We normally think of joy as a reaction. Something happens and it causes joy to arise. That type of joy is conditioned. In Buddhism, unconditional joy is always there, covered or hidden by our conditioned mind (ideas and beliefs). We can uncover it through practicing awareness and asking ourselves, what did it take for this moment to arise?
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Noah R.: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 120. I am your host, Noah Rashida, and today I’m going to talk about unconditional joy. As always, keep in mind you don’t need to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use it to learn to be a better whatever you already are.
Noah R.: So before jumping into the topic for this week, unconditional joy, I want to talk about the Zen koan from last week, which actually conveniently ties in to the topic that I’ve selected to talk about today. And I guess before jumping into that, I want to say I’ve been a little MIA the last couple of weeks as you may have noticed. I hadn’t had the chance to upload a new podcast episode. I’ve been tied up with several things that have come up. I knew January was going to be a very busy month for me because I’m training a class of new paramotor students and I’m doing it in a new location and I’ve been out in a remote place and staying in a cabin.
Noah R.: And I thought I would have the chance to record out there, but every night, unfortunately there are parties or loud things going on around me that make it too difficult, too loud to record the podcast episodes, so I haven’t had the chance. I’ve had all the intention of sticking with my weekly podcast uploading, but I just haven’t had the chance to do it. And then there was a week where I was battling with figuring out a new allergic reaction that sprung out of nowhere and I couldn’t figure out what that was and slowly whittled down the list, until thinking it was nuts and various things. And I think I finally have it solved. It was the shampoo that I was using.
Noah R.: But anyway, long story short, all these things have delayed my chances to record a podcast episode and I finally have the chance today. But to be able to find the place that was quiet, once again, I am sitting in my car and I’m recording the podcast episode. So I’m excited to finally be able to start talking about the topic that I had picked many weeks ago.
Noah R.: So just as a heads up, if in the future, several weeks go by and I haven’t had the chance to upload, you know that I’m probably out somewhere working on something and I’m trying to get it recorded. And no, it doesn’t mean the podcast is ending and it doesn’t mean anything’s changed. It just means every now and then from time to time, I get tied up with things and I fall behind because I don’t program these ahead of time, they’re not recorded and then scheduled to come out. I record them usually the day of, the morning of and an or two later, I’ll Polish it up and clean it in editing software and then I upload it right then on the spot.
Noah R.: So when I’m out of town, like I was last November in Nepal, I just don’t get the chance to do it and when I’m in town, but very busy with something, I also fall behind. So I appreciate people who reached out, who were concerned like, what happened? Where have you been? I haven’t seen the podcast episode, so that’s good to know. If I were ever to go missing or something were to happen to me, I think podcast listeners might be some of the first to notice. They’d say, where is he? So go looking for me if you haven’t heard from me after a while.
Noah R.: Okay. So the Zen koan that I shared last week was the voice of happiness. I guess it wasn’t last week, but the last podcast episode was the voice of happiness. And this koan goes like this. After Bankei had passed away. A blind man who lived near the master’s temple told a friend, “Since I am blind, I cannot watch a person’s face. So I must judge his character by the sound of his voice. Ordinarily when I hear someone congratulate another upon his happiness or success, I also hear a secret tone of envy. When condolence is expressed for the misfortune of another, I hear pleasure and satisfaction, as if the one condoling was really glad there was something left to gain in his own world. In all my experience, however, Bankei voice was always sincere. Whenever he expressed happiness, I heard nothing but happiness. And whenever he expressed sorrow, sorrow was all I heard.”
Noah R.: This is koan that I enjoy because I’ve always liked the concept of rejoicing with those who rejoice and morning or weeping with those who weep. So with this specific koan, I posted this in the Patreon group, reading the thoughts and the ideas that were coming from other podcast listeners and supporters, and I wanted to share a few of them because, again, I like the other perspectives that come from analyzing these things.
Noah R.: So [Emray 00:05:14] said, “Everything we do and say also reveals something about ourselves. Bankei might have said the same things other people have said, as opposed to the other people however, he truly meant what he said. Therefore, his words and true intentions were well aligned. For some reason, this also reminded me of the four sides model of communication by Shulz von Thun. He is a communication expert and according to his model, whatever we say also reveals something about ourselves.”
