Ancient Origins of 'Joyful Mind'
“Always maintain a joyful mind” urges verse 21 of the ancient Mahayana lojong (mind-training) instructions.
The motivational slogans are as relevant in the 21st century as when first brought to Tibet in the 11th century by the great Indian master, Atisha and revived in the 12th century by Chekawa Yeshe Dorje who wrote them down in their current form. Indeed, the transmission lineage is unbroken: the minimalist, abbreviated verses have been passed from master to students (and Amazon.com to readers) until this very day.
The verses, known as the Seven Point Mind Training, are one of the major strands of teachings that form the altruistic backbone of the Tibetan system. They are designed to reconfigure the architecture of our troublesome mind and socially destructive behaviour. They are engineered to take us from a reactive habitual-pattern of self-absorption (which always brings pain) to the opposite: a genuine, spontaneous appreciation and concern for those around us.
The teachings target our inner spoilt-brat and replace it with an easy-going person who is like a good soup to be around: not too spicy, not too pungent, not too greasy. It’s worth doing because underpinning the mind-training is an understanding that altruism benefits ourself; cheerfulness and the overcoming of obsessive self-importance will improve our own emotional health and happiness.
In the words of celebrated eighth century Indian master, Shantideva: “All suffering comes from wanting happiness only for oneself; all happiness comes from wishing the benefit of others”.
There are a couple of translations of the slender Seven Point Mind Training volume on my bookshelf. One is Ken McLeod’s 1987 translation of the verses with commentary by the great Jamgon Kongtrul (1813-1899). McLeod translates verse 21 as “Always have the support of a joyful mind”. The other copy is Dilgo Khysentse Rinpoche’s commentary given in France in 1990. The Padmakara Translation Committee renders verse 21 as “Always be sustained by cheerfulness”- even if you contract leprosy, Khyentse Rinpoche urges.
Verse 21 actually belongs to a subsection on proficiency in mind-training: you have been successful when you take the support of a joyful mind no matter what the circumstances. Hope and fear abandoned, you joyfully greet difficulty and adverse conditions as grist for the mill.
Bear in mind that for many centuries such verses on altruism and mature conduct were mainstream. Their place on the fringe today, exotic and barely known, sadly reflects the overwhelmingly materialist self-seeking thrust of our glossy times.
Tough medicine. ‘Joyful mind’ sounds flowery enough, but when we take the lid off the bottle- phew, it’s a powerful tonic indeed.