Saturday, February 1, 2003

Book review: The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace by Jack Kornfield

Through his work as a Certified Massage Therapist, my husband Jonathan meets and corresponds with a variety of interesting people. One of them works for New York publisher Bantam Books, and she recently sent him advance reading copies of books by modern Buddhist authors.

One of the books is a brief little volume by Jack Kornfield, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace (2002). After looking through the book, Jonathan told me it’s a perfect introduction to basic spiritual principles. Given his experience with religious and philosophical matters, I trust Jonathan’s opinion of Kornfield’s book.

“You hold in your hand an invitation,” Kornfield writes in his introduction. “To remember the transforming power/ of forgiveness and lovingkindness./ To remember that no matter/ where you are and what you face,/ within your heart peace is possible.”

The book was written shortly before the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and, in a brief dedication, Kornfield acknowledges the “tragic events of terrorism and war [that] swept over the United States and the world.

“May the eternal truths and practices offered here be dedicated to the benefit of all who have suffered,” Kornfield writes. “May all beings find a path to peace.”

The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace is divided into three sections, devoting itself in turn to each of these principles. Each section is then divided further -- into a set of quotations, reflections and stories illustrating the principle in question, and a collection of meditations to assist in incorporating that principle into the reader’s daily life.

The meditations begin by applying the principles of forgiveness, lovingkindness and peace to the familiar and the intimate -- oneself, one’s family and friends, for example. Then they expand to include areas that may be more difficult, such as extending forgiveness or wishing peace to one’s enemies.

One nice thing about this book is that it does not confine itself to any one ideology. Inspirational words from a variety of traditions find a home in its pages, and sometimes a thematic grouping of quotations illustrates the common ground that these traditions can have.

“The ancient words of Ecclesiastes remind us:

“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven/ a time to be born and a time to die,/ a time to plant and a time to reap that which is planted,/ a time to kill and a time to heal,/ a time to break down and a time to build up,/ a time to weep and a time to laugh,/ a time to mourn and a time to dance.

“So, too, we are taught by the Tao:

“There is a time for being ahead,/ a time for being behind;/ a time for being in motion,/ a time for being at rest;/ a time for being vigorous, a time for being exhausted;/ a time for being safe,/ a time for being in danger.

“The Master sees things as they are,/ without trying to control them./ She lets them go their own way,/ and resides at the center of the circle.”

Another nice thing about this book is that in teaching about forgiveness, lovingkindness and peace, Kornfield acknowledges the human limitations that can stand in the way of achieving these principles -- in a way that is free of rebuke or condemnation.

“For some great pains you may not feel a release; instead you may experience again the burden and the anguish or the anger you have held,” Kornfield writes in the meditation on forgiveness. “Touch this softly. Be forgiving of yourself for not being ready to let go and move on. Forgiveness cannot be forced; it cannot be artificial.”

For readers who are having difficulty incorporating the principles of forgiveness, lovingkindness and peace, Kornfield offers supplemental practices intended to help in easing the transition. In the case of forgiveness, these supplemental practices are “letting go, grieving and reconciliation.”

Throughout the book, the reader is encouraged to listen to and trust his or her own feelings and intuition in determining where he or she may be in the process, and in identifying the barriers that stand in his or her way. Especially good for beginners but suitable for people at varying levels of spiritual awareness, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace is a book that offers compassion, encouragement and support along each individual reader’s spiritual path.

Originally published Feb. 1, 2003 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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