Boundless Heart: The Buddha's Path of Kindness, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity

Boundless Heart: The Buddha's Path of Kindness, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity

by Christina Feldman


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An esteemed Insight Meditation teacher leads you through the sublime qualities of Buddhism—kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity—and how they can enrich your life
Compassion, kindness, equanimity, and joy are not only the fruits of the awakened life but also the path to it—attitudes of mind that can be cultivated through intention and dedication. Also known as the brahma viharas (sublime abodes) and the “Four Immeasurables,” these enobling qualities are far more than simply the “feel-good” states they are often mistaken for. They must be pursued sincerely as a spiritual practice—not just as a means of getting a “spiritual high”—in order to experience the full extent of their power.
In Boundless Heart, Christina Feldman presents teachings on the Four Immeasurables, exploring how they balance each other in a way that enhances them all. Her simple practices will lead you toward a life infused with kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity—and to a way of being that promotes those qualities to the world at large.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781611803730
Publisher: Shambhala
Publication date: 03/07/2017
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 251,528
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

CHRISTINA FELDMAN is a prominent teacher in the Insight Meditation world in the US and the UK. She is one of the Guiding Teachers of the Insight Meditation Society, Barre, MA, where she frequently leads retreats. She is also cofounder of Gaia House in the UK. She teaches extensively throughout America and Europe. She is the author of The Quest of the Warrior WomanPrinciples of MeditationHeart of WisdomMind of Calm, and, with Jack Kornfield, Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart.

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Boundless Heart

The Buddha's Path of Kindness, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity

By Christina Feldman

Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2017 Christina Feldman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61180-373-0


Immeasurable Kindness

In one of the earliest collections of the Buddha's teachings, the Sutta-nipata, lies the jewel of the teaching — the Metta-sutta, the discourse on immeasurable friendliness. The word metta draws on the Pali/Sanskrit word mitta, which translates as "friend" In turn mitta draws on an earlier Sanskrit word mit that translates as "growing fat with kindness" or "spreading out" — spreading out in friendliness to the world.

The Metta Sutta

To reach the state of peace
One skilled in the good should be
Capable and upright,
Easy to speak to and straightforward,
Of gentle nature and not proud,
Contented and easily supported,
Living lightly and having few duties,
Wise and with senses calmed,
Not arrogant and without greed for supporters,
And should not do the least thing that the wise
Would reproach them for.
(One should reflect in this way:)
"May all beings be happy and secure;
May all beings be happy-minded.
Whatever living beings there may be,
whether weak or strong,
Tall, large, medium, or short, small or big,
Seen or unseen, near or distant,
Born or to be born,
May they, without exception, all be happy-minded.
Let no one despise another
Or deceive anyone anywhere,
Let no one through anger or hatred
Wish for another's suffering"
As a mother would risk her own life
To protect her child, her only child,
So for all beings one should
Guard one's boundless heart.
With boundless friendliness for the whole world should one
Cultivate a boundless heart,
In all directions,
Without obstruction, without hate and without ill will,
Standing or walking, sitting or lying down,
Whenever one is awake,
May one stay with this recollection.
This is called the best and most sublime way of dwelling in this
One who is virtuous, endowed with insight,
Not clinging to wrong view,
And having overcome all passion for sensual pleasure,
Will not come to lie in a womb again.

The four immeasurable qualities of kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity should not be seen as linear or hierarchical, yet metta is the only one of these qualities that in the early collection of teachings merits its own dedicated discourse. It is seen to be the foundation of an ethical life, of words, thoughts, and acts of integrity. It is understood to be the necessary foundation of all ennobling qualities, including compassion, joy, and equanimity. It is said to be the necessary foundational attitude underlying all meditative development. Metta is not described as emotion or a transient state, but as an abiding — the home where our hearts and minds dwell. It is an attitudinal commitment brought to all moments of experience. Cultivating our capacity for boundless kindness opens the door to the boundlessness of compassion, joy, and equanimity. This involves a radical shift in our understanding and way of being present in all moments and rests upon a committed intention and practice. This book will initially give more attention to the cultivation of metta, not because it is more significant than compassion, joy, and equanimity, but because it is the indispensable foundation of an awakened heart.

