Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Joy of "Unselfish Joy" (Mudita)

Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Crystal Quintero (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly; Mudita (BPS.lk, Wheel #170/ATI), four essays by Nyanaponika Thera, Natasha Jackson, C.F. Knight, L.R. Oates
The Buddha overcoming near and distant "enemies" of meditation (David Adams/flickr)
Mudita: The Buddha's Teaching on Unselfish Joy
The Awakened One known as the Buddha said:
Herein [within this Dharma and Discipline], O meditators, a disciple's mind/heart pervades one quarter of the world with thoughts of unselfish joy, and so the second, and so the third, and so the fourth. And in this way the whole wide world, above, below, around, everywhere and equally, one continues to pervade with a heart/mind of unselfish joy, abundant, grown great, measureless, freed of hostility and ill-will.
Is Unselfish Joy Practicable?
Introduction by Ven. Nyanaponika Thera
Rainbow magic (Jasspierxia/flickr)
The virtue of mudita [unselfish joy, appreciative joy, altruistic joy, sympathetic joy, i.e., resonating or vibrating in line (in sympathy) with another person's happiness] is finding and experiencing joy in the happiness and success of others.

It has not received sufficient attention either in expositions of Buddhist ethics or in the meditative development of the Four Sublime States (Brahma Viharas), of which it is one. It was, therefore, thought desirable to compile this brief collection of essays and texts and to mention in this introduction a few supplementary features of this rather neglected subject.
It has been rightly stated that it is relatively easier for one to feel compassion or friendliness in situations that demand them than to cherish a spontaneous feeling of shared joy, outside of a narrow circle of one's family and friends.'
It mostly requires a deliberate effort to identify oneself with the joys and successes of others. Yet, the capacity of doing so has psychological roots in human nature that may be even deeper that one's compassionate responses.
There is firstly the fact that people do like to feel happy (with or without good reason) and would prefer it to the shared sadness of compassion [com-passion = con+passion = with+suffering]. Our gregarious nature (our "sociability") already gives us some familiarity with shared emotions and shared pleasure, though mostly on a much lower level than that of our present concern [which is the meditative development of this Sublime State].

There is in humans (and in some animals) more than an aggressive impulse, but also a natural bent towards mutual aid and cooperative action. There is the fact that happiness is infectious, and an unselfish joy can easily grow out of it. Children readily respond by their own smiles and happy mood to smiling faces and happiness around them. Though children can be quite jealous and envious at times, they also can visibly enjoy it when they have made a playmate happy with a small gift, and they are then quite pleased with themselves.

Let parents and educators wisely encourage this potential in children. Then this seed will quite naturally grow into a strong plant in the adolescent and the adult, maturing from impulsive and simple manifestations into the Sublime State of unselfish joy (mudita-brahma-vihara). Here too, the child may become "the parent of a person." Such education towards joy with others should chiefly be given in a practical way by gently making the child observe, appreciate, and enjoy the happiness and success of others, and by trying to create a little joy in others.

This can be aided by acquainting the child with examples of selfless lives and actions for the joyful admiration of them (and these, of course, go beyond Buddhist history to all human history). This feature should is present in Buddhist youth literature, schoolbooks, and as a theme in Buddhist magazines and adult literature.
Our negative impulses -- like aggression, envy, jealousy, and so on -- are often more in evidence than our positive tendencies toward communal service, mutual aid, unselfish joy, generous appreciation of the good qualities of others and so on. Yet, as all of these positive features are definitely found in humans (though rarely developed), it is realistic to appeal to them and activate and develop them by whatever means we can -- in our personal relationships, education, and so on.

"If it were impossible to cultivate the good, I would not tell you to do so," said the Buddha. This is, indeed, a positive, optimistic assurance.
If this potential for unselfish joy is widely and methodically encouraged and developed, starting with the Buddhist child (or any child) and continued with adults (individuals and Buddhist groups, including the Sangha), the seed for unselfish joy can grow into a strong plant that blossoms and finds fruition in other virtues, a kind of beneficial "chain reaction": magnanimity, tolerance, generosity (of heart and purse), friendliness, and compassion. When unselfish joy grows, many noxious weeds in the human heart will be displaced: jealousy and envy, ill will in various degrees and manifestations, cold-hearted indifference, miserliness, and so forth. Unselfish joy can, indeed, act as a powerful agent in releasing dormant forces of the good in the human heart.
We know very well how envy and jealousy (the chief opponents of unselfish joy) can poison our character as well as our social relationships on many levels of life. They can paralyze the productivity of society on governmental, professional, industrial, and commercial levels. Should we therefore not endeavor to cultivate their antidote: unselfish joy?
It will also vitalize and ennoble charity and social work. While compassion (karuna) is the inspiration for it, unselfish joy is its boon companion. It prevents compassionate action from being marred by a condescending or patronizing attitude, which often repels or hurts the recipient. Also, when active compassion and unselfish joy go together, it is less likely that works of service turn into droning routine performed with indifference.

