2020-12-22 Brahmavihāras: Appreciative Joy (2 of 5)
6:03PM Dec 22, 2020
So good morning, good day. And I realized I'm beginning to go over time with both the meditation and also the short talk, I plan to get back on track, but maybe it's a little bit the nature of the topic this week: appreciative joy. And so muditā is the Pali word for what often in English is called appreciative joy, or sympathetic joy.
And I like to call it this week rejoicing. It's kind of more energetic and more full, full experience to rejoice than just appreciate. It seems like sometimes a little bit of a small word compared to rejoicing. And in my vocabulary, rejoicing is something almost embodied, whereas appreciating is a more of a cognitive thing, to just appreciate.
It's a meditation practice in Buddhism. And as a meditation practice, it has a lot of benefits. And one of them is that it helps to dissolve, soften, and maybe get rid of the feelings we have of discontent, jealousy, envy - kind of a discontent, in the success and well being of others. And of course, it's very, it's very odd to say that we could have discontent at the joy of others. But for some people, jealousy and envy is a very big part of their lives. And maybe for many different reasons - sometimes, maybe there's historical reasons why that's been cultivated or developed in us.
Or sometimes there's fear, to really acknowledge the wellbeing of others. Or there's a comparison to ourselves. And we're discontent because, you know, if I, if I really admit and celebrate the success of someone else, that kind of implies that my lack of success, that I'm kind of, you know, not really a good person somehow. Or, it's, it's a reflection on me that someone else is doing well, and I'm being left behind by life in the world or something. And, and these kinds of thoughts and ideas that stand in the way of feeling just genuine, real appreciation, real delight and gladness and seeing the gladness, seeing the joy and wellbeing of others - is a hindrance. It keeps us limited, and keeps the heart from really opening up to be present for this life in a full way.
And as I said, I've been saying that part of the function of this ideal of appreciative joy, rejoicing is not to obligate us to feel that way. But to help us to use that as a reference point, to notice how we're still closed, to notice what keeps us in the way of opening in the heart and a full and honest way. And so what we do as we discovered that discontent, that's the word in the Pali text, that for the primary hindrance to this appreciative joy.
So discontent can mean many things. But classically, it's often associated with envy, jealousy, and certain kind of conceit. And the conceit that this says something about me. And maybe it says something bad about me. Conceit in Buddhism - not just thinking you're better than someone else, but also that somehow you're less than someone else, or you don't measure up to someone else. All this concern with self-measurement and comparative thinking is a hindrance to really having the heart just open and relaxed and present.
And this mindfulness practice is really a practice to really recognize what gets in the way of our open heart, our full presence to experience. And then the art of it is to notice what gets in the way. But then don't pile on more suffering, more judgments, more aversion to that, but learn how to breathe with it, open to it. Learn how to hold it in the soft palms, the cupped hand of awareness.
And learn to open up a little bit to that, to realize we can hold the challenges we have, and they envy, the jealousy of discontent we have, in something of a wider field, a wider sense of embodiment, or "enheartenedment," or "inmindedment" that there's much more here that we can begin sensing when we learn how to be present in a nonreactive way, without being swept up in our thoughts and judgments about it. Just there, allowing it to be there.
And then beginning to open up, and feeling whatever goodness is there. And maybe part of that goodness is the part of you that wants to help, the part of you that wants to care about yourself, and wants to be supportive for who you are. And then for mindfulness practitioners, to realize that one of the ways that we fulfill that desire to be helpful to ourselves, is paradoxically not to do too much, except to really hold our challenges in awareness. So something opens up, something reveals itself that has a lot of goodness and joy and wellbeing that's kind of beyond the edges of it - in the rest of the body, and somewhere else. Just the goodness of just having a practice.
So we want to learn to recognize the hindrances to sympathetic joy. We also want to recognize what the tradition says is what's called the near enemy of it. And the near enemy is that which looks like this rejoicing, this muditā, but it's not really it. It's really another way in which we're not really opened up fully. The tradition defines it as the gladness, the joy that comes from... You have to listen to this carefully, because in English, it's not going to come across well - maybe a little bit off. But that which comes with domestic life. And I think that the word domestic life in the ancient language, was really a synonym for the joy that comes with some kind of attachment, some clinging to something.
And, and the primary one that's referred to here is something that's associated with sensual pleasure - attachment to essential pleasure. And so if we can feel this joy in someone's engagement in sensual pleasure, "Wow, that was really good to get my fifth alcoholic drink of the day. I'm so happy to have it!" To feel joy in that person's happiness in having five drinks before noon, that's not really it. It's kind of sad. And so, to have joy in that kind of pleasure someone has, is not really so helpful or supportive even for a deeper process.
But I've seen that here in United States among practitioners of muditā. The focusing on the near enemy of muditā is often something a little different. And that is giddiness. So to feel joy and delight in what's happening, but they get kind of giddy about it. And giddy, I think is to be clinging to something a little bit, self-conscious, and a little bit of conceit, a little bit of over-involvement with the joy. So that kind of feels a bit off. It's like there's a little bit hyper energy involved, which is not really a settled, open, free flow of joy, but something that actually separates us a little bit from the appreciation, the delight we take in a situation.
And this idea there can be a kind of joy and wellbeing that when we get too self-preoccupied, or more concerned with the self, we lose touch with the very thing that we're appreciating. And so at least is my understanding of this term giddiness when it's used in English. It's a kind of bubbling up of joy that is self-preoccupying, self-concerned, or self-oriented. And that gets in the way of this boundless feeling of appreciation, joy, delight in the wellbeing and the good fortune of others.
And so one of the ways to have an entry point to this world of muditā, is to begin appreciating, understanding - maybe I'm using the word appreciate too much - understanding what gets in the way, and what's more complicated, and in doing so, it makes it much more realistic.
And then we're careful not to override, jump over, and do a spiritual bypass for how we really are. But to really recognize who we are, and recognize all our warts and all, they say - all the shortcomings we have and all the challenges we have. And in spite of that, or with that, or because of our capacity to open to that - to be able to have a heart that's more open to experience the joy of the world, the pleasure of the world, that appreciation of all the helpers, and all the goodness, that's here, the success and good fortune of others.
And that ability to open and open is really one of the primary parts of Buddhist practice. So if we can open really to our own suffering, with this open heart, that very ability to open to that is the very openness, that when we get up from our cushion, per se, and we encounter the beautiful things of the world, then we're just open to that now. And then there's sympathetic joy.
Or if we encounter the suffering of the world, we open to that, and then we have compassion. But because the doors are open, nothing sticks. As soon as something is stuck, part of the doors are closed. And so this open door policy of the heart. Keep your doors open. And slowly over time, we can learn the tremendous value of these brahmavihāras.
And one of the really great ones that can be nourishing, can be nurturing can be inspiring, can really fuel even the practice of the Dharma is this appreciative joy, to rejoice in the wellbeing of others.
So for this next 24 hours, I'd encourage you to explore this more for yourself. And notice as you go through the day your reactivity, perhaps, to whatever contact you have to goodness in the world, or people celebrating, or having success. And seeing if you can experience it with completely open doors of the heart, or whether you somehow resist it, or close down, or distance yourself from it. And with no judgments about yourself, hopefully, just get curious for one day, become an explorer.
Discover the whole territory of your inner life, having to do with real deep appreciation, joy, and lack of it for the success wellbeing and goodness that you experience in other people. And in the process, let's all of us become people who can benefit the world by appreciating what can be appreciated. Thank you very much.