At secondary school I had a maths teacher who encouraged us to be “intelligently lazy.” Appealing to the subversive instincts of her adolescent students, she would show us mathematical short-cuts which we would gobble up, eager to get the same result as other kids for doing less work. So cunning was Mrs. Gaunt that we hardly even noticed she was teaching us!
There’s an element of Dharma practice that appeals to that same, subversive streak in me today. The same “intelligently lazy” short-cut – not that I’ve ever heard a lama express it quite so bluntly. That practice is “rejoicing,” or as I prefer to think of it, “celebrating” – “rejoicing” having connotations, for me, of earnest, guitar-strumming, Kumbaya-my-Lord-singing members of the local youth club.
When we celebrate something, what’s going on? We are recognising something positive and feeling good about it. Positive thoughts are leading to positive feelings whatever the cause – a new baby, a new job, the end of the working week, a café table in the sun. Among our positive sentiments is likely to be gratitude. And as Roman philosopher Cicero said: ‘Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.’ When we are grateful, we are more likely to be open, kind and tolerant, to restrain our self-centred impulses. Gratitude energizes us to positive actions we may not otherwise take. So celebrating, and having a powerful sense of our own good fortune, helps us cultivate all kinds of other virtuous thoughts and feelings.
Where it gets interesting is the karmic impact of celebrating. According to the law of karma, every effect must have a cause. When we celebrate something, we are creating the cause to experience more reasons to celebrate in the future. So, if we aspire to senior executive status, we should celebrate those who are promoted to this level, knowing that, in so doing, we are creating a cause for our own future promotion. If we wish to enjoy a happy relationship, we should celebrate those around us who already do.
And there’s another benefit. In the words of my kind and precious teacher, Geshe Acharya Thubten Loden: “If somebody else gets a promotion, makes a good profit or enjoys a happy relationship, by rejoicing you will overcome jealousy.”* Jealousy in an insidious delusion that can make it hard for us to celebrate wholeheartedly. “I should also have got the promotion!” we may think. Or “why is she such a big hit when …” With an understanding of karma, however, jealousy becomes easier to manage. We are eager to celebrate the successes of others when we understand the effects that we’re creating for our own future. Our jealousy begins to dissolve away when we can bring ourselves to be more authentically happy for others. And if we can bring ourselves to celebrate the happiness of even people we dislike, we not only overcome jealousy, but hatred too.
If we have set our sights on the ultimate goal of enlightenment, we need limitless virtue – and here celebration is key. Geshe-la explains the extraordinary karmic impact of celebrating the virtue of others: “If you rejoice in the actions of someone of the same level, you accumulate an equal amount of merit, and towards someone of a higher level, half the amount. Rejoicing in the virtues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, we gain a tenth of the benefits they gained, because their level of development is so much greater than ours. Rejoicing is therefore a very profitable business! It takes no physical or mental effort, is very easy, yet brings great results.”*
To summarize, when we rejoice, or celebrate, we’re not only having a good time. We are also empowering the development of our own virtue. We are creating powerful causes for future reasons to celebrate, and eroding the strength of pernicious emotions like jealousy and resentment.
Frankly, we should be celebrating whatever we can about our own good fortune, as well as the good fortune of those who enjoy what we aspire to, night and day. It’s what you might call being intelligently lazy – and having fun while we’re about it!
(Photo credit: Thank you Abed Ismail of unsplash for the “intelligently lazy” cat image)
*Geshe Acharya Thubten Loden: Path to Enlightenment in Tibetan Buddhism, Melbourne, Tushita Publications, 1993
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