Choosing joy

Mudita is a pure joy unadulterated by self-interest. When we can be happy of the joys other beings feel, it is called mudita; the opposite word is envy or schadenfreude. (Wikipedia)

And what is the harmonious assembly? Here. the assembly in which the bhikkhus [monks] dwell in concord, harmoniously, without disputes, blending like milk and water, viewing each other with eyes of affection, is called the harmonious assembly..

Just as, when it is raining and the rain pours down in thick droplets on a mountain top, the water flows down along the slope and fills the clefts, gullies, and creeks; these, becoming full, fill up the pools; these, becoming full, fill up the lakes; these, becoming full, fill up the streams; these, becoming full, fill up the rivers; and these, becoming full, fill up the ocean; so too, when the bhikkhus dwell in concord, harmoniously, without disputes, blending like milk and water, viewing each other with eyes of affection, on that occasion they generate much merit. On that occasion the bhikkhus dwell in a divine abode, that is, in the liberation of mind through altruistic joy. – from AN 3.07, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

Like the other sublime states or divine abodes (loving friendliness, compassion and equanimity), muditā is infectious: joy begets joy. When we encounter a heart that is overflowing with wholesome joy, we want to be near it; it wakes up our own joy, and we feel good.

Over the coming weeks, many of us will participate in assemblies of various sorts: families and friends, clubs and work groups, religious gatherings, etc. We can do our best to make each of these gatherings harmonious by looking for opportunities to notice and participate in the joy of others. We can exercise our own generosity in creative ways to generate joy for others to share in.

The root of the Sanskrit word mudita means to be pleased, to have a sense of gladness. Although mudita is often discussed as “empathetic or altruistic joy” in the context of overcoming envy at the good fortune of others, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen master, points out that there is a broader way to think of mudita—one that doesn’t depend on defining the self as separate from others. In Teachings in Love, he writes: “A deeper definition of the word mudita is a joy that is filled with peace and contentment. We rejoice when we see others happy, but we rejoice in our own well-being as well. How can we feel joy for another person when we do not feel joy for ourselves?” (from

So, let us practice joy in this season. Let’s look at each other with eyes of affection and let go of disputes. Let’s celebrate by being grateful for all that’s good in our lives and focusing our attention on joy – our own joy and others’ joy – it all increases as it’s shared.

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Sublime states. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Choosing joy

  1. Charles Goldsmith says:

    Thanks, I never thought before about mudita and schadenfreude (which is more precisely defined as feeling pleasure due to the misfortune of others) as being on opposite ends of the same scale. Even though they reflect a kind of cultural potpourri, I like the contrast!

    Also, to reinforce your point (and in support of dana too) about generosity on a materialistic level, here’s an excerpt from a perhaps unlikely source:
    “Most people assume that generosity involves sacrifice: we are giving something up so someone else can have more. Charity might get us to heaven, but it probably won’t make us happy, at least here on earth. But this assumption turns out to be largely incorrect. In fact, many people experience a bigger boost in happiness when they spend money on other people. In these cases, giving is literally better than getting.” The Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2016, “Wealth Management” section, “The Mistakes We Make When Giving to Charity”, page R2.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Excellent and informative! Thank you!

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