Noah R.: This is a fascinating thing for me with Emray pointing out the concept that whatever we’re saying reveals something about ourselves. I really that when it comes to the introspective nature of Buddhism as a practice. You listen to … Or koan practice, you listen to a koan or you start studying a Buddhist teaching and the invitation is always to look inward, right?
Noah R.: So I think that I would echo here what Emray was sharing, is that, well, what does this reveal about ourselves? Ryan in our group, also said the following, he said, “After listening to this koan, it made me think that Bankei understood the interdependent nature of the universe, a misfortune for his neighbor was a misfortune for him. Likewise, a success for someone else, was a success for him. Bankei seemed to not let his ego create a false mask of authenticity.”
Noah R.: I like that line of thought as well. The interdependent nature of things. I think it seems inevitable that someone who has a deep understanding of the interdependent nature of things would naturally feel inclined to rejoice when someone’s rejoicing, to feel sorrow for someone who’s feeling sorrow and to have a sense of harmony, like I’ve talked about before with regards to thoughts, words, and actions.
Noah R.: So it’s like I’m thinking this and I’m saying this and those two things are aligned and I’m doing this, right. What I’m thinking, saying and doing, if those are all on the same page, then there’s a lot of authenticity there. And sometimes what we’re thinking and what we’re saying don’t match or what we’re thinking and what we’re saying match, but what we’re doing doesn’t match. And I really like the introspective work of trying to analyze if all three of those are aligned for me when I’m saying something.
Noah R.: And then Stephan from our group says, “I find it poetic that the blind man can actually see people for who they are, better than those with sight. Add that he describes his situation as a disability because he says, since I am blind, I cannot see a person’s face, when in fact it is a gift. His humility allowed an open mind to those with which he had interaction. By seeing people better than those with sight can, he could better grasp that Bankei was in fact a genuinely good soul, one without judgment or preconceived notion. Even Bankei himself may have not recognized this while he was alive. One can appreciate that his honesty and wise speech was better for the world even if others did not see it, the blind man saw it.”
Noah R.: And I like those words by Stefan and I also find it poetic that oftentimes, the blind person can see in a way that the person with sight cannot see. And I think that’s applicable in many other areas, right? We have people who may struggle with something that someone else doesn’t struggle with, but that struggle allows them to be stronger in another area, that that other person is not as strong in. And this would be a good example of that. Maybe the blind men in this case, refining his ability to be pretty keen on detecting authenticity or genuine tone when he’s listening to people.
Noah R.: Now I should mention here as far as my thoughts, I don’t know. I mean, how do we know that we can trust the blind man’s assessment of who’s authentic or not? But again, that doesn’t concern me because for me, the koan is all about introspection. It’s about looking inward. And rather than approaching this koan and thinking, well, how do we know that the blind man was accurate in his assessment? Or how heartbroken would the blind man be, if you found out Bankei actually wasn’t very authentic. He was thinking something different than what he was saying. But that’s not the point. That’s trying to be made.
Noah R.: Sure, that could be the case. But to me, this goes back to the heart of the practice, which is what does this say about me? What insight can I gain from this? And again, as I’ve mentioned before, for me this is an invitation to look inward. It seems that the blind person was able to detect the sincerity in Bankei’s voice. But for me, the real challenge here is to get to know the sincerity of my own voice. Are my thoughts and my words and my actions, are they all on the same page? And how often are they on the same page? How often are they not on the same page?
Noah R.: And to start getting an idea of my own sense of authenticity, I guess, if we were to call it that. And I like that the koan is referring to happiness and sorrow because those are two very powerful emotions that we all deal with regularly in life. We’re all chasing after more happiness and we’re all running away from sorrow. And that’s at the heart of what Buddhism is dealing with. It’s the desire for things that we think will make us happy. The aversion towards things that we think will give a sorrow and those fall under the poisons.
Noah R.: And this isn’t just for ourselves, but I think for others too. I think we’re always juggling our happiness with the happiness of those around us and our sorrow with the sorrow of those around us because we’re social creatures and we don’t exist in a vacuum. And even people who sometimes it seems like they try to make it a point that they don’t care about what others think, I always find it interesting that the person who seems to not care about someone else’s opinion, cares very much about making sure you know that they don’t care about another person’s opinion, which to me is like saying, well then you do care because you care enough to make sure that we know that you don’t care, which is a form of caring.
