Friday, August 16, 2013

nothing-fancy muditā

As part of the check list anyone might fashion in pursuit of spiritual realization, what Buddhists sometimes refer to as "muditā" strikes me as a good one. Muditā, according to Wikipedia, means joy,
... especially sympathetic or vicarious joy, the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people's well-being rather than begrudging it.
Sometimes muditā -- at least for Buddhists -- is referred to as a virtue and as something to be cultivated. It's not clear to me how joy could be a virtue or could be cultivated like a strawberry patch:
It seems to me that when joy springs up, it does not lend itself to anything as halting as a "virtue" and it doesn't seem to be premised on any sort of Miracle Gro cultivation. When joy comes, it is full-blown and whole and yummy ... end of story. But, oh well, maybe the Buddhists have some intricate meaning I have missed entirely. Certainly muditā can inspire long and heart-felt encomiums.

Muditā lays no claims and does not expect any kickbacks. I do not feel joy at my children's accomplishments as a means of elevating myself. Or perhaps I do, but it certainly isn't front and center. Instead, there is just some laughing woo-hoo ... you're alive, I'm alive ... how about them apples?!

As a part of a spiritual checklist, the aspect of muditā that occurred to me today was in connection with the golden boys and girls ... Gautama (the Buddha), Jesus, Mohammad, your teacher or mine ... you know, the ones anyone might choose as their spiritual exemplars.

The initial approach to such people is, when examined, pretty piggy: So-and-so is a bright light, I am a dim bulb, and I yearn to be a bright light myself. Maybe it's OK for starters -- my heeeeero! -- but with practice this approach is pretty thin. Not wrong or naughty, just thin. When I bite into a good piece of chocolate or hear a consuming piece of music or slide top-speed down a tall slide, it's ... it's ... it's joy without a name. I didn't 'cultivate' it and I certainly wouldn't slow down for anything as constraining as a 'virtue.' It's just full-blown, full-grown joy... no extras need apply.

And this feeling -- a feeling I cannot imagine others have not felt as well -- is important as a yardstick in spiritual endeavor. As practice progresses through the days and weeks and years, joy seems to spread out, not as a virtue or a discipline but ... just because. Increasingly, circumstances seem to have the ability to trigger this whatever-the-hell-it-is called joy.

And this is useful when it comes to the golden boys and girls. Is there some reason why I cannot simply take some pleasure, some joy, in the fact that they have achieved what I imagine they have achieved? Just enjoy it. As a friend might be pleased in a friend's pleasure and accomplishment, why should I not be happy for Gautama or Jesus or Mohammad or your teacher or mine? Would I begrudge it by asserting how much I might want to be "like that?" Wouldn't it be a better yardstick to see that yearning to be someone or something else as far from anything that might be called joy or muditā.

Gautama is Gautama, Jesus is Jesus, Mohammad is Mohammad, your teacher or mine is your teacher or mine ... and you or I are just you or I ... part and parcel of the muditā picture, one pretty tasty bit of chocolate. To "take joy" is to "be joy" ... but joy has no name and takes no requests. A bigger, better joy or a more virtuous joy is a diminution of joy ... and joy can neither be diminished nor does it respond to Miracle Gro encomiums. Joy is joy.

Joy is joy and people know all about joy. Playing the gloomy gus or the ever-improving spiritual aspirant ... it's good to notice these things, I think. It's useful to watch and watch and watch some more. Am I a greedy gus, praising one golden boy or another? Sure. But as I know chocolate or music or a sweet slide down a slide, muditā has its own ways ....

Which is to say, your way.

Or Gautama's or Jesus' or Mohammad's or ... well, how about them apples?

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