Carrying on from this article, What’s there to be happy about?
Back in London, I asked the nice doc to try halving my mother’s Parkinson’s medications so that she can perhaps say a word again here or there or move her facial muscles enough for a small smile – plus we agreed that it’s hard to know what these medications are doing any more. We hope to ditch the Mementine memory pills next because it would appear that my mother’s memories are now pretty much all gone, though she still recognizes some of us some of the time. Plus, given that she lies unmoving in bed all day with everything done for her, her gross memory might at this stage be surplus to requirements. She is obliged to live in the moment. Who knows what level of mind she is using as she drifts in and out of semi-lucidity.
Nothing without the Deity
What has continued is the incredible care over these 92 weeks in bed. I suspect that Guru Tara and her emanations have moved in with my parents. The NHS supervisor came over to evaluate Bless and Frederica yesterday, who got top marks from me and my dad because both of them are too sweet to be real. So there is a lot to rejoice in with them and our main long-term carers Patricia and Diane, not to mention my devoted 88-year-old dad (who can barely get off the sofa himself most days). He told my niece Molly: “I had better stop being grumpy so that people will still come to visit me.”
Life is not easy. People everywhere are trying so hard.
At breakfast I picked up Patricia’s Christian Thought for the Day booklet in the kitchen – today’s advice is to be more gentle and less like a bulldozer, and tomorrow’s is to value not money but love, a far greater wealth. Patricia memorizes and lives by this often Lojong-like advice. She was saying that we learn information at school and college, but that, regardless of our background, income, or level of education, wisdom arises only when we sit quietly and contemplate. When I got here and asked how she was after her weeks’-long illness (during which Diane heroically filled in for her every night), she replied: “I give thanks that I’m alive! I don’t mind aches and pains because every day of life is precious.” You can learn a lot about conscientiousness, focus, and faith from Patricia – she lives her whole life within the recognition of a higher power, just like Buddhists also try to do. Which reminds me of the fabulous Colorado state motto, Nil sin numine, that I have been wanting to tell you about since I saw it:
All of which is to say that it’s hard not to feel happy that Patricia is in this world spreading that smile, service, and grounded faith; and that there are countless extraordinary caring people all over the world to feel good about.
The benefits of rejoicing
If we are genuinely thinking about others’ happiness and feeling good about it, or seeing that they’re doing something beneficial for others and feeling good about it, we are feeling happy. And what’s the difference between feeling happy and being happy?
We possibly feel as good as they do – maybe even better! It’s all there on a mother’s face, for example, when her child has done something wonderful – she is probably even happier than the kid because she loves the kid and is so pleased for them, rather than for herself. In rejoicing, there is not much self-cherishing to ruin things.
Reasons to rejoice
We can have startling results from rejoicing. Not least, it increases our love and bodhichitta and gets us closer to enlightenment. It’s also a good way to make friends ‘cos who doesn’t like someone who is always happy for them?
Rejoicing is a win-win, have your cake and eat it, kind of scenario. We feel happy AND we are creating the karmic cause for even greater happiness in the future. In fact, get this, we actually receive a percentage of other people’s merit. Let’s look at the numbers according to Buddha’s teachings in Great Treasury of Merit:
50%!!! A friend was talking to me the other day about passive income, wherein you invest your money and receive all this money back without having to lift a finger. Basically, free money. Well, this is how you can create free merit or good fortune without having to lift a finger. All we have to do is feel glad about someone who has higher realizations than us and we create half of their merit! Which, if they are a Buddha, would appear to be half of infinite merit? Frankly, I think that’s a lot. For example, 50% of Venerable Geshe-la’s merit every day?! No wonder enlightenment is only going to take three years – it is not even going to take three at that rate, is it? We just take time out every day to feel happy about what Geshe-la is doing – “What’s Geshe-la up to right now? Wow, that’s amazing.” – and that’s 50% of great good fortune right there. This seems pretty compelling to me.
If we rejoice in the virtues of someone with equal realizations we will receive the same amount of merit.
So your friends can do all the work and you can get all the merit. I don’t know how many people are reading this, for example, and hopefully deciding to rejoice; but if I manage to feel happy for even a few hundred of you, that’s like 10,000% of merit. Isn’t that a lot more merit than doing whatever I did today whilst not bothering to rejoice? It’s great to be virtuous and work hard, of course, ahem, but, nonetheless, we can multiply our good fortune thousands-fold every single day if we want to. I’m not kidding, I’m not making this up – it says right here, “the same amount of merit.”
And if we rejoice in the virtues of someone with fewer realizations we will receive twice the merit.
Get this, twice the merit! 200%. Unbelievable. What am I waiting for?
On top of all this … if we are rejoicing with the motivation of bodhichitta – wishing to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings – that percentage goes up a LOT more. I can’t even do the math on that.
Also, importantly, if we rejoice in what people are doing to help others and so on, we create the karmic causes to be able to do those things ourselves. So if we rejoice in the activities of people who are helping Dharma to flourish through financing or publicity, for example, then we create the causes to help Dharma to flourish in that way as well. If we see someone doing a really talented job and think, “That’s wonderful”, we create the cause to have the same abilities, skills, or wishes to help others. We create the cause to have exactly what it is we’re admiring, rejoicing in, or appreciating, which is an incredible benefit of rejoicing. It also implies that if we want a particular skill or good quality, we should look out for someone who already has it and rejoice in them.
(I do have a slight question about that … if we rejoice in someone doing what we really don’t want to do – such as garbage collection or transforming a serious illness or staying awake all night to change someone’s diaper – do we create the cause to have to do all those things ourself?! Let me know what you think in the comments below.)
Out of time. In the next installment, I’d like to talk about how we can overcome obstacles to rejoicing, such as envy and insecurity. Any ideas you have on that subject would also be appreciated in the comments.
(BTW, there’s an International Summer Festival coming up this weekend, with apparently about 4,000 people attending in person; so whether or not you can attend yourself (in person or online), this is a pretty large and easy target for rejoicing.)