Born in New York City in 1952, Sharon Salzberg experienced a childhood involving considerable loss and turmoil. An early realization of the power of meditation to overcome personal suffering determined her life direction. Her teaching and writing now communicates that power to a worldwide audience of practitioners.
Sharon first encountered Buddhism in 1969, in an Asian philosophy course at the State University of New York, Buffalo. The course sparked an interest that, in 1970, took her to India, for an independent study program. Sharon traveled motivated by “an intuition that the methods of meditation would bring me some clarity and peace.”
In 1971, in Bodh Gaya, India, Sharon attended her first intensive meditation course. She spent the next years engaged in intensive study with highly respected Buddhist teachers. She returned to America in 1974 and began teaching vipassana (insight) meditation. Today she leads intensive retreats worldwide as well as a variety of non-residential programs, workshops, and classes.
In 1976, she established, together with Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield, the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts, which now ranks as one of the most prominent and active meditation centers in the Western world. Sharon and Joseph Goldstein expanded their vision in 1989 by co-founding the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies (BCBS). In 1998, they initiated the Forest Refuge, a long-term retreat center secluded in a wooded area on IMS property. Sharon resides in Barre, Massachusetts, and New York City.
Sharon has also emerged as a featured speaker and teacher at a wide variety of events. She served as a panelist with the Dalai Lama and leading scientists at the 2005 Mind and LifeInvestigating the Mind Conference in Washington, DC. She also coordinated the meditation faculty for the 2005 Mind and Life Summer Institute, an intensive five-day meeting to advance research on the intersection of meditation and the cognitive and behavioral sciences.
At the 2005 Sacred Circles Conference at the Washington National Cathedral, Sharon served as a keynote speaker. She has addressed audiences at the State of the World Forum, the Peacemakers Conference (sharing a plenary panel with Nobel Laureates His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Jose Ramos Horta) and has delivered keynotes at Tricycle’s Buddhism in America Conference, as well as Yoga Journal, Kripalu and Omega conferences. She was selected to attend the Gethsemani encounter, a dialogue on spiritual life between Buddhist and Christian leaders that included His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The written word is central to Sharon Salzberg’s teaching and studies. In her early Buddhist studies at the University of Buffalo, she discovered Chogyam Trungpa’s book, Meditation in Action. She later heard him speak at a nearby school: he was the first practicing Buddhist she encountered. While studying in India, Shunryu Suzuki’s book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mindprofoundly influenced the direction of her meditation practice.
She is currently a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, and has appeared in Time Magazine, Yoga Journal, msnbc.com, Tricycle, Real Simple, Body & Soul, Mirabella, Good Housekeeping, Self, Buddhadharma, More and Shambhala Sun, as well as on a variety of radio programs.
Various anthologies on spirituality have featured Sharon Salzberg and her work, includingMeetings with Remarkable Women, Gifts of the Spirit, A Complete Guide to Buddhist America, Handbook of the Heart, The Best Guide to Meditation, From the Ashes—A Spiritual Response to the Attack on America, and How to Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism.
—from Sharon Salzberg’s website (Source:http://www.sharonsalzberg.com/sharon/about/about.html, August 14, 2010)
Compassion—A Way of Being in the World: Interview with Sharon Salzberg by David N. Elkins
Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg argues that compassion, which comes from understanding the interconnectedness of all things, is a powerful force that can transform our own lives and make a difference in the world.
Sharon is the cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and author of “A Heart as Wide as the World.” A student of Buddhism for more than 20 years, she travels throughout the world teaching Buddhist practice to others.
Sharon is a warm, compassionate person who practices what she preaches, as I learned firsthand. Due to equipment failure, the first interview I did with Sharon did not record. Horrified to find the tape was blank, I called her back, apologized profusely, and asked if we could re-do the interview. She said, “These things happen,” and graciously rescheduled. That simple act of compassion meant more to me than all the words she spoke in the interview, profound though they are. Compassion is not simply an intellectual idea. It’s a way of being in the world.