With this teaching the Buddha describes a way of being in the world, in all moments, all circumstances, with a mind abiding in a boundless kindness in which greed, confusion, and ill will have come to an end. It is an all-inclusive befriending, a fearless kindness rooted in mindfulness and insight. Metta is also a verb — "befriending" We learn to befriend ourselves, all of the people who come into our lives — the difficult and the lovely. We learn to befriend all events and circumstances — the challenging and the lovely.

The Buddha recognized, as we recognize, the toxic power of ill will. Hatred, aversion, and fear fracture our communities, our societies, and our world. Historically and today, ill will creates wars and conflict, oppression, violence, and prejudice, and the suffering scars our lives and world. Ill will is not an abstract concept. Each one of us knows the pain of receiving ill will through the thoughts, words, or acts of another. Judgment, blame, harshness, rejection, condemnation, and suspicion leave a powerful imprint on our hearts and minds. We equally know the pain of being gripped by inwardly generated ill will when we judge, condemn, or are harsh to another. We know too the damage done through inwardly directed ill will — the all-too-familiar sniping voice of the inner critic and judge that undermines our well-being and happiness.

As an insight practice, the cultivation of metta — boundless friendliness — is directed toward uprooting the deeply embedded psychological and emotional pattern of ill will or aversion. Aversion has many faces — irritation, impatience, jealousy, blame, guilt, hatred, belittlement, disdain, and contempt. We feel the ripples of these patterns of emotional turmoil and ill will in our own minds. We see the ripples of aversion in the world around us when ill will becomes collective. The pain of being disenfranchised, disempowered, and abandoned through collective ill will is evident in our societies. The outcome is always the same — pain, separation, fragmentation, alienation, and harm. As the Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hanh put it, "Anger and hatred are the materials from which hell is made"

From a Buddhist psychological perspective, ill will is rooted in fear — the fear of loss, the fear of harm.

When our hearts are gripped by fear, we create the sense of "other" that we abandon, flee from, or attack. The "other" may be simply the person who annoys us with restlessness when we want calm, the unwanted person trying to sell us new windows, the person in front of us in line impeding our progress. The "other" may be whole groups of people we condemn, mistrust, or judge. The many forms of prejudice that scar our world cannot survive without this aversive mechanism that creates the "other," in turn fueling mistrust, separation, and fear.

We feel the whispers and the powerful surges of ill will in our bodies, in our thoughts, and in our reactions. They move though our minds, our speech, and our acts. The Buddha refers to ill will as a poison that sickens us and leaves a powerful footprint upon the world. Aversion leaches joy and happiness from our hearts and life, bringing bleakness and alienation and triggering obsessive thinking. Aversion sets in motion downward spirals of depression and debilitating anxiety. There is little that can gladden a heart gripped by ill will. There is little room for joy, appreciation, or peace when the heart sinks beneath the weight of ill will. We feel the residues of ill will echoing in our hearts in regret, shame, and guilt. The momentum of aversion is to reject, to avoid, to annihilate, to get rid of, and to create distance between ourselves and the "other."

Aversion propels us into agitated behavior as we try to "fix" or rid ourselves of the people, events, and conditions we are convinced are the source of our unhappiness. Aversion is a habit pattern that can become so naturalized we cease to notice its effect upon our hearts and lives.

We may look back on our day and realize how often we have heard the voice of complaint, the eyes that highlight only the imperfect, and the numerous acts of avoidance we have engaged in. This awareness may be uncomfortable, yet it is the first step in sensitizing our hearts to the toxicity of ill will. Rather than inviting judgment or shame, it is an awareness that can be the beginning of a profound commitment to no longer consenting to aversion governing our hearts and committing ourselves to a life guided by immeasurable kindness.

