In The Wise Heart, you
wrote about aligning our dedication
with our highest intention as a way
of staying focused instead of being
discouraged when things go wrong.
How does that work?
Jack Kornfield: The secret is to
act well without attachment to the
fruits of the actions. It is not given
to us to determine outcome—only
to plant seeds of goodness, acting
with the highest intention of our
heart. Sometimes those intentions
are fulfilled as we wish. Sometimes
the fruits are not visible or seem to
even make more trouble. As Christian
contemplative Thomas Merton
explains, “As you get used to this
idea, you start more and more to
concentrate not on the results, but on
the value, the rightness, the truth of
the work itself,” knowing that in the
long-term if you’ve planted good seeds
you can expect good results.
KK: I love how you worded it in the
book: “Setting a long-term intention is
like setting the compass of our heart.”
JK: This setting of the heart’s intention
is a beautiful act in meditation. We can
quiet ourselves and ask deeply, If I were
to set the compass of my heart toward a
north star for this life, what would it be?
When you take time to reflect in this
way, the heart will answer. It can be
very simple: “I vow to be kind,” or “I
vow to bring the best of myself to the
world and to encourage the best from
others,” or “I vow to speak truth out of
love for all.” The power of these deep,
long-term intentions is immeasurable.
This becomes quite practical. When
things get confusing or sticky or when
you’re getting ready to start something
important, you can pause, take a
breath or two, and ask yourself,
What is my best intention? If you’re
in an argument, often the heart will
answer, “I want to find a way to
make this work for all of us.” When
you connect with your highest
intention, the tone of your voice
changes and the conversation goes in
a very different direction, inviting a
very different response.
KK: Is this what you meant when you
wrote in After the Ecstasy, the Laundry
(possibly the best book title of all time)
that asking from our wisest intention
often yields a surprising effect?
JK: Nelson Mandela said it never
hurts to see the good in a person
because they often act better because
of it. That happens because we are
then connected from a place of our
common care. When other people feel
our love and concern, it often elicits
that response in them.
Compassion and connection are
part of our DNA. Our consciousness
is not only tuned to one another
but actually linked, as we see in
the growing field of interpersonal
neurobiology. Many people report
having a strong feeling that a close
friend or family member has had
an accident or died even before
we found out it actually happened.
That’s because we are a field of
consciousness that manifests as you
and me in these separate incarnations,
but in fact is completely united. The
paradox is that while we need to
remember our connection with all
of life, we also have to remember our
zip code. Our life is both individual,
which deserves respect, and
connected to all at the same time.
KK: Long before #Me Too and
#TimesUp, you were a strong advocate
of honoring the feminine, specifically
in Buddhism. What sparked that?
JK: The Buddhist training I received
was life-changing, but its outer form
was male-dominated. When I returned
from Asia and started to teach here in
the mid-’70s with Joseph Goldstein,
Sharon Salzberg, and others, women
began to complain that all our
references to masters of the past and
present were to men and that our
teachings were patriarchal.
I realized this was an oppression of
all the women present. From then on,
I’ve worked with others to support
and empower women teachers, and
now our Buddhist communities
have as many (or more) fine women
teachers as men. Women bring in the
feminine elements of interconnection,
community, and tending to the
emotional life. To support and
encourage those qualities to flower
has been a beautiful ride. This is
the direction of a wise spirituality,
a mutually caring, healthy, and
balanced masculine and feminine that
the world needs more than ever.
KK: Didn’t the Dalai Lama say he
might come back as a woman in his
JK: He did, and I hope it’s true. That
would make me laugh with delight!
KK: You are an activist and a Buddhist.
Activists, by definition, are concerned
with doing, while Buddhist philosophy
seems to be all about being. How do
you reconcile those two?
JK: That’s a mischaracterization
of Buddhist teachings, which in
fact involve both inner and outer
mindfulness. In Zen, they say there
are only two things: You
sit and you sweep