David Elkins: In your book, “A Heart As Wide As the World,” you wrote, “From my earliest days of Buddhist practice, I felt powerfully drawn to the possibility of finding a way of life that was peaceful and authentic. My own life at that time was characterized largely by fear and confusion. I felt separate from other people and from the world around me, and even oddly disconnected from my own experience.” I suspect many of us can relate to those feelings. Tell me more about your personal journey.
Sharon Salzberg: I went to India when I was 18 while a college student. The school program offered the possibility of going to another culture as a cross-cultural consciousness study. The deeper reason that I went was because I felt unhappy and confused, not sure where I belonged in this world. I had an instinct that if I could learn how to practice meditation, and I was especially interested in the Buddhist tradition, I could come to greater peace and clarity. So when the opportunity arose, I completed an application saying I wanted to go to India and study Buddhism. It was accepted and off I went.
Elkins: So that was the beginning of your journey. For the last 20 years or so you have worked at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, correct?
Salzberg: Yes. When I went to India, I met Joseph Goldstein. Joseph and I came back in 1974 and began teaching at Naropa Institute which had just opened in Boulder, Colorado. I met Jack Kornfield there, and the three of us led Buddhist retreats in various places. After awhile, someone suggested we start a retreat center in this country. We looked at a number of places and finally settled on Barre, Massachusetts. We opened the doors of the Insight Meditation Society on Valentine’s Day, 1976. Then in 1989 Joseph and I established the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies just down the road, which offers programs about the integration of Buddhist concepts into contemporary society, as well as the classical study of languages.
Elkins: Compassion is a central tenant of Buddhism. But what is compassion? Can you give me a working definition?
Salzberg: The traditional definition from Pali, the language of the original Buddhist text, is the trembling or quivering of the heart in response to pain or suffering. Some Buddhist schools say the teaching has two wings, like the wings of a bird, and they are wisdom and compassion. Compassion is something we develop concurrently with the development of wisdom. Compassion is the natural response of clear seeing or understanding.
Elkins: Why is compassion important? Why should we be concerned about developing it in our own lives?
Salzberg: Recently, I had this wonderful experience of seeing the Dalai Lama address 40,000 to 80,000 people—the attendance estimates varied—in Central Park in New York. There was a tremendous outpouring of people. The Dalai Lama said very beautifully that we’ve come to a time when the interconnected nature of the world is more readily apparent, and that we can’t deny it. If you fight your neighbor, you are fighting yourself, and if you destroy your neighbor, you are destroying yourself. We are all linked, and compassion is the natural response of seeing that linkage. It is caring and concern rather than a feeling of separation into us and them. We now have an opportunity to see the interconnected nature of things as the environmental movement has made clear. Who knew, for example, that deforestation in a far-away place would affect us? But now we know that it does.
Elkins: So, compassion is the recognition of the interconnectedness of everything.
Salzberg: It is the result of that recognition. In traditional terms, the recognition itself is wisdom and the result of that recognition is compassion. When we come to have a different perspective, we respond differently. It is hard to act as though we are completely separate when we recognize that we are not completely separate.
Elkins: You mention in your book that sometimes when you teach others about compassion, they say, “If I develop qualities such as loving kindness and compassion, people will abuse and take advantage of me.” How do you respond to that? Is compassion practical in the real world?
Salzberg: I do hear that a lot in response to meditations for the development of loving kindness and compassion. One person said, “I hate that meditation. It reminds me of a forced Valentine’s Day where we are actually angry or fearful but cover these over with a veneer of love or compassion.” Real compassion is not at all like that. It is a tremendous strength. Go back to the Buddha and his emphasis on the need for both compassion and wisdom. True compassion has wisdom in it. It is not just feeling sorry for somebody or being overcome or brokenhearted in the face of pain. Compassion is a movement of the heart, and it doesn’t make us weak when it’s balanced by wisdom. It is a powerful force.