Noah R.: And so what? Yeah, we all do care about what others think. We’re hardwired for that. We’re social creatures. It’s not like a badge of honor to say, well, I actually don’t care about what others think of me. Why not just say, yeah, I’m hardwired to. I try to not let it matter too much, but deep down, I’m fighting millions of years of evolution and an instinct and I may have convinced myself that I don’t care about what others think, but if I really didn’t, then why do I care so much about making sure you know that I don’t care about what others think.
Noah R.: Anyway, those are just some of my thoughts with regards to that. And then going back to this concept of rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. This comes this from a verse in the Bible, but the overall sentiment I think falls in line very closely with the topic of the day, which is unconditional joy. And I like to think back to instances in my life where I feel I was pretty good at painting the picture of thinking that I was experiencing joy with people who were experiencing joy, so rejoicing with those who rejoice.
Noah R.: When in reality, if I’m being honest with myself, I think what I was doing is I was rejoicing with those who I felt deserved the rejoicing that I was sharing with them. In other words, I was really good at pretending to rejoice with others, but the ones I truly rejoice with are the ones that I felt deserved at. In other words, it was a conditioned joy, not an unconditional joy.
Noah R.: And that gets to the heart of what I wanted to talk about in this podcast episode. So if I’m to backtrack a little here, for those of you who know a little bit more about my story and my, we could call it a faith transition, my journey from one belief system to no belief system and then gravitating towards Buddhism, a secular form of Buddhism. That whole journey in and of itself, has made it so that some of my close inner social circles are concerned or have a sense of concern about my lack of belief in my prior belief system.
Noah R.: And when I went through the process of becoming a Buddhist minister, the induction ceremony that I went to, that was a pivotal moment of, I guess you could say in some circles, some of my social circles, almost a disapproval, like this is your way of now formally, you’re definitely not one of us anymore, was the vibe I was getting. And things that I noticed that I hadn’t really paid attention to the fact that I was noticing, where things like, if I posted a picture at my induction ceremony and I started to notice that the core circle of people who typically interact with my social media posts, were absent or silent from that conversation. They didn’t like the picture. They certainly didn’t comment on the picture and I felt like it was a way of communicating, we do not endorse this path that you’re on.
Noah R.: And I remember that was one of the first times that it struck me, this notion of not being capable of rejoicing with the joy that I was experiencing that day because it was not approved. I don’t approve of what you’re rejoicing about. Therefore, I will not share in that joy with you. I will not rejoice with you and that stuck with me. I’m sure all of you have experienced something like that to some degree. And I’m sure we’ve all done something like that to some degree.
Noah R.: So that stood with me for a few years and then I started noticing little trends. Anytime I would post anything that had to do with Buddhism or mindfulness or if I was posting about my book that was on the topic of Buddhism. Again, I started to see this trend, a certain group of people who regularly interact with me on social media, were silent and absent from the conversation and the engagements around certain topics. And then I started detecting in other conversations, comments about other people where it’s like, oh, I won’t like their picture when they’re posting this because I don’t want them to think that I approve of that specific action or whatever.
Noah R.: And that’s when I connected all the dots and realized, okay, that is what’s happening. My joy is somehow threatening them and they cannot share in my joy because they don’t approve of it. And I felt a little bit of a sting, like, oh, well that’s unfortunate. But then again, what I started to work with in that moment was, well, why is that painful? Why do I feel the need for them to rejoice with me? And the truth is, I don’t. But what it helped me to start to see, and this is what I wanted to get at, the powerful part of this whole thing for me, was it made me start to question, when do I do that? Do I do that to people too?
Noah R.: And I started to notice that I do and I didn’t notice that I did, until I noticed that others doing it to me. And I thought, how interesting and what scenarios do I do that to people? And I noticed that they have to do for me, typically, it’s social media posts around for example, in my former religion, kids get baptized when they turn eight. And when I have my social circles of friends posting pictures at their kid getting baptized and with comments like, oh I’m so proud of so-and-so because they chose to take this important step, blah blah blah.
Noah R.: I found myself experiencing a strong sense of disapproval of like, I don’t think that you should be allowing that to happen. I disapprove of a child at that age making a decision that important. And I found myself doing exactly what I was noticing people were doing, which is I don’t want to rejoice with you because your joy, your experiencing here at the baptism of your child, I feel that it’s not deserved because I disapprove of it.
