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“That which gives Joy to the Heart”

Many years ago, I was involved in a panel discussion on magic at the Oxford Thelemic Symposium. Someone asked each of the panelists to say why they did magic. My own answer was simple: “I enjoy it.”

I have written previously here on the practice of cultivating an openness to joy in my day-to-day life. Joy is a worlded emotion – it’s not an “inner state” but an orientation towards the world. Joy emerges from being prepared to relate or notice the world around us. Being open to joy and wonder in small things, in everday objects, in routines, in the briefest glimpse of say, light reflecting from a metal wastebasket, refreshes and invigorates the world; makes it anew. Joy springs out of meetings, the recognition of connections – it springs from participation; from relations. I just glanced at the telephone on my desk, and for a moment, it became numinous; full of fire. For a split-second, it danced and melted under my touch.

“…the ritual action that is directed towards the attainment of absorption and concentration in consciousness should always be accomplished by means of elements that give joy to the Heart.”
Abhinavagupta, Tantraloka quoted in The Triadic Heart of Siva Paul E. Muller-Ortega, p194

According to the nondual Trika school, it is in joy (Skt ananda), that we “remember” our divine nature. Some well-known instances of this feeling mentioned by Abhinavagupta include: the joy of seeing one’s beloved after an absence; the joy experienced when two pairs of eyes meet, or the delight of hearing a song. And where is this joy felt, but in the heart – hridaya – the seat of feeling and dwelling place of deity. The slightest pleasure is but a reflection of divine joy – so joy and wonderment become the primary means for attainment:

“When one experiences the expansion of joy of savour arising from the pleasure of eating and drinking, one should meditate on the perfect condition of this joy; then there will be supreme delight.”Vijnanabhairava v72

I could go on and on here (dragging in, for example, Spinoza and Deleuze, both of whom have interesting things to say about joy which echoes for me with Abhinavagupta’s sentiments) but I think that’ll do for now.


  1. Gyrus
    Posted February 5th 2010 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Any thoughts on the role of sadness or melancholy in relation to joy? I’ve just read Eric G. Wilson’s Against Happiness, which is interesting. The title of course is partly a snappy publishing angle, but it’s quite accurate in the sense that he frames “happiness” as contemporary American culture’s longing for snag-free contentment. He actually uses the term “joy” to refer to positive, blissful feelings that exist in relation to sadness, and which are often banished by seeking happiness. Reading this again makes me see: “being open to joy” is very different from “wanting to be happy”.

    There’s all sorts of traps in this debate, swinging from the bland quest from happiness that we all know to the dwelling on “darkness” that’s all too familiar in some occult circles, and is mostly just a polar reaction. Slipping through the gap between these is tricky of course, but “openness to joy” certainly strikes me as just this effort. I just wondered where Tantra, or your experience, located sadness in this.

    • Phil Hine
      Posted February 5th 2010 at 4:40 pm | Permalink


      There’s been some discussion of “happiness” over on Liminal Nation recently – check out the “Feeling Good” thread. It was that which prompted me to post here, actually. I’ve been skimming Darrin McMahon’s Happiness: A History (discussion on same by McMahon ) and it struck me how this pursuit of “snag-free happiness” is kind of similar to a lot of tropes that run through spiritual development/occult practice – that if we fail to realise the ideal shouldness – “happiness” in this instance, it’s because we are fundamentally need fixing.

      Happiness – at least in the way it’s often talked about – implies a kind of homeostasis – you see a lot of talk about “getting rid of negative thoughts” and so on as though emotions can just be turned on and off – mustn’t ever experience anything that might upset us (we might stop buying stuff). Being “open” to the world – yes, that’s different for me. Surely we can be joyful and sad at the same time? What about joy in the midst of grieving?

      Shelley expresses this far better than me:

      We look before and after,
      And pine for what is not;
      Our sincerest laughter
      With some pain is fraught;
      Our sweetest songs are those
      That tell of saddest thought.

      I’m too busy to write in any detail regarding tantric representations of emotions right now, but let me at least point you in the direction of Rasa theory

  2. ene
    Posted February 19th 2010 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Thank You, These are nice pages..