Indifference, listlessness, boredom (all nuances of arati, famously regarded as one of Mara's daughters) are said to be the "distant enemies" of unselfish joy. They can be vanquished by the alliance of compassion and unselfish joy.
In one who gives and helps, the joy one finds in such action will enhance the blessings imparted by these wholesome deeds: Unselfishness will become more and more natural, and such ethical unselfishness will help one toward a better appreciation and the final realization of the Buddha's central doctrine of No-self (anatta, egolessness). One will also find it confirmed that one who is joyful in heart gains more easily the serenity of a concentrated mind. These are, indeed, great blessings which the cultivation of joy with others' happiness can bestow!

The compilation ends with a fifth "essay," an entry from the Path of Purification by the great Buddhist commentator Buddhaghosa on how to cultivate unselfish joy to the intensity of absorption. The 11 advantages listed at the end of this entry come not from merely trying to develop mudita but from actually attaining absorption through practicing it. It is the absorption (jhana) that powers the benefits.

Meditative Development of Unselfish Joy
Ven. Buddhaghosa (5th-century), excerpt from the Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga)
Meditation mudra (mysecretpsychiclife.com)
One who wishes to begin developing unselfish joy (mudita) meditation must avoid starting with a dearly beloved, neutral, or hostile person.
For it is not the mere fact that a person is dearly beloved that makes that person an immediate cause of developing unselfish joy, and still less so a neutral or hostile person. A person of the opposite sex or anyone who has passed away is also unsuitable subjects in this form of meditation [the former being likely to inspire lust, the latter being impossible to achieve absorption through].
  • [The only purpose of selecting a proper person as subject is to quickly gain mastery of this form of meditation; thereafter, one may it expand it to anyone. Rather than getting bogged down here, bear in mind that "Perfection is the enemy of good."]
A very close friend, however, can be a suitable subject -- one who is called in the Commentaries a close companion, for that person is always in a joyous mood, laughs first and speaks afterwards. That person should be the first to be pervaded with unselfish joy [sympathetic joy, joy in that person's joy, happiness in his or her happiness]. Or on seeing or hearing about a dear person being happy, cheerful, and joyous, unselfish joy can be aroused in this way: "This being, truly, is happy! How good, how excellent!" For this is what is referred to in the Vibhanga: "And how does a meditator dwell pervading one direction with heart imbued with unselfish joy? Just as one would be joyful on seeing a dear and beloved person, so one pervades all beings with unselfish joy" (Vib. 274).
But if this affectionate friend or dear person was happy in the past but is now unlucky and unfortunate, then unselfish joy can still be aroused by remembering that person's past happiness, or by anticipating that the person will be happy and successful again in the future.
Having thus aroused unselfish joy with respect to a dear person, the meditator can then direct it towards a neutral one, and after that towards a hostile one.
But if resentment towards the hostile one arises, one should make it subside in the same way as described under the exposition of loving-kindness (metta).
One should then break down the barriers by means of impartiality (upekkha) towards the four, that is, towards these three and oneself. And by cultivating the sign (nimitta, counterpart sign, after-image, which is obtained by deep concentration), developing and repeatedly practicing it, one should increase the absorption (jhana) to triple or (according to the Abhidhamma division) quadruple absorption.
Next, the versatility (in this meditation) should be understood in the same way as stated under loving-kindness. It consists of:
(a) Unspecified pervasion in these five ways:
"May all beings... all breathing things... all creatures... all persons... all those who have a personality be free from enmity, affliction, and anxiety, and live happily!"
(b) Specified pervasion in these seven ways:
"May all women... all men... all Noble Ones [ariyans, those who have attained any of the noble states]... all non Noble Ones... all devas... all human beings... all those in states of misery (in lower worlds) be free from enmity, and so on."
(c) Directional pervasion in these ten ways:
"May all beings (all breathing things, etc.; all women, etc.) in the eastern direction... in the western direction... northern... southern direction... in the intermediate eastern, western, northern, and southern direction... in the downward direction... in the upward direction be free from enmity, and so on."
This versatility is successful only in one whose mind has reached absorption (jhana).
When this meditator develops the mind-deliverance of unselfish joy through any of these kinds of absorption, one obtains these 11 advantages: One sleeps in comfort, wakes in comfort, and dreams no upsetting dreams, one is dear to human beings, dear to non-human beings, devas guard one, fire and poison and weapons do not affect one, one's mind is easily concentrated, the expression of one's face is serene, one dies unconfused, if one [with insight] penetrates no higher one will be reborn in the Brahma World (A v 342). More
  • The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation
  • Mental States (cetasikas) in Buddhism: In the 89 types of consciousness enumerated in the first chapter, 52 mental states arise in varying degrees. There are seven concomitants common to every [kind of] consciousness. There are six others that may or may not arise in each and every consciousness. They are termed pakinnakā ("particulars"). All of these 13 are designated aññasamāna, a technical term: Añña means "other," samana means "common." Sobhanas (good), when compared with asobhanas (harmful), are called añña, "other," being of the opposite category. So are the asobhanas in contradistinction to sobhanas.

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