Each afternoon during March retreats at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, we practice one of the four Buddhist heart practices called the Brahma Viharas or Divine Abodes. Tonight I will guide you through Sylvia Boorstein’s version of Sympathetic Joy or Mudita practice to cultivate our ability to rejoice in the good fortune and success of other people.
Equanimity calms over-exuberance, which is a “near enemy” of Sympathetic Joy. Mudita’s “far enemy” is envy, when we covet or resent the joy and pleasure that another person is experiencing, and when we act from fear of scarcity, as if there were not enough benefits to go around. Envy occurs when we forget that everyone experiences joys and sorrows, and that all things are impermanent. We can remember that it’s someone else’s turn to win.
Sylvia says that the whole of the Dharma can be summarized as “Pay attention and be kind.” She reminds us, “Life is so difficult. How can we be anything but kind? We have to constantly adjust to gains and losses, and it’s hard not to take them personally. The waves never stop coming, but we can choose to surf!”
According to Sylvia, joy helps us on our path towards freedom. Twenty years ago, Sylvia met the (now-deceased) wise Buddhist Patriarch of Cambodia, Maha Gosananda at a Spirit Rock conference on Buddhism in the West. Although he spoke seven or eight languages, he repeated one simple phrase to all the conference participants with whom he came in contact: “May all beings be peaceful and happy and come to the end of suffering.” His radiant presence transmitted joy to everyone he met.
Everyone aspires to be more comfortable. Whole-hearted wishing well for others feels good, especially when we are free of envy, jealousy or clinging to any personal need. Shared joy adds buoyancy to the mind. As Mother Theresa taught, “There are three important things in life: kindness, kindness and kindness.”
Every morning Sylvia sends Mudita phrases to all people who are celebrating a birthday—only if they are happy about aging! She tries to imagine celebratory situations that would merit Sympathetic Joy. An example is all babies taking their very first step.
Try inviting into your mind situations that you could easily celebrate. See if you can find joy in your heart as you resonate empathically.
All those just learning to ride a bicycle independently.
All people whose favorite song just played on the radio.
All long-time friends gathering for reunions.
All those with enough food to eat and enough water to drink.
Unless you tend to be self-critical and harshly judgmental of yourself, classically Mudita phrases are not directed towards oneself because gratitude phrases are substituted. By listing aspects of your life for which you feel grateful, you tend to feel more joyous. TRY IT!
Now I’ll guide Mudita phrases for you to send to a loved one who is experiencing good news or blessings. It’s easiest to start with a happy, affectionate friend, reviewing the blessings in their life. Visualize or have a felt sense of that person. Pause after each phrase to feel an echo throughout your body:
I’m happy that you are happy.
May your happiness and good fortune continue.
May your happiness and good fortune increase.
May your happiness and good fortune shine.
Send the same phrases in turn to:
A Dear Friend
A Neutral Person
A Difficult Person
All Beings Everywhere
Reciting Mudita phrases is part of a purification process that expands the loving capacity of one’s own heart.