To rejoice is to appreciate something. … Examples of virtuous rejoicing are feeling happy when we see others engaging in virtue, feeling happy when we see others enjoying themselves, or feeling happy about our own virtuous actions. ~ Great Treasury of Merit
The practice of rejoicing can really be as simple as that – we just appreciate or feel good about what other people are doing or feeling – their good deeds, realizations, or experiences. “Wow, that’s great, I’m really happy about that!” That’s it! How hard is that? That’s the thing – rejoicing can be so simple and yet so far-reaching.
(Carrying on from Happy for others ~ the practice of rejoicing.)
And, as Ven Geshe Kelsang says, we can rejoice in ourselves too (which is a lot more fun than beating ourselves up).
If we also rejoice in our own virtuous actions we shall increase their power and overcome depression and discouragement. ~ Joyful Path of Good Fortune
As a friend put it on Facebook the other day:
“It’s important to rejoice in every little bit of progress you make on the spiritual path. Just gently appreciate and enjoy it. This will encourage you, and you’ll start to feel like you’re headed in the right direction even if you have a long way to go.”
Rejoicing does need love. We can’t rejoice if we don’t like people at least a little bit. If we have some liking and love in our heart, then rejoicing is not difficult – we open our eyes and take in what other people are up to and, if it’s good, feel glad. Through this, Buddha explained that we ourselves get enormous amounts of merit or good karma, which intuitively makes sense, don’t you think? And it goes the other way too – rejoicing overcomes our insecurity, jealousy, and competitiveness, opening our heart to safely love others.
The two main attitudes of a Bodhisattva
The practice of rejoicing – which can be done by anyone at all – is very powerful and very easy; both. As Geshe Kelsang says:
Like faith, this is a naturally virtuous mind; in other words, regardless of our motivation, our mind is always virtuous when we rejoice in virtue. Rejoicing is a very powerful method for accumulating merit, and it is also a very easy practice because all it involves is generating a happy state of mind with regard to virtuous actions. ~ Great Treasury of Merit
If we plan on being a Bodhisattva, we’ll need to cultivate two main attitudes with respect to others. One of them is compassion. Most Buddhists know all about that, and we hear about it a lot. We study it a lot, we think about it a lot, and we contemplate it a lot. Compassion is, upon seeing others’ suffering, wishing for them to be free from that suffering and its causes. Generally, whenever anyone is suffering anywhere, there’s grounds for compassion, there’s the opportunity for compassion to arise.
But the other main attitude is feeling happy whenever we see others happy. This rejoicing is really an offshoot of our love because love means wanting others to be happy … soooo, when we see that others ARE happy, or that they’re creating the causes of happiness, given that this is what we want, of course we’re going to feel happy. (Just as we feel happy when we see others freed from suffering, which is what our compassion wants.)
Probably nothing pleases a Bodhisattva more. A Bodhisattva’s favorite thing is other people experiencing freedom and happiness and creating the causes for freedom and happiness. That alone is enough for a Bodhisattva to feel very, very happy themselves.
These two practices run the gamut of human experience and behavior because at any given moment we can (a) have compassion for someone if they’re suffering or creating the causes of suffering or (b) feel happy for someone if they’re happy or creating the causes of happiness. Venerable Geshe-la says there is no suffering being who is not a suitable object of our compassion and, by the same measure, I would say that there’s no genuinely happy being who is not a suitable object of our rejoicing.
Like any other positive state of mind, such as compassion or patience, rejoicing takes practice; and we get better and better at it. As with compassion, there’s usually no shortage of opportunities – and sometimes I find those opportunities can be more obvious than, say, the opportunities to practice patience or other virtuous minds.
And, if you’re interested, there are two Kadampa Buddhist groups on Facebook that encourage this twofold attitude – a prayer group for those who are suffering and a rejoicing group for those doing well. These aren’t just for budding Bodhisattvas. Anyone can join these groups, whatever your tradition or religion, because everyone can benefit from compassion, prayers, and rejoicing.
The perils of schadenfreude
There are other types of rejoicing, by the way:
There are three types of rejoicing: virtuous, neutral, and non-virtuous. … Examples of neutral rejoicing are feeling happy about taking a bath, or enjoying watching a child at play. Examples of non-virtuous rejoicing are feeling happy when we see non-virtuous actions being committed by others, or feeling happy when we see someone we dislike experiencing problems. ~ Great Treasury of Merit
Non-virtuous or wrong rejoicing is actually rather horrible. “Good, they’ve got what’s coming to them.” There’s a lot of that about; schadenfreude is the order of the day. We feel happy when others are sad or things go wrong for them because we don’t like them. We don’t want them to be happy – we’d prefer them to be unhappy because they’re annoying, or because they’ve hurt us or others, or whatever it is. I think we have to watch against that thought because it’s quite the cultural and political norm but is a negative attitude that creates a lot of bad karma for us and (unsurprisingly) undermines our love and bodhichitta. As Venerable Geshe-la points out in Universal Compassion:
Wrong rejoicing is rejoicing in others’ negative actions rather than in their positive actions. For example, if we applaud someone who catches the most fish in a fishing contest … or if we are pleased when an enemy country experiences difficulties and setbacks, these are all examples of wrong rejoicing. Such actions create very heavy negative karma.
Whenever we’re happy about other people’s unhappiness, this state of mind is the nature of dislike, anger, or hatred, and can have no good results. It makes us into – at that time – quite horrible human beings, regardless of whether or not we are even trying to be a Bodhisattva. If you’re not sure about this, think about people who may be sitting around rejoicing in YOUR suffering right now and ask yourself if their thoughts seem virtuous or positive, or instead somewhat sinister?
Schadenfreude seems quite contagious, so we need to be careful. I find that if I carelessly read or watch a lot of news while holding strong worldly views on what is going on, some kind of negative rejoicing arises sooner or later. We can avoid this mind at all costs by making sure our mind is full of love and compassion for everyone concerned, whether we agree with them or don’t agree with them, and whether they’ve done good things or bad things. People are not their delusions. People are also trapped in an almost impossible cycle of suffering from which it is very hard to break free. We can’t afford to lose that perspective because, as soon as we get into negative rejoicing, we start to create some really bad causes for our future. Worth bearing in mind.
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