The Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Sharon Saltzberg, and other Buddhists have written beautifully and profoundly about lovingkindness. In this equally beautiful and profound paperback, Rabbi Rami Shapiro bases his presentation on Judaism's Thirteen Attributes of Lovingkindness and broadens it with the wisdom of other religions.
He begins with a meditation on the universal human challenge to act in a godly manner since we have been created in the likeness of God. A visualization practice helps us see what this means. Another spur to making our lives more loving and kind is cultivating an appreciation of ourselves as being totally original and beyond all labels and categorizations.
There are many concrete practices of lovingkindness here. When we accept the bounties of grace constantly being showered upon us, we naturally want to be more generous; this in turn leads to compassion and the Buddhist practice of tonglen. The practice of Sabbath tutors us in letting go of the many burdens of the past and any expectations about the future which distract us from the present moment. Naikan is a practice for honing our sense of appreciation for all that we have and especially for all that we take for granted. The Islamic practice of zakah and the Jewish practice of tzedakh are designed to concretize our obligations to help the poor.
We express kindness through right speech. The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, taught that each of us is born with a fixed number of words to speak and when we have spoken the last of our quota, we die. Before uttering words of condemnation, frustration, or gossip, we should question whether they are worth dying for.
We can preserve kindness by creating an ethical will. This is a Jewish tradition where individuals pass on values, blessings, and advice to their children. Most of us, sadly enough, remember past slights or carry on grudges instead of sharing stories of the kindnesses that have lightened our load and brightened our lives. Shapiro concludes with a call for an international network of hidden saints who devote themselves to practicing lovingkindness.
With his energy, enthusiasm, and interfaith perspective, Shapiro has given us an invaluable gift in this inspiring and enlightening work on a practice of which philosopher Aldous Huxley wrote, "It's a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one's life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than this: Try to be a little kinder."