Sympathetic Joy [mudita]

1 of 14

Here, monks, a disciple dwells pervading one direction with his heart filled with sympathetic joy, likewise the second, the third, and the fourth directions; so above, below and around; he dwells pervading the entire world everywhere and equally with his heart filled with sympathetic joy, abundant, grown great, measureless, free from enmity and free from distress.

On the path of "the liberation of the heart which is love," you have studied and practiced the qualities of lovingkindness (metta) and compassion (karuna). In this lesson you will explore mudita (sympathetic joy), the third of the four brahma-viharas.

Relating to pain and sadness

Let's explore how we associate the qualities of love and compassion with the misfortunes of others.

With metta, the first brahma-vihahra, we wish ourselves health, happiness and freedom from danger. And we offer metta to others—that they be free of danger, ill health, and sadness.

We experience compassion (karuna), the second boundless states of consciousness, as the trembling of the heart in response to someone's suffering—opening our hearts to pain rather than rejecting it, fearing it, becoming embittered by it.

In practicing metta and karuna we experienced how difficult it can be for us to open our hearts to pain or sadness.

But surely we are open to joy! Isn't that what we wish for ourselves and others? Isn't this the focus of our metta practice?

Before you proceed with this lesson, reflect for a moment:

Do you appreciate that which is good in your life? Do your accomplishments bring you joy? Do you feel happiness when you're with the important people in your life?

Do you experience joy and satisfaction from the accomplishments of those you love? Your friends? Strangers?

Recollect a time when someone else rejoiced at your happiness, success or accomplishment. Can you remember how this felt?


When someone rejoices in our happiness, their appreciation fills us with joy and gratitude. Yet is it not a rare quality to feel truly happy when others are happy?  

The mind-deliverance of gladness  Buddha

The root of the Pali word mudita means "to be pleased, to have a sense of gladness." When we take delight in the happiness of another, when we genuinely rejoice at their prosperity, success, or good fortune rather than begrudging it in any way, we are abiding in mudita.

With this vision of mudita the Buddha awakens us to the potential of happiness to actually liberate us. Yet… Sympathetic joy is considered the most difficult of all the brahma-viharas to develop. Why?

If you answered no to any of the reflection questions above (most of us do), reflect on your own experience responding to the prosperity of others.

Why is your experience of joy limited? What kinds of obstacles make it difficult for you to rejoice in the happiness of others?

Think of someone whose happiness does make you feel joyous. Feel the joy, experience the thoughts and feelings.

Think of someone whose happiness does not make you feel joyous. Notice the thoughts, experience the feelings.

Do you find yourself reluctant to rejoice when someone else does well, even though you think you should? Is there—perhaps below the surface—a nagging negativity, dismissal. an urge to cut down their success?

If you have difficulty experiencing the obstacles to sympathetic joy, try some of these experiments:

So while we may think we wish others well, in fact much of out unhappiness comes from the constricting effect of our negative reactions to others. We judge, demean and envy each other. We compare ourselves to each other - unfavorably! And we suffer the strangling effects of these limitations.

Cultivating sympathetic joy can help to free us from the afflictive mind states that prevent us from sharing and rejoicing in the happiness and success of others.

Liberating the mind through sympathetic joy  

We can't just will ourselves to feel sympathetic joy. That it should be so easy!

In this lesson you will learn practices that can help you uncover your capacity for appreciative joy and free you from the enemies of mudita, such as envy and jealousy. You will explore some of the tormenting states of mind that contrive to get us and keep us stuck:

These afflictive states of mind (often called the "far enemies" of mudita) inhibit our sense of sympathetic joy—and thus make us miserable.

Recognizing and honestly experiencing these mind states can open a path to a joyous engagement with the world and with others.  
As you engage in the practice of uncovering mudita, remember the Buddha's encouragement and challenge: