Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Miracle of Sympathetic Joy

Sympathetic Joy, mudita in Pali, the language of the Buddha, is one of the natural abodes that are cultivated through the practice of meditation. It refers to the joy we feel at the good fortune and joy of others.

Some years back, I came into possession of a sitar. I had never considered learning to play one of these instruments, even though I had been playing guitar since I was nine. The sitar, however, is much more complicated. Besides the seven playable strings, it also has sixteen "sympathetic" strings. These strings are not plucked, but merely vibrate sympathetically when the main strings are played. This is one of the familiar sounds of the sitar: the resonating tonal buzz after striking one of the main strings.

Sympathetic Joy has the same quality. It is not we who are directly experiencing the joy. We are merely vibrating in resonant sympathy with the person who is having the joyful experience. 

Sympathetic Joy can be a useful antidote to negative emotional states, such as jealousy, envy, or ill-will toward someone who is experiencing good fortune. When we are attacked by jealousy about someone else's experience, we can bring to mind how much pleasure that experience must have given the other person. I have used this panacea many times, and I can actually feel myself tingle with a sympathetic vibration. For a moment, at least, I can allow myself to feel the joy the other person must have felt, and for that moment, the joy is mine as well.


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