Jack Kornfield,
The Art of Forgiveness,
Lovingkindness & Peace

(Bantam, 2002)

Most American Christians are familiar with "daily devotions" -- a collection, often in paper booklet form, of scripture readings, sermonettes and prayers, arranged in a page-a-day fashion. The concept has expanded to other spiritual schools: although Buddhist writer Jack Kornfield's The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, & Peace does not have dates on its pages, its layout initially suggests that it can be used the same way. Many of the pages contain an individual thought or verse, and it's easy to succumb to the desire to use it for that quick-pick-me-up, fortune-cookie spiritual practice that a lot of us muster just enough time for.

The greatest protection in all the world is lovingkindness. -Buddha

My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes--most of which never happened. - Mark Twain

Kornfield, who has written several other self-help books (such as Buddha's Little Instruction Book), combines training as a Buddhist monk and as a clinical psychologist. The three main sections of The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, & Peace include his musings on his three subject areas -- this is where the quotes come in -- along with guided meditations on aspects of them. The Forgiveness section, for example, includes a meditation on grief that gives permission to grieve and then takes the griever through a step-by-step process to experience and release the pain.

It is in these meditations -- succinct, grounded, and practical -- that Kornfield's gifts are most apparent. But the format of the rest of the book, with its small blocks of text arranged rather starkly on individual pages, gives undue weight to Kornfield's bromides, implicitly ranking them with those of deeper, more eloquent thinkers. His trite, if well-intentioned, observations are arranged like verse:

If only we could help each other build temples of forgiveness instead of prisons.
We can.
In our own hearts.

I'm not one for chopping up books, but if I were, I'd excise the meditations from this volume, which are helpfully bordered in blue for easy access, and place them in a little bedside folder next to the Bible, the poems of Rumi, Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Leaves of Grass and the Tao Te Ching.

- Rambles
written by Pamela Murray Winters
published 8 February 2003

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