Mudita, a Pali and Sanskrit word, has no precise counterpart in English. The third Brahma Vihara, it is variously translated as sympathetic, altruistic or unselfish joy, finding joy in the good fortune of others, or pure joy unadulterated by self interest. HH the Dalai Lama observed that if we cultivate mudita, “our chances for happiness multiply by 7 billion!” Yet mudita is perhaps the least discussed and practiced Brahma Vihara. Is it that difficult?
The opposites of mudita are jealousy, envy or schadenfreude, (a German word that means taking pleasure in the misfortune of others), negative emotions marked by selfishness and malice. We may tend to emphasize our negative impulses over our positive tendencies. Yet, we can activate and develop our positive potential. “If it were impossible to cultivate the Good, I would not tell you to do so,” said the Buddha. Methodically cultivated, the seed of mudita will flower into other virtues, as a kind of beneficial “chain reaction”: generosity (emotional and material), friendliness, and compassion; and many tendencies that lead to suffering such as jealousy and envy, ill will, cold-heartedness, and miserliness (also in one’s concern for others), will naturally die or lessen.
Mudita is an antidote to indifference and boredom. The joyful heart gains more easily the serenity of a concentrated mind: “… thus the [disciple] continues to pervade [the whole world] with a heart of unselfish joy, abundant, grown great, measureless, without hostility or ill-will.” It is a calm mental state open to deep insight, an important prerequisite for enlightenment. Does that inspire your curiosity?
Compassion (Pali: karuna) is the second of the four Brahmavihara or Boundless States.
Suffering is universal and not foreign to human experience. How we relate and respond is the very essence of our Buddhist mind/heart training. Often we recoil and armor the heart, believing that something has gone terribly wrong, or someone is to blame for this very human experience. Yet, the heart can be trained to respond with compassion, based on mutual resonance and natural connectedness in the face of loss and pain. Compassion is sensitivity, not grounded in pity, repulsion or fear, arising from the heart’s fearless inclusive capacity to recognize universal kinship and belonging, especially in suffering.
Compassion for our own suffering transforms resentment into forgiveness, hatred into friendliness, and fear into kindness for all beings. It mandates that we extend warmth, sensitivity and openness to all sorrows in a truthful and genuine way.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche called this the spiritual warrior’s tender heart of sadness. He said:
“This sadness doesn’t come from being mistreated. You don’t feel sad because someone has insulted you or because you feel impoverished. Rather, this experience of sadness is unconditioned. It occurs because your heart is completely open, exposed. It is the pure raw heart. Even if a mosquito lands on it, you feel so touched…. It is this tender heart of a warrior that has the power to heal the world.”
Can we move through the world with that open, exposed, raw heart? Can your tender heart of compassion flutter in the face of universal and individual suffering?
Wisdom, the fourth parami or emanation of an Awakened Being, is not accumulated by long periods of study or linear thinking, or attained by amassing power. We’ve all met people who are intelligent and powerful, and yet not wise.
The heart discovers wisdom when, through direct reflection and experience, it rests in the inexorably changing nature of the seasons of life. Wisdom knows truly and deeply that we are given pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disrepute, so lets go of struggle, resting the heart. Thus, it discerns what is universally true in all circumstances—the difficult and painful, the beautiful and joyful.
This parami of wisdom comes to life with “don’t know mind” seeing the eternal laws—that the only constant is change, and that the quality of our heart creates how the world will be—that if we act from anger, hatred and vengeance, that will be returned to us, and if we act with love and compassion, that will grow in us. Wisdom knows that sorrow is caused by grasping, anger, fear and confusion and that true happiness grows from generosity, loving kindness, patience and spaciousness. The heart of wisdom sees and responds lovingly, fearlessly and appropriately. Knowing our interdependence, it responds to suffering with compassion; to happiness with joy; it provides medicine for the sick, food for the hungry, and acts and speaks out against injustice, with love and kindness.
The wise awakened heart lives fully and dies unconfused, in peace.