Generosity comes in many forms. Here, generosity is in the form of a book containing a dozen dharma talks by the teachers from Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. Voices from Spirit Rock is the brainchild of vipassana teacher and Zen priest Gil Fronsdal. This anthology was created to raise money for the building of the Spirit Rock meditation hall. Every aspect of this book, from transcribing to editing to design and production, has been donated by sangha members. Fronsdal, who is working on his Ph.D. in Buddhist studies at Stanford, wrote the preface and a brief overview of the practices taught at Spirit Rock. His detailed instructions for sitting and lovingkindness meditations set the strong contemplative and inspiring tone of the book. It’s filled with wisdom, experience and love for the dharma.
Those of us lucky enough to live near Spirit Rock may have heard some of the talks before. They’re still a pleasure to read. Sangha members living outside Northern California will be introduced to the wider community of teachers. Each talk provides a flavor of the teacher’s unique style. All together they form a beautiful dharma mosaic. Most of the talks address specific aspects of practice, such as forgiveness, acceptance, faith and intention. Jack Kornfield’s poignant essay, “Respect for Parenting, Respect for Children,” offers a practical application of the dharma. Yogi-parents concerned about integrating retreat practice into daily family life will find it particularly useful. Jack, a devoted father himself, provides four guiding principles of conscious parenting: attentive listening, respect, integrity and loving-kindness. The chapters vary considerably, reflecting the variety of the teachers represented. There’s something for everyone!
Part of the charm and beauty of this book lies in some of the teachers’ personal tales. These help demystify any notions that somehow a teacher’s path is easier. In “The Highest Form of Magic” Anna Douglas talks about how we construct our personal stories and live them out, often mindlessly. Years ago Anna answered a middle-of-the-night telephone call which she believed was from her friend Tony. She imagined him in deep danger, kidnapped perhaps. Fear and anxiety flooded her mind and body. The caller asked her to listen to him carefully and follow his precise instructions, which involved going into the kitchen and pouring a glass of water. In the middle of doing so, Anna questioned whether, in fact, this was Tony. The caller, a practical joker, laughed and hung up. We’re reminded that mindfulness is the key to shattering the stories in our own lives.
John Travis, writing about embodiment, tells of practicing in Bodhgaya where he wore a dhoti, a white skirt, under which he wore no underwear. Upon seeing his two teachers, he began doing full prostrations in the middle of the meditation hall, surrounded by people. In the process, he stepped on his dhoti and found himself naked in front of everyone, including his modest Tibetan teachers. He presents this as a metaphor for practice: a letting go of the outer protections that we all wear.
James Baraz, writing on faith, tells of going to India and asking one of this teachers: “How do I know that I have the right to be enlightened, that I have enough good karma to awaken?” His teacher replied: “Look around you. You are neck-deep in grace, and you are wondering if you have enough!”
The Buddha said, “The greatest gift is the gift of the Dharma.” This book of dharma talks was created as a gift, just as reading it is a gift. Our community is neck-deep in grace for being graced with this book.