Throughout our lives we long to love ourselves more deeply and find a greater sense of connection with others. Our fear of intimacy--both with others and with ourselves--creates feelings of pain and longing. But these feelings can also awaken in us the desire for freedom and the willingness to take up the spiritual path. In this inspiring book, Sharon Salzberg, one of America's leading spiritual teachers, shows us how the Buddhist path of lovingkindness can help us discover the radiant, joyful heart within each of us. This practice of lovingkindness is revolutionary because it has the power to radically change our lives, helping us cultivate true happiness in ourselves and genuine compassion for others. The Buddha described the nature of such a spiritual path as "the liberation of the heart, which is love." The author draws on simple Buddhist teachings, wisdom stories from various traditions, guided meditation practices, and her own experience from twenty-five years of practice and teaching to illustrate how each one of us can cultivate love, compassion, joy, and equanimity--the four "heavenly abodes" of traditional Buddhism.
Lovingkindness is a translation of the Pali word “metta”, which is the first of the brahma-viharas, or the “heavenly abodes”. The others – compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity - “grow out of metta, which supports and extends these states”.
The author is open about her own shortcomings and episodes that have contributed to her development, and provides us with many personal stories that add to the book’s readability.
The Buddha presented the metta meditation as an antidote to fear. A mind involved with lovingkindness cannot be overcome by fear. Lovingkindness overcomes the illusion of separatenesss and all its accompanying states - “fear, alienation, loneliness, and despair – all of the feelings of fragmentation”.
When we feel love, we can allow ourselves to be fully aware of the entirety of life – both pleasures and pains. “Love can uproot fear or anger or guilt, because it is a greater power”.
Metta begins with loving ourselves. We ourselves deserve our love and affection. We must focus on the goodness in others, and will thus forge a connection to them. The force of metta “allows us to cohere, to come together within ourselves and with all beings”.
What I most appreciated in the book was the numerous exercises. The first exercise advises us to call to mind kind or good actions we have done, or qualities we appreciate about ourselves. In the second exercise we practice befriending ourselves by repeating phrases relating to what we wish for ourselves.
There are four phrases generally used:
“May I be free from danger.”
“May I have mental happiness.”
“May I have physical happiness.”
“May I have ease of well-being.”
I personally have chosen the phrases:
“May I be healed, completely healed.”
“May I fulfill my life purpose.”
“May I be loving.”
“May I be blissful.”
We begin by reflecting on the good within us or our wish to be happy. Then we repeat the four phrases we have chosen, again and again. After doing this exercise I feel really good.
In later exercises we repeat the chosen phrases directed towards others – a benefactor, a neutral person, a difficult person, difficult aspects of oneself, all beings, all females, all males, all enlightened beings, all those in ignorance, etc, etc.
There are chapters on facets of lovingkindness, hindrances to lovingkindness, working with anger and aversion, developing the compassionate heart, the power of generosity, etc, etc. (There is also a useful exercise on compassion for those who cause pain.)
I found this to be a most wonderful book, which I will need to re-read several times. I greatly recommend this well-written and absolutely inspiring book to all those who wish to develop a loving heart. I will be looking out for other books by this author.
Therefore, when I saw a book entitled, Loving-Kindness, you can imagine it caught my attention. I was not surprised to enjoy reading it. Ms. Salzberg takes Buddhist psychology and simplifies it to a way of living that resonates with me and I'm sure it will with many of my readers.
Salzberg doesn't get into history and politics - this is a very practice-oriented book. Given that Salzberg is working out of a Theravadin tradition, it must have been tempting to use the long heritage of this practice - at one point Salzberg quoted Buddhaghosa, who pretty much defines Theravadin orthodoxy - to counter the usual Mahayana claim to owning compassion. Salzberg just leaves all that unspoken. She even quotes some non-Buddhist sources. This is not a sectarian tract.
This is a great book for any Buddhist practitioner. It doesn't assume much background, but even a long time meditator is sure to come away with some fresh persepectives.