15 Sep 2012

Teaching pt1: Empathetic joy is taking delight in others’ virtues. As the only one of the 4 immeasurables which involves cultivating an emotion, empathetic joy also serves as the antidote to the near enemy of compassion, grief and despair. Given the prevalence of low self-esteem and guilt, it is also useful for many of us to take delight in our own virtues which is considered virtuous in buddhist teachings.
Meditation: empathetic joy. Moving along the timeline from childhood to the present day, recall the kindness others have shown you. With each out breath, light emanates gratitude and rejoicing. Moving along the timeline from childhood to the present day, recall the kindness you have shown others and your cultivation of heart and mind. With each breath, light emanates gratitude and rejoicing, filling body and mind. Direct your attention to someone in particular or whoever comes up, and take delight in his/her virtues. With each out breath, light emanates gratitude and rejoicing.
Teaching pt2: Discouragement and depression may come in two forms: 1) those which arise from a cause, spike, and fade out or 2) those which you are just bringing to the world. The same goes for gratitude. Over the years, Alan has seen that for people living in the spirit of gratitude, their practice always goes well whereas for people who complain a lot or are just plain grumpy, their practice seldom goes well, regardless of their intelligence or renunciation. As the Dalai Lama said, “It is better to find one fault in yourself than a thousand faults in another.” Why is this so? It is possible for us to fix that one fault in ourselves and that is cause for rejoicing.

Meditation starts at 6:56

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I imagine a lot of you will remember that the false facsimile of compassion, or the near enemy, is grief, is despair, hopelessness, depression. And so among the four immeasurables the natural antidote for that whole mindset is empathetic joy and in Tibetan is simply “gaua”, or “mudita” in Sanskrit, which means simply delight, but it does means empathetic.

And so whether the sadness, the grief, despair and so forth that one experiences, whether it’s genuine in the sense that it’s simply coming right out of your own mental afflictions without any particular unpleasant thing happening to you, just emerging right out of your mind or whether it is a response to some depressing news or an experience - either way the cultivation of empathetic joy can really serve as a helpful remedy for that to restore the balance, the emotional balance of the mind.

Bear in mind my favorite English mantra, “for the moment what we attend to is reality”, and especially when we get caught up in some kind of despair, depression and so forth that is oriented toward some memory or something taking place in the world - then what this means is the mind has gotten almost like into a cramp, like a spasm, like it’s locked-in and it doesn’t have that malleability, it can’t do what a muscle should be able to do. And that’s what is happening to the mind, the mind is going into a spasm; or Paul Ekman would call it a refractory period where we are locked into one particular aspect of reality, and then it’s ever so easy to do for the time being, to take that as representative of the whole. For example, I met this awful person, people suck. I met this Mexican person, I met this American person, this German person and then: Germany – kapow! Mexico – kapow! Americans – kapow! And so that’s a refractory period. Another example, life sucks, it’s just hopeless, or politics is just terrible, or Buddhism is horrible because I met really bad Buddhists a while back.

So how do we overcome that? Well we’ve slipped into a refractory period and we’ve locked onto one facet of reality, we’ve probably embellished it, we’ve almost certainly reified it, we’re very likely exaggerating negative qualities and not seeing them in a larger context. And so we need an antidote, and it’s not putting on rose tinted glasses: ‘look on the brighter side’, ‘stiff upper lip’, ‘be happy’. It is attending to other aspects of reality that would balance you out, get you out of that locked-in cramp, cognitive cramp or spasm, and that’s what empathetic joy is about. Empathetic joy is often translated as ‘sympathetic’, which is not bad but empathetic is a bit better because sympathy always implies something sad and empathy can go positive or negative.

Empathetic joy primarily is focused on others, cultivating that sense of resonance, empathy towards others by taking delight in their joys and their virtues. So this is actually in the Pali Canon and in the Theravada tradition, this one is explicitly cultivating an emotion, the other three immeasurables are not but this one is cultivating an emotion and it’s empathy, it’s extending that sense of self out and caring about the wellbeing of others. But there’s something odd again, and we modern Westerners, we didn’t invent this but we certainly have done a lot with it and that is this ever so familiar theme of self-contempt, self-loathing, low self-worth, sense of shame, I am such an awful person, and so forth. For example, thinking about himself, “I am such an awful person”, it definitely seems like there are two people in there: I am such an awful person because when I think about myself and I think, oh, I am really awful and I am so ashamed and so forth. It seems that there are two people and one says to the other, “I am so ashamed of you” and the other saying, “what about yourself, I don’t think much of you either, you know?”

