From Compassion to Joy

February 3, 2014
Mudita, or appreciative joy is the next of the Brahma-Viharas, the natural and beautiful reflections of the wise heart. Classically these are taught in order; loving-kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), appreciative joy (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha) because they tend to develop that way. Ultimately, they arise on their own in response to experience.
I’m a sap. I frequently cry in movies or while reading books whether sad, funny, or happy, and even at sporting events when something really fantastic happens. I can remember leaping out of my seat and shouting for joy at my son’s high school basketball games when one of the bench players came in the game, got the block or made a basket,  thoroughly embarrassing my son and especially my daughter if she was nearby. That kind of joy, while really exciting is not mudita, it is exuberance, what the Buddha taught as the “near enemy” or close opposite of appreciative joy. My outburst of exhilaration in the moment caused my kids embarrassment, the people around me to roll their eyes, and left me feeling a little foolish.
A more accurate expression of mudita is the kind of deep joy we feel at the wedding of someone close to us, the birth of a baby to someone we love, when a dear friend gets the job she’s been working towards, or any way we spontaneously feel joy for another’s success. It’s joy completely free from envy or jealousy. It is joy that springs from love.
For the most part, one who is free of ill will and can whole-heartedly wish kindness towards another develops and easily expresses compassion. A compassionate person can naturally feel joy in another’s success. And from this place equanimity naturally evolves. Each of the brahma-viharas is an expression of the heart in its most stable and unobstructed state.
Realistically though, sometimes we do have ill will, don’t feel compassionate, cannot feel joy for another’s success, and cannot accommodate the conditions of our lives with any degree of equanimity. We get knocked around because that’s how life is. 

But, with mindfulness practice we do start seeing more clearly the truth of impermanence, how everything changes every minute of the day, the gritty experience of suffering in all its forms (anxiety, stress, sorrow, loss, grief, anger, blame, shame, pain,) and that things happen because other things happen. Nothing exists purely on its own, but is utterly dependent on myriad causes to create a single condition.
Think about what it takes to create a single piece of paper; the seedling that grew out of fertile soil into a tree, the clouds that generated the rain to water the tree, the person who cut down the tree had to be born and become strong enough to do the job, tools made from other elements had to be used, fossil fuels necessary to transport the logs to the mill had to be extracted, on and on, just to make a sheet of paper.  

When we really see the complexity of our interconnection and interdependence, our individual self-involvement naturally diminishes, and we are more likely to act from a place of greater balance, appreciation, compassion and kindness.
Live in joy,
In love,
Even among those who hate.
Live in joy,
In health,
Even among the afflicted.
Live in joy,
In peace,
Even among the troubled.
Look within.
Be still.
Free from fear and attachment,
Know the sweet joy of the way.

-The Buddha, the Dhammapada