Universal Empathy

A Fresh Look at the Qualities of the Heart

Cultivate four transformative qualities of the heart as pathways of insight and awakening. Kindness, appreciative joy, compassion, and equanimity enrich our lives and allow us to be flourishing, creative, dynamic people. Known in the Buddha's teaching as the brahma-viharas, these qualities also imbue us with the resiliency to meet life's challenges. Join Christina Feldman and Chris Cullen for a deeply practical online course exploring the brahma-viharas as complete paths to the awakening of the heart.

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Time after time, the Buddha emphasized four qualities of the heart: kindness, joy, compassion, and equanimity. These qualities—known as brahma-viharas, or "divine abodes"—have been somewhat sidelined in interpretations of the practice since the Buddha's day. They have been categorized as concentration practices, or simple antidotes to meditative hindrances. In fact, these brahma-viharas are much more central to the Buddhist path. They are both a route to awakening and the expression of the heart's maturity.

Join Bodhi College core faculty members Christina Feldman and Chris Cullen for an authoritative exploration of the scope and depth of the brahma-viharas. We will take a fresh look at these qualities in our lived experience, and undertake a thorough and methodical approach to cultivating each of the brahma-viharas in turn and together. Expect clear instruction, a supportive and nourishing program of meditation, and beautiful contemplations aimed at living a life full of wakefulness, ease, and friendliness to ourselves and others—universal empathy.

6 hours of video teachings

Enjoy a program of essential dharma talks.

12 Guided meditations

Each unit begins and ends with a meditation. The course emphasizes ongoing meditative development and cultivation of the heart.

Practices for daily life

Feel the ease and joy of setting clear, achievable goals for bringing practice off the cushion and into your day.

What Will I Study?

This is a 6-unit self-study course. You are free to study at your own pace. You will retain access to the course for as long as you need. Each lesson will offer roughly 60 minutes of video teachings. There will also be prompts for reflection, optional quizzes, and a communal discussion board.

As part of your training in these qualities of the heart, Christina and Chris will suggest take-home practices, including meditation and contemplation, for you to explore between units.

Unit 1 | The Embodied Heart

Kindness, joy, compassion, equanimity: with these resources of the heart developed, we find a deep stability, a deep sense of being resilient and resourced that enables us to cope with life's challenges and fully enjoy its peaks. Grounding ourselves in the body, an intention of friendliness towards ourselves and others can free us from anxieties and overwhelm, and serve as the beginning of a path to true freedom.

Unit 2 | Kindness

A simple attitude of kindness and friendliness—known in the Buddha's teachings as lovingkindness—is the first of the four brahma-viharas we will explore in detail. This foundational quality sets the emotional tone for the qualities that follow. We will learn that although kindness does concentrate the mind it also contains the seeds of liberating insight through its capacity to counteract aversion.

Unit 3 | Joy

One of the distinctive features of Christina and Chris' approach to the brahma-viharas is a shake-up of their traditional sequence. In this approach, joy comes before compassion. This helps by building our inner resources before we turn to face the difficult. 

There is much in life that is joyous and, if we cultivate delight in the joys of others, we will always find a reason for happiness. Yet the mind has a natural bias towards negativity and anxiety that too often nullifies the sense of wonder and joy it is possible to live life with. Fortunately, we can notice and strengthen our sense of joy through intentional practice and reflection.

Unit 4 | Compassion

Life contains suffering—this is the Buddha's first noble truth. We cannot avoid pain but we can change our relationship to it. Instead of denial, minimizing, bargaining, or pushing it away, we can simply acknowledge our hurt and the suffering of those we love. When we do this the heart can begin to open to, and meet, our pain in surprising ways. 

Unit 5 | Equanimity

Equanimity represents the full maturity of the heart. When we no longer feel the need to chase after the pleasant and avoid the unpleasant there is peace, freedom, and wisdom. This is not indifference. In fact, this is true engagement with our heart, mind, body, and the world—to be comfortable and curious in the midst of life and the impermanent, impersonal, flow of experience whether pleasing or unpleasant.

Unit 6 | The Awakened Heart

We conclude by drawing the four qualities together and exploring how their cultivation leads to a responsive engagement with life. This is a path that leads back out into the world. It is not limited to personal development, but includes the complexities, challenges, and joys of authentic relationship to others.

Sample: Kindness and Wakefulness Meditation

Christina Feldman

Christina is a co-founder of Gaia House and a guiding teacher at Insight Meditation Society, in Barre, Massachusetts. The author of a number of books, she has been teaching insight meditation retreats internationally since 1976. She is one of the teaching faculty of the CDPP programme, dedicated to the study and application of the early teachings of the Buddha. She also teaches on the Buddhist psychological foundations of mindfulness to those training to teach mindfulness-based applications in England, Belgium and the Netherlands. 

Christina's recent books include Boundless Heart: The Buddha's Path of Kindness, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity and Mindfulness: Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Psychology, with William Kuyken.

Chris Cullen

Chris has practised and studied the Buddha's teachings since 1994 and has been teaching Insight Meditation retreats since 2010. He is also on the teaching team of the University of Oxford’s Mindfulness Centre, teaching Buddhist Psychology on the Masters course in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and running the mindfulness programme in the UK Parliament. He has a psychotherapy practice in Oxford.

Course Curriculum

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  Unit 1: The Embodied Heart
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  Unit 2: Kindness
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  Unit 3: Appreciative Joy
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  Unit 4: Compassion
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  Unit 5: Equanimity
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  Unit 6: A Life of Wisdom
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  Continuing Your Journey
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"A wonderful introduction to the brahmaviharas, and how they can be cultivated for deeper understanding, connection, caring, and balance through life's vicissitudes."

"Great course and brilliant teachings!"

"A great introduction to what I now realise is a fundamental part of Buddhism, the "active ingredient" in mindfulness that changes the way you relate to the world around you. Has already made a difference to my life."

"Excellent course. Well structured, easy navigation. Christina and Chris are a great team."

"Earlier I took The Boundless Heart, Sharon Salzberg's course on the brahmaviharas. The two courses were different but complemented each other. I would encourage others to take both of them."

"This is the best coverage (in a readily accessible format) of this topic that I have seen. It is a great introduction for beginners but it also has some insights for the advanced practitioner. This is my eighth course in the learn.Tricycle.org Series and I also give Five stars to the Four Noble Truths and Mindfulness, Its origins, Purpose and Transformational Power. These teachings are best explored in community where the ideas can be explored, developed and examined. Our Community spent an entire year on each of these two programs, stopping and starting as someone wanted to question and investigate the teachings more deeply. We are just starting the program on Universal Empathy as a community. If you don't have a community, start one with these teachings. Invite some friends and watch it together (or share your zoom screen). I don't think you will be disappointed."

"Simply wonderful and inspiring."