This is Post 22 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found by clicking here.
In very general terms, the classic Zen meditation practice of Zazen, or ‘Just Sitting’, is usually thought of as a meditation that takes the body as a whole, and its environment, as the ‘object’ of the meditation practice. For those that have not experienced the practice, it can be difficult to understand how this seemingly diffuse and unfocused approach to meditation could, in a very natural and effortless way, give rise to strong states of somatic integration, where it appears that Consciousness is the unifying power that is producing the state of effortless concentration. I could be argued that the ‘object’ of attention in Zazen practice, if there is one, is Consciousness itself – the field of Consciousness in which all our experiencing is happening; and Consciousness as it is experienced in the field of the body. Zazen therefore, is a prime example of the practice of ‘resting as Consciousness’.
Sympathetic Joy – the Zen of Embodied Consciousness
In the last few posts I have reflecting in different ways on the brahmavihāras or muditā, which is usually translated as Sympathetic Joy. In the text of these articles, I have mostly been translating muditā as Appreciative Joy, which I prefer. I can see that the translation of muditā as Sympathetic Joy is in some ways more appropriate when we are describing the extraverted aspect of muditā – our relational response to the wellbeing or achievement of another – but when talking about our relationship to our own experience, Appreciative Joy is definitely more appropriate.
I am aware that Zen Buddhism has different associations for different people, and different schools of Zen have different emphases. In this instance, I am making reference to Zen to highlight an approach to meditation practice that is characterised by a sense of embodiment, expansiveness, appreciation, contentment and gratitude, and a deep and fearless willingness to fully inhabit the body and the sensory world as Consciousness – attitudes that are characteristic, in my view, of Appreciative Joy.
While all of the brahmavihāras can spontaneously arise during Zazen meditation, but I believe the practice has this especially close connection with muditā. This is because muditā, or Appreciative Joy, is the brahmavihāra that arises in connection with the skandha of vedanā – the brahmavihāra which arises as our relationship with the vedanā skandha begins to take on a less personal and more universal character. There is a natural refinement of our relationship with our internal sensory experience as we learn to dis-identify from our experience, while simultaneously recognising our experience as ’embodied Consciousness’ – and this more refined and objective experience of vedanā is called muditā, or Appreciative Joy.