Gentling the Heart

Buddhist Loving-Kindness Practice for Christians

Mary Jo Meadow
Crossroad: New York, 1994.
168 pp., $10.95 (paper).

It is an ambitious project that Mary Jo Meadow undertakes in this companion to her first book, Purifying the Heart. Both books are intended to provide Christians with "a practice from the Buddhist tradition helpful for strengthening Christian spiritual life according to the directives of Vatican II." Gentling the Heart speaks mostly about the parallels of metta (loving-kindness) and agape and how Buddhist meditation practice can bring the two together to cultivate loving-kindness and a gentler heart. As she explains how to do this, however, Meadow ends up comparing only similarities between the two traditions, and therefore ends up diminishing both. Oversimplification, the pitfall of all too many cross-traditional guidebooks, rears its familiar head again here as Buddhist ideas are softened and assimilated to fit with Christian texts and teachings. A passage from Chapter One, for example, sets much of the tone: "Along with wisdom, compassion is one of the great wings of the Buddha's teachings. We could also say that it practices this Beatitude: 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted' (Matt. 5:4)." Lines like "When we put ourselves where the duties simply cannot find us, we can then concentrate on spiritual work," reveal a bias toward separating the secular and the spiritual, and while the author's insights are often valuable, tenuous connections still creep in with distracting frequency. Passages in which Meadow frees herself to set out Buddhist practice on its own terms, however, such as the chapter on "Overcoming Hatred with Love," can prove useful to Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.

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