Q.519 How can one experience the bliss?

Q: In ‘The Book of One’, you say: “If our true nature were allowed the freedom to experience to the full, what then? The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad tells us that “All the joys of the entire cosmos put together would be only a small drop of the bliss of this Supreme Being. Whatever little satisfaction we have, whatever pleasures we have, whatever joys we are experiencing, whatever be the happiness of life – all this is but a reflection, a fractional distorted form, a drop, as it were, from this ocean of the Absolute.” (Ref. 7)

Is there a way to get a taste such an ocean of joy while not ‘realized’?

A: This is a good question and highlights the dangers of attempting to relate the more ‘rapturous’ statements of the scriptures to the mundane experiences of life! When the Upanishad talks about the ‘bliss of this Supreme Being’, it cannot mean this literally. Brahman is non-dual, part-less, changeless, does not ‘experience’ or ‘know’ etc. In fact, whenever the word ‘bliss’ (Ananda) is encountered, it is a good idea to substitute ‘eternal’ (ananta) so as not to risk such a thought process. (See discussions at the AV site on ‘satyaM j~nAnamanantaM brahma’.)

It is, in a sense, meaningless to make comparisons between Brahman and an empirical jIva. Just think: there are estimated to be about one hundred thousand million stars in the Milky Way and about 125 billion galaxies in the universe observable via Hubble. Yet the universe is only an empirical manifestation of Brahman. And Brahman is infinite!

Anything that we experience is via the medium of the mind and sense organs. Another way of thinking about this is that these limit our ability to experience. We cannot perceive anything outside of the limited extents of those instruments. Yet who-we-really-are is without limit of any kind. The value of all these ideas is in the ability of the intellect to appreciate them. It was already said earlier in the book that we cannot be anything that we can experience (neti, neti). So why would you want to search for an experience, blissful or otherwise? You, the jIva, cannot experience the infinite bliss, whether you are ‘realized’ or not. Who-you-really-are is already That which the Upanishad is speaking about. You simply (!) have to remove the ignorance that is preventing the realization.

If I were writing another edition of ‘Book of One’, I think I would omit that quotation., It really isn’t very helpful!

Q: That makes total sense. I’ll readjust my wrong expectations and cogitate on what you’ve said. What expectations to have if any? What will motivate my removal of ignorance forward?

A: In my experience, the ‘motivation’ is usually a dissatisfaction with life and those things that are typically accepted as being the desired ends – money, material possessions, spouse, family, job. It is an overriding wish to discover the truth about life, the universe and everything’. This is what I understand as mumukShutva. If you have that, then you should initially pursue practices which strengthen discernment, focus the mind, breed detachment and so on. Read the sections on sādhana catuṣṭaya sampatti in the book. In parallel, pursue shravaNa-manana. Ideally with a qualified teacher. Otherwise by judicious reading and listening to talks. The best of these are undoubtedly something like the Gita Home Study Course of Swami Dayananda and the talks of Swami Paramarthananda from Arsha Avinash website. (Ramesam will not agree with this but, unfortunately, he has some wrong ideas that are very ingrained. 😉)

If you do the above, then you are certain eventually to become ‘enlightened’, which is simply the intellectual realization that you are already ‘free’; that you are already not other than Brahman. (And forget about looking for blissful experiences and the like!)

14 thoughts on “Q.519 How can one experience the bliss?

  1. [Dennis says] “whenever the word ‘bliss’ (Ananda) is encountered, it is a good idea to substitute ‘eternal’ (ananta)”

    I agree that it’s important to understand that ‘ananda’ points to the limitless nature of Brahman, nonetheless I believe there is value in translating ‘ananda’ as ‘bliss’. It emphasizes the desirability of Brahman and the joyful nature of liberation. For the Upanishads and the Advaita tradition, as Dharmaraja reminds us in chapter 8 of Vedantaparibhasha, liberation or the attainment of Brahman is the positive gain of bliss, and not merely the negation of sorrow. The knowledge that one is non-different from the limitless (ananta) Brahman engenders a state of contentment and fullness that may rightly be called bliss (ananda).

    Seen from another perspective, unlike some other cultures, e.g. ancient Greece, in India the notion of limitlessness has always been associated with value. Ananta is ananda. When all limitations are past and all attributes are inapplicable, then Brahman is attained. Ananda means that this is a world in which values are inherent. They’re rooted in the Real. Human beings live and have their being in a universe saturated with value. Joy (ananda) is not something to be superimposed on a harsh and cruel world; it’s an inherent fact of Reality. We may live joyously, confident that we’re surrounded by the ocean of bliss: “For beings here are born from bliss, when born, they live by bliss and into bliss, when departing, they enter.” Taitt Up. 3.6.1 (The reader can decide whether this is another of those “rapturous statements of the scriptures” that Dennis thinks it dangerous for us to see as relevant to everyday life.) The quest for Reality may be seen as the quest for oneness in plurality, for stability in flux, for consciousness in matter, and for joy in existence.

