Nyanaponika Thera was a German Buddhist who died in 1994 at the age of 93. He wrote about Inter-relationships of the Four Sublime States or the Brahma Viharas: Metta (loving kindness), Karuna (compassion), Mudita (sympathetic joy) and Upekkha (equanimity).
Tonight, before participating in guided Mudita practice, let us examine how sympathetic joy interacts with the other three Divine Abodes that the Buddha taught to open the heart.
Unbounded love or Metta protects compassion from discrimination or aversion, so that no beings are excluded from caring. To equanimity, Metta brings selflessness, and its boundless nature and fervor. When fervor is transformed and channeled skillfully, it strengthens equanimity’s power of keen perception and wise restraint.
Compassion prevents Metta and Mudita from such a narrow focus on love and joy that the existence of dreadful suffering is forgotten. Compassion is a reminder that even amidst celebratory delight, happiness coexists with loss and misery. In fact, sorrow and pain will continue to arise until suffering is uprooted entirely at the attainment of Nirvana or Nibbana. With compassion, Metta and Mudita avoid states of self-satisfied complacency or jealously guarded petty privilege. The practice of compassion expands the scope of love and motivates sympathetic joy to grow into a truly boundless state.
Compassion keeps equanimity from sliding into selfish isolation or into indifference, which is its near enemy. Sympathetic joy brings mild serenity to equanimity, which softens its sternness.
Mudita or sympathetic joy protects compassion from becoming overwhelmed by the extent of the world’s suffering. Mudita relieves the mind’s tension and soothes the painful burning of the compassionate hearts. With sympathetic joy, compassion avoids aimless, melancholic brooding or futile sentimentality that weakens both the heart and mind. Mudita spurs compassion into active sympathy. Mudita is associated with the divine smile on the Buddha’s face—a smile that persists in spite of deep knowledge about the world’s pain and sorrow, a smile that conveys solace, hope, fearlessness and love.
By attuning us to what is positive and pleasant about actual situations and conditions, Mudita practice often leads to a state of gratitude.
Please sit comfortably and close your eyes.
Connect with the energy in and around your heart.
Bring to mind a beloved person who is experiencing a period of joy, good fortune, or success.
Either visualize or sense the presence of that person with you now.
Repeat silently the following Mudita phrases, directing them towards this beloved person:
I am happy that you’re happy.
I appreciate the blessings in your life.
May you enjoy happiness and abundance.
May your happiness and good fortune continue.
May your happiness and good fortune increase.
Recite the phrases on behalf of a neutral person and then on behalf of a difficult person. Let us end with sending Mudita to the triumphant Astros team, baseball champions of the World Series!