The Buddha talks a lot about awakening to our own joy.
Why? Mudita (appreciative joy) gives us a way to dismantle the usual habit loops of negativity and close-mindedness and do something different, something more life-affirming and expansive. Finding joy in acknowledging who we are in eternity.
Responding with joy can activate a host of more wholesome alternatives, such as meeting our own greatest hits of comparing, competitive, and envy-filled mind with the antidote of noticing what is working in our lives and what brings us joy, as well as finding happiness and delight in other people’s good fortune. Choosing joy takes the sting out of hearing or seeing our usual triggers. The Dalai Lama tells us that the seven billion human beings on the planet have seven billion opportunities for joy, and that we can start to allow the heart to vibrate with the quality of joy in other people.
To cultivate appreciative joy, we must first tap into the boundless joy available to us in our own life. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “How can we feel joy for another person when we do not feel joy for ourselves? Joy is for everyone.” Awakening to our own joy can be as simple as taking delight in a blooming flower or noticing the way your favorite song soothes our heart. Waking up to our own joy asks us to investigate our past and present relationships with what brings us happiness and joy.
Matthieu Ricard, the cellular geneticist turned Buddhist monk tells us of three facets of joy: 1) rejoicing in someone else’s happiness; 2) delight or enchantment as a shining kind of contentment; and 3) spiritual radiance—a serene joy born from deep well-being and benevolence. His thoughts on meditation and aging follow below.
Meditation: What brings me joy? Start to settle in. Take a few natural breaths. Softly close your eyes. Spend these next few moments scanning your body with a gentle warmth and tender care. Lightly guide your attention to the natural inflow and outflow of the breath. Let any thoughts cross through your mind, smiling at them if that feels helpful, and release them one by one.
Center your attention in your heart and start to ask today’s mudita mantra, “What brings me joy?” Wait for the answer. Recognize it. Relish it. And ask again: “What brings me joy?” Notice the blessing of joy that comes to mind. Recognize it, savor it, then repeat again, “What brings me joy?” Keep repeating the mantra and reflecting on all the ordinary and extraordinary occurrences that bring you joy. Give yourself permission to feel good and see your life through the eyes of joy. Continue this practice until you feel complete. When you are ready, open your eyes.
My daughters Katie and Emily ages 4 and 7… now 25 and 28.
It is thought that secluded meditation guides our meditation. To maximize the benefits of meditation, one must minimize external distractions by practicing in a secluded place. Once a practitioner advances and has achieved a higher level of meditation, there is no need to practice in a secluded place because the power of external distractions has dissipated. To what I call living as our meditation becomes us. However, until one achieves that level of practice, seclusion is a good support for beginning meditators.
To illustrate, imagine the beginner’s mind as a battlefield disturbed by afflictive emotions and assailed by inner and outer distractions. Practicing in secluded habitats provides great benefit for the meditator because external distractions are minimized. Without these distractions, the meditator can experience the physical serenity of the secluded environment, which assists in calming the mind while bringing about peace and harmony. Finding the state of mind that takes us there.
A dragon cavorting in the clouds found on a vase at the British Museum in London.
This kind of attention is quite simple. It occurs sometimes while you are hearing about something that has happened to a friend, enjoying watching your favorite sports team rather they win or lose, or just going for a walk and hearing trees murmur as they drop their leaves in autumn or observing flowers bloom and die through the season. The listening can be quiet and receptive, yet active and awake at the same time. In my experience, it is just this kind of mindfulness that can be there when hearing or reading a Buddhist text described below. Remember there is no competition of what might be considered religious thought or teachings. They should all be seen as non-competitive. It is what takes our spirit and others to their highest endeavor that matters.
As stated earlier we begin with our conduct as an expression of our motivation. This idea has been the thread of the King of Meditation Sutra we have been following. What is the circle of life, as expressed so well above with the medicine wheel and mandala, but what moves us beyond where we now sit that further defines our presence? Mahayana Buddhism as illustrated by The King of Meditation Sutra, Lao Tzu, and others continues below in Chapter Twelve, representative of the continuing eternal journey we all take together.
In the footsteps of Bodhisattvas – Buddhist teachings on the essence of Meditation / Chapter 12 Joyful awakening… a continuing commentary. With a final chapter 13 yet to follow.
Key thoughts: Putting ourselves on the threshold of finding our bliss found in conveying our joy to others.
- In the Mahayana, we understand how the Buddha is endowed with inconceivable abilities and has the power to benefit us as if placing his foot on the threshold at the gate. (From Chapter 10 of The King of Meditation Sutra) When consciousness is liberated from everything, we see and experience this nature of the mind as wisdom through inner development and meditation.
Matthieu Ricard continues with teaching us how we can we act upon aging of the brain and fight against cognitive decline the same way we can act upon aging on the body itself. That over the last several decades, scientific studies have investigated the consequences of mind-training practices – meditation – on both body and spirit.
Thanks to several studies, we know that the practice of meditation has an immediate impact on cerebral activity and, in the long term, on the very structure of the brain. We can transform ourselves on our own thanks to neuroplasticity – the mechanisms by which the brain can modify itself. This occurs through neurogenesis processes, from the embryo stage or during training, and manifests itself by the brain’s ability to create, undo or reorganize neural networks and their connections. Neuroplasticity happens throughout our lifetime. But what impact does the practice of meditation have on the brain of the elderly, particularly prone to cognitive decline?
- Through our daily lives, Buddhism in addition to bringing freedom to all activities, with samadhi our potential is found to be beyond our perceived imagination and comprehension. The more we reach for this potential through study and our practice, the more we reach the capacity for wisdom.
