Mudita: The Joy of Joy

Sympathetic Joy is the most common translation of the Buddhist term mudita. Mudita is finding joy in the joy of others. It is spontaneous, unconditioned and unlimited. It is the joy of aliveness, of being itself. Mudita is spiritual joy.

We have all experienced mudita, most likely in presence of children. The joy of children is so pure and unbounded that it is contagious. Seeing a child engaged in joyous play, we ourselves are touched by joy. The joy we feel is not something we own. We did not produce it through our own efforts. It arises from outside ourselves. We simply enjoy the the joy experienced by another being.

laughing-buddha-figureIn Buddhism there are techniques to simulate mudita. They are valuable and can help us be more open to the arising of spontaneous joy. In their simplest form, one strives to wish others happiness and remember to celebrate others’ successes.

However, we must not mistake the map for the territory. The cultivation of joy is a close approximation but not the real thing. Since the practice is contrived, it is easy to get caught up in judging our success, or lack-thereof, in finding joy in others’ joy. We may become frustrated by the arising of negative thoughts, judgements, and jealousy – the antithesis of joy.  We may wonder how we can we feel joy in another’s success, when we are jealous of that success?

True mudita arises in spite of our imperfections and negative thoughts. Spiritual joy is a vast ocean upon which thoughts are only ripples. Negative thoughts may continue to arise but are insignificant in the presence of mudita.

Ultimately, mudita arises from beyond what we think of as self. Mudita is the nature of the measureless. It arises naturally when our hearts open to the unconditioned. When we are touched by the unconditional, we experience boundless joy in even the smallest moments of life. Unfortunately, we are usually too caught up in conditionality – planning for the future, reliving the past, judging and weighing each experience – to see the joy present in each moment.

Awakening to mudita begins by paying attention. This is why prayer and meditation are so important. They help us slow down. Through contemplation, we become comfortable with stillness and quite.

Our world is frantic, filled with information and activity. It is not a conducive environment for deep peace. Taking time – daily – to sit quietly can seem like a herculean task. Nevertheless, inner stillness – peace – is worth the effort. It allows us to see the world anew. Over time we become more capable of experiencing spontaneous joy. We begin to rejoice in the sights and sounds of nature, the joy of friends and family, or just in the joy of joy – our own or that of another.

Peace, Paul

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4 Responses to “Mudita: The Joy of Joy”

  1. melhpine Says:

    This reminds me of a time in the 1980s when I lived in New York City. I was walking to the subway early in the morning, going to work and feeling miserable. It was a bad time in my life. I was in a new neighborhood and feeling very alone. And it was terribly cold and windy. As I walked, my cheeks began to tingle with the cold, and that brought me joy. I can only think that it was the world connecting with me in a physical way. But just that (unpleasant) sense of tingling cheeks brought me great joy,

    • Peace Paul Says:

      Thank you for sharing. Life is often filled with little moments like this and many times we miss them because we not “present.”

  2. amiezor Says:

    Finding these small quiet moments throughout our day is hard indeed, but invaluable. Thank you for this post, and reminders of the spontaneous joys that are around every corner!

    • Peace Paul Says:

      Thich Nhat Hanh writes about this extensively, though some of it may have been lost as we have embraced mindfulness as a technique as opposed to just being aware of the miraculousness of life unfolding around us.

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