(5:05) So if we can do this internally, and that is not even feel a warm and affectionate sense of empathy within, if we can internally be this stern, unloving, critical, judgmental parent, within ourselves; then if we’re going to do that to ourselves, of bifurcating within ourselves, kind of two people and one looking down on the other, then the antidote for that would be developing internal empathy, for example one would say to the other, “yes, you screwed up but I love you anyway, yes you screwed up but it is forgivable” and so forth and so on.

So in this regard I introduce into this practice a theme that is very commonly taught, I think maybe still not strongly enough emphasized in the Indo-Tibetan tradition, and that is taking delight in one’s own virtues, which is itself a virtue - that’s straight Tsongkhapa. It is not some bizarre sect of self-congratulation sect, and it’s not about self, it’s not thinking “what a jolly good fellow am I”. It’s not that. It is simply as I can take delight in someone else’s virtue, I can also take delight in my own virtue and it’s both good. And neither one is idolizing the other person or entering into narcissism with respect to oneself. So that’s where we’ll go in this practice - be really quite a sweet friend [to yourself] and can up lift you. It is not to bring about something artificial but to restore balance where it has been lost because whenever we fall into guilt, shame, depression and so forth and so on we maybe, or we may not be, but we may be attending to some aspects of reality, it is certainly possible, but what is certain is we are not attending to the whole of reality. And at that moment we are not in a state of balance and to restore balance is very helpful. So let’s find a comfortable position.


(8:05) We may enter into this practice at least with the sense of satisfaction, of contentment, and perhaps even beyond that with the sense of delight, appreciation, rejoicing in our present opportunity to have the leisure, and the opportunity to devote ourselves single pointedly to the cultivation of our hearts and minds to find genuine happiness, perhaps even to venture out on and reach a path to awakening; what greater good fortune could there be than this? So in the spirit of rejoicing, taking delight, settle your body in its natural state and the respiration in its natural rhythm and balance your mind for a little while with mindfulness of breathing.

(11:35) And then as we venture into the main practice, we begin with an integral aspect of classical Mahayana meditation on the cultivation of bodhicitta and that is recalling the kindness of sentient beings: do so now in a personal way, as you direct your attention back to your childhood, even your infancy, and you move your attention along the timeline through your childhood, adolescence, adulthood up to the present day, and be very selective, attend to the kindness that others have shown you, who supported you in your pursuit of hedonic wellbeing, providing you with food, clothing, shelter, education, medical care and so on, as well as those who nurtured you, supported you, guided you in your pursuit of genuine happiness. And as you attend to these virtues, these acts of kindness, with each out breath, breathe out a light of gratitude and breathe out a light of rejoicing in their own virtues.

(15:50) As you breathe out you may even imagine this light emanating from your heart taking on the forms of offerings, offerings of gratitude to all those who have shown you kindness.

(17:31) And now once again direct your awareness back to your early life, and now in the spirit of taking delight in one’s own virtues, which as Tsongkhapa says is itself a virtue, is a way of increasing the merit, the power, the energy, the vitality of your spiritual practice, and enhancing the power of the karma from your own virtue, look back in time and move along the timeline to the present moment: What good have you brought to the world? What kindness have you shown to others, alleviating others’ distress, bringing them happiness? In what ways have you cultivated your own heart and mind so that you yourself can follow the path to awakening? And breathe this light of rejoicing into your own life.

(19:10) Let this light fill your entire being, your body and your mind.

(22:30) And now direct your attention outwards once again to the world around you and either by deliberately directing your attention to the virtues of others far and near, in the present and in the past; or simply letting your awareness be open and see who comes to mind, those individuals, those communities who have blessed the world by alleviating the suffering of others, by serving others in the pursuit of happiness by profoundly exploring their own inner resources, discovering liberation, discovering awakening, and inspiring and guiding us all. With every out breath, breathe out this light of gratitude, of rejoicing.

(28:25) And release all appearances, all objects of the mind, let your awareness return to its own center, to its own ground with no object outside itself, simply being aware of itself, resting in the nature of awareness.

Teachings after meditation:

(30:50) I have been watching people practicing for a few decades and I’ve been able to draw some generalizations. First in terms of getting discouraged, depressed, and so on. Sometimes this is hedonic, hedonic depression, that is your meditation goes bad one day or something really unpleasant happens with another person, the environment, you get really bummed-out; so it is a kind of a spike, a surge, an eruption of sadness, despair, depression and so forth but then the episode gradually fades out, you forget about it and you move on.

