Mudita Journal

Mudita explained

December 15, 2002 · Filed under: Buddhism, Intellectual

Mudita is a Pali word that means “sympathetic joy” or “happiness at another’s success in life.”

In Buddhist teachings, mudita is one of the four Brahma-viharas, or “highest emotions,” alongside love, compassion, and equanimity. I first learned of the word during a terrific retreat with Buddhist meditation teacher Leigh Brasington.

I hold no reverence for exotic terms, and I rarely favor a foreign word when an English one will do.

But in this case, there is no English word. We have many words with an opposite meaning — envy, jealousy, compassion, pity — but none for feelings of happiness or even approval at another’s success. The nearest word might be “pride,” but this is usually restricted to one’s self.

The omission is reflected in modern culture. You can hardly scan the headlines of a newspaper without reading about designs to “soak the rich,” but you almost never see a story about how wonderful it is that some people succeed in achieving their financial dreams. We are taught to pursue our dreams, but to resent those who achieve them.

Mudita is an antidote to this mentality, and it reaches far beyond matters of material success.

In the outstanding book The Art of Living Consciously, psychologist Nathaniel Branden explains that “Whoever continually strives to achieve a clearer and clearer vision of reality and our place in it — whoever is pulled forward by a passion for such clarity — is, to that extent, leading a spiritual life.”

Part of understanding one’s “place in reality” is identifying what we admire, what we support, and what makes us happy. In this respect, mudita is an essential component of the spiritual life.

Certain elements of mudita are captured in what Branden calls “psychological visibility” — the positive feelings that result from having one’s true nature understood, from seeing one’s self mirrored in another. Think about how it feels to talk with someone who understands you, who might be pursuing goals similar to your own. Or how it feels even to look at a healthy plant, thriving on sun and soil.

These connections to the rest of the world ground us not only in healthy relationships, but in a healthy life. Without them, we are a plant without soil ourselves.

Note that, while the word “mudita” has an Eastern lineage, its full realization lies as much in the tradition of Western individualism, of seeing each person as an end in him- or herself. The term provides an interesting bridge between Eastern and Western values, which I’ll explore more as time permits. Stay tuned.

  • Raymie Stata

    Great word, love it. Looking forward to more.

  • http://www.newenlightenment.com Patricia Speer

    I love the conceptual benevolence behind mudita and your weblog, Joshua.

    I was first introduced to the concept of mudita last winter after happening upon a biographical account of Buddha’s life entitled _Buddha_, by Karen Armstrong. Reading about Buddha’s life and learning more about Buddhism has been something of a spirtitual reawakening for me.

    I would absolutely love to read more essays or meditations concerning the influence of Eastern values on Western culture.

    All best,
    Patricia

  • Kyle Griffin

    Josh, sorry to use your boards for non-mudita stuff.

    Ramie Stata? Long time no see? Or do I have a different Raymie Stata?

    –Kyle

  • http://www.FunJoyment.com mark michael lewis

    Joshua, what a sweet gift mudita is!

    I look forward to getting to know you through time. I think you and I will enjoy one another greatly. What a wonderful future we have together!

    Namaste, (or as my friends like to say, “no mistakes”!)

    Mark

  • Mudita Chauhan-Mubayi

    Seeing a journal with my name feels good. So, there is some “happiness at one’s own success” too!! Do you have an e-alert?

  • gautham

    hi joshua

    being a web developer and a fan of ayn rand , i couldn’t help my self from browsing your site . my congratulations . a job neatly done. i feel it would be wunnerful if we could get to discuss onj the net more about objectivism and mindfullness.

    gautham

  • http://www.infinitesmile.com Michael McAlister

    Interesting site.
    Amazing that there seem to be so few excellent sites dealing with closing the gap between Eastern peace and Western dynamism.
    Come by some time and visit mine: http://www.infinitesmile.com
    Take care,
    Michael

  • Amod

    Your site is a really interesting application of the idea of mudita, to say the least. I don’t entirely agree with it, but I salute your creativity. Having studied some Pali, I would like to point you to one technical detail: the A in “mudita” is long and the I isn’t, which means that (at least in Pali) it should be pronounced roughly with the accent on the last syllable and not the second (moo-dee-TAH, not moo-DEE-ta).