We may be tempted to justify aversion — we tell ourselves that in a competitive, agitated, demanding world, aversion is the way we make ourselves heard or effect the changes we want. We tell ourselves that the small moments of irritation or impatience are inconsequential. We do not always see that the small ripples of aversion are of the same nature as the tsunamis of hatred and ill will that create and re-create suffering in life, inwardly and outwardly. A teacher within the Tibetan tradition taught:

Do not take lightly small misdeeds,
Believing they can do no harm;
Even a tiny spark of fire
Can set alight a mountain.

At times the "others" that are created and solidified through aversion are aspects of our own being we disdain, judge, or fear: parts of our body, an illness, a chronic pain we fear and turn away from. We can be masters in the art of self-condemnation — disdaining ourselves and forming views of ourselves that are constructed on the foundations of self-hatred. We can have aversion for aversion, telling ourselves that a better or more spiritual person would not experience such ill will, which becomes a base for further self-judgment about our imperfections and inadequacies. We tell ourselves we should be a better person, yet we feel imprisoned by our own habit patterns and feel helpless in the face of them. We may have emotions of jealousy, contempt, or anxiety we feel ashamed of and turn them into the "other" we reject or endeavor to annihilate. The "other" is turned into an enemy within ourselves that we fear and condemn. The underlying narrative in aversion is about nonacceptance, the eternal story that I and the world need to be different than they are if I am to be happy. In the light of understanding what it means to extend unconditional friendliness to all things, we understand that aversion too asks to be befriended; it also is suffering that can only end through our willingness to be intimate with the landscape of ill will, so it can be understood.

The Buddha put it simply: "Hatred does not cease by hatred. By kindness alone is hatred healed. This is an eternal law."

We become aware of the ways in which aversion shapes perception. When our mind is gripped by ill will, we perceive the world to be populated by imperfect people determined to unsettle, threaten, and harm us. Aversion creates isolation, mistrust, and defensiveness. When our heart is lost in ill will, we perceive only that which is broken and imperfect within ourselves. We can fear our own bodies, minds, and emotions in times of difficulty and devise strategies to dissociate from our own being. The narratives born of these perceptions turn back to deepen and reinforce the prevailing aversion, which in turn produces more narrative of judgment, fear, and blame. Ill will truly holds the power to make us ill as the body increasingly bears the brunt of aversive thoughts and emotions.

Metta, boundless friendliness, is intended to interrupt these harmful, closed feedback loops. Metta is a path of cultivation; we are learning to swim against the tide of habitual and impulsive habits and patterns that cause suffering and struggle. Metta is a behavioral gesture of the heart, as the Buddha put it: "What the mind reflects upon in a sustained way, to this our mind will bend and incline." We clearly recognize the harmful effects of ill will and commit to walking a different pathway. We sow the seed of intention in every moment of ill will: the intention to befriend and begin to see that our capacity to radically change our mind of the moment through metta is to change the shape of our world of the moment.

Metta is a present-moment recollection, a quality of mindfulness. If the inclination of mindfulness is to turn toward all experience, the inclination of metta is to learn that we can stand beside or near to that which we turn toward. We do not have to love the difficult, but we can care about it and befriend it. Each moment of befriending that which we have previously feared or abandoned makes a difference. The great power of mindfulness is that it enables us to choose what it is that we pay attention to and how we attend to all things. Metta and mindfUlness, coj oined, are guardians of the heart. For the welfare and happiness of all beings, we embark on a journey of guarding our boundless heart. We learn that neither we nor the world can afford hatred. We discover the possibility of stepping out of the closed loops of ill will and learn we can stand near to all things and all moments without being overwhelmed.

