21. Always maintain only a joyful mind.
Joy doesn’t have that good a reputation in our culture. We tend to associate it with idiocy or with people who are spaced out or stupid, people who are blithely ignorant of the state of the world or simply too self-absorbed to bother. How can you be joyful when there are so many problems? What about the truth of suffering, the problem of greed and craving? What about warfare, oppression, prejudice, and on and on? Furthermore, joy seems boring. There is no drama in it. For excitement, we need conflict, anger, and intensity.
Clearly this slogan is not referring to an ignorance-is-bliss type of joy. And it does not imply that everything is okay. Buddhism is known for telling it like it is and for not being afraid to face hard truths—and the truth is that everything is not okay. Yet we are still advised to be joyful.
We have so many assumptions as to what it means to be mindful and what it means to be compassionate. We take things so seriously—we take ourselves so seriously! This slogan challenges that approach. It is a direct challenge to our usual earnest and heavy-handed approach to the path, to the world, and to ourselves. It is a challenge to the assumption that the way to fight heavy-handed problems is with heavy-handed solutions. And it is a challenge to our desire to make everything a big deal and of utmost importance and seriousness.
According to this slogan, we should not practice the dharma with gritted teeth, but with delight. We should appreciate our good fortune in having found a teaching that not only talks about uprooting suffering and its cause, but also shows us how to do so. We should have a little humor.
This does not just apply to when things are going well, and it does not mean that we should be disengaged. Instead, we could touch in to a sense of lightness and joy repeatedly, in whatever we do, no matter what is going on.
For today’s practice, I would simply like to pass on a practice I received from Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche which is simplicity itself, but oddly effective: No matter what you are feeling or what is going on, smile at least once a day.