- The Buddha manifests itself through our own compassion in line with nature, the cosmos, and the needs of all beings.
Statute of the Buddha found at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian, China.
It is in this way we gain merit. It is understood that to know the Buddha, one must practice samadhi to gain the qualities of unconditional awakening and conditioning our minds to awareness.
- It is in the realization of our own divine nature that we can for ourselves gain all the powers and qualities of the Buddha. It is this awareness that empowers our compassion for all sentient beings.
- If we can do this from within our nature, we become like a priceless treasure. When we can rest in authentic samadhi, we gain more merit than in making countless lesser offerings. Chapter seventeen of The King of Meditation Sutra tells us: Whoever upholds this peerless, immaculate samadhi is like the boundless wealth of the buddhas, a vast ocean of wisdom.
- The King of Meditation Sutra tells us as we follow the footsteps of the bodhisattvas the four qualities needed for this profound samadhi are 1) they cannot be outshone – like the sun or waxing moon among the stars, 2) they are unshakable – he/she cannot be deterred due to their sublime insight, 3) their wisdom is immeasurable, and 4) their confidence and dignity becomes immovable. This is what is to become of us, as if we have the responsibility to convey and to teach to others… as though planting the seed.
- Samadhi is not just a stable mind. It is to understand intensely as if you were going to teach samadhi to others that grants the four treasures of the Buddha, the Dharma, wisdom, and knowing the times (past, present, and future). Why the bodhisattvas vow becomes so important in our daily lives and to our own awakening.
Ricard tells us that cognitive decline occurs frequently towards the end of life as a natural process. After the age of 40, our brain starts to slowly lose certain abilities and ages structurally. These changes may be hastened by our living conditions, which may be linked to how others perceive us, our self-image, or by the fact that we become more exposed to the deaths of loved ones and to loneliness. And sleep disorders that increase exponentially, affecting 50% of those above 65, as do neurodegenerative illnesses such as Alzheimer’s.
These pathological processes causing stress and anxiety have a significant detrimental impact on the quality of life and the health of the elderly, become prone to mental ruminations, and are often victims of depressive syndromes. When we observe the process of rumination (the act of pondering, i.e., thinking or musing on something written or spoken that expresses such pondering or musing) it is easy to see the extent to which it constitutes a factor of disturbance. So, we must free ourselves from these mental chain reactions we maintain through rumination. We need to learn to let thoughts arise and dissipate and let them go as they occur, instead of letting them take over our mind. I would add that this manifestation is often referred to as “monkey mind” in Buddhism.
- This priceless treasure of the Buddha includes 1) the power of vision, 2) the power of hearing, 3) and the power to know the minds of others. It is the knowing of past lives and future lives that contributes to our understanding, wisdom, and vision. Most importantly, our acknowledging the path we are here to take and follow.
- The treasure of the Dharma is to hear all the Buddha’s teaching in such a way that with this perception, our hearing becomes so transcendent that it is as if we can hear this teaching coming from all directions and are never separate from it. The benefit of knowing this treasure is that one sees the minds and conduct of sentient beings in the past, present, and future.
- When holding these treasures, our activities on behalf of others become immeasurable and infinite, as we are seen moving beyond the concept of forgetting. When we hold this wisdom (the meaning of the sutra in our body, speech, and mind) we acknowledge an enlightened dignity that becomes us. By upholding the intent of the sutra our confidence thus becomes assured.
To the right the spinning wheels found in Buddhist temples throughout China and Tibet. It is said that inside each wheel is a sutra (or saying/prayer) of the Buddha. When you spin the wheel, you are releasing the sutra for the benefit of yourself and all sentient beings. Shown are those found in the Luohan Buddhist Temple located in the Yuzhong District, Chongqing, China.
Ricard continues – Like skills and knowledge, this ability to let thoughts arise and dissipate as they occur, instead of letting them take over our mind can be developed through training. By practicing mindfulness, we can emancipate ourselves from certain chains linked to cognitive aging and help prevent or slow down age-related degenerative illnesses.
Far from preconceived ideas, meditation is a conscious and active practice. Over time, through exercises and perseverance, meditation shapes our mind and develops our capacity for control, discernment, and clear mindedness.
We spend a lot of time improving the external conditions of our lives, but in the end, it is always the mind which creates our experience of the world and translates it into well-being or suffering. Being able to act consciously on the way we perceive things is being able to transform our quality of life. It is this type of transformation, which is brought about by mind training, what we call meditation, a practice not limited to attention or what is generally referred to as mindfulness.
Most of our innate abilities lay dormant unless we do something, such as mind training, to bring them to their optimal functioning state. Through an empirical approach and a well-trained mind, the contemplatives have found efficient methods for gradually transforming emotions, moods, and character traits, as well as for eroding deeply rooted tendencies that stand in the way of an optimal mode of being. Accomplishing this changes the quality of our lives at every moment by reinforcing fundamental human characteristics such as kindness, freedom, peace, and inner strength. I would add… to what Confucius would call benevolence and virtue.
Meditation thus opens a way to work against cellular aging and prevent cognitive deterioration. Just as we maintain our physical abilities through exercise, the mind also must continuously be trained by cultivating an attentive and kind presence to the world. When properly done, the practice of meditation unites body and mind through a discipline that fosters joy… a feeling of plenitude, promotes our health, and ultimate well-being.
For more on Matthieu Ricard the Buddhist Monk, Humanitarian, Author and Photographer refer to http://www.matthieuricard.org.