  2. Hi Rick,

    You make some good points here, which certainly add to the answer I gave.

    However (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?), one should never forget that you ARE Brahman, now and always. You do not ‘gain’ Brahman. What happens is that you remove the Self-ignorance that was preventing that understanding. The point is that it was the ignorance that was making you miserable, rather than the realization that is making you blissful.

    But I agree that the belief that following Advaita will bring you bliss might well be a powerful motivator! And one could surmise that this is the reason why scriptures and commentators teach this.

    • Thanks, Dennis. Your idea of motivation did seem a tad negative. Lots of stick with nary a hint of carrot. As for one not “attaining” Brahman, the language of shruti and smrti is a bit more relaxed and unworried about nuances when winding its way through its various cogitations. I followed their lead here.

      • Interesting that you say ‘more relaxed and unworried’, Rick. I might rather use words like ‘lack of clarity’ or even ‘confusing’! Certainly I know that many seekers take such things literally. Look back at discussions we have had over such things as ‘merging with Brahman’ on enlightenment!

        In fact, this is an example of what led me to write the ‘Confusions’ books!

        • Aristotle wisely said, “One should strive to attain clarity that accords with the subject matter”, thus “one should not seek precision in all arguments alike.” The scholastics of all traditions argue vociferously and endlessly with a seeming precision and an air of confidence that can seem laughable. Brahman, as ultimate unknowable mystery, should leave our understanding humbled and receptive.

          “Marvelously, someone perceives this;
          Marvelously, another declares this;
          Marvelously, still another hears of this;
          But even having heard of this, no one knows it.” (Bhagavad Gita Verse 2.29)

          • Great comment Rick..this may be my last post (may get me banned !!!) but Dennis’ aversion to experience only underlines the fact that ‘enlightenment’ is not ‘knowledge, because it is in the active present, a moment-to-moment phenomenon. I have no doubt D will eventually agree.
            Experience is not the means to experiencing, which is a state without experience. Experience must cease for experiencing to be.

            The mind can invite only its own self-projection, the known. There cannot be the experiencing of the unknown until the mind ceases to experience. Thought is the expression of experience; thought is a response of memory; and as long as thinking intervenes, there can be no experiencing. There is no means, no method to put an end to experience; for the very means is a hindrance to experiencing. To know the end is to know continuity, and to have a means to the end is to sustain the known. The desire for achievement must fade away; it is this desire that creates the means and the end. Humility is essential for experiencing. But how eager is the mind to absorb the experiencing into experience! How swift it is to think about the new and thus make of it the old! So it establishes the experiencer and the experienced, which gives birth to the conflict of duality.
            Series I – Chapter 12 – ‘Experiencing’

  3. Hi Rick,

    I wasn’t going to reply further but the way that you phrase this still seems to leave open the possibility of confusion. (Put it down to my tendency to be pedantic!)

    I believe it is VERY important to recognize that one is already Brahman. Otherwise there is the danger of believing that one has to look for some sort of ‘experience’ before becoming enlightened and that is a sad state of affairs!

    Best wishes,

    • Dennis, I agree that the search for some special experience to corroborate the notion that one is already Brahman is foreign to Shankara’s Advaita. That awareness is based on what shruti as mediated by the teacher tells us. I suppose it’s analogous to the search for happiness. The more we seek it the more the experience of it eludes us and the more unhappy we become. But that doesn’t mean that experiences do not occur that can be and are interpreted meaningfully as pointing to or further orienting us to the ultimate Reality. Nor does it mean that such experiences should be dismissed as irrelevant to our understanding based on shruti, etc. Swami Dayananda called himself a mystic because he had many experiences of oneness even prior to any in-depth study of the Upanishads. When he first read the Mundaka Upanishad as a young man, he tells us it was like déjà vu. He felt he knew from his prior experiences what that shruti was telling him. Swamiji regarded these experiences as essential and interpreted them through a Vedantic lens which he said gave him an insight into their significance, just as other mystics interpret their own experiences in the light of their various religious traditions.

  4. Shishya,

    I have no wish to ban anyone! But equally, I do not want to argue with anyone who has a totally different background of understanding. This is a group for posts and discussions on Advaita. I leave the inter-discipline arguments to academics!

    So, Shishya, could you please explain what you are trying to say using the axioms of Advaita together with normal reasoning. From a quite fundamental point of view:

    Do you agree that Advaita says that Brahman is changeless, infinite etc and therefore cannot act/know/enjoy and so on (since there is nothing else)? And, in particular, Brahman cannot ‘experience’ anything? And do you agree that the fundamental assertion of Advaita is ‘I am Brahman’? Even now? I.e. I do not have to do anything, indeed cannot do anything, to ‘become’ Brahman?