When we read the Metta-sutta, we may believe it is impossible for us to cultivate a boundless friendliness. Metta does not ask for the ambitious desire to save the entire world but simply to rescue the mind and heart of this moment from the compulsions of ill will. Metta asks us to be a guardian of all that we encounter in this moment — the events, experiences, and people who come into our world, to care for them all. Mindfulness and metta go hand in hand; both can only be cultivated in the moment we are present in; it is the only moment that can be transformed. We cannot have yesterday's or tomorrow's mindfulness or metta, just as we cannot have yesterday's or tomorrow's headache or loss. We learn to trust that each moment we make an attitudinal commitment to befriending rather than to aversion makes a difference. In each moment we commit our hearts to kindness, we are in that moment no longer consenting to feeding the habit of aversion, and we are thus bringing the tendency of ill will to an end. It does not imply that aversion will not arise again — it will. But its arising can be met once more with kindness and care. Each moment of cultivating the psychological gesture of kindness rather than the impulse of abandonment is learning to inhabit our life in a fearless way. In Shantideva's teaching on compassion, he says, "The mind does not find peace, nor does it enjoy pleasure or joy, nor does it find rest or fortitude when the thorn of hatred dwells in the heart. Unruly beings are like space. There is not enough time to overcome them all. Overcoming these angry thoughts is like defeating all my enemies."

There is an interwoven dynamic between ill will and metta, or boundless friendliness. Aversion is a destructive habit pattern and intention that invariably leads to suffering and unhappiness, stifling the heart's capacity for kindness. Metta is a wise intention and response that leads to happiness and the end of suffering. Within this dynamic, aversion is seen as the primary obstacle to kindness, yet kindness is the most direct and powerful way to dissolve and uproot aversion. Rather than meeting aversion with shame or condemnation, we learn it too can be befriended and understood. With the cultivation of kindness, we have a shift in perspective, no longer seeing aversion as an obstacle to be overcome, but the very ground in which metta grows.

If we listen closely to the moments of aversion and the moments of kindness in our days, there are two important aspects to notice. Aversion, whether in small ripples or larger waves is a generator of narrative — the intensity of the aversion tends to determine the length and intensity of the narrative that arises. We are prone to obsess about those we fear and dislike. Someone offends us — we feel our reaction and resistance arising and the beginning of the story about that person. Soon we have isolated every single thing that is unacceptable about that person. We may hardly even know the person, yet we weave enough narrative and conviction in the narrative through aversion to condemn him or her to being a lifelong enemy. It is also noticeable that the strength of the sense of "I," of "me," is determined by the strength of the aversion that arises and the solidity that is given to the "other." With the narrative grows the separation between "I" and "other." Distance and separation in turn become the breeding grounds of fear and the festering of ill will.

If we learn to listen closely to the moments of unhesitating kindness that can arise in our day, it also becomes clear that in those moments there is far less narrative. The sense of a centralized "I," or self, is almost imperceptible, and those moments leave no residues in the mind in terms of shame or judgment. In the moments ofkindness we encounter, there is a quality of joy, a sense of relatedness, and a decreasing in the volume of both the sense of "I" and the sense of the "other." Kindness creates no enemies. It does not ask us to love everyone, but to learn to see through the eyes of respect and tolerance. Metta does not require narrative for its sustenance, but it is born of a heart rooted in courage and understanding. Metta is a practice of happiness and peace.

In developing our capacity for boundless friendliness, we learn to include the experience of aversion and ill will within that boundlessness. Rather than feeling that aversion has to disappear in order for metta to arise, we learn to bring an attitude of kindness to the experience of aversion itself, instead of making aversion into the "other" that we cannot accept. One teacher, Ajahn Sucitto, describes this as an affectionate curiosity. We begin to establish a dialogue and a relationship with aversion. What does aversion feel like? How do we sense it in the body? Can we stand next to it without flinching? How does aversion feel in the mind/heart? Is there a sense of agitation, tightness, or contractedness in the landscape of aversion? Can we stand next to that with our attention, explore and meet it with the gentle touch of kindness? We do not have to like ill will, but we need not feel bound to abandon it, and we can discover that it need not overwhelm or intimidate us.


Excerpted from Boundless Heart by Christina Feldman. Copyright © 2017 Christina Feldman. Excerpted by permission of Shambhala Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Landscape and Embodiment of Liberation 1

1 Immeasurable Kindness 11

2 Compassion 56

3 Joy 83

4 Equanimity 108

Conclusion: An Awakened Heart, an Awakened Life 135

Notes 145

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