Sympathetic Joy

July 24, 2013


After our meditation (which included concentration, insight and choiceless awareness), I talked about the third of the Divine Abodes or Brahma Viharas:  Sympathetic Joy.

The first Brahma Vihara is loving-kindness when we wish all beings to be happy and peaceful.  The second is compassion when we have the intention to relieve the suffering of others through our actions.

What about those who had good fortune and happiness? This is when we have sympathetic joy, forgetting our “selves” and focusing on them knowing that we are really one with them and are having sympathetic joy for ourselves.

The barriers:  “Envy and jealousy are the chief opponents of sympathetic joy. These noxious qualities arise partly out of a lack of confidence in one’s achievements and one’s capacity to achieve.  Little do people realize how a kind word, a warm smile, a loving touch can act as a balm to a sorrow-laden heart. We can now see how sympathetic joy becomes a natural result of metta (loving kindness) and karuna (compassion).”

A Story from Field Notes on the Compassionate Life by Marc Ian Barasch (Rodale):
“I once witnessed an exchange between a Tibetan lama and a questioner on this subject. “Rinpoche,” said a pleasant middle-aged man in a checked sport shirt, “I adore my son and I want him to be happy. He’s a linebacker for his high school football team, and I find myself rooting for him to just cream the opposing quarterback. Is there anything wrong with that?”

“Of course not,” the lama replied equably. “You love your son, and you want his happiness, and he’s happy when he beats the other team. This is only natural.”

There was an audible sigh of relief in the room: the spiritual path may be challenging, but it’s not unreasonable.

The man smiled. “Thank you, Rinpoche,” he said, making a quick little folding gesture with his hands.

The lama laughed sharply. “I was only joking!” he said. “Actually, this is not at all the right attitude. In fact,” he said, glancing at the man mischievously, “a good practice for you would be to root for the other team. See them winning, see them happy, see their parents overjoyed. That is more the bodhisattva (Buddhist) way.”

Try it for yourself sometime: Root for the other team. But isn’t this the mortal sin of “low self-esteem” or a lack of “competitive spirit?” Not exactly; it’s more like metaphysical jujitsu. Rooting for someone else’s happiness, we tune to a different wavelength. We feel more beneficent; less deprived, more capable of giving. The focus on another person’s satisfaction becomes a lodestone that paradoxically draws us closer to our own. (Isn’t most envy just our own potential disowned? Aren’t we jealous of what we ourselves might become?) When we take another’s viewpoint, we may suddenly feel there’s twice as much to go around; not more money or fame or square footage, but what underlies the whole pursuit—more love”


  1. Experiment by “rooting for the      other team”   How does it feel?
  2. For those interested in reading      more about the Brahma Viharas, go to this link: