‘brahman,’ the Bliss – 2/2

Part – I

Everyone must face the consequences of his/her actions. But who is it that ensures it? Who brings a guy back, once he is dead, and make him reap his just desserts?

The scripture only can provide an answer. And the answer is:   

विज्ञानमानन्दं ब्रह्म … |  —  3.9.28 (7), brihadAranyaka

Meaning:  Knowledge, Bliss, brahman.

Shankara explains that It is Pure Intelligence and is also Bliss. It is a Bliss not smitten with pain. It is serene, beneficent, matchless, spontaneous, ever content and homogeneous, he amplifies.

Shankara, however, says, we cannot close the issue at that. We should explore and understand better what exactly the word “Bliss” would mean.

In our normal parlance, “the word ‘bliss’ is generally known to denote pleasure.” The shruti uses the word ‘bliss’ as an adjective to brahman. Can we infer from this that shruti says brahman is pleasurable?

Here are a few more examples where the Upanishads talk of brahman and Bliss:

‘He knew bliss to be brahman’taittirIya, 3.6.9;

‘Knowing the bliss of brahman’taittirIya,  2.9.1;

‘If this Supreme Self were not bliss’ — taittirIya,  2.7.1;

‘That which is infinite is bliss’ – chAndogya,  7.23.1;

‘This is Its supreme bliss,’  — brihadAraNyaka, 4.3.32.

The above shruti quotes seem to suggest that ‘the bliss of brahman could be an object of cognition.’ But we also have from shruti statements that negate ‘knowing’ when there is Oneness. For example: 

‘But when to the knower of brahman everything has become the Self, then what should one see and through what, what should one know and through what?’ – brihadAraNyaka, 2.4.14 and 4.5.15;

‘Where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else, knows nothing else, that is the infinite’ —  chAndogya 7.24.1;

‘Being fully embraced by the Supreme Self, he knows neither anything outside of himself’ —  brihadAraNyaka, 4.3.21.

In view of the prevalence of contradictory shruti texts as mentioned above, we cannot without further examination say that the Bliss of brahman is cognizable (experienceable).  In addition, there are certain doctrines like the sAmkhya and vaisheShika schools, which believe in liberation, but hold that there is no joy to be cognized within it. Yet, some other philosophies maintain that “there is a surpassing joy in it, known only to the concerned individual.”

We also have some shruti texts which talk of some real-life examples of “joy to be cognized in liberation.” Some examples are:

‘Laughing (or eating), playing and enjoying’ —  chAndogya, 8.12.3;

‘If he desires to attain the world of the Manes, (by his mere wish they appear)’ —  chAndogya, 8.2.1;

‘That which knows things in a general and particular way’ —  muNDaka, 1.1.9 and 2.2.7;

‘Enjoys all desires,’ — taittirIya, 2.5.1.

If joy in liberation can be cognized, tripuTi would come into force because “cognition” is also an action. That would make liberation a ‘duality’ – a violation of Advaita! But if the Bliss Itself is incapable of being cognized, we have to rubbish the shruti texts that speak of of brahman as ‘Knowledge, Bliss,’ etc. We seem to be stuck in a catch 22 situation.

Let us leave the critical appraisal of the Upanishadic mantras for a moment and examine our own experience. We observe bliss and knowledge within ourselves as an individual. We directly know the self to be blissful, as when we feel, ‘I am happy.’ Therefore, brahman, which is Bliss, being Knowledge as well, knows Itself. It would then be consistent with the shruti texts cited above, for example, ‘Laughing (or eating), playing, enjoying,’ etc. This conclusion may be valid in our case who are not yet liberated (ajnAni-s). Can we say that the same position will hold good for a liberated individual (jnAni) also?

Shankara explains that:

शरीरवियोगो हि मोक्ष आत्यन्तिकः ;

Absolute separation from the body is liberation.

कार्यकरणाभावे अनुपपत्तेर्विज्ञानस्य

There can be no knowledge in the absence of the body and organs.

शरीराभावे करणानुपपत्तिः, आश्रयाभावात् ; ततश्च विज्ञानानुपपत्तिः अकार्यकरणत्वात् ;

When there is no body, there can be no organs, for they will have no support. Hence too there will be no knowledge, there being no body and organs.

 देहाद्यभावे विज्ञानोत्पत्तौ सर्वेषां कार्यकरणोपादानानर्थक्यप्रसङ्गः 

If knowledge could arise even in the absence of the body and organs, there would be no necessity for anyone to possess them.

He emphatically denies, therefore, that the conclusion based on ajnAni’s experience is absolutely invalid in the case of a jnAni, a liberated man who is disembodied.

Shankara adds further that if brahman as Knowledge Absolute cognizes the bliss in liberation, it will contradict the Oneness of brahman, by making It both subject and object. That being the case, is it possible to suppose that the Supreme Self, being eternal Knowledge, ever knows Itself as Bliss Absolute?

