In a world that sees the concepts of kindness and compassion as faults instead of virtues, that love for all beings is for the timid and weak minded, where the bully is glorified and avarice is cherished, Sharon Salzberg challenges these concepts by showing the reader the true meaning of kindness, love and compassion. Within six short and easy to comprehend chapters, Salzberg teaches that not only is kindness and compassion are strengths to be nurtured, but indeed, are staples for our very survival, not only as individuals but as a civilization.

The first chapter is an introduction to the concept of kindness and compassion, as formulated by traditional Buddhist thought. The author encourages the reader to plant and cultivate the seeds of compassion within us.  At the end of the chapter Salzberg gives us a list of suggestions for increasing and harnessing compassion and how to make it an active and vital part of our daily lives.

The second chapter teaches us how to extend kindness toward ourselves.  The reason being, Salzberg explains, is that if we cannot be kind to ourselves then we cannot extend kindness toward others.  In this chapter the author instruct the reader on how to cultivate self compassion and learn to leave perfectionistic and neurotic tendencies behind.  This chapter ends with suggestions on how to begin that process.  It also comes with a guided meditation practice that you can follow on the enclosed CD found at the end of the book.

The theme of chapter three is overcoming cruelty, whether it be the kind of cruelty we do to others or cruelty we experience from others.  In a loving and gentle way, the author teaches us how to practice patience and garner empathy towards everyone, even those whom we do not like.  Again, the chapter ends with suggestions as well as a guided meditation found on the CD.

Chapter four involves the concept of suffering, what causes it, how to free ourselves from the belief that we do no deserve to be happy.  Chapter five involves the ethics of kindness, which illustrates Buddha’s pragmatic approach to living a moral life without being self righteous or judgmental.  The reader learns that ethics are not some lofty philosophical abstraction, but a practical down to earth way of life, that makes the practitioner honest, fearless and forthright in all his or her dealings with others.  Chapter six involves putting Buddha’s teachings on compassion and kindness into practice.

I loved this little book.  Even though it is small and easily read, the messages within it are profound.  Even though it is steeped in Buddhist teachings, anyone of any faith—or no faith at all—can find tremendous wisdom within these pages. And the CD is great as well.  I highly recommend it.

~review by Patricia Snodgrass

Author: Sharon Salzberg
Sounds True Inc., 2010
pp. 100  plus 1 CD, $14.95

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