Posted by: Michael Rickicki | 03/28/2019

Happy Uposatha – A Mudita Retreat

THIS LEAVES MUDITA AND UPEKKHA as the ugly ducklings in the meditation retreat scene. There is no reason for not having “mudita” or “upekkha” retreats, as well. Let me try to convince you, for example, that mudita is no ugly duckling but a most dazzling swan radiant in its white purity.

I’ll keep using the Pali word “mudita” because I feel that the common English renderings of the term are somewhat limited. Altruistic, sympathetic, and appreciative joy — the commonly found translations — all somehow touch on the quality of mudita, but none by itself fully describes this sublime emotion.

Mudita is altruistic in the sense that it is connected with the unselfish benefit of others and is directly opposed to envy —its far enemy. It is sympathetic or (as the break down of the word suggests) a common nexus of “pathos,” the “shared experience of feeling,” or the putting oneself in the shoes of the happy person.

But mudita also shares a quality of subtlety, because it requires a certain refinement in awareness to appreciate and respond with one’s own happiness to the happiness of others. It is because of this last quality that it may be promoted up to the lofty heights of the third jhana. At this level of consciousness, joy (piti) has been left behind and happiness (sukha) pervades the mind. Since this is superior to the relative coarseness of the previous state partaking of joy, thus placing mudita on its highest pedestal, it may be suggested that we refer to it as appreciative-, sympathetic-, or altruistic happiness.

YET THE DEFINITION WOULD STILL not be complete. Mudita shows herself also as the happiness that arises due to the performance of others’ meritorious deeds. This is a lovely slant on the quality of mudita since the Blessed One has made reference to the fact that meritorious deeds are none other than a synonym for happiness!

I like to think of mudita as “inexpensive happiness,” for it is readily available if we just open our hearts a little bit. Consider that what characterizes human existence is that, in contrast to other realms of existence, it partakes of a fair balance between the experiences of pleasure and pain. This means that even though, in the final analysis, existence is unsatisfactory, humans have their fair share of joy and pleasure —a fact never denied by the Buddha.

It is because of these conditions that one may find unlimited opportunities to rejoice in this world. It is, in principle, not necessary to directly seek and enjoy happiness and pleasure for “oneself” — an often-toilsome affair in our materialistic world! All that is required is to look around for a suitable being for letting oneself be selflessly immersed in their happiness.

Mudita is in this sense not only “inexpensive,” but capable of turning into a superior trade off because, given enough practice, one may actually generate it orders of magnitude beyond the happiness that originally triggered it.

What a deal you’ve got! I’m so happy for you!


By Bhikkhu Thitapuñño

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