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The Third Brahmavihara: Mudita / Joy
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Gaelyn Godwin - The Third Brahmavihara: Mudita / Joy (20 min.)
Transcript of a talk delivered by Gaelyn Godwin
August 21, 2016 - Dallas, Texas

It's so nice to be here and remember my friend, Brother ChiSing, a wonderful teacher. I know you've been studying the four boundless minds, some of you have. And the one that I'll be talking about tonight is the boundless mind of joy, especially sympathetic joy, so mudita. When Bobbie was talking about aligning ourselves with the Buddha, I was considering this topic of joy and thinking about it. We do enter this field of resonance with the Buddha, that's part of what our practice is about.

Are any of you scientists? We're all scientists; we're all studying data all the time. Sometimes in zen, which is what I've practiced, there is a misunderstanding about zen, which is . . ., the common misunderstanding is that it's a mental practice, when actually it's a physical practice, which is what we're all doing right now: we're doing a physical practice. But the mind is involved, and the mind is useful because it's studying the effects of this physical practice that we're doing.

For Shakyamuni Buddha, one of the problems with that was that we take our mind more seriously than we take the physical data. We tend to think that what we observe is really important, and then we can lose track of what is still going on in the physical realm. So the Buddha's teachings are often about not clinging so much to our explanations of our experience. So sometimes . . ., somebody recently asked me, "How can you tell when a problem that has come up, a situation that has come up, is a problem that you just need to put aside, or a problem that you can use in your practice? How can you tell?" So, one of the ways to work with that is to go to the body, and feel this problem in the body. Because sometimes when the mind gets involved, the mind thinks, "Well, there shouldn't be any problems." But the body knows: everything is an experience, everything is a problem.

One of my favorite stories is about a great teacher, the teacher who brought Buddhist teachings from India to China and then sat there facing a wall for eight or nine years: Boddhidharma. And people would come to ask him things, but basically he was just sitting there, aligned with reality. He didn't answer very many questions for quite a long time. And finally, one sincere student in China came and got his attention, and his question to him was, "How can I soothe my mind? How can I pacify my mind?" And Boddhidharma said, "Bring me your mind, and I will pacify it for you." So the student went off and looked for his mind. And finally, he came back to Boddhidharma and said, "I can't find my mind." And Boddhidharma said, "There, I have pacified it for you."

So you could say that part of the insight he had was that this mind is a constantly shifting set of physical and mental data. It's a pool; it's an ocean of things that are going on. And we call the whole thing mind, but it's shifting and changing all the time. Can you find it? Can you contain that whole thing and bring it to somebody? Well, you can't. But we think we can. This is a strong belief in our powers, and in our nature.

So in terms of science, I like to read science, as many Buddhists do. It's very interesting what's happening in the scientific world, and we want to keep up with it. We want to know what the new discoveries are. And a long, long time ago, it was a big deal when people discovered that, despite what it looks like with your eye, the world is round. This was a huge discovery, and now we're used to that. So we're used to looking out and seeing something, and we deeply know that that's not true, that that's not the way it is. All of us, when we look out, we see a horizon, and sky above, and we feel earth below, but somehow, deeply now in our knowledge base, we know that on the other side of this globe, there are people, with their feet pointing towards us and their heads going the other direction. But none of us can see that.

And another huge discovery that our ancestors have made is that this so-called empty space is full of a field of electromagnetic radiation. That's what we actually live in; we live in a field of radiation. We live in a field of cosmic background waves: microwaves. And we live in a field of gravity. And we also live in these fields of the boundless minds. So these robes that Buddhists wear are also about fields. It's not that there's a separation between you, any human body, and electromagnetic radiation. It's right there; you're living in this field. And for practitioners of The Way, we're living in this field of Light, and we're living in this field of the boundless minds.

So when we talk about mudita, the boundless mind of sympathetic joy, how can we practice with that? How can we recognize that we're already living in this mind of joy? How can we activate it? So, that's what problems are for. Problems come along, and they say, "Here's a chance. Here's a contrast for you to look at, and here's a chance for you to cultivate that mind."

Our situation, everything in the teachings, everything in our situation, points us back to this central place that we occupy, where it's essentially still. There's stillness here, and from there we can move. So when we're cultivating joy, a problem comes along when we notice that there's an absence of joy, or an absence of sympathetic joy. So, practitioners really look for these opportunities. It's like, "This is good. I see that someone has something, and there's a little hiccup in my feeling of joy for that event. Here's a chance to practice joy."

And, when we're practicing it, when we're practicing the boundless mind of sympathetic joy, if we kind of activate it, we know we're supposed to . . ., we know it'd be good for them and good for us, to increase, to make an offering in this field of joy. If we are a little bit rough in our practice, there's something that's called a near enemy of joy. And the near enemy of sympathetic joy is frivolity. And the far enemy of joy—-it's really interesting, I think—-the far enemy of sympathetic joy is actually despair.

So here we are, trying to practice the mind of sympathetic joy, but thinking, "How can we practice sympathetic joy for something that I will never have?" That's where it slides over into the far enemy of despair. But as we relax into this feeling that we're already in the field of it, it's not like we have to manufacture these boundless minds. These ways of understanding are already part of our mind, already part of the field that we're in. This is a huge teaching because the mind of separation thinks, "I'm over here. I'm either feeling or not feeling joy at this moment, and I have to manufacture it out of whole cloth."

