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Gawa – Appreciative Joy

Gawa (དགའ་བ་) or appreciative joy is the third of the four immeasurable thoughts, tshemed bzhi (ཚད་མེད་བཞི་). Although the term gawa or joy generally denotes the experience of happiness, in the context of the four immeasurable thoughts, it specifically refers to feeling of appreciation and joy for the happiness of others. Appreciative joy, thus, rejoices in the happiness and good of others and counters our tendency of jealousy and competition. In this sense, it is similar to the practice of rejoicing or yirangwa (ཡི་རང་བ་) among the seven limbs of worship. While loving kindness and compassion respectively wishes sentient beings to attain happiness and be free from suffering, appreciative joy takes delight in whatever state and conditions of happiness and lack of suffering others have already attained. Thus, it works diametrically against the ordinary sense of jealousy and narrow pursuit of self interest.

The cultivation of appreciative joy, in the traditional Buddhist practice, is reinforced by the understanding of the virtues of rejoicing in the happiness of others and the vices of jealousy and resentment of other people’s success. The act of rejoicing in the good of others is said to reap as much karmic merit as the actual act of doing good. As karmic merit is a state of the mind, the mental state of exultation and joy can bring about even greater karmic impact. Thus, when King Prasenjit invited Buddha and his disciples for lunch, a beggar at the palace gate is said to have accumulated greater karmic merit through pure rejoicing than the royal host, who made the actual offering of food and drinks to the Buddha and his disciples. Rejoicing in the good works of others helps one remain psychological positive and happy. Moreover, as a Mahāyāna practitioner who is bound by the Bodhisattva vow to bring happiness to all sentient beings, it is imperative that one takes delight in the happiness of others.

On the other hand, jealousy is presented as one of the worst spiritual and social vices. A jealous person cannot benefit from the good of others, just as Devadatta, the jealous cousin of the Buddha, could not fully benefit from the teachings of the Buddha due to his personal jealousy and pride. Bhutanese Buddhist teachings contain many parables to show how jealousy breeds intense negative karma and blocks the path to enlightenment. Jealousy and resentment fills the person with anguish and pain and disrupts social harmony and progress. Appreciative joy, as an antidote to such vice, is considered a spiritual practice of great benefit and expedience.

Like the first two immeasurable thoughts, appreciative joy can be classified into three types of joy with apprehension of sentient beings (སེམས་ཅན་ལ་དམིགས་པའི་དགའ་བ་), joy with insight into the truth or reality of existence and (ཆོས་ལ་དམིགས་པའི་དགའ་བ་) joy without apprehension (དམིགས་པ་མེད་པའི་དགའ་བ་). These three types arise in progression as the practitioner develops the insight or wisdom aspect of the path.

Appreciate joy and other immeasurable thoughts can be cultivated through two different methods of contemplative meditation (དཔྱད་སྒོམ་) and absorptive meditation (འཇོག་སྒོམ་). In the first case, the practitioner reflects on the various benefits and rationale of cultivating appreciating joy. Through a rigorous thought process, the practitioner builds and strengths the conviction to rejoice in other people’s happiness, eschew jealousy and bring about a transformation in the personal character and mindset. The absorptive meditation involves cultivating the positive thought or emotion with concentration. The practitioner chooses someone like one’s mother as a focus and earnestly and single pointedly wishes her to be never separated from happiness and joy. Bhutanese commonly do such practice while also chanting this prayer:

མ་ནམ་མཁའ་དང་མཉམ་པའི་སེམས་ཅན་ཐམས་ཅད་སྡུག་བསྔལ་མེད་པའི་བདེ་བ་དམ་པ་དང་མི་འབྲལ་བར་གྱུར་ཅིག

May all mother sentient beings as vast as space never be separated from sublime happiness free from suffering.

Karma Phuntsho is a social thinker and worker, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of many books and articles including The History of Bhutan.

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