The Basic Practice

Kindness is the first of the three great treasures advocated by Lao Tzu. The Buddha taught that generosity is a primary quality of an awakened mind. Muhammad regarded kindness as an essential sign of faith. Jewish and Christian ethics are built upon deeds of kindness, as are the daily interactions of people of primal traditions.

The spiritual practice of kindness encompasses a range of small acts and habits that we know as old-fashioned good manners — saying "please" and "thank you," waiting your turn, lending a helping hand, or cheering someone up with a smile. It applies not just to your relationships with other people. Etiquette in the spiritual life extends to things, animals, plants, and the Earth.

This practice also means being generous with your presence, your time, and your money. Give freely without expecting anything in return. Just do it. Kindness is not a quid pro quo endeavor.

Why This Practice May Be For You

Few of us would describe ourselves as unkind, cruel, or nasty, yet we would have to admit that we often miss the mark on this spiritual practice. Just remember the many times you have been hurt by someone not doing something — the call that didn't come when you were feeling low, the thank you note that never appeared, the missed appointment — and then consider how often you have neglected to act in similar circumstances. Kindness is very susceptible to the sin of omission.

Still, acknowledging that we have missed another's kindness can make us want to be kind more consistently ourselves. This is one of those situations when a negative experience has a positive outcome.

Of course, sometimes we are simply too self-absorbed to notice that we are not being kind. Selfishness quickly undermines manners. And generosity is difficult for both the miser and the glutton.

Daily Cue, Reminder, Vow, Blessing

  • Watering my houseplants is a cue for me to expand my practice of kindness to animals and inanimate beings.
  • Watching someone give up their seat to an elderly person is a reminder for me to make the little kind gestures.
  • Knowing how nice it is to receive compliments, I vow to praise someone as an act of kindness today.
  • Blessed is the Gracious Creator who has established kindness as a healing balm in everyday life.