And then there is genuine depression that just comes in like a big heavy cloud is following you like a shadow and wherever you go the shadow is following you and saying: I am going to rain on you. And then you look around and ask: Who done it? What is the catalyst? And there isn’t a catalyst - you are bringing this to every situation, it’s what you’re offering to the world by saying: hello, my name is Alan I have depression to offer you, how are you? So that is genuine depression.

And likewise [it also happens] with gratitude, a sense of rejoicing, taking delight, mudita. And that is, it too can come up in spikes; you’ll notice that a person does something very kind, another person is practicing very well and there is something really wonderful there, and then a spike of delight, rejoicing, satisfaction takes place and then of course it fades, it goes out. There is a sense of gratitude, for example, oh, thank you, somebody has done something really nice for you – oh, thank you, thank you. Next day you do not remember it at all, but at least today you are saying, thank you, I will remember you forever… what was your name again? So you get these spikes of gratitude, rejoicing coming-up and then they just fade-out, just like a wave in the ocean. So it is hedonic gratitude, hedonic rejoicing.

(33:02) And then there is the possibility of genuine gratitude, rejoicing, and that is just where you live. You just attend to reality, you wake up in the morning with the sense of gratitude, of rejoicing, of appreciation, and then you venture out the door and you just see somebody moving one of those little trolleys taking care of the rooms and so forth, and that is enough to spark a sense: oh, they’re taking such good care of us. Anything can spark it, nothing can spark it, it doesn’t need a spark; it is what you’re bringing, it is just a spirit of gratitude, a spirit of rejoicing, satisfaction, and that is what you are bringing to the kitchen, bringing to the meditation hall, your meditation cushion, you are bringing it to whatever you encounter. This is really very much in the core of the whole bodhisattva way of live. Remember what Shantideva said: “Whenever you encounter a sentient being, you attend to the sentient being and think: in dependence upon you I can achieve enlightenment”.

(34:19) Whether it’s in dependence upon your behavior helping me to develop the perfection of patience - get a lot of help in that regard in so many ways, it is just feeling that this is your modus operandi [mode of operation], this is how you are present in the world, so how can I do anything other than just be swimming in an ocean of gratitude because the blessings are always rising up to meet me and all I need to do is have the eyes of wisdom to see it and to appreciate it.

Over the years, I have seen that for people living in the spirit of gratitude, their practice always goes well, there is no exception; whereas for people who complain a lot or are just plain grumpy, they are never quite satisfied and their practice never goes well, regardless of their intelligence or renunciation.

As the Dalai Lama said, “It is better to find one fault in yourself than a thousand faults in other people.” He is not suggesting to feel bad about yourself, having low self-esteem – there is no such word in Tibetan, it never occurred in his mind. It is possible for us to fix that one fault in ourselves, and that is a cause for rejoicing.

So the Dalai Lama is not suggesting that you feel bad about yourself, having low self-esteem. It would never occur in his mind. Why would you then find a fault in yourself? Oh good, I found some area to correct, another area to improve, and if somebody else pointed it out for me, Oh, thank you, I might not have noticed that. And it is one more area to find a greater happiness because if you find a fault you can find something that can be remedied. So that is what he is talking about. You are just finding that there is a problem, so good, how can we solve it? Whereas if you find a thousand problems in other people, how exactly can you solve it? If you find one in yourself you really have a chance, especially if you encounter some good dharma and by the way, all of you have. But if you find a thousand faults in other people exactly what can you do about that? You could go out like a cowboy with a lasso and get the people by the neck and say, I found a fault in you and now I’m going to fix it and listen up because I’m going to make your day – shape up or ship out - and now you can go. I found a fault, now listen up, here’s your fault, you better fix it or I’m going to fix you. Now, where is the 9998th person to fix? Man, that can be a full time job and that is just with a thousand people, there are seven billion out there and they are always screwing up, at least most of them are, in other words you got a full time job and you better have a lot of lassos ready and some of them do not want to be lassoed. You may want to lasso them and fix them but they do not want to be fixed. So you have a tough job. So either really fix one person or be incredibly, geographically frustrated by trying to fix seven billion other people and finding that is not working out very well, those are your choices, one or seven billion… Your Honor, I rest my case.

Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Revised by Erik Koeppe

Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Posted by Alma Ayon


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