Elkins: I think you’re talking about the difference between authentic compassion and pseudo-compassion. In my work as a psychotherapist, I once had a client who talked constantly about Christian agape, or unconditional love, as the guiding principle of her life. She was in an abusive relationship with a man and was depressed. I tried to help her see the connection, but she would tell me, “If I can just love him enough, everything will work out.” After three months she ended the therapy, and as far as I know, continued in the abusive relationship. Is there a tough side to compassion that would be able to deal with this kind of situation?
Salzberg: This comes back to the Buddhist teaching about action and the different components of action. From the Buddhist perspective you can divide an action into three parts. The first and most significant part is the intention underlying the action, the motivation from which it springs. Traditional Buddhism would say this is the karma. The karmic seed is in the intention; everything rests on the tip of motivation. When we talk about compassion and loving kindness, we’re really talking about motivation. We’re talking about the energetic field out of which we act and move. The second part is the skillfulness with which we act. For example, suppose you have a beautiful motivation of wanting to say something loving to somebody. Skillfulness might involve determining whether this is best said privately or shouted out across a crowded room. The third part is the immediate result or the result that we can see. For example, out of a beautiful motivation, you give someone a gift and you do it as skillfully as you can. But perhaps they have just received terrible news and they’re not able to receive your gift wholeheartedly and they fail to thank you. This does not mean you have not acted well, it just means the conditions were beyond your control. There’s a tremendous emphasis in Buddhist teachings on transforming your intention to come from a place of love and compassion, to increase the power of your skillfulness through paying attention, and learning how to let go of the immediate result with equanimity and peace. Now, going back to the abusive relationship you described, the most skillful thing to do might be to leave the relationship, but the motivation from within that leads one to do that can be compassion for oneself or compassion for the other. It does not have to be hatred or lack of understanding.
Elkins: It is easy to fool ourselves about the development of compassion. For example, I was originally trained as a Christian minister and I can remember certain parishioners who seemed kind and loving on the surface, but underneath they were filled with bigotry and hatred that sometimes came spewing out. I have also deluded myself at various times on the spiritual journey. How do we know the difference between real growth in compassion and this pseudo-spirituality that any of us can fall into?
Salzberg: From the perspective of the Buddhist teaching, one continually looks at one’s motivation in order to be aware of it and honest about it. It is hard to look at our own problems, negativities, hatreds, fears, and to admit they are there. We tend to cut off these parts of ourselves, to push them away. Or we succumb to them at times. But there is a way of learning how to see these things in ourselves without taking them so to heart, so to speak. We can learn to say, “This is a habit of the mind or this is a conditioning of the mind and it doesn’t feel good.” The Buddha said, “I teach one thing and one thing only, that is suffering and the end of suffering.” One can learn to see these forces that arise in our mind not in terms of right and wrong or good and evil, but as forces that lead to suffering or the end of it. For example, we can see that jealousy, envy, greed, and hatred lead to suffering. They are suffering. But rather than feel contempt and anguish and hatred of ourselves for having them arise, we can feel compassion for ourselves. In the same way, we can recognize that others who have these mind states are also filled with suffering, and we can have compassion for them too.
Elkins: You have had several teachers through the years who helped you on your spiritual journey. How important is the teacher in the development of compassion?
Salzberg: Good teachers are important. We need models, exemplars of what is possible for a human being, and we need to reflect on those examples and honor them. Some people say the Dalai Lama is their teacher even though they have never met him in person. Two of the main functions of a teacher are inspiration and reminder. It is one thing to admire somebody with great qualities from afar, and another thing to be inspired by the fact that we, too, can develop and embody those qualities.
Elkins: Meditation is an important part of Buddhist practice. You have practiced meditation for many years. What is it like to sit for hours, days, in meditation?
