I’d like to say something about our Zen Center’s mission statement. I wrote it about twelve or thirteen years ago, but have rarely mentioned it over the years. It reads:
Our mission is to help people experience a deep and quiet joy- a joy that arises whenever we are fully engaged in the work or play of this moment.
The Buddhist Sanskrit word for joy is mudita, and deep joy is paramudita. The best way to get in touch with this joy is to quiet the mind. “Still waters run deep,” as the saying goes. There’s an inner spring available to everyone at all times. The more you drink from this spring, the more you will settle into your own joyfulness, as well as relishing in others’ joy. This joy will become more of a natural part of your life as you strengthen your meditation practice.
The “far enemies” of joy are jealousy (envy) and greed. “Why does so-and-so have all this joy,” you may ask yourself. “Why’s he laughing so much? What about me?” I can remember feeling that way about my first teacher, who seemed to think lots of things that annoyed me were a riot.
Joy’s “near enemy,” is exhilaration; grasping at one pleasant experience after another out of a sense of insufficiency or lack. It’s actually not the exhilaration that’s the problem. It’s depending on stimulation or thrills to feel good. I just spent an afternoon with my grandson at an amusement park trying to keep up with him as he ran from one thrilling ride to another. At his developmental stage, this is healthy and normal. But adults who are trying to tap into the deep stillness which is at the base of our being (also known as Buddha Nature) need to pay attention to whether they are addicted to exhilaration to cover our emotional pain or discomfort.
The dharma teacher Phillip Moffitt suggests that there are three levels of joy.
First, there is the joy evoked by a situation. Maybe you just spent a moment with your pet, or with your own child or a friend’s child. (A couple of hours before I gave my most recent dharma talk, a friend’s three-year-old asked me to play doctor with him. I was having so much fun being cured of my illness that I was almost late for my talk.) Or maybe you finished a challenging physical workout, or took a pleasant walk in nature. It’s natural and healthy to savor moments like these.
It may be important to pay attention to things that dilute this savoring. Are your thoughts about the past or the future interfering with the pure enjoyment of your activity? Are you worried that others will be jealous of you? Do you want to hang on to this experience instead of moving on to your next activity?
I mentored a guy I will call Norm for starting about 15 years ago. Norm was an earnest meditator, so earnest that he didn’t make time in his life for activities that filled him up, that were naturally joyful. Through a series of one to one meetings with me, Norm began to realize that he was uncomfortable with joyful feelings. He remembered that his parents didn’t have a lot of joy in their lives. He had learned not to trust joyful feelings. They made him feel vulnerable. He came to realize that he had a deep seated belief that if he allowed himself to feel too much joy, he wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything significant in his life, a message he got from his parents (and they got from their own immigrant parents). Once he became conscious of this fear and the message he was giving himself, he was able to see through it and begin to deeply appreciate his moments. He even learned to appreciate complements.
Norm was CEO of a small non-profit whose mission was to help disadvantaged kids. Earlier this year I went to his retirement party. What a different guy he was than 15 years before! I watched him smile warmly as he received complement after complement for all the things he had done to help kids. When it was his turn to talk, he said, “Yes, I did all of these things.” Everyone laughed at his blunt forthrightness. Then he went on to say, “and everything I accomplished was due to my heartfelt partnership with you.” Afterward, I told Norm how proud I was of him for learning how to tap into his own deep and quiet joy.
Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher