I Live in The Joy

I live in Los Feliz.

It’s a section of Los Angeles just below the hills that borders Hollywood. Feliz is Spanish for happiness or joy, so sometimes I like to call my neighborhood, The Joy.

Living in The Joy is not always a joy. But, today it was. Spring decided to show up for a while. The air was warm and the birds sang love songs to one another all day.

The word “joy” comes from the Anglo-French joie, as in joie de vivre, “joy of life.” Joy is one of those words we use a lot but probably don’t spend much time thinking about. When we use “joy” it’s usually as a synonym for happiness, in the context of pleasure.

In the Treatise on the Great Prajnaparamita Sutra, Nagarjuna says,

Happiness is bodily happiness; joy is mental happiness. We call happiness the happiness associated with the five sensory consciousnesses; we call joy the happiness associated with the intellectual consciousness. We call happiness the happiness that arises from among the five types of sense objects; we call joy the happiness that arises from the dharmic objects of mind.

In this work, Nagarjuna uses “joy” in three different contexts, but they all have selflessness at their root.  One nuance of joy is priti, a sense of joy, referring to the seven factors of enlightenment: “the bodhisattva puts his joy (priti) into real wisdom (bhutaprajna): this is true joy (bhutapriti).” Then, joy as one of the Four Immeasurables (Love, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity). Here the term for joy is mudita or sympathetic joy: “Mudita is to wish that all beings obtain joy as a result of happiness (sukha).” And lastly, altruistic joy, one of the four elements of boundless heart (apramana).

Shantideva, an adherent of Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka philosophy, summed it up: “All joy in this world comes from wanting others to be happy.”

As I write this on Sunday evening, the daylight is fading and fog is moving in. They say it’ll be cloudy tomorrow, cooler. Might rain. The birds may not be crooning again . . . The happiness we find in a day may be fleeting, but joy we find in life is a constant thing, when it is the sort of joy that Nagarjuna and Shantideva talked about.

That’s the kind of joy I found today. While savoring the sensual pleasures of a fine Spring day, in my mind I thought how all things reflect the nature of awakening . . . a simple but sublime thought that transformed the singing birds into chanting bodhisattvas, the rays of the sun into rays of compassion, and made each flower a serene and omniscient golden Buddha, pollinating the world with innumerable Buddha-dharmas . . .

And I know that tomorrow, come rain or come shine, that joy is not fleeting, it will remain if I want it to – that greatest joy is constantly unfolding, mine to realize in each present moment, mine to live in.

I live in Los Feliz.

I live in The Joy.

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