In the practitioner's mind, all you—-"All you have to do!"—-what we do is relax into that mind. Relaxation is a very, very, very important part of practice, because the minds that are beneficial are already there.

We say that we have a three-legged stool in our practice. Your practice is going really well, but it has these three legs. One of them is morality, or ethics. One of them is concentration. And one of them is wisdom. So we need all three of these legs to have our practice steady and stable. So the ethical part is quite interesting. And, as we practice sympathetic joy, it's featured prominently in the practice of joy, because to really understand joy, we have to have a visceral, body understanding of what makes other people really happy, and what makes us appropriately happy. I suppose a person could imagine having joy over misfortune. That's not the kind of joy that's being practiced. So our practice support of morality continually develops over our practice life. We don't necessarily have joy when misfortune happens, but we may have joy for things that ultimately aren't going to be very beneficial.

So, in our world of accumulation and the dualistic notation of lack—-If I don't have something, or if I do have something, if they don't: this dualistic notion of lack—-there's a stage in our practice when we find joy in accumulation. On the Path, though, that kind of accumulation stops being about material goods; it's more about the ingredients of the practice. Part of the Path is the path of accumulation: the accumulation of ingredients that will allow our practice to become fully developed; accumulation of understanding of how things work; accumulation of understanding of cause and effect; accumulation of understanding of the nature of mind; accumulation of understanding of the shifting, impermanent nature of things.

One of the goals of Mahayana practice is the patient acceptance of the impermanent nature of things. The patient acceptance of the fact that things are always impermanent and shifting. That's part of what we accumulate on the path. And as these accumulations of real ingredients of understanding and wisdom come our way, joy grows. And we want that for others in an appropriate way.

Staying open to the kind of information we need for growth in practice is really a challenge, and in this world, really a challenge. I was visiting the monastery where I trained for a long time a couple of weeks ago. Mid-July, I went to the mountains, and in the summertime, newspapers come into the monastery. In the wintertime, no newspapers. But in the summertime, newspapers come in. And a couple of students were sitting on the back porch. I was doing a little project, and two monks were back there, looking at the headlines, reading the newspaper. And one monk, English was his second language. And one monk, English was her first language. And he said, "What's in the news?" And she said, "Well, I can read the headlines, but I can't read the news." And he said, "My grandmother has that problem. She gets the large print edition." I pretended that I wasn't listening; I was reading my book. And she said, "Oh, I didn't mean that I can't read the news. I just meant I can't read the news." And he said, "Have you tried video?" I really heard this. And I went up to him later, because I wondered, was he just trying to press a little bit gently on her to get her to say, "I don't want to read the news." Or if he was just really not understanding, but by then, he'd forgotten the conversation. But I still think about it because I sympathize with that. Sometimes we have to know when it's time to read the news and when it's time to not read the news. We have to know. We have to make these decisions for ourselves.

But gradually, these events—-things like that, like news that we don't want to face—-become ingredients for our practice. And that's what the Mahayana is all about, in the sense that we align with the mind that can accept all of these details of the news and see it for the teachings that it can provide for us.

I have another story in here. This is about inside and outside. When we're in this field and sitting in alignment with the buddha, sitting in alignment with our sangha, we're feeling at peace, and we're feeling also like we know what's going on. We know how to do the walking meditation; we know all of the routines. We're insiders; it's a very powerful place to be. And then, there's the place of the outsider, who looks on any inside group, not just our group, but any inside-outside situation: politics, various things. And the outsider looks with an objective eye; it can be kind of a critical eye. Insider tends to look with an eye of protection and understanding and love. Both of these are very powerful positions. And all of us are in some of these: inside in some places and outside in other places. This is a normal human thing. And this Catholic priest named Richard Rohr has spent a lot of time exploring this because one of the things we get to appreciate is the "edge of the inside."

So we can be in alignment with our practice, in alignment with our group, in alignment with the buddha. And sometimes we're on the outside; our mind is objectively distanced from these situations. But it's also quite important to be at the edge of the inside, able to look in without feeling like we have to preserve things just as they are, but also able to look out and see what it looks like from the outside. I think of this in terms of groups, but I also think of this in terms of our own mind because when we're inside, we think, "This is all there is." This is our view. When we're outside, criticizing ourselves or something, we also think that's the only thing. But the edge of the inside is a powerful place, looking both ways, able to see that our view, for instance, as I said about the horizon, our view really is partial, our view is always partial. But when we're on the inside, we think our view is complete.

So the cultivation of these minds——the boundless minds of compassion, equanimity, sympathetic joy, and love—-is good for the world, and good for this field that we live in, and is also incredibly good for inside the self. Part of the health of our practice is understanding that everything we do inside of our own minds is making us healthy too. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is hidden; so to cultivate the feeling of joy for others is very good for other people, but incredibly good for yourself. Always very good when we feel ourselves sort of [stepping away from, taking our practice,] realizing that everything that we do is good for ourselves. Always good to remember that this is completely invisible to everybody, but this is good for me to do this. Visible and invisible practice.

When we're learning how to do these practices, it's true. The teaching of the Bramaviharas, is that——or the abidings: Vihara means an abiding—-the near enemy of joy is this kind of frivolity. But in our practice place in Houston, and I hope here too, there is a high tolerance for frivolity. So kind of getting our practice of sympathetic joy going, and frivolity is a good thing to do.

Thank you very much.

Transcribed by Paul Wassenich

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