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Sylvia Boorstein, MSW, PhD is the author of numerous books on Buddhist philosophy and meditation practice, including That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist; It's Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness; and Happiness Is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life. She is a founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. Sylvia has been teaching nationally and internationally since 1985. Her personal emphasis in teaching is the integration of mindfulness into everyday life.
1440: What's the most important attribute we can develop?
Sylvia Boorstein: The Dalai Lama once said, "My religion is kindness."
I think everybody's religions are about kindness even if they don't frame it that way.
Either explicitly or implicitly the core teachings are that it's a kindness to give up egocentricity and to love your neighbor as yourself. That includes the country next door that we might be fighting with or my neighbor whose fig tree is dropping figs on my property that are mushing up my lawn.
1440: What about kindness toward ourselves?
Sylvia Boorstein: The Buddha taught kindness towards everyone, including oneself. If I get mad at my neighbor next door, or if I nullify the country next door, I pollute my own mind. It is a kindness to give away or let go of antipathy. Charity is a kindness. Keeping everything for yourself walls off other people. Give it away; you don't need it all.
1440: People often say you have to love yourself before you can love others. What do you think about that?
Sylvia Boorstein: I don't believe it when people say, "I can offer compassion, sympathy, empathy to everyone else, but I can't send it to myself." That doesn't make any sense at all. I understand that some people are embittered by their own story or circumstances, but I don't think that if you're embittered you can possibly be genuinely, completely loving with other people and wish them well. If you are truly loving in an unembittered way, then you are included in that. You have already established your loving heart. Who else's heart would be doing the loving?
1440: How can kindness help us deal with emotions like anger, judgment, and shame?
Sylvia Boorstein: If I'm in an embittered and angry mode, I am fouling up my own mind. It's like living in the middle of a steel town with smoke in the air and saying, "My house is not affected by this smoke." It's not possible.
Each one of us is like an antenna—we can't broadcast the music without being part of it.
This doesn't mean we won't experience a sense of shame or failure or anger. But when we do we can have compassion and remind ourselves that everybody did the best they could. They really did. Nobody could have done other than what they did, even you. Extending kindness and compassion to yourself and others is the best response to these emotions.
This interview was conducted on behalf of 1440 Multiversity by Jenn Brown—a freelance writer, editor, producer, and educator.