Noah R.: And that really helped me to start to see it differently. And I thought, wow, okay. I mean, I don’t feel it on other things. I have a cousin, who was of a different faith and she posted a picture of her baby being baptized and that didn’t offend me. But obviously, the one that I come through most recently is a little bit more sensitive to me. And it was really fascinating to sit with that whole experience and to start to notice things, specifically notice that the joy that some of my friends are experiencing and posting these pictures and talking about this important event that just took place in their life, I am the one who’s deprived of feeling the joy because I’m not sharing it with them.
Noah R.: And I thought that’s the very thing that I was wanting people to rejoice with me, to celebrate the fact that I just took this decision that I felt was important and meaningful for me. And when I noticed people close to me did not want to celebrate in that with me, I thought, how sad, you’re the one missing out on that joy simply because you don’t think I should be doing what I’m doing. And yet, here I am doing the very same thing thinking, oh I don’t find joy in what you just did because I don’t think you should be doing what you’re doing.
Noah R.: And that was a really fun thought experiment and that became the topic of much of my meditation for weeks or months or however long that that process was taking place in my mind, where I would sit with it and think, why? Why do I not find joy in that? And that allowed me to change the relationship I had with the emotion I was experiencing when I would see these pictures of people baptizing their eight year olds.
Noah R.: And in my case, part of that is because I’m still involved in that circle and I have children who are that age. A few years ago I went through the experience of having to watch my son go through it, where I didn’t get to participate in any way because I’m not allowed to as a nonbeliever. And I’m getting ready to go through it again next year with my seven year old, who’s turning eight. And so it’s a topic of sensitivity for me and I didn’t realize how sensitive I was until I started going through this whole process of experiencing it backwards and now it’s made me more keen on it again, moving forward, where I thought, I want to share that joy.
Noah R.: And I should mention here, I’m not sharing this in the sense of saying I should be feeling joy with people who are experiencing joy. I’m not saying that. This is something I want to be clear about with all things related to Buddhism. It’s not a sense of a commandment, like you should be joyful, you should experience joy with others. It’s not that. It’s the understanding that joy could be shared, but if it’s not being shared, why is that? What conditions have I placed on joy, that prevent me from experiencing such a natural emotion?
Noah R.: And working with my own mental conditioning has helped me to uncover a greater sense of that unconditional joy that I think is there and it’s natural. So that’s been a really powerful process for me in my own life, going through my own mental processes as I go through events in life. So the idea of unconditional joy, we normally think of joy as a reaction. Something happens and it causes joy, the emotion to suddenly arise and that’s natural. But I think that type of joy is a condition joy. This thing happens, I think this is what I wanted to have happen and therefore I feel joy.
Noah R.: Unconditional joy is a concept in Buddhism that’s always there. It’s covered or hidden, similar to the concept of enlightenment, right? It’s always there. Unconditional joy is just covered or hidden and we can uncover it through practicing awareness and through feeling gratitude. And one of the exercises that has been really helpful for me, and I’ve talked about this before, is the question, what did it take for this moment to arise? And when I think about that, it immediately invokes two things. The sense of the interdependent nature of things. This is because that is, well what is that? And that is because of what other thing?
Noah R.: When I do that in my mind, that prompts me and it starts to uncover a form of joy that was there all along, but I was unaware of it. And finding unconditional joy seems to be rare, perhaps unnatural for some people, for most people maybe. But it can become natural if it’s practiced in the same way that gratitude practiced is something that you can practice. It can become the new habitual way of being because you’re always thinking, what did it take for this moment to arise?
Noah R.: So for me, this is all about introspection. And when I see a picture now of somebody who is at their child’s baptism and they say, this, I say this person is happy. They’re very joyful for what just took place. And then I analyze how do I feel about it? And if I think well, I’m not feeling very happy for them. I ask myself why? Why am I not happy? And then here’s the crucial part, I think what all did it take for this moment of happiness in their life to arise for them?
