Thursday, October 27, 2011

It's Time for Buddha Lite.

Remember a week or two ago when RIM pulled the Blackberry network offline? And Apple chose the same time to put out a new version, and it was crashing for some people? Well, as the owner of outdated, outclassed, antique 3G World phone, I looked up the term "schadenfreude" on Wikipedia, so I could properly spell exactly how I was feeling on the Facebook. According to the austere wikipedians, schadenfreude refers to "feeling happiness in the misfortune of others." Which I already knew; I was looking for spelling, not definitions. But what interested me was the related terms list, which was formed basically by taking the schadenfreude definition and cycling through the binary possibilities:

"feeling unhappiness in the misfortune of others" -- empathy.
"feeling happiness in the fortune of others"--envy.

And, most interestingly: "feeling happiness in the fortune of others"--mudita.

If you're not familiar with the last term, don't worry; it wasn't exactly a common occurrence in my daily vocabulary either. It's a Buddhist term, and its more expanded definition is sympathetic joy, taking delight in the well-being of others rather than begrudging them of it. I'm not a Buddhist; there's something about their emphasis on non-being that doesn't mesh with my Western sense of the importance of individuality. And everything I know about Buddhism comes from a second year religious studies course I took nine years ago. (Man, I'm old.) But it seems to me that mudita is a concept worth adopting. So yes, I thought, moved considerably from my initial contemplation of cell phones and smart apps, I will try to cultivate a spirit of mudita.

It is surprisingly hard. According to the research (okay, Google search) I did, mudita is directly contested by jealousy and envy. And it is hard (maybe just for me?) to look at someone else's joy without envy. Even just thinking, "I want that." And if you do share in something similar, it then becomes a sort of self-congratulatory smugness: I'm doing pretty good, too. And that relates directly to another issue: it's not mudita if you are congratulating yourself on helping the person get to that happiness--if you're thinking about your contribution and investment, then you're thinking about how awesome you are, not the other person.

The "non-obvious" opponent of mudita is interesting as well--exhilaration. That is, it resembles the joy of mudita, but it is a joy that you cultivate in order to mask some sort of lack in yourself. So to a recently dumped individual, for example, going to a wedding is risky business. You not only have to evade jealousy and envy, but you also have to keep from throwing yourself into it emotionally to cover up for your own loss.

Again, I can see how the mudita concept relates to some core Buddhist philosophies. There's a level of detachment involved--thinking of others, feeling for others, without drawing your own baggage into things. At the same time, I wonder if that's really possible. We're all individuals, and our experiences are subjective experiences. There's always a filter on what we perceive, and trying to pretend it's not there seems like it could cause greater problems down the road. Dealing with your emotions shouldn't mean suppressing them.

But for the moment: mudita. Even if you don't subscribe to the Buddhist way of thinking, keeping mudita in mind, for me, has really drawn attention to how much jealousy and envy could influence my actions, if I let them. So let's all try to be a little more aware, and cultivate some mudita in our lives.

...Oh, I just know you're cultivating more mudita than me. And I hate you for it.

Later Days.

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