In Buddhist practice, the Four Divine Abodes are:
- Love or Loving-kindness (metta)
- Compassion (karuna)
- Sympathetic Joy (mudita)
- Equanimity (upekkha)
I’d like to say something about mudita.
According to Access to Insight, “Sympathetic joy means a sublime nobility of heart and intellect which knows, understands and is ready to help.” Also, “Sympathetic joy that is strength and gives strength: this is the highest joy.” This sounds beautiful, but what does it mean for us?
Let’s start simply by trying to look at common non-mudita reactions. Someone comes to you with good news. How might you feel?
- Envious: you want what she has, so you bite your tongue while betraying your ill will
- Annoyed: you’re in the middle of something important, and he is interrupting you; therefore, his interests are presumed to be more important than yours
- Indifferent and cold: since it doesn’t mean much to you, you don’t think much of it
- Flat: you get what she’s saying and you intellectually see that she is enthused about it, but you see her as if from afar, as if behind a screen
Are we not usually envious, annoyed, indifferent, or flat? How often do we really show to the other person that we wish her well for her own sake?
Indeed, wishing the other well for her own sake or caring for the other for her own sake was precisely the definition of genuine friendship that Aristotle proffered. But then if we’re so very rarely wishing someone well for her own sake and celebrating her good news on her behalf, then is there not a considerable hole or deficit in ourselves?
Mudita, or sympathetic joy, seeks to rectify our presumed self-centeredness by inviting us to share in the good news of others. To be sympathetically joyful, I need to stretch my understanding while inclining both my ears and my emotions in order to step onto the doorstep of the other’s inner chamber. I can’t stay where I am, flat-footed and quizzical. I must move myself, as it were, one step closer.
Mudita entails not just the withering away, if only temporarily, of my self-centeredness but also the rightful embrace of intimacy. In this single act, I imply without saying: “In all things, I want what is best for you. May your sufferings be transmuted and may you find abiding peace. In all things, may your heart songs–all of them–be the truest, sweetest hymns. I wish all this for you.”