Salzberg: It is great. In my book, “A Heart As Wide As the World,” I use the metaphor of going into an old attic room and turning on a light so that we can see everything. We see beautiful, extraordinary treasures and can hardly believe they exist in our own attic. We see dusty, neglected corners and realize we’d better clean them up. We see objects that are disconcerting and unpleasant that we thought we got rid of long ago.
Elkins: Suppose someone said, “I probably will never go to India or sit with a renowned teacher, but I am interested in learning about meditation and developing compassion.” What could this person do? Where would he start?
Salzberg: Some of it depends on geography and some of it depends on how you learn best as an individual. Many books give practical guidance on learning to meditate, so if reading books is the way you learn, you can study at home. There are also sitting groups across the country where people come together and play tapes, support one another, and meditate together. There are retreat centers in various parts of the country. If you cannot do a three-month retreat, do a weekend, and get a grounding in the use of the different techniques of meditation. Joseph and I created a correspondence course in meditation, a set of tapes and a manual. When you purchase the course, you also receive a year’s worth of correspondence with one of our senior students, who will answer your questions about meditation. So there are various opportunities for anyone who wishes to begin.
Elkins: Another topic that intrigues me is the relationship of compassion and transformation. As one grows in compassion, transformation occurs. But what changes? What is transformed on the journey to compassion?
Salzberg: Nyanaponika Thera was a renowned German monk and scholar who lived in Sri Lanka most of his life. One day, I was listening to a colleague of mine who quoted him. Embedded in the quote was the statement that compassion makes the narrow heart as wide as the world. That is what compassion does. It challenges our assumptions, our sense of self-limitation, worthlessness, of not having a place in the world, our feelings of loneliness and estrangement. These are narrow, constrictive states of mind. As we develop compassion, our hearts open.
Elkins: What is the relationship of compassion to “right action?”
Salzberg: As I pointed out earlier, from the Buddhist point of view, what makes any action right or not right is not only the skillfulness of the action, but primarily the energy with which it’s done or the place within us from which it comes, the motivation. Right action is grounded in compassionate motivation. We develop compassion as an aspect of the reservoir of motivations with which we move through the world.
Elkins: Right now there are 75 million baby-boomers in the United States and many of us are noticing that our bodies are growing older. Our parents are dying and reminding us of our own mortality. What does Buddhism have to say about aging and death?
Salzberg: Buddhism teaches suffering and the end of suffering. It is said that the Buddha was a pampered prince in his early life until he left the palace at the age of 29. According to legend, he saw what are called the four heavenly messengers—a sick person, an old person, a corpse, and a renunciate. Because he saw those first three as signs of suffering, he left the palace and began his spiritual journey to see what he might uncover about the nature of life. In our time, the cultural norm says you should never grow old, you shouldn’t get sick, you should have everything under control, and if you’re feeling badly, you should hide it. We have to defy such cultural norms or stand apart from them. As a spiritual person, as one who wishes to see things in a deeper way, you must step aside and challenge all of that conditioning. The truth is, the body has its own trajectory.
Elkins: Spirituality, including the development of compassion, is the only answer. It contains the key to our own journey through life.
Salzberg: Yes, there are no greater understandings than those that help us to find love, community, and a meaningful life.
—from Personal Transformation (Source: http://www.personaltransformation.com/Salzberg.html, August 14, 2010)
Compassion in the City: Interview with Sharon Salzberg by Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D.
Salzberg discusses mindfulness and loving-kindness in the city.
Recently, I had the distinct privilege of sitting down with Sharon Salzberg, one of the pioneers in introducing Buddhist practices to the West. Based on her experiences of teaching mindfulness and compassion (i.e., loving-kindness) around the world, I invited her to comment on introducing these practices to many of our common urban experiences. Personally, it was delightful and enlightening to meet with her, and I am very grateful for her insights and support. Over the past 10 years, I have often relied on her teachings for my own spiritual and personal growth….
