What Is Bliss?

In the Vedic tradition, Bliss is the very essence of Being: part of the three-fold nature of the supreme absolute, "Sat-Chit-Ananda," Being, Consciousness, Bliss.

But in English, the word "bliss" is associated with a superficial state of temporary pleasure, a drunken stupor, or a high that won't last. We need to penetrate the real meaning of this important term, for there is nothing superficial about it.

Bliss is not an energy, a divine light, a life-force, or an outcome of spiritual practice. Bliss is absolutely nothing.
Bliss cannot be quantified. It is not given or received. Bliss cannot be communicated to you by a guru or a lover. Bliss is neither a transaction nor the result of purification. Neither vegan diet, nor yoga, nor celibacy, nor years of meditation lead to bliss. Bliss is giving up on all this.
Many wisdom teachers, from Gautama Buddha to Saint Francis, from Sri Ramakrishna to Eckhart Tolle, tell of breakthroughs that were not the result of any spiritual practice, but awakenings in the heart of depression, confusion, or illness. Liberation simply happened in a moment of divine hopelessness.
Blessed are the hopeless, who give up the bondage of believing. Bliss is only possible beyond belief, because only without belief is the mind innocent, free from the boundaries of the quest for anything.
Bliss is not some-thing. Something has boundaries. Bliss is the marvelous explosion that occurs when the mind becomes no-thing, and boundaries dissolve. The Buddhist term "Sunyata," doesn't quite capture the dynamic nature of this no-thing-ness, because "Emptiness" describes a static state, a still deep forest pool of annihilation. But when the boundaries of awareness dissolve in Bliss, there is not only emptiness, but a never-ending expansion. The sphere that has no circumference, whose center is everywhere, is a perpetual explosion of grace and wonder. The wild astonishment of dissolving never stops.

But the dissolution of mental concepts must be complete. The boundaries that dissolve include even the positive affirmations and beliefs in the most benevolent God. Hence the great Christian mystic Meister Eckhart prayed, "O God, quit me of God!"
In a private meeting with my Guruji, I asked him, "Who are you, really? Are you the world teacher? The Avatar? Are you like Krishna, or Buddha, or Jesus come again?" He looked at me with eyes containing the uncontainable emptiness where galaxies arise and dissolve. Then he gently said, "No, no. I am nobody." He was absolutely serious. That's when I knew he was my guru, though it took me years to realize what he meant.
When we desire to repeat a blissful experience, that desire is bondage, and a subtle form of pain. In the moment of our bliss, there was relief from the pain of seeking it. Relaxing for an instant, the mind was free to expand into its own essence: the blissful subject we mistake for an object. But after that instant of Self-referral, ignorance returned and we created a concept of "bliss" as an object out there, something to be sought.
Bliss is never the repetition of experience.
There is no causal relationship whatsoever between any object and the joy we seemingly derive from it. All joy comes from within, from the Self. Yet we seek to repeat the moment of bliss by seeking it in another object. The Yogis have a shockingly effective image for this delusion: It is like a mongrel chewing on a sharp dry bone, desperately seeking the taste of fresh blood. Eventually the mongrel tastes blood, but it does not come from the sharp dry bone. It comes from the mongrel's own mouth.
However beautiful the object of perception, it is like the dry bone. The glamor that seems to vibrate from the object is, in fact, the projection of my own desire for it, and this projection is the cause of my suffering.
Bliss happens the moment I stop gnawing. Yet a moment later, I associate that very bliss with the object I've just stopped gnawing. My mind falsely reasons, "I was gnawing on this object. Then I experienced bliss. Therefor the bliss must derive from the object." I fail to notice that the bliss only arose through exhaustion of craving.
Bliss has no substance and no flavor, not even sweetness. Perhaps I lick an ice cream cone to taste my favorite flavor, which I've been craving all afternoon. I close my eyes and say, "Mmmmm," returning to the original sound of creation, the great Pranava mantra. Yet it is not the ice cream that gives this moment of bliss: it is the simple fact that for a moment I gave up the quest and stopped seeking.
The same irony occurs in spiritual techniques. They do not create bliss: they simply focus the mind in a limitation that is more sattvic, more purifying than other attachments. It is like removing a thorn with a smaller sharper thorn. When my mind becomes fatigued even with the most subtle sattvic form, I give up my practice for a moment and just let go. That is when my mind transcends. The subtle form of the mantra, or the breath, can lead you away from the gross. But when you arrive at the subtlest of the subtle, you stand on a bridge to the infinite. It is time to leap into the formless, into no-thing.
Then there is the explosion of bliss, brought on by no practice but the abandonment of practice. The bliss is always already here, as the prior nature of pure non-seeking awareness. You dip into it when you gave up the subtlest effort to seek it.
Hearing this, one now wants to make "letting go" one's new practice. One wants to make a technique of "surrender." But this is just another trap. Surrender is not a technique. Surrender cannot be practiced. It simply happens, like a ripe pear falling from a branch. The very attempt to "practice surrender" creates more boundaries.
The great Nisargadatta Maharaj said, "There can be no causal connection between practice and wisdom. But the obstacles to wisdom are deeply affected by practice." Gurudev Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, who was Maharishi's master, said, "Spiritual practices can dispel the clouds of ignorance, but cannot throw any light on the Self, because the Self is the light."
So let's stick with the practice we already have, but take it more lightly! Know that our spiritual practice is a kind of good-natured joke. The more lightly we take it, the more frequently moments of bliss can flash out of non-doing and non-seeking.
If we keep our practice soft, and remember it is just a trick to short-circuit the mind, there will come an end to this game. There will come a falling away of the do-er. The quest will dissolve forever in the silent ocean of the golden void, which is pure Grace.

Jai Guru Dev

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