Buddhist Writing — Wisdom or Chicken Shit?

Glacial erratics at inyo national forest. photo by bf newhall

Something to meditate on if I were a meditating sort: Glacial erratic rocks perched tentatively on a lakeside slope at Inyo National Forest. Photo by BF Newhall.

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Sylvia Boorstein and Jack Kornfield are two of my favorite Buddhist writers. I learn a lot from them about how to lead my life, how to be a better me.

Sylvia’s Happiness Is an Inside Job fits right in with what I need to be doing right now. I like Kornfield’s writing, too, though I’m not at all sure I want to follow him into “inner deconstruction” – the wrenching process experienced by advanced meditators – without a well-trained psychotherapist at my side.

jack kornfield. Photo by robert vente

Jack Kornfield. Photo by Robert Vente

As for actually taking time out to sit myself down and meditate, I can’t help thinking (as I’ve thought in an earlier post) – why meditate when I could be sweeping the garage? Or emailing my son in Minnesota? Or thinning the camellia buds in the front yard? Or writing this post to you?

Or, better yet, curling up with a good book about Buddhism?

That’s why I was startled and amused when I read a passage devoted to this very issue in Kornfield’s newest book, Bringing Home the Dharma. There it was, righteous and incisive, in a chapter about Ajahn Chah, who was Kornfield’s teacher years ago at the Wat Ba Pong forest monastery in Thailand.

During a visit to England, Ajahn Chah had an encounter with a staid English lady who was part of the British Buddhist Society.

The woman pummeled the teacher with complex philosophical questions. But when asked whether she did much meditating, the woman said no, she didn’t have time; she was too busy studying the texts.

“Madam,” Ajahn Chah said to her. “You are like a woman who keeps chickens in her yard and goes around picking up the chicken shit instead of the eggs.”

Hey, that’s me!

Mug shot of Sylvia Boorstein by Christine Alicino

Sylvia Boorstein. Photo by Christine Alicino

It’s true — by reading about Buddhism instead of taking the time to meditate I am probably missing out on some nice eggs. But I don’t think I’m picking up chicken shit.

Not as long as Sylvia Boorstein and Jack Kornfield are writing books.

Bringing Home the Dharma: Awakening Right Where You Are, Jack Kornfield, Shambhala, 2011, $24.95 hardcover.

Happiness Is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life, Sylvia Boorstein, 2008, Ballantine, $14 paper.

Don’t miss my comments on Kornfield’s book, Bringing Home the Dharma.  Or, you might want to read my post about the human potential movement’s George Leonard at  “The Tao of Writing.”








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