Tell me honestly: are you happy most of the time? If you can say yes, congratulations. If not, I’d like to share a story with you that highlights the third of the four immeasurables: discovering immeasurable joy. (I wrote earlier about developing the previous two immeasurable qualities that you can read here: loving kindness and compassion.)
The third immeasurable to develop is empathetic joy.
One of the interesting features of living in Crestone, Colorado is the End of Life Project. Recently I attended the funeral of one our community members….an open air cremation. Ironically, this celebration of one man’s death inspired joy.
What struck me during this event was that death is not the end of life, it is a part of life. Yes, our neighbor left his physical body. But his passing reminded all of us in attendance that we carry on the spark of life. More importantly, it reminded us of the preciousness of that spark. Someone remarked that death is not an event; it is a process. Perhaps it is a process of recognizing joy.
What does discovering immeasurable joy feel like?
It means relishing the good we see in the world, both in ourselves and others. It means we are happy when good fortune is bestowed – on us, but especially on others. We recognize that joy cannot be hoarded, divided up, or stolen. Joy gets bigger when we share it. Practicing empathetic joy means we take delight in sharing it with others. This is what gives it the “immeasurable” quality.
Joy can be elusive. To be honest, some days I have a hard time answering yes to my own question above. I struggle sometimes with sorrow, loneliness, confusion. My practice is still not strong enough to make me as resilient as I would like: so like everyone, I suffer. Very often, my life does not work out as planned or hoped.
But, in the end, nothing will work out! Eventually we will have to let go of everything. Contemplating death, as we did this morning as we watched the flames consume a human body, served as a powerful reminder that this life is fleeting and ephemeral, and that we could actually appreciate our lives more because of this.
Why not focus on the simple joys of living in the present moment?
We could go in the blink of an eye. So why waste this precious time ruminating on what is not working out? There is so much that IS working out. Stop right now and look around you: I’ll bet you can find somethings that sparks joy if you look for it.
True joy comes from wishing others well.
Empathetic joy is a wholesome attitude of rejoicing in the happiness and virtues of all sentient beings. It counters jealousy and can make you less self-centered. This type of joy is different from worldly happiness in that you may not feel especially cheerful. It’s more like a feeling of being content. It is the absence of struggle. Joy is really just about feeling ok with how things are. It may sound simple, but it’s very powerful.
Here are just a few ways of discovering immeasurable joy:
- Recognize it!
- Feel like you deserve it.
- Share it.
- Rejoice when others feel joy.
You know the feeling of joy when a friend encounters good fortune? This is where we’re headed with this third immeasurable. You learn to be happy because others are. But you don’t just stop at your friends and loved ones. When you can extend this same quality to all sentient beings — being happy even for your enemies — then you turn joy into the third immeasurable of empathetic joy. This is what discovering joy means.
When you extend empathetic joy to all sentient beings, you experience true joy as a sublime state of mind. Then you can “always maintain only a joyful mind” as the lojong slogan goes.