Rapture & Joy, the 4th Factor of Awakening

June 10, 2013
Piti is the next Factor of Awakening, and is translated from Pali as rapture, joy, happiness, pleasure, delight, rapt interest, or bliss. It describes a specific kind of energy and feeling in the body, mind, and heart that naturally and organically unfolds as a result of the previously developed awakening factors. Said another way, and going backwards from where we left off last week; out of sustained well-directed energy supported by investigation and wisdom grown out of continuous mindfulness, natural joy, delight and happiness arise.
In understanding Piti, it is important to distinguish between the rapture and joy that come from deepening states of meditative concentration and absorption, the joy and happiness that come from understanding and knowledge, and the delight and pleasure one feels as a result of the fruits of one’s skillful efforts. These are all forms of Piti, also known as Dharma Joy.[1]
Rapture is the facet of Pitithat develops through deepening levels of meditative concentration. It is an energy that pervades the entire body with an assortment of very pleasurable, delightful, intense or blissful feelings. These waves of energy can be momentary or last differing lengths of time. The feelings may vary in intensity; sometimes tingling or vibrations in the body, sometimes centered in one specific area, perhaps the crown of the head or the center of the chest. It may be felt as pain or pure delight. Sometimes rapture can give the sensation of feeling ten feet tall, or as if there is an enormous weight on the top of the head, or a sense of joyful relief throughout the entire body.
While this may sound very intriguing and make you think, “Hey, I want some of that meditative thrill,” beware. These states are very seductive. If you’ve experienced meditative rapture, you know it can be completely captivating and steer you off course. With enough experience, you know it’s just another state brought on by conditions present at that time. If you have not experienced it, this doesn’t mean anything except you haven’t experienced it. That’s all. What is important to remember is that just like all other mind states, rapture is not the purpose of practice, but is an aspect and experience of practice. And it is temporary. Remember this when you’re feeling either exhilarated or frustrated with your meditation practice. It is just a passing state of mind. Good or bad, it will change.
Another facet of Pitiis that sense of joy and happiness that occurs when we finally understand something, the “ah-ha!” moment. In those times, the mind opens, relaxes and it feels good. We’re happy, though it may be subtle. Even if what we’ve figured out is not great news, we still have the relief and even the pleasure of understanding. The contemporary Burmese Theravadan Buddhist monk Sayadaw U Tejaniya says, “You should be happy when you know or understand anything.” This is a very good reminder about accepting ourselves and our circumstances as we are in this moment. This is good enough now because it is the only now there could be.
The third aspect of Pitiis the joy and pleasure that come from skillful actions; those that lead to increased well-being and decreased suffering, and wholesome mind states and happiness. Specifically, states of non-greed, non-ill-will, and having enough patience and awareness to not act out of ignorance or delusion. All of these states require a degree of letting go; loosening up our grip on what we perceive to be me or mine, and even on how we think things should be or want them to be.
What does it mean to let go and loosen the grip? Sometimes it can take a lot of courage to do this. It might feel risky to let go of some thing or some idea and move into the unknown and uncomfortable. But doing so is an act of generosity, and generosity is a very wholesome state of mind. Think about a time when you let go of some hard fought position, or gave away a cherished possession, or even made a monetary donation that may have been a bit of a stretch.  Did it give you pleasure or relief or delight or happiness? The Buddha taught that generosity brings us joy three times; 1st, with the initial thought to be generous, 2nd, with the actual giving, and 3rd with the memory of our action. I think this is really true. Try it out for yourself.
 “Whatever path of action you find 
that brings good and happiness to all, 
follow this way 
like the moon in the path of the stars.”
-from Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, Jack Kornfield, 1994.

[1]Adapted from a talk given by Joseph Goldstein, May 2007. www.dharmaseed.org