BOOK REVIEW: Teachings of the Buddha ed. by Jack Kornfield

Teachings of the Buddha: Revised and Expanded EditionTeachings of the Buddha: Revised and Expanded Edition by Jack Kornfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars page


This is a collection of excerpts and short writings conveying Buddhist teachings. The pieces range in length from about a stanza of verse to a few pages in length. Each lesson tells what book it comes from and who the translator was, which can be a nice feature if one will be comparing different translations.

Unlike Walpola Rahula’s similarly named “What the Buddha Taught,” which focuses entirely on what Gautama Buddha taught while he was living, this book includes many teachings from long after the life of the Buddha. Which is to say, this is more a book of Buddhist teachings than an elucidation of what the Buddha, himself, taught. [Not to offend, but religious teachings seem to inevitably shift and evolve over time, and so what is taught by various sects of Buddhism today is by no means a perfect reflection of what the Buddha, himself, taught.] That said, the writings toward the beginning of the book tend to be closer to the Buddha, himself – i.e. from the “Dhammapada” and other early Pali works. While the teachings toward the end of the book tend to be more from much later (e.g. from the Zen tradition.)

I found the book to be quite readable and to feature some intriguing food for thought. If you are interested in an English translation of Buddhist sutras, scriptures, koan, etc., this is a good work to check out.

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5 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: Teachings of the Buddha ed. by Jack Kornfield

  1. Your middle paragraph inadvertently hits on my HUGE frustration with trying to study Eastern philosophies and religions via Westerners. That being that so often they superimpose their own values and interpretations on teachings before reaching a true understanding of them. The same thing happens in martial arts too, but that’s another rant, LOL.

    As I’ve ranted a few times in my own blog, Northern California was particularly bad. “Marin county Buddhists” spouting nonsense that was more new age and Wiccan, with just a dash of Eastern teachings and all tainted with spiritual materialism.

    I would NOT put Jack Kornfield on that low a level, just to clarify. I’m making an educated guess that since you gave it five stars, he did differentiate where the various teachings he was writing about came from. If so, that’s more than we get from the majority of Western ‘experts’.

    OK, end of rant. It was a good review. 🙂 I imagine, being that you’re far more studied on the topic than I am, that you occasionally find yourself going “how the hell did you come up with THAT?” with some authors also.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Because this was translations of source material, there was not as much to go wrong as when it’s pure interpretation. Which is not to say, a lot can’t be lost or misconstrued in translation, but the translations were mostly by well regarded subject matter experts whom I’d heard of before. But yeah I’ve seen a few Western interpretations that were wildly distant from every other reading I’d ever seen. Thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Stephen Batchelor has written several books related to his search for the original teachings of the Buddha. I’ve recently read “Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist” which partly focuses on his search for the original teachings in the earliest recorded sutras etc. I agree with you that original teachings tend to evolve over time. Often this is because an original Zen-like enlightenment experience or even more stable long-term enlightened state is interpreted “downwards” in more mythical terms by followers unable to understand the experience being conveyed in the original teachings. I see the same evolution in the teachings of Jesus. The earliest records of his teaching (Q – the reconstructed common core of the gospels of Matthew and Luke, the Gospel of Thomas etc) seem to me to be describing an enlightenment experience in terms pretty similar to a Zen master (“the kingdom of heaven is within” etc). And then the less enlightened next generation started to mythologise, and when the Romans got hold of it, the whole misogynistic tool of social control took off. Buddhism had somewhat less of this, and did preserve practice as an essential part of the religion, at least for the monks, whereas Christianity largely ditched that in favour of enforced belief, and persecution for anyone daring to practice and understand their own experience differently to orthodoxy. Hmmm….my brief comment seems to have morphed into a manifesto. Better stop.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This book gets recommended quite a few times in Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha by Daniel M. Ingram, which is worth checking out – although I’d skip the parts dealing with meditation levels or jhanas. But, YMMV.

    Liked by 1 person

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