Congestion and Aggravation
Jon: Thanks so much for meeting with me today. In the city, we encounter many unique difficulties and challenges to mindfulness practice. Given your expertise and teachings on loving-kindness, I wonder about your reflections of being in some of these situations. For example, it’s easy to get annoyed and frustrated by the congestion we experience, like when we’re riding a crowded subway train. In such circumstances, how can we practice compassion?
Sharon: Well, part of it is having compassion for ourselves and realizing that we’re living like a sponge: we’re just absorbing all of the difficulty and annoyance and irritants. Eventually, it will fill us and take over our consciousness. Alternatively, we can experience it genuinely, but with a lot more spaciousness by not taking these things to heart. Practicing compassion for oneself is being able to be fluid in these situations. You can feel the annoyance like a storm moving through you and just let it go. Motivated by curiosity and a sense of our own well-being, we also can decide that we’re going to experiment with a new way of engaging people. Today, I was riding an elevator and someone had a rambunctious dog. At every floor, the elevator stopped and more people got on, until it was very crowded. As more people came into the elevator, I could conduct an experiment. I could ask, “Am I going to relate to these people in a friendly manner or am I going to glare at them with an ‘It’s crowded enough in here!’ stare?” We tell ourselves that we’re going to smile at the people in the elevator, ask the cab driver where he’s from, whatever it might be. It changes the day.
Jon: Sometimes, we can get to the point of personalizing our anger or annoyance, like with a noisy neighbor or intractable people on the co-op board. How do you suggest that we approach these situations, in which we’ve personified our inability to have our desires met?
Sharon: In Tibetan Buddhism, they say that anger is the thing that we pick-up when we feel weak because we think it’s going to make us feel strong. So, another aspect of this situation classically, is to investigate whether or not it really makes us feel strong. If so, how long does that last? We use mindfulness to look at the annoyance or anger and see whether or not this will really help me get what I want. Perhaps, there are more skillful ways of communicating in order to get our needs met. Some people think that if you’re practicing mindfulness, then you’re passive and don’t object to the noisy neighbor or unjust treatment. But it does not mean that either. But hopefully, you come from a different place when you take action.
“That’s mine!” mentality
Jon: In the city, there can be a lot of emphasis on competition and possessiveness. We lay claim to things like taxis and parking spaces, which don’t really belong to us. How can we get better in touch with living together peacefully?
Sharon: Often, it’s just a question of beginning with mindfulness of how things actually feel. How does it feel to have a competitive mindset, even when you’re not in competition with anybody? Sometimes, I get off the elevator and look down the lane of apartment doors in my building, and think, “Oh my God, I hope that no one smokes in bed anymore.” Wouldn’t it be tragic if someone fell asleep and I burned to death? How horrible is that? I could walk in here, oblivious to everyone else on the floor. It doesn’t have to be a fearful thought, but a recognition that we’re counting on each other. We’re interdependent. I’m not going to have a very good year if you fall asleep smoking. It’s not sentimental — it’s just how things are.
—from Psychology Today blog (Source: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/urban-mindfulness/201005/compassion-in-the-city-interview-sharon-salzberg, August 14, 2010)
Is It Uncool To Be Kind?: Interview with Sharon Salzberg by Lisa Schneider
Does being the nice guy or gal mean you’re weak or stupid? Sharon Salzberg on why we’re compassion-phobic.
In our culture, Sharon Salzberg believes, kindness is unfairly relegated to “5th-class status,” a virtue of last resort for those who aren’t beautiful, brilliant, courageous, or strong. In her latest work, “The Force of Kindness,” a combination book and CD set from Sounds True, she attempts to liberate compassion from any association with “wimpiness” and explores how powerful it can be in people’s lives. Besides, as she explained in a recent interview, being kind makes us happy.
What does kindness mean to you?