Noah R.: And the moment I start doing that, there’s a shift. I start thinking about the years of, whether it’s the ideas that have been shared from generation to generation, the beliefs that have been handed down, the personal struggles that people have gone through in their lives and endured in their beliefs have helped prop them up through difficulties. It becomes this giant spider web of interdependent causes and conditions, many of which I can empathize with and I can identify with and that changes that moment. And I think for this moment in time, doe all the causes and conditions that allowed this moment to be what it is and the joy that they’re feeling, I feel joyful about things too. And that becomes what connects me to the moment.
Noah R.: I know what it is to feel joy about things that are meaningful for me. It may not be the same things, but I know what it’s like to go through something that, a course for example, a two year course that led to this one singular moment that I’m celebrating as my meaningful moment. I know what that’s like. And here this family is going through it for an entirely different set of purposes and an entirely different set of views or beliefs. But I know what that feels like to feel that joy. And that allowed me to start connecting with these posts in a much more authentic way, where I do feel a sense of joy because it’s the joy that I’m concerned about now. Not so much the causes and conditions of the joy or it may be the causes and conditions of the joy, not so much the singular event of the joy.
Noah R.: So that has been a fun thing for me and I can almost feel my smile starting to develop as I look through one of those posts or pictures that I previously would’ve been like, eh. And now I look at it and think, what did it take for this moment to arise for them? And that, I don’t know, five, 10, 15 seconds that it takes to entertain that thought and that question, I start to smile and think, ah, good for them. I’m glad that they’re experiencing that. And then I remember what I’ve gone to in past episodes, what I call Pamela’s formula, that says I feel strongly about things too. They feel strongly about whatever it is they’re going through and I think I feel strongly about things too.
Noah R.: And that’s been powerful for me. So the result at the end of all of this for me, was recognizing there is a sense of joy that can be shared when you see someone else experiencing joy. And when I’m not experiencing it, that’s my own mental block, my own mental conditioning that’s preventing me from accessing something that’s natural and that arises there. And it’s been fun to notice that it really has made a difference. And I’m starting to find a much greater sense of unconditional joy that arises more often than it used to.
Noah R.: And it didn’t change overnight, but I’ve worked on this for a long time and it’s been a fun shift that’s slowly happened for me. And I think it can become natural if practiced. So again, introspection is the key here. And I like the idea that unconditional joy is an invitation to look inward and to start to understand more about myself and what concepts, ideas, or beliefs are covering up my ability to access that unconditional joy that I can feel, that I can share with someone else who is experiencing joy.
Noah R.: And the flip side of this is applicable to right, with sorrow. When someone’s experiencing sorrow and you’re like, oh yeah, I feel sorry too. But inside you’re really like, no, actually I don’t because you had it coming or something like that. That’s a moment of introspection where you can just say, I wonder why I feel that way? Again, this is not to say I shouldn’t feel this and then I’m going to be mad at myself for feeling it. It’s not that. It’s just a moment to be very honest with yourself and say, oh, I actually don’t feel that. Why don’t I feel that? I wonder why? What did it take for this moment to arise? What kind of mental conditioning is preventing me from feeling that sorrow that you’re feeling, for what you’re going through.
Noah R.: And that introspection can lead to something that can unlock or access, again, that natural sense of sympathy or compassion or whatever you want to call it that arises and that you haven’t been experiencing. Because again, if you’re experiencing joy and I’m not experiencing the joy with you, I’m the one who’s missing out. It doesn’t affect you in any way. Well, maybe it will if you’re like, huh, why is he not happy about me being happy about this? Then that could affect you do and then that’s your own introspection. But on the first page of all that, I’m the one who’s missing out on the joy, so I’m the one who can be introspective and say, why am I not experiencing that joy?
Noah R.: So, that’s the topic. That’s all I have for this podcast and as always, thank you for listening. If you want to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, consider becoming a patron and joining our online community, where we discuss koans, podcast episodes and more and you can learn more about the online community by visiting secularbuddhism.com. If you enjoyed this podcast episode, feel free to share it with others, write a review, give it a rating in iTunes. But that’s all I have for now and I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon.
Noah R.: But before I go, here is the Zen koan I want to share with you for this week.
Noah R.: This one is called, Announcement. [Tanzan 00:30:21] wrote 60 postal cards on the last day of his life and asked an attendant to mail them, then he passed away. The cards read, I am departing from this world. This is my last announcement, Tanzan. And then the date, July 27, 1892. That’s all I have for this podcast episode. Thank you for listening. Until next time.