    In which case, could you please explain how it is possible for me to ‘experience’ Brahman?

    Also, if the process begins with ‘you’ not experiencing ‘Brahman’ and ends with ‘you’ experiencing ‘Brahman’, how is that not duality???

    Note that meaningless misuse of words of the English language, such as “Experience is not the means to experiencing, which is a state without experience.” is not acceptable as an answer!

  5. Hi Rick,

    That is not what I was saying. I do not dispute that experiences have value in ones ‘path’ to enlightenment. I have had such experiences of ‘oneness with everything’ myself but these are ONLY experiences, and the emotional (or maybe even intellectual) reactions to them. They are NOT experiences of Brahman or of non-duality. Such a thing is a contradiction in terms, as I pointed out.

    So I feel we should be in agreement. You, also, should be refuting Shishya and Krushnamurti’s assertion. Only Self-knowledge can give enlightenment and this is in no way an ‘experience’.

  6. Hi Dennis,

    Yes, I think we agree on that point. As for ‘refuting’ Shishya, a fellow inquirer, I leave that to the zealots. I’m neither inclined nor do I feel myself competent to attempt it. Rumi said, “There are as many paths to God as there are souls on this Earth”. If Shishya’s ruminations eventually bring him the spiritual fulfillment he appears to be seeking, then that’s enough. If not, there is some truth in the words of Robert Louis Stevenson: “Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.”

  7. Hi Rick,

    I have no problem with the ‘many paths’ statement. Sureshvara says this somewhere, too. And I wish Shishya well, regardless of his (or her) beliefs.

    All that I am taking exception to is the claim that some sort of experience is necessary in order to give enlightenment and that this is what is said by Advaita. It is not acceptable to say this on this website and get away with it! 😉

  8. [Dennis says] “All that I am taking exception to is the claim that some sort of experience is necessary in order to give enlightenment and that this is what is said by Advaita.”

    Hi Dennis,

    For Shankara, experience figures in the sense that anubhava (experience or immediate experience) is an invariable concomitant of moksha. Insofar as hearing the shruti (shravana) involves grasping the texts’ true meaning, i.e. knowing the truths they state, it results in an immediate experience (anubhava) which is the fruit of pramana. Shankara did not emphasize meditation or “mystical experiences,” since the anubhava is not any experience or other action or an event within the dream, from which we are to awaken. Nevertheless, such an awakening is not merely the intellectual adoption of some proposition—what is needed is a direct realization of nonduality, and that is the depth-mystical experience. The anubhava is the final result of the inquiry into Brahman (BSB I.1.2). It is immediate and certain (BSB III.4.15) and does not admit of degrees (BUB III.4.52).

    Of course, there are other prominent Advaitins who regard their personal experience(s) to be a critical element in their enlightenment. The Advaita Vedanta of Shankara and his followers is only one of many forms of Advaita philosophy within the Indian tradition. Advaita is a darshana and there is more than one vision of reality within its fold. Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Advaita, Vallabha’s Shuddhadvaita Vedanta, Sri Ramakrishna’s Vijñana Vedanta, Vivekananda’s Practical Vedanta, Shaiva Nondualism, and Shakta Tantra all have made their distinctive and valuable contributions to the tradition and each has its own idea of enlightenment and the road thereto.

  9. Hi Rick,

    I’ve written nearly 5000 words on the topic of ‘Experience (anubhava) and its relation to enlightenment’ in Confusions Vol. 1 so I cannot really sum this up in a few sentences. Here is an early paragraph:

    “There is no ‘experience’ of Consciousness separate from ‘knowledge’. In fact, there is no ‘experience’ of ātman in any case, since ‘experience’ implies duality. We experience the world in empirical reality but we could never experience ātman in this way. This is why the teachers who say that anubhava is necessary probably also say that nirvikalpa samādhi is also necessary, on the grounds that normal experience entails duality whereas nirvikalpa samādhi does not. But this is untrue. Even when duality is not experienced, it remains in unmanifest form and returns on awakening or ‘coming out of’ samādhi.”

    Swami Paramarthananda says: “if you ask what you should do in order to obtain anubhava of Brahman, you should continue to do śravaņa-manana until you realize that you do not have to do anything… “Brahma jñāna is that knowledge which removes the desire for Brahma anubhava.”

    And Shankara says (Br.Up. Bh. 1.4.7):

    ““The śruti uses the words ‘knowledge’ and ‘attainment’ as synonymous. The non-attainment of the Self is but the ignorance of it. Hence the knowledge of the Self is its attainment. The attainment of the Self cannot be, as in the case of things other than It, the obtaining of something not obtained before, for here there is no difference between the person attaining and the object attained…”

    and (Upadesha Sahasri):

    “12.17 …The notions ‘I am an individual’ and ‘I undergo individual experience’ are false. This is quite definite.”

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