The Kindness Handbook is a collection of stories, meditation exercises, inspirations, poems and teachings all of which are designed, as the author, Sharon Salzberg, puts it
…as a guidebook through the wide-ranging landscape of kindness. In this sense it is a book that is not designed to be read in a linear fashion but instead to be opened at any page and consulted for its insights and advice.
Sharon Salzberg is a life-long student of Buddhism and has taught meditation all over the world. In her book she introduces readers to the core principles that allow for the personal inner development of love and kindness. For this she engages with the principle of metta meditation as a way that cultivates spaciousness of mind and openess of heart.
Developing a state of lovingkindness towards ourselves forms the first part of metta practice. From there the student is encouraged to send this positive flow of energy to a chosen benefactor.
After that we can choose any neutral person to receive our gifts of lovingkindness before sending it to someone we actively dislike and then out to the furthest reaches of the universe.
Following on from this the author considers the process of compassion, sympathy and the fourth Brahma Vihara of equinimity.
In the second part of The Kindness Handbook: A Practical Companion Sharon presents a more practical than philosophical approach to the subject of self-compassion—an essential condition that operates as the core to our ability to empathize with others.
Here she advocates that we take a self-reflective approach to ourselves as a necessary precursor to generating lovingkindness but another approach is via the cultivation of an inner feeling of contentment—something most of us do not find it easy to do.
With all of these conditions developed within ourselves Sharon dedicates the third part of her book to taking these newly honed skills out into the larger world and teaches us how to use them in our daily contact with others—even those with those whom we find it difficult to deal with, or who have hurt us in some way.
This does, however, call for a deep sense of generosity—of giving freely and openly of ourselves. Sharon advises us that our sense of inner abundance determines how successful, or otherwise, we are at donating ourselves, our time and our resources to others.
As Sharon herself says in closing her book
Kindness can heal our lives -and transform the world.
Oh! To dream of living in a world where this book has no requirement to exist, Sadly, though, this is not the case and whilst most of us carry the inherent ability to love our fellow man it is evident that exhibiting outward displays of compassion or spontaneous acts of kindness towards strangers is something that we have to learn.
The Kindness Handbook offers us a way of connecting to that part of our inner lives from which we can learn how to bring unconditional love to others—no matter what conditions pertain.
The way that Sharon teaches us how this is an acheivable goal is a delight to read.
In fact, I am sure that this is a book that will help all of us who dream of being better people but who, for one reason or another, lack that necessary insight into ourselves to bring this about.
Yes, the author does draw upon Buddhist teachings as a framework or guide for her ideas but to be honest this really only acts as a structure to the information so that following Buddhist philosophy is not a prerequisite to understanding her core ideas.
As I say, its a pity that this book needs to be wriiten but in an age when core, decent human values are fast disappearing it is a book that is more important and significant than might ordinarily be the case.
The Wisdom contained in The Kindness Handbook is an opportunity for us all to open our hearts to the needs of this dark and troubled world. The message it contains is powerful, transformative and enlightening and Sharon Salzburg has done a terrific job in offering a little light and love in those places it is needed most—ourselves!