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?
The gift of mindfulness practice is that in any moment of anxiety or fear, we are called to open our hearts, to have the courage to be with even our deepest, darkest fears. An old Hasidic story says teachings are placed on, not in, our hearts, so that when the heart breaks, the teachings fall in. We hear, reflect on and put into practice the teachings, so that in the turmoil of anxiety and fear, loving awareness, is our response—trusting that loving, compassionate, peaceful presence is what is most healing in the experience of the broken, anxious or fearful heart.
These days, I have been experiencing directly with great gratitude the power and profound healing of community support in difficult times. Reflection naturally emerges on the indispensible nature of the boundless, universally empathic mind/heart capacities at the ground of human experience. They are timeless and transcultural: love, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. Called Brahmavihara, these qualities are, happily, capable of cultivation and development.
These teachings and practices train the heart into feeling life fully and tenderly, intuitively sensing how to reach out and connect with our own and others’ hearts with clarity and sincere caring. They encourage intuitive wisdom and courageous, loving presence in the face of the joys and sorrows all humans know. We allow the teachings to fall lovingly into our heart and trust what we find there. Can you open your broken heart so the experience of boundless loving awareness can fall in?