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Finding Joy in the Wholesome

Bhikkhu Bodhi gave a wonderful Dhamma talk on how to arouse joy in our meditation practice.

This article is a summary of that talk.

When we are first introduced to meditation, we usually start with something neutral like mindfulness of breathing. Neutral in that there is no need to be Buddhist or have a belief in the teachings of the Buddha. And mindfulness of breathing usually brings us immediate beneficial results. But for the benefits to grow we require a strong foundation for our meditation practice. Part of this foundation is joy. Bhikkhu Bodhi describes four bases for the arousing of joy.

These bases are:

1. Faith

2. Morality

3. Generosity

4. Mudita

The first basis for joy is faith. The starting point for faith is usually suffering. We experience suffering and we search for a way to relieve it. If we happen to come across the Dhamma and try it out and experience relief or just get a gut feeling about the truth of the Dhamma, this causes us to develop the belief that the Dhamma has the potential to lead to true release/liberation. This is faith. Now, how does faith lead to joy? Bhikkhu Bodhi found that recollection of the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha leads to joy. For him, recollection of the Buddha works the best at generating joy.

Nine qualities of the Buddha are listed for our recollection:

1. He is the blessed one, the fortunate one.

2. He is completely liberated from all the defilements.

3. He has understood the nature of all phenomena.

4. He possesses clear knowledge and excellent conduct.

5. He has arrived at the blissful state.

6. He is a knower of the world, understanding the nature of the world.

7. He is the supreme trainer of persons wishing to be trained.

8. He is a teacher of devas and humans.

9. He is enlightened.

To make this a meditation practice, we run our minds over and over these qualities, dwelling on them, until our mind gets imbued with the flavors of the qualities. It is like digging a well. One digs and digs and digs and suddenly the water bubbles up. In this meditation we dwell over and over on the qualities until suddenly we are filled with awe, gratitude, inspiration that the Buddha had these qualities.

Normally our minds are experiencing greed, hatred and delusion or less strongly, wanting, irritation and delusion. But by meditating on the Buddha who was freed of these defilements, as it says in AN 6:10, our minds are temporarily freed of greed, hatred and delusion which creates an unswerving mind which finds gladness in the teachings of the Buddha. This gladness leads to joy/piti which leads to tranquility, which leads to bliss/sukha which leads to samadhi. This allows us to live in balance among people who are unbalanced and untroubled among people who are troubled. This is a foretaste of Nibbana. This teaching is also given in AN 6:25.

Similarly we can use the recollection of the Dhamma or the Sangha to arouse joy.

Once joy has been aroused from this recollection, we can switch to breath meditation because now we have a strong base for it in this joy of the wholesome.

The second basis for joy is sila, moral behaviour, good bodily and verbal conduct from observing the precepts.

When we don't kill or harm living beings we plant the seed of compassion in ourselves.

When we don't steal we plant the seed of honesty and trustworthiness.

When we refrain from sexual misconduct we plant the seed of self respect.

When we abstain from false speech and misleading of others, we plant the seed for a strong commitment to truthfulness and honesty.

When we abstain from the use of intoxicants this creates a disposition towards sobriety which allows mindfulness and clear comprehension.

Following the precepts gives safety to others and also safety for ourselves as we won't have negative kamma from current negative behaviour ripening in the future.

For the meditation we reflect on our observance of the precepts and this leads to joy.

If one is a Buddhist the meditation for these first two bases of joy can include taking a few minutes at the beginning of each day to recite the three refuges, reflect on the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and then recite the five precepts and then reflect on how we are observing them.

The third basis of generating joy in the wholesome is the practice of generosity. Generosity breaks down barriers between self and others. It is an antidote to greed/clinging/attachment and selfishness.

To practice meditation on generosity we reflect on our generous acts to feel the joy in the wholesome. We can rejoice in having broken the barrier of our selfishness.

The fourth basis of joy is mudita, rejoicing in the good qualities and good deeds of others. This requires letting go of competitiveness, envy and resentment.

To practice this meditation, Bhikkhu Bodhi suggest that at the end of a meditation, we bring to mind others who are practicing the Dhamma and rejoice in their good qualites and deeds. Then we extend outwards to those we don't know personally but have heard of their deeds in the newspaper or from others. Finally we extend our minds to the entire world, thinking of all the people who have good qualities and do good deeds. This causes joy to strengthen within ourselves.

May your practice be filled with joy!

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