When something good happens for someone in your life—maybe your colleague lands a promotion or your BFF gets engaged, for instance—on the surface, you may be thrilled for them. But internally, maybe there’s a twinge of jealousy or comparison swirling. This is a very common human response. Still, it doesn’t feel good. The Buddhist practice of mudita, also referred to as sympathetic joy, which is about rejoicing in the good fortune of others, can help with this. So the next time someone you know receives some awesome news, you genuinely and deeply feel happiness for them.
With so many things going on in the world right now, this is exactly the vibe we all need in our lives. Below, Robert Thurman, a Tibetan Buddhism expert and author of Wisdom Is Bliss, explains the principles of mudita, how it benefits everyone, and how to put it into practice.
What is mudita?
Mudita is the third of the four immeasurables or highest states of being, also called divine abodes (brahmavihāra) in Buddhism. According to Thurman, the first description of the four immeasurables and the methodologies for experiencing them were found in the discourses of Buddha around 2,500 years ago. To best understand the heart-opening practice of mudita, it’s important to back up and get to know the four immeasurables, what they are, and how they build on each other.
The first of the four immeasurables is love, which Thurman says involves focusing on the people in your life that you love—your parents, partner, children, community, etc.—and wishing them real happiness. He adds that the cool and surprising thing about this practice is that the person desiring the other well (aka you), in turn, also experiences joy while doing so.
From that state, you then move into the second immeasurable of compassion. “After enjoying this immense state of good feeling, one begins to observe the living beings one wishes to be so very happy, and one begins to notice that many of them are not very happy at all,” Thurman says. In other words, we’re all going through something at any given time that may be impeding our joy. So immeasurable compassion, Thurman adds, involves going beyond wishing everyone happiness to also wishing them freedom from the suffering holding them back from experiencing joy.
Immeasurable joy (aka mudita)
Since immeasurable compassion requires a deep state of awareness, Thurman says this automatically brings you into mudita or immeasurable joy, which he says “arises from contemplatively observing the joy of life in living beings.” He adds that under the surface of suffering, “there is a deep, perhaps even cellular, joie-de-vivre in any living being.”
So, why is mudita a practice we should all be focusing on right now? “It is life energy itself—the force that sustains health,” Thurman says. “It is well-being itself. It is [the] benefit itself.”
Not only is practicing mudita beneficial to our individual well-being, but it’s also beneficial to the collective well-being. “Love and compassion are essential emotions for the good life of individuals and also indispensable for the smooth working of societies—from the family to the community, nation, and world,” Thurman says. “Joy, even at an ordinary level, is like the vital energy for those emotions. It is our duty to choose, cultivate, expand, and enjoy joy, which is always naturally sympathetic.”
Lastly, Thurman says you can carry the love, compassion, and joy you’ve cultivated into the fourth immeasurable of equanimity or impartiality. “That is where one feels altruistic love for all living, wills their freedom from suffering, and sees their life force itself as fundamentally loving and joyful,” he says. Essentially, mudita is the practice wishing others genuine love and happiness, which results in an immense sense of joy within yourself.
The best part? Putting mudita into practice in our day-to-day lives is actually very simple. Thurman recommends sending love out to everyone during meditation. Another way he suggests embracing mudita is by simply being in good cheer and not allow things to disturb your cheerfulness as you navigate life—even the parts that feel the opposite of joyful. To be clear, this is not toxic positivity, but an ability to maintain and sustain your sense of love and compassion in the face of pain, suffering, and adversity, (either your own or others) and to understand that you have the ability to feel multiple, at times divergent, emotions at the same time.
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