Salzberg: I think the associations people have with kindness are often things like meekness and sweetness and maybe sickly sweetness; whereas I do think of kindness as a force, as a power. When I look back over the instances, the encounters of my life, even when I just look around at the world, there’s something that moves me so strongly that really is inspiring and uplifting about people just taking the time to pay attention to somebody or going a little bit out of their way to seek to help them. I can almost feel the palpable force of that. It reminds us of our own inner strength and our capacity to give, and it also reminds us of how connected we all are.
In what way can kindness be a spiritual practice?
Salzberg: It’s both an internal spiritual practice and it’s an external practice. I think one doesn’t have to have a kind of classically spiritual word for it, to define it or access it, but it’s like a commitment. It’s remembering what we care about.
Mostly, I think it has to do with attention. You’re rushing down the street and somebody asks you for directions, and the first thing you feel is annoyance. Like, I’m in a hurry, can’t you see? But then you stop and you look at them and they look a little forlorn maybe, certainly a little bit lost and uneasy. And you think, they trusted me, that’s why they asked me. They have that kind of inclination and you stop and you talk to them and there’s just that little moment of connection. If we pay attention to what’s around us then I think that leads us – or that’s a form itself, a form of kindness.
You refer to the Dalai Lama’s phrase, “enlightened self-interest.” What do we gain by being kind?
Salzberg: I think it’s a source of great happiness. The Dalai Lama also says, “I’ve never met anyone I consider a stranger.” I was just in Tucson for his teachings and many of us were staying at the same hotel that he was. And the teachings were in the hotel. (It was really phenomenal seeing this resort turn into an ashram!)
Anyway, yesterday morning I went downstairs to meet some friends for breakfast and I saw these people lining up with katas, with scarves, and I realized that the Dalai Lama was just about to leave. So my friends and I lined up instead of having breakfast and in a little while he left the hotel. But he went down the line and recognized every single person on that line and wished us well. There were children and hotel workers and certainly students. It was such a beautiful moment that reminded me that sometimes it can be very simple, but it gives other people so much joy. He could have just rushed out, but he stopped and he paid attention to everybody.
I think that joy is also something that fills us when we’re able to offer something to somebody else. It’s something that satisfies us or fulfills us. I think even the research people are doing these days into meditation – like when they put someone into an MRI machine and tell them, “Ok. Now do your compassion meditation,” one of the parts of the brain that lights up is the pleasure center. It’s joy. Compassion isn’t morose; it’s something replenishing and opening, that’s why it makes us happy.
If it makes us happy, why doesn’t kindness come more easily to us?
Salzberg: I think there are a number of reasons. Sometimes people don’t trust the force of kindness. They think love or compassion or kindness will make you weak and kind of stupid and people will take advantage of you, you won’t stand up for other people. So I think that’s just a basic misunderstanding. If we really look at the quality, like when people have stopped for us and helped us out or paid attention to us or listen to our story of unhappiness for the hundredth time, there’s such a sense of appreciation for that ability. We don’t consider those people stupid or foolish with their head in the clouds. There’s a great energy there. We can clear up that misunderstanding.
Sometimes it’s just the force of habit. We think if we give to others there’s not going to be enough for us or we’re afraid. We have this sense of being in competition with the entire universe and we don’t want to help anyone else out. Maybe no one else helped us out, it seems. We think we’ll lose something from taking time or giving care or concern, so that’s also a misunderstanding that through clear seeing can be avoided or transformed.
And then there’s just the question of mindfulness and the moment. We tend to be in a hurry; we’re going a lot of places. We’re conceptualizing and thinking about the next 15 conversations we need to have or things we need to do. It takes a moment just to notice somebody needs us or just to breathe and stop and pay attention fully to that person and see if there’s something that we can do. It takes a good degree of mindfulness; so it’s a cultivation, it’s like training.
How do you draw the line between protecting yourself and being a kind person?