  • Bob Balocca

    Terrrific concept! I plan immediately to incorporate this word into my vocabulary and to ponder its broader meaning while integrating it into my thinking. Thanks, it is a concept very lacking in our culture, as you so observed. Whether or not your definition captures the true meaning of the Pali usage is not entirely relevant for this purpose.

  • Greg Feirman

    “Yet, their [mindfulness and individualism] intertwinings are the stuff of elegance, and provide the intellectual basis of this journal.”

    A worthy endeavor and important integration of two concepts/traditions that need each other. Coming from a background in “individualism”, I believe that individualism has got to mean more than individual rights and free markets if it is going to make a difference in people’s lives. Those two worthy goals are simply boundary conditions that set up a space in which to live our lives — free from the initiation of force by others including the government. But the really important question is: how should we live our lives, in a free country and in the country we have right here, right now? After all, I’d say the pay off in terms of happiness and fulfillment of a knowledge of true principles of politics and economics is fairly limited. It is not fundamental. The really important stuff is at a deeper, more personal, level.

    I look forward to enjoying your thoughts.

  • Mudita

    Mudita or Mudit is a Sanskrit word not Pali which means “joy” or “happiness”.
    It is mentioned in Rig Veda and Sam Veda (3000B.C.) even before origin of Pali language or dilect.

    Thanks,
    Mudita

  • http://www.muditajournal.com Joshua Zader

    Mudita,

    I’m sure you’re right about the Sanskrit origins of ‘mudita.’ In my own definitions and discussion of the word, I am of course relying more on the recent uses of the word by Buddhist teachers in the United States and elsewhere.

    Joshua

  • Kayode

    What a wonderful word and quality to develop. This quality can transform the world.
    In our ever-increasing competitive world we breed success but also breed jealousy, envy.
    But Mudita…. Wow that’s something everybody can generate and receive the benefit!!

  • http://www.cakefront.com Giorgio

    Great word ! No such word in German, Russian and Polish :-(

  • Melissa Zader

    Hi, Well my email doesn’t have anything to do with your business, sorry. I was wondering if we’re related to eachother because there’s only a few Zader’s out there?????

  • Kalleh

    Interestingly, we have discussed the opposite of “mudita” periodically on our wordcraft bulletin board; that word is “epicaricacy,” or finding joy in someone’s misfortune. Yesterday someone found your site’s discussion of “mudita,” and we thought it might be the antonym for “epicaricacy.” Yet, what about the English word “macarism?” Isn’t that similar to “mudita” in meaning? What’s the distinction?

  • http://www.zader.com Joshua Zader

    Kelleh,

    I am unable to find the word “Macarism” in any of the English dictionaries I have at my disposal…

    Joshua

  • Karen

    There’s something on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary website called the “open dictionary,” wherein people can submit new or made-up words, words they think should be in the dictionary but are not. Most of the submissions are on the humorous side, but some are thoughtful and serious. Even though mudita is a “real” word in another language, just for fun you could submit it to this site to share the concept with an even larger, and perhaps younger, audience.

  • http://rantsand.blogspot.com/ Stephen W. Browne

    So mudita is the opposite of “schadenfreud” that creepy concept of “happiness at hearing of the misfortune of others”.

