He who dies with the most toys wins.
— Malcolm Forbes
If you’re one of my loyal readers, you have undoubtedly heard me refer to metta — or lovingkindness — many times. I generally think of metta in terms of the meditation practice, but the word itself refers to one of the four Brahma Viharas, the highest, most divine emotions according to Buddhist dharma (teachings). These divine emotions, which are cultivated by Buddhist practitioners through meditation, “right thinking” and “right action,” are:
- Metta (Lovingkindness)
- Karuna (Compassion)
- Mudita (Joy for others)
- Upekkha (Equanimity)
In my experience, metta cultivates karuna. I have shared in the posts linked above how metta has lead me to become more compassionate. I am by no means a saint. But I am far less reactive and judgmental than I was before I began practicing metta meditation.
Today, I’d like to explore mudita. What does it mean to have mudita, which is also known as “sympathetic joy” or, my favorite, “unselfish joy”? There is no English counterpart for this word, which may be rather telling. After all, Western culture is very much about striving to be better — and to have more — than others. We compete to look better, be fitter, be better educated, be cooler… We work relentlessly to have the biggest house, the latest tech, the fastest car, the most desirable spouse, the most talented children.
Of course, when we try to outdo each other, we automatically assume that someone else will lose; they will have less, be less.
Mudita is the antithesis of this “Me! More! Now!” mindset. It dares us to challenge the very notion that there are limited resources in our limitless world. It encourages us to move past the “I,” to the “no self.” The concept of “no self” is perhaps the most confusing in Buddhism, and greatly exceeds my rudimentary knowledge. But for our purposes, let’s define it as, “Being interconnected with all living things rather than being the autonomous ‘selves’ that our egos insist that we are.”
When accept that we are interconnected, everything shifts. We realize that someone else’s happiness is our happiness, that their romance is our romance, that their achievement is our achievement and that their joy is our joy.
Many years ago, I read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. One idea in particular stuck with me: That someone else’s success in no way diminishes our chance of success. (That’s Judie’s paraphrased version.) In other words, there’s plenty (success, wealth, happiness, love…) to go around.
What a relief! We don’t have to be jealous or fearful that we won’t get our share. We can be truly happy for our friends, family, neighbors, strangers and even our “competition.” As an author, I don’t have to worry that I won’t be published because someone else signed a contract. Instead, I can feel genuine happiness for their success, that their hard work paid off.
As a woman, I can appreciate other women and not think that I am “less than” because they are younger, more beautiful or more stylish. Instead, I can appreciate their attributes and realize that they in no way diminish me or my chance at happiness.
As an employee, I can celebrate the accomplishments of my manager and coworkers, secure in the knowledge that their achievements fill our workplace with positive energy, thus blessing everyone who works there, including me.
Most of my mudita experiences occur while I’m walking in the city. I’ll hear a child’s laughter and my face will light up in sympathetic joy. I don’t need to know why they’re happy. I simply feel happy because they are happy.
I recently saw a woman and a toddler exit a city bus. The boy flew out of the bus into a man’s arms and shouted, “Daddy!” My heart nearly exploded with joy for the love that this small family demonstrated as they greeted each other on the sidewalk.
That’s mudita. Nothing more, nothing less.
Please feel free to share your stories of mudita in the comments section. I’m sure that they will bring me — and your fellow readers — joy.