Salzberg: Well there’s always a balance. I don’t know that kindness leaves us unprotected, but I notice that when I walk down the street sometimes I’m in my own world and sometimes I’m actually paying attention. It’s kind of interesting paying attention: there’s that woman with a baby in the stroller… there’s that guy and he looks really intense. I don’t stare at them or anything!
Maybe one can make the distinction between kindness as a kind of force and the specific actions that you take in a specific circumstance based on what context you’re in and what seems most skillful or appropriate.
Recently a friend was driving me down from Massachusetts and when we stopped somewhere to get gas a woman came up and said to my friend, “I need 18 dollars ’cause my car broke down,” and I have this problem and that problem. My friend said, “I only have three.” So she gave her the $3 and the woman walked away and my friend said, “I don’t know if that was a scam or not, but I felt good about giving her $3.”
We went into the gas station store and came out and the woman was gone. I said, “I wonder where she is.” My friend said, ” I saw her get into a car and go away.” Which seemed to imply that maybe she didn’t need the $18. But those things happen all the time and we make our best judgment about how to respond and whether to give or not to give, and whether to give a little as opposed to a lot. If we decide it’s not appropriate as far as we can tell to give them money, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re being unkind. I think a far less kind thing is to completely discount that person and not consider them a human being or ignore them or overlook them in the course of our lives as though they have nothing to do with us, because, in fact, they do.
How can we practice kindness with people who have betrayed or hurt us in some way?
Salzberg: Understanding kindness doesn’t mean giving up your sense of principles or values, or acquiescing or succumbing — it’s nothing like that. That’s more along the lines of what Trungpa Rinpoche used to call “idiot compassion,” so that’s not what I’m talking about either. I think a lot of it has do with — and this is something the Dalai Lama talked about–it’s a very thorough understanding of our own minds and different emotional states.
So, for example, when we look at anger there’s a very positive forcefulness to it. There’s a lot of energy to it and that’s a good thing. The negative things, which can be overwhelming and lead to disaster, are things like its blindness: when we’re angry we get lost in tunnel vision and we start to assume a kind of permanence where there’s really change.
So, for example, if we’re angry at our self because we said this really stupid thing one day, the 50 great things we did that day, they’re gone. They just disappear. It’s like our whole sense of who we are just shrinks down to that one comment and we can’t imagine it’s ever going to change or that we can do better. Those are huge mistakes right there. Not having a more open, full perspective and not remembering the truth of change. And that’s part of the problem with anger, that it fosters those emotions very strongly. We look at things like that in terms of making choices as to what to nurture within ourselves and what to let go of. Can we have a great self-respect and insistence on being treated well and at the same time not fall into those deluded attributes of anger when thinking of somebody else and remember what we care about more than anything, which may be good-heartedness?
You write about a connection between fearlessness and morality.
Salzberg: The Buddha talked about morality as being the gift of fearless in a few different ways. One is it’s a gift of fearlessness to ourselves because we’re not in that sort of timid, paranoid state of “Oh no, what if they found out what I said?” I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of either being about to or actually having had some really nasty comments about somebody else come out of your mouth and then the person in question walks in the room. There’s that horrible moment of “did they hear me?” Or even if you didn’t actually say them, knowing that you were about to or attempted to is such an awful feeling. Using harmful speech, telling lies (even little ones), acting in ways that imply that we’re not all connected and that what we do doesn’t matter. It all sort of debilitates us and limits us and makes us very afraid, whether we realize it or not.
Having a commitment to being straightforward and being clear and being honest and caring about others allows us not to live in fear all the time. It’s also considered a gift of fearlessness to others because it’s almost like that’s what we are radiating is this assurance that I’m not going to hurt you, I’m not going to try and take advantage of you or manipulate you or deceive you. People feel that, they definitely respond to that.
—from Beliefnet.com (Source: http://www.beliefnet.com/Health/2005/10/Is-It-Uncool-To-Be-Kind.aspx, August 14, 2010)