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sympathetic joy (to the world)

Ancient teachings are chock-a-block with lists: three of this, ten of those, 37 of them, and 108 of the other. They come to us from oral traditions where disciples recite such lists in quiet prayer or public chanting. Drawing on my fledging understanding of Buddhist teachings, I’ve already mentioned Four Noble Truth, Eight-fold Path, and 16 Precepts. Today the Four Immeasurables make their appearance as Love, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity.   

The third one is joy (mudita in Sanskrit); more precisely sympathetic or altruistic joy: the pleasure that comes from delighting in others’ well-being (rather than begrudging it). Its polar opposite is Schadenfreude (a word English borrows from German): taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune. 

So, looking around me I see many opportunities for sympathetic joy: for the people who’ll soon inhabit the ocean-view house that was my home for 20 years; those who’ll make good use the stuff I’m giving away; friends who talk of planned family gatherings at Christmas (while I’ll be on my own); former coworkers who get to continue doing hospice work which I had to give up … examples abound. May all be happy.

The more I delight in the good fortune of others–especially when it runs counter to my desires and designs–the more I free myself from thoughts of greed and attitudes of ‘poor me.’ The more deeply we drink of the boundless spring of mudita, the more secure we become in our own happiness. 

added a week later: There’s a scholarly book of numbers in Budhism and Hinduism; images: (top); (bottom).


2 responses »

  1. What a great post for this season where Joy is a word that appears so often, but that joy, it seems, in this modern world, is often associated with excess of stuff; gifts, food, drink. How nice to think about true joy and how it is the gift that really warms all hearts. Thanks, Peter. Congrats on the house sale. We too are sold and ready to take the next step in the new year!

    warm holiday wishes to you.

    • may we all get a taste of the joy that’s ever present. not something we do or make happen, but something we become aware … many blessings to you, carole, and thank you for writing such thoughtful blog posts and making your wonderful art.


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