“No,” thunders Shankara. “Like a quantity of water thrown into a tank, the liberated individual, freed from relative existence, does not retain a separate existence to know the blissful brahman. Hence, it is meaningless to say that the liberated man knows the blissful Self. If, on the other hand, the liberated man, being different from brahman, were to know the bliss of brahman and the individual self as, ‘I am the Bliss Absolute,’ then the Oneness of brahman gets contradicted, which would be against all shruti-s.”

“In addition, we will have the awkward situation that, if brahman ever were to know Its own bliss, it would become superfluous to distinguish between awareness and unawareness. If It is constantly aware of this bliss, then that would be Its nature. In which case, one need not even say that It cognizes Its own bliss. If, on the other hand, brahman or the Self is supposed to be knowing Its bliss only occasionally, it would imply that brahman knows something else during those gaps, making the Self impermanent, finite and mortal (chAndogya 7.24.1). Therefore, the words ‘Knowledge, Bliss,’ etc. used by the shruti in the mantra 3.9.28 (7), brihadAraNyaka must be interpreted as setting forth the nature of brahman, and not signifying that the bliss of the Self is cognized.”

Accepting the above position, how are we to understand the shruti texts that talk of ‘Laughing (or eating), playing,’ etc.? Shankara explains that such texts merely describe the actions happening normally, because of the identity of the liberated man with all (the Infinite Existence). It is just a eulogium (the word ‘eulogium’ here is an arthavAda and means ‘high praise; commendation’).

A question may now arise about the chance of a liberated man being affected by the misery and suffering the pains and tribulations of stationary objects like plants, trees etc., as the identification with all may imply. Shankara points out that such an assumption is invalid because happiness, misery, etc., are superimpositions. A superimposition happens due to delusion created by contact with the limiting adjuncts, the body and organs, which are the products of name and form. A liberated individual is disembodied having detached himself with the body-organ system. Therefore, all passages containing the word ‘bliss’ should be interpreted like the sentence, ‘This is its supreme bliss’ (brihadAraNyaka, 4.3.32).

Thus, Shankara once again repeats here his favorite refrain which he mentions at several places through out all his works, that “the disembodiedness, called liberation, is eternal” (1.1.4, BSB).

[Note: The entire article in Part-2 is a condensation of Shankara’s Commentary at 3.9.28 (7), brihadAraNyaka Upanishad. (Trans: Swami Madhavananda).]


5 thoughts on “‘brahman,’ the Bliss – 2/2

  1. Ramesam your post should clear the minds of those who think they can experience Ananda or Bliss like flickering physical joy or something deeper like in Kundalini Jagriti or deep meditation. This is infinite bliss that is eternal – it is Brahman. That is why it is the third Swaroop Lakshan of Sat-Chit-Ananda.
    Let me quote BU 4.3.32 SB that makes it even clearer:
    That which is infinite is bliss’ (Ch. VII. xxiii. I). ‘That in which one sees something, knows something, is puny,’ mortal, secondary joy. But this is the .opposite of that.; hence ‘this is its supreme bliss.’ .On a particle of this very bliss, projected forward by ignorance, and perceived only during the contact of the organs with their objects, other beings live. Who are they? Those that have been separated from that bliss by ignorance, and are considered different from Brahman. Being thus different, they subsist on a fraction of that bliss which is perceived through the contact of the organs with their objects.
    Vedavyasa also says, ‘The sense pleasures of this world and the great joys of heaven are not worth one-sixteenth part of the bliss that comes of the cessation of desire’ (Mbh. XII. clxxiii. 47).

  2. Hi Vijay,

    Thank you for the observation and the quote.
    What you said reminds me of Shankara’s words in “adhyAsa bhAShya” at which I can never stop admiring his acute sense of observation about cognition. It is a memorable and ever-cherishable quote that is fundamental to understanding and appreciating the Uniqueness of Advaita. He says:

    Since a man without self-identification with the body, mind, senses, etc., cannot become a cognizer, and as such, the means of knowledge cannot function for him; since perception and other activities (of a man) are not possible without accepting the senses etc. (as his own); since the senses cannot function without (the body as) a basis; since nobody engages in any activity with a body that has not the idea of the Self superimposed on it; since the unrelated Self cannot become a cognizer unless there are all these (mutual superimposition of the Self and the body and their attributes on each other) ; and since the means of knowledge cannot function unless there is a cognizership; therefore it follows that the means of knowledge, such as direct perception as well as the scriptures, must have a man as their locus who is subject to nescience.”


    • Ramesam
      Who is “man”?
      Ego ahamkara superimposed on SELF?
      OR reflection of Self in mind Chidabhasa – also called ego.

  3. Wow! True advaita!
    Just remember what I forgot.
    Thanks Ramesam.
    Now this whole thing is as clear as a gooseberry on my palm.

Comments are closed.