  • Mudita Dennett

    My name is Mudita and I was wondering what my name looked like written in sanskrit. I know there is an alphabet. But I was wondering if the litteral translation of the word would be different than just transfering letter for letter. Please get back to me…

  • http://www.joenuxhall.org Kim

    Awesome!!! I have been searching for a year to find a word that was basically the opposite of jealousy. I have found in my teaching that jealousy is one of the great issues and root causes of problems in our school, city and world. I shall add “Mudita” to my list of virtues that I teach. Respectfully, Kim Nuxhall

  • Mudit Chaudhry

    This is great love the blog entry…I have got to be honest… I knew that my name was related to “joy” and “happiness”. But “joy and happiness at others success” this gives me a whole new perpective.
    Joshua – I liked the sound of your name so much that I could not resist doing some bit of research to find what it means. Hope I got it right – “God is my salvation”…pretty amazing :)

    -Mudit

  • http://objectivism2.blogspot.com/ Tonix

    Great word “mudita” and great you for note that there is no word for this feeling, and as side-effect also noting the psychological and philosophical implications about competeviness in our behavior as human beings

    I searched in Spanish a word for this feeling and the closer one is “regocijo” that is used usually about the feeling of joy for something good that is happening to other people or just happening. But there is no word so specific as “mudita”. Good job :)

  • Jamey

    Have been searching for just the right name for my new farm. Alas the search is over :-D. On another note, I’ve always struggled with the concept of altruism, don’t believe it truly exists. Mudita is much better.

  • ananda

    mudita ~= the Greek concept of agape?

  • Leigh

    With mindfulness I see one of life’s interesting coincidences.

    I am a Buddhist meditation teacher. During dharma talk, I introduced the word mudita to participants and explained its meaning. Many made notes indicating that they too appreciate this excellent word.

    The interesting coincidence is, in case you haven’t already discovered it, Joshua, is that my name is Leigh.

    Mudita,
    Leigh

  • Pamela

    Makes one wonder what other definitions can’t find their word in the English language. Glad someone is thinking about things like this. You must have the concept before you rate a word. Sadly our culture is lacking in their understanding of quite a few obvious things.

    I so appreciate this. Mudita!

    Thank you!!

    Pamela

  • http://junenandy.wordpress.com/ June

    It may kindly be noted that the word “Mudita” is a Sanskrit word and not a word of Pali origin. Infact the Pali language itself took birth from Sanskrit which became the language for Buddhist teachings which then paved way to Prakrit and later to Apbhransh and then to the modern Aryan Languages. So saying Mudita a Pali word is not etymologically correct.

    By the way good blog.Thanks for the read.
    Regards,
    June

  • Mitche Leigh Hunt

    In researching Chris Sciabarra’s work, I happily found your web site and the explanation of the word “mudita,” something I have needed to know forever. I am so grateful that “mudita” is in my vocabulary now as a means to add joy as a high emotion to my recognition of others accomplishments.

    But I will begin by using “mudita” to uplift myself: a writer who has spent too much time and energy moaning and groaning about the amount of work (although done) not accomplished in any 24-hour period. I shall use “mudita” to emplace joy into the assessment of my work. I shall practice acquiring feelings of happiness — and even approval of myself — for striving toward my goal, the reality of which can only be created in bits and pieces, daily.

  • Laura

    Especially in this time of recession, fear of job loss, high stress, this word and the positive blog entries here truly resonate with me.

    Namaste
    Laura

  • Stephanie

    Hi Everyone,

    I am with the Mudita School of Healing in Sussex, I help teach on our two year course and practice Mudita Healing.

    It was great to see others interest in the term ‘Mudita’ and happy to hear the joy in others discovery of this concept or way of life.

    Our main aim is to ‘live’ or ‘practice’ this concept when working with clients, it’s wonderful to see how much healing people can receive just from a feeling of being accepted and to know someone in this world feels good because they feel good, and thats before any healing treatment!!

    Mudita for me isn’t a saintly expression but a very human one, maybe one of our most positive qualities that has been forgotten. The most difficult concept of Mudita can somtimes be towards ourselves, if we can’t forgive ourselves for mistakes and feel Mudita when we are successful in anything and at any level, our capacity to feel Mudita towards others could be limited.

    Wow! Thanks for shareing all this,
    Nameste
    Stephanie xx

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KKJM7QCO7XDGU3XZFHZMKJBCXM Mudita

      i feel proud f being named Mudita after reading soo much abt it…i wud lyk 2 noe is whethr any mythological character frm any f d epics ws named Mudita?…i hv a sort f confusion regarding tht…plz..