The Blissful Mind
The Blissful Mind
“The mind is blissful, for when it subsides, peace or bliss is felt and the world exists no more.”1
When I first came across this phrase, “a blissful mind,” I was immediately and profoundly intrigued. How can a mind be blissful?
My relationship with my mind has been turbulent, passionate, and more often fraudulent with a faint glimmer of optimistic harmony. I was confident it was not blissful.
Upon awakening, I was invariably flooded with the awareness that I was a body, an individual with a name and form, with all the accruements that attend this personality. I identified with and was convinced by the seeming veracity of each passing thought. It must be true if I think it.
By the time I was in my late teens, I found this self-consciousness an exhausting burden. This burden was the compelling intrinsic drive in my pursuit of liberation. Though overshadowed by this weight, there was also an indisputable conviction that a landscape of inner freedom existed and was available to me—a freedom that I now know is a liberation from the constructs, dictates, and confines of my thinking. Thoughts will continue as long as we have consciousness, but their binding nature can be released and thus transformed. A recurring jazz riff loses its potency due to overuse, so repetitive thoughts have the potential to diminish and dissolve their binding and often mesmerizing clasp.
To deepen the understanding of what a blissful mind can be, it is imperative to explore the essential qualities of the mind, the nature of bliss, and the dubious alliance of the two.
In Advaita Vedanta, the Hindu philosophy of non-dualism, mind, or manas, means the “controller of the five senses.” It is the internal mechanism that allows us to define ourselves with “I am a body,” separate from the world and bound by cause and effect and by birth and death. Whenever the sense of “I am” arises in consciousness, so mind arises. All the differences that appear are indeed waves of the mind. Mind is the very power of consciousness, which is Brahman, the Self. Thought is the perceptible appearance of the mind. Illusion, or ignorance, is defined as the power with which we separate mind, intellect, and body from its source.
Mind and illusion are established in the same source, pure consciousness.
How, then, do we transform the familiar patterns of the mind, with it's inherent underlying dualistic tendencies, to return to its source?
First, it is imperative to recognize the patterns of our mind and to realize that these patterns change and shift, but the one who observes these changes—the one that is the inherent source of this mental play—is unchanging. An in-depth study of the mind necessitates a process of observation, contemplation, and, ultimately, an immersion and absorption in the source.
This study can appear divisive, as if the watcher and the mind are two separate entities. It is vital to note that this is only a teaching technique implemented to further understanding. This can evolve into the intuitive experience of an underlying knowledge of unity.
With the intensifying conviction of the ephemeral nature of the patterns of the mind we can step away from these mental tendencies and allow awareness to shine unencumbered.
Through perceiving and experiencing ourselves as distinct from the world, we are divided eternally and immersed in a confounded struggle to avert death, whether physical, emotional, perceived, or imagined, while we deprive ourselves of knowing our fundamental joyful nature.
How do we cultivate and maintain a detached observation of the eternal play of the mind while remaining established in the intuitive awareness that the dividing nature of the mind, the appearance and dissolution of the world, and the watcher of both are all one reality? This is the practice. This is the blissful mind.
The transcendent conclusion, the result of enhanced self-enquiry and intensive exploration, is that “the world of the mind, which is made out of its own Self, is not anything other than the Self.”2
The liberation of the mind happens when an inner power shifts the direction of the mind from perceiving the world as separate towards the awareness of the all-permeating undivided source.
The nature of mind is wavering. The doubtful, doubting, hesitant mind does not serve us; rather, it results in an ever-whirling sense of unease and agitation It provides a constant and unfortunate echo of dualistic thoughts and perceptions. An integral activity is the experience of the sense of “I” fixed as an individual, separate from all—the ultimate experience of the “other.” Its surging strength pulsates with the seductiveness of distinction. It is the vision of the world as separate, a dualistic perception that maintains and even feeds the power of the mind. When we leave behind our shifting ideas of truth and untruth, the mind will be absorbed into a state of peace.
The great sages have advised that only the sword of the mind has the power to destroy the sword of the mind. This is the sublime paradox of a spiritual practice.
The fearless and unrelenting self-enquiry into the divisive nature of our thought precipitates our immersion in the source, which culminates in the experience of the blissful nature of the mind.
