In this talk, Mr. Kornfield discusses a foundational teaching of the Buddha, that all things change, all things are ultimately unsatisfactory, and nothing has any underlying essential reality. The Pali terms are “aniccā”, “dukkha”, and “anattā”, and are often translated into English as “impermanence”, “suffering”, and “non-self”. These are known as the three marks of existence. Really internalizing these truths can be freeing, and help bring peace and compassion.
Impermanence: All things change. We think we know, but do we really believe it? When good things happen, we want the experiences to stay, and become disappointed when they don’t. When bad things happen, we can feel as if it will always be the case. We become attached to things, we become attached to people. But everything changes. Even ourselves! Mr. Kornfield talks about how the human body constantly refreshes itself. Every part of your body is discarded and replaced over time. Really understanding impermanence can help us to not get too attached to things or to experiences. Meditation can help us to see this. When sitting, nothing remains the same — not your thoughts, not your sensations, not the world around.
Unsatisfactoriness: Everything is unsatisfactory in some way. Some things are unsatisfactory because they’re actually painful — you hurt, you’re sick, you grow old or are born, or you experience mental or emotional pain. Other things are unsatisfactory because they change (see “impermanence”). When you have something good, it won’t last. And behind it all is an “all-pervasive suffering” (technical term: “sankhara-dukkha”) due to our failure to see the world as it actually is, and how we keep repeating the actions which cause our own suffering. Meditation helps to show this too, as we feel the aches and pains in our bodies, and watch the shape of our thoughts.
No-self: A naïve approach to the world tends to see things as fundamentally themselves — that is a table; that is a flower; that is a cat. But nothing has any “self” deep down. The flower came from a seed, was nourished by sunlight and water and soil — without any of those, it wouldn’t be what it is. When you look closely, there’s no “flower” there. Mr. Kornfield relates that human egg cells form while a child is still in the womb — this means that grandmothers carry a piece of their grandchildren inside themselves, and we see that individuals are not so separate as they might at first seem. Meditation can help us see no-self too: when you watch yourself on the cushion, is there really any self there, once you look closely?
Mr. Kornfield notes that there are variations on this teaching, and that, for example, Thich Nhat Hanh taught “nirvana” in the place of “dukkha”. But that would be a different Dharma talk.
Scroll down to listen to Mr. Kornfield’s talk. Happy Learning!
From the Teachers: The Most Basic Truths
“The Most Basic Truths: Gateways to Freedom” by Jack Kornfield*
* Jack Kornfiled is an American writer and teacher in the Vipassana movement in American Theravada Buddhism. In the late 60s, he trained as a Buddhist monk in the monasteries of Thailand, India, and Burma, studying under Buddhist masters Ven. Ajahn Chah and Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw. He returned to the United States in 1972. In 1975, he co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, with fellow meditation teachers Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein, and in 1987 he co-founded the Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, California.
Over the years, Jack has taught in centers and universities worldwide, led International Buddhist Teacher meetings, and trained many of the Vipassana teachers in America. He has worked to make Buddhism accessible for Westerners, focusing on combining loving kindness and self compassion with the practice of mindfulness, and incorporating together the wisdom of Eastern and Western psychology. A prolific writer, his books have been translated into 20 languages and sold more than a million copies. Jack holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.