Rejoicing is an abrupt theme change from the last two posts I’ve worked on, both of which have ground to a halt. They seemed important at the time, but they were full of bad news, and there’s plenty of that to go around.
Recently I attended two teachings by a Tibetan lama visiting from the east coast, the Venerable Khensur Lobsang Jampa. I’d heard him on a previous visit and on both occasions his teachings were all I expected and more. I purchased a book he published this year and started to read it when I got home.
In the early pages, he gave an account of a king called Prasenajit who sought the Buddha’s advice. King Prasenajit wanted to study the Dharma, and asked how he could do so when so much of his time was devoted to running his kingdom. Like us, he was insanely busy, and didn’t have much time for spiritual practice.
Buddha gave him just three things to do, which he could practice in the midst of other activities: generate bodhicitta, rejoice, and dedicate.
Bodhicitta is the core of Mahayana Buddhist practice. It’s the desire and determination to seek spiritual awakening for the benefit of all living beings. It parallels St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where he says no amount of spiritual prowess is worth anything without love.
Dedication means mentally giving the positive energy of spiritual practice, the good karma, for the benefit of all sentient beings. The secret is that by giving it away, we do not lose anything, for like Jesus’ loaves and fishes, there’s always enough to go around.
Buddha’s final instruction, rejoicing, took on a special meaning this week. Lama Khensur wrote: “Rejoicing is simply cultivating happiness in the positive actions of others and in the good things that happen to others, thinking ‘How wonderful for them!'” He explained that rejoicing means celebrating the lives of spiritual masters, prophets and saints, as well as the positive actions of “ordinary” people.
Consider the world-wide rejoicing we saw this week for the life of Nelson Mandela. How uplifting it was to reflect on the positive transformation he brought to his own nation and to the lives and dreams of people everywhere. The Buddha said that such uplift is ours anytime we deeply reflect on the good that people have done and can do.
Yesterday I attended the wedding of a long time friend. I’m not ordinarily a fan of occasions like weddings, where I have to be on my best behavior for several hours at a time, but this was different. Some 30 friends and family members gathered to witness the union of a couple who are such a good match that it was pure celebration and I didn’t look at my watch until after the cake. It was easy to think, “How wonderful for them!”
The smallest event can spark this kind of rejoicing when we watch for such occasions. Last week, when I stepped out of the rain and cold and into a local bagel shop, the young man who brought me a bagel and coffee with a genuine smile passed on something very valuable. Many such moments are ours when we pay attention.
The clouds above us join and separate,
The breeze in the courtyard leaves and returns
Live is like that so why not relax?
Who can stop us from celebrating?
– Lu Yu