, the whole workings of your inner life, and maybe relate to it with greater kindness and greater awareness."

A Path with Heart: A Guide through the Perils and Promise of Spiritual Life is perhaps Kornfield's best-known book. Accessible to readers from any spiritual tradition, the book offers a distinctly Buddhist perspective but is also relevant, as National Catholic Reporter Kaye Ashe pointed out, to anyone who wishes "to deepen their sense of the sacred." A Path with Heart provides an overview of Buddhist thought as well instruction on meditation practice and advice on integrating spiritual habits into daily life. Of particular interest, critics pointed out, is Kornfield's frank discussion of problems on the spiritual path: anger, distraction, interpersonal conflicts. In a review in Parabola, Noelle Oxenhandler summed up the book's message as "Keep going. Go deeper. Let go. Keep going," and wrote that it is "a wise and compassionate guide to a whole life's journey." A Library Journal contributor deemed the book "a gem."

In After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, Kornfield delves deeper into the theme of difficulties in the spiritual life. Its title refers to the "laundry," or hard work, needed to maintain spiritual practice amid all the distractions of modern life. Noting that people often expect that meditation or other spiritual practice will eventually bring them to a state of enlightenment which they imagine will be perfect, Kornfield cautions that life will still hold difficulties and that a spiritual path cannot save people from suffering. His advice, which a Beliefnet reviewer found "wise, warm, and encouraging," is to keep on the spiritual path despite frustrations and setbacks, and to develop habits of generosity, humility, and compassion. "To enter life requires a radical understanding that holiness, God, or Nirvana are not found apart from experience," he writes, "but are its essence." Kornfield's emphasis on the "unity of the spiritual endeavor" in this book is particularly welcome, wrote Mark Woodhouse in Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that a strong feature of the book is its many interviews with almost 100 spiritual teachers from many different traditions: not only Buddhist, but also Sufi, Jewish, and Christian contemplatives.




  • Kornfield, Jack, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, Bantam (New York, NY), 2000.


  • Booklist, March 15, 1997, Sue-Ellen Beauregard, review of The Inner Art of Meditation (video recording), p. 1250; June 1, 2000, David Siegfried, review of After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, p. 1804.
  • Choice, July, 1978, review of Living Buddhist Masters, p. 706.
  • Library Journal, February 1, 1978, Donald L. Smith, review of Living Buddhist Masters, p. 373; February 1, 1991, p. 122; June 1, 1993, review of A Path with Heart, p. 134; November 1, 1993, Barbara J. Vaughan, review of The Inner Art of Meditation, p. 167; September 1, 1998, Barbara J. Vaughan, review of The Heart of Spiritual Practice, p. 238; May 15, 2000, Mark Woodhouse, review of After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, p. S16.
  • Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 2, 1995, Michele Huneven, review of A Path with Heart, p. 9.
  • National Catholic Reporter, November 17, 1995, Kaye Ashe, review of A Path with Heart, p. 21.
  • New Age, May, 1994, p. 107.
  • Parabola, winter, 1993, Noelle Oxenhandler, review of A Path with Heart, p. 94.
  • Publishers Weekly, June 12, 2000, review of After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, p. 69.
  • Tricycle, winter, 1999, p. 99.
  • Whole Life Times, July, 1992, p. 46.


  • Ageless Initiatives, http://www.agelessinitiatives.com/ (October 11, 2001).
  • Beliefnet.com, http://www.beliefnet.com/ (March 14, 2002), review of After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.
  • Thinking Allowed (television transcript), http://www.intuition.org/ (October 11, 2001), Jeffrey Mishlove, interview with Jack Kornfield.*


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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000145303