Mudita is often described as sympathetic joy. I thought long and hard about what this means, and I think what resonated best with me is how it is likened to a soft heart. It is the ability to appreciate the good in others.
Imagine you are stuck in traffic, which is not hard to imagine if you spend any time at all on the road in Manila, and you are alone in your car. Maybe you are starting to get bored, even hungry, a little impatient perhaps. Then you glance over to the car next to you and you see that there is this happy family, laughing together, undisturbed by the traffic. And you look at them with amusement and delight. You are able to celebrate in their joy even though you are not a direct participant. All you feel is delight at what others are experiencing.
You may also experience the same thing when you observe your animal companions. You and your dog may not speak the same language, and you have very different interests. When your dog stops at every post to pee, it does not make you want to copy him, but you could feel the delight in his satisfaction, because you are able to appreciate what it means not to you but to him. You can sense that this is important to him, and seeing that he has his need met satisfies you too.
In PYS I.33, the attitude of mudita or delight is prescribed towards the punya or the virtuous. In this sense, what we are called upon to practice is the antidote of envy, jealousy, and even apathy and boredom. To feel delight towards the good things that another one does is to acknowledge that we all have the same goal of happiness, and it does not have to be done my way for it to make me happy. For example, as a devotee of the Jivamukti Yoga practice, I share the teachings of compassion as it was taught to me in this lineage. This is my personal commitment and my path. But I can feel delight when I see teachers and students and devotees of Ashtanga Yoga or Dharma Yoga or any other practice progressing in their path. They did not choose the same path as I have, and that is not a problem, and I can celebrate in their joy of finding a practice that they love as much as I love Jivamukti. The delight comes from sharing a larger experience that transcends separation. There is shared delight even if the experience itself is not shared.
Why is mudita an essential practice in cultivating serene intelligence? The Dalai Lama said it best. "It’s only logical. If I am only happy for myself, many fewer chances for happiness. If I am happy when good things happen to other people, billions more chances to be happy!”
To live in this world with joy and with lightness, we need to be able to derive that joy not only within the confines of our limited vehicle. Going back to my example of Manila traffic, our whole lives are like traffic. It is oftentimes chaotic and we are constantly challenged. Without mudita, we can get stuck in the vehicle of our own mind and drama. With a sense of delight, with the ability to feel joy outside of our own experiences, we can face the world brimming with the joy of others, knowing there is always something worth celebrating, knowing there is always a reason to smile. This life can be very good, and we need the openness in the expression of mudita to truly see it.