by C.F. Knight
From Metta, Vol. 12, No. 2
A feature of the Buddha-Dhamma is cognizance of the pairs of opposites in the training to get beyond them. The Buddha's method of mental training and development was to teach by first defining unwholesome or unskillful thoughts, words, and deeds, or practices which characterize many of man's proclivities, and then to propound their opposites of a wholesome or skillful nature as an achievement to be sought after for the abolition of them both, eventually, when even the good must be left behind as well as the evil; when even the Raft of Dhamma is to be abandoned — after crossing the flood of samsara. The trouble with so many of the unwise is their desire to abandon the Raft of Dhamma before reaching the further shore. The Buddha's method of expounding the negative and the positive, the passive, and the dynamic aspects of behavior, in both abstract and concrete terms, is obviously to create awareness of what is to be sought after and nurtured.
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The basic ignorance featured in Buddhism is not so much a rejection of the truth as it is a failure to perceive it. It is, as it were, a "blind spot" in our perception akin to the physical damage of a section of the brain or the nervous system which results in impaired vision or locomotion. In other words, the depth of our ignorance may be measured by our lack of consciousness of it.
This is why it is so necessary that we should see and recognize our failings and shortcomings if we are to eradicate them. It is also important that we should be mindful of "the good that has arisen," and to foster and develop it to the point of perfection. To realize our imperfections is the beginning of wisdom — the first light to shine on the darkness of our ignorance. While we are blissfully unaware of unwholesome states of mind within ourselves, such states will continue to flourish, and their roots will dig deeper into our very being. Just so too, in our relationships with our fellow men, the unperceived evils will be repeated unconsciously and unrecognized, building up a cumulative unhappy future for us under the retributive causal law of karma.
In dealing with mudita or altruistic joy, we are once more to some extent frustrated with the inadequacy of translations for "brahma-vihara" or "appamañña" [appama~n~na] — the former as "sublime or divine abode," and the latter as "boundless state." To reduce either of these terms to modern idiom is difficult. The four characteristics grouped under these terms are: loving-kindness, compassion, altruistic joy, and equanimity, extended to universal application. In their perfection they are "sublime" and "boundless," and to be "dwelt in" as one speaks of "dwelling in Peace," so we will leave it at that.
As with all perfections, these four desirable characteristics are the antidotes to the poisons of their opposite imperfections, and here is where the recognition of their opposites is apposite. Less has been said or written of mudita than of the other three of these four characteristics, perhaps, again, because of its somewhat clumsy translation. While loving-kindness and compassion are objective, reaching out to all sentient beings, mudita and equanimity are subjective, or personal in their application.
It may seem strange at first, until we critically examine the source, to speak of either selfish or unselfish joy. Joy is an emotional ecstasy arising from pleasure. It is something intensely personal. While we can and do share our pleasures to some extent with others, the resultant impact of them on various personalities will vary as widely as the personalities. At times what may give rise to rapturous joy in us, when shared, may give rise to positive aversion in another.
A pertinent example of this would be the reactionary effect of certain music on people of differing tastes. While it is not uncommon for some of the modern generation to literally swoon in ecstasy under the influence of the combination of discordant and dissonant notes and chords, others find them anything but entertaining or pleasurable. Here we have what might be termed "selfish joy" on the part of the participants, by those who have to suffer most unwilling participation. For all that, within the group enjoying it, there is a reciprocity of delight, happiness, and rapture between the entertainers and the entertained. Superficially, then, we could say it is not the phenomenon of joy itself, that is either selfish or altruistic by nature, but that time, place, and circumstance must all be considered in relation one to the others.
However, to bring mudita within the ambit of the Buddha-Dhamma we need to go deeper into the necessity for cultivating this perfection. What are the opposites to be eliminated by its cultivation?
We never tire of asserting the interdependence of every aspect of the Buddha-Dhamma, no matter which particular facet is being discussed. We have already stated that ignorance is failure of perception, and it is true that greed and hatred do arise through the non-perception of their source and subsequent results; that basically craving born of ignorance is the culprit, and that the purpose of the Buddha-Dhamma is to eliminate craving. It is craving that gives rise to jealousy, envy, covetousness, avarice, and greed in all of its manifestations. Here it is that mudita when practiced and developed becomes a "sublime" and "boundless" state of mind to be "dwelt in" as a corrective characteristic for their removal.
One of the most frequently used similes by the Buddha was that of fire. At times it was the destructive quality of fire that was likened to the destructive nature of the passions. At other times it was the ardent nature of fire that was to be emulated in the pursuance of the path to holiness. In its uncontrolled existence fire is a destructive danger. Under control it is one of man's greatest boons and blessings. In either case it was a motivating force to be reckoned with, at all times active, potent, and energetic.
The three roots of evil — greed, hatred, and delusion — are also known as "the three fires." On one occasion the Buddha and his band of monks were for the time staying on Gaya Head, a mountain near the city of Gaya. From their elevated position they watched one of the great fires that from time to time ravaged the countryside. This inspired what is known as "The Fire Sermon," which is the third recorded discourse delivered by the Buddha subsequent to his Enlightenment, and at the beginning of his long ministry. To the Buddha, the world of Samsara was like the flaming plains below, "Everything is burning," said the Buddha, "burning with the fire of passion, with the fired of hatred, with the fire of stupidity." (Vin. 21)
It is these three fires that give rise to jealousy, envy, covetousness, avarice, and greed. The craving for possessions, the craving for sensual pleasures, the begrudged success of others, the hatred that is begotten by the gains of others, the odious comparison of greater status compared with our humble circumstances, these are the "fires" that burn within us to our undoing.
It is now evident why mudita is such an important characteristic to be cultivated. When we can view the success of others with the same equanimity, and to the same extent, as we would extend metta and karuna — loving-kindness and compassion — to those who suffer grief and distress, sadness and tribulation, sorrow and mourning, then we are beginning to exercise mudita, and are in the process of eradicating greed and craving. Developed still further, we can reach the stage of sharing with others their joy of possession, their financial or social successes, their elevation to positions of civic or national importance, or their receipt of titles and honorifics. In such a manner mudita is counteractive to conceits of all kinds, and its growth and development checks craving's grip.
Until we have developed this subjective characteristic within ourselves how can we develop the objective characteristics of metta and karuna? The accumulated possessions, results of our greed, may give us the pleasure and the happiness of the miser gloating over his hoard of gold. The happiness born of shared pleasures, shared love, shared possessions, shared delights in another's success, will surpass the meager selfish happiness of the miser.
Unselfish joy multiplies in ratio to the extension of its application, quite apart from its purifying effect on our own lives.
In Ñanamoli's translation of Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga he uses "gladness" for mudita, with the footnote: "Mudita — gladness — as one of the divine abidings is always used in the sense of gladness at others' success." Buddhaghosa illustrates this by saying: "On seeing or hearing about a dear person being happy cheerful and glad, gladness can be aroused thus: 'This being is indeed glad. How good! How excellent!' Just as he would be glad on seeing a dear and beloved person, so he pervades all being with gladness."
In "The Analysis of the Sixfold Sense-Field" (MN 137) the Buddha speaks of the six joys connected with renunciation. While such joys are subjective by nature, they are devoid of any taint of egoistic craving that could give rise to the cankers of jealousy, envy, covetousness, or greed. These joys arise on the realization of the impermanence of material shapes, sounds, smells, flavors, touches, and mental states, and the renunciation of attachment to them.
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“Sariputra, if there are people who have already made the vow, who now make the vow, or who are about to make the vow, ‘I desire to be born in Amitabha’s country,’ these people, whether born in the past, now being born, or to be born in the future, all will irreversibly attain to anuttarasamyaksambodhi. Therefore, Sariputra, all good men and good women, if they are among those who have faith, should make the vow, ‘I will be born in that country.’”
~ Amitabha Sutra
When I obtain the Buddhahood, any being of the boundless and inconceivable Buddha-worlds of the ten quarters whose body if be touched by the rays of my splendour should not make his body and mind gentle and peaceful, in such a state that he is far more sublime than the gods and men, then may I not attain the enlightenment.
~ Amitabha Buddha's Thirty-Third Vow
Sunday, March 16, 2008
by C.F. Knight