I can and do applaud diversity. It fosters creativity, curiosity, dynamism, and, often, sheer delight.
As I sit, writing in the garden, I am intrigued by the beauty and dynamic variety of life. The flowers, flies, trees, thorns, wind, and sunshine flood my senses. They are collectively vibrating with an exquisite, undeniable discernment of being, of existence.
The power of the mind is twofold: the one fostering and fermenting a state of obfuscation and the other a capacity to know an underlying reality that has transcended the compelling nature of birth and death, joy and pain, and even liberation and bondage.
“When the direction of the wave of consciousness is opposite to the Self, the world is seen as separate; when the direction is towards the Self, at every step and on all levels, it is the Self that is known everywhere. And when the Source is reached, there remains no more mind.”3
In Indian classical music, there is a vitally significant phenomenon called sama. It applies to both the melodic and tempo structure of a raga. The meaning of sama is equal or even, and musically it signifies “home.” It is the origin point of the melody and tempo that is restated and remains constant. It is the anchor and reference point of the sophisticated development and evolution of a raga composition. The recurring, rhythmic reference to the sama enables the musician to give voice to both the subtle and majestic threads that may transport us to an exalted and possibly transcendent vision. It is the tether to the source, invariably and consistently alluded to and endorsed, that facilitates an inspired exploration.
I suggest that our lives, with their multitudes of experiences, are melodic improvisations with simple introductions, cultivated developments, and inspired and sublime crescendos.
The source, the sama, is the power of the mind to experience duality along with an intuitive knowledge of unity and bliss. Recognizing this source allows us to transcend the divisive effects of the mind along with the evocative, alluring threads of elusive evanescent happiness.
Lacking the determination to cultivate and enhance this state of equality, non-division, evenness and an ultimate experience of sama, home, we are demoted to the perpetual torment of a fearful and fragmented mind.
The power of the mind is to acknowledge differences. It is also the power of the mind to know its source as one. With this recognition of the source, the blissful mind is revealed. However, when the sense of otherness obscures the awareness of its source, one with all, then the wavering, destructive nature of mind dismantles the joy of unity, the sublime nature of bliss.
Sri Adi Shankaracharya’s morning prayer declares, “I am that shining undivided Brahman.” It is with this absorption into the undivided state of Brahman that we may distinguish and identify with the essential nature of the blissful mind.
Let us pause here to examine what is bliss and how we can channel the wavering mind so that its functioning facilitates rather than hinders our awareness.
Bliss, ananda (in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism), is defined as extreme happiness, one of the highest states of being. I think we all intuitively sense and recognize the precious moments of bliss. This experience is the quintessential goal of a human being. However, if this perfect state of happiness is inexorably intertwined with the transient nature of the mind-body, it appears to us as inevitably and irrevocably flawed.
“We contemplate that Self which reveals itself as the pure experience of bliss when seer (the experiencer) comes into contact with the object (the experience), without a division or conceptualisation.”4
In meditation, we must allow for the possibility that the experiencer and the experience may merge into one, free from division. Only by dynamically engaging in this immersion is the genuine nature of the mind revealed. This authentic quality of the mind is bliss. Often indescribable, this perfect state, this absolute recognition of a sublime joy is overwhelmingly complete and undivided.
It is through the purification of the mind, the stilling of its incessant hum, that the source of the mind is unveiled. This revelation of the source allows the whirling dance of the mind to dissolve, resting in its blissful nature. The mind can only be blissful when it knows and acknowledges its origin as one with all it perceives and experiences.
It is with the intuitive awareness of the visionary mind that bliss is experienced.
It is with the realization of oneness that bliss is revealed.
“Self Supreme is free from mind,
Whether infinite or finite.
When in truth even mind is eternal, undivided,
How shall one speak of Self Supreme?”5
1 The Avadhoot Gita of Dattatraya by Swami Shyam, chapter 6, verse 3
2. Yog Vashishth by Swami Shyam, volume 1
3. Yog Vashishth by Swami Shyam, volume 1
4. Vashishstha Yoga, The story of King Janaka by Swami Venkatesanada
5. The Avadhoot Gita of Dattaraya: Song of the Unborn, by Seegla Brecher, chapter 6, verse 3