The Bliss of the Self

the self 2
I posted a response on the Q & A page to an emailer’s questions about the bliss of the Self. James suggested I expand on the topic, and this essay is a response to his suggestion.

There are two aspects of the bliss of the Self (awareness)* that can be looked at: the experiential, and the non-experiential. Let’s look at the experiential aspect first.

The important thing to remember about experience is that it’s ALL pure awareness (the nature of which is bliss). There
is nothing else, since reality is non-dual. But depending on what factors are present that affect how that pure awareness is reflected in the mind, it may not be noticed by the person that all that is ever going on is the bliss of pure awareness. Since this is your normal daily experience – not noticing that all that’s really going on is the bliss of pure awareness – we need to know what these factors are that affect how awareness is experienced.

The factors I’m talking about are the three modes of energy behavior (
sattva, rajas, and tamas). They are called the gunas, and they are completely responsible for how the pure bliss of awareness is experienced. Let’s use the analogy of the three buckets of water, in which the sun is reflected, to define the three modes.

In one bucket, the water is perfectly still and clear. When the sun is reflected in this bucket, the reflected image looks just like the sun. This bucket is
sattva. This is what the mind is like when it happens to be in sattvic mode. Sattva reflects the pure bliss of awareness exactly as it is, and the reflection is an experience of clarity, purity, and happiness.

In another bucket, the water is agitated. It’s jiggling and vibrating, and so the reflection of the sun in that bucket is rippled and dancing, not at all what the sun really looks like in the sky. This bucket is
rajas. When the mind is in rajasic mode, it reflects the pure bliss of awareness as dissatisfaction and agitation. The pure bliss of awareness never went away, but because of the mental agitation, the experience is one of agitation.

In the third bucket, the water is dirty and cloudy, and the reflection of the sun in that bucket is dull and indistinct. This bucket is
tamas. When the mind is in tamasic mode, it reflects the pure bliss of awareness as dullness, confusion, and apathy. The pure bliss of awareness never went away, but because of the mental dullness, the experience is one of confusion.

The point being…all the
gunas do is put their own “spin” on the pure bliss. The pure bliss is never not there, it is only masked by whatever mode of energy behavior is appearing, and if rajas or tamas are present, we tend to read that as “the bliss is not here.” But it’s always here. It’s just a matter of discriminating, of seeing what is real and what is distortion.

So obviously what everyone wants is
sattva – the sattva is where the blissful experience is. But it has to be remembered that sattva is only a mode of energy behavior, and it is subject to change. Rajas and tamas will turn up before long and present less appealing experiences; this is the nature of the gunas – they are all three rising and falling all the time, through no control of your own, and dictating what your experience is.

So while
sattva is present, great! Enjoy it! Enjoy the perfect reflection of the bliss of the Self. But do not mistake it for the Self – awareness, yourself – in which the reflection appears. You ARE the Self.

Which brings us to the non-experiential aspect of the bliss of the Self. Or maybe it should be called the unchanging, steady aspect. All of the experiences, as we have seen, change. But there is an unchanging satisfaction, a boundless, rock-solid confidence that is brought about by the recognition of the fullness and completeness of the Self.

This can’t really be called an experience, because unlike other experiences, it doesn’t change. It doesn’t change because it is not a result of any circumstance of life or state of mind. It is not a result of
sattva, which comes and goes. It is a certainty, a permanent mode of confidence and satisfaction, which is based on the knowledge of the fullness, the security, the immutability of me, the Self.

We tend to think of bliss differently, as a more experiential, high feeling, probably derived from some wonderful experience in memory or imagination. And so the experiential remembered or imagined “bliss” is what is mistakenly sought after, in the search for the Self, which
wastes a lot of time. This is what the “spiritual community” holds up as the goal of the search – a brass ring of yummy feelings and transcendent states. But the bliss of the Self is not a state or feeling to be attained – it is right here all the time, and the discrimination to recognize this as yourself is all that is needed.

I’ll let James finish this discussion in his own words. Here is a transcription of a portion of his
Atma Darshan recording, in which he discusses the “experience” of awareness:

What does awareness feel like? It doesn’t feel like anything. It’s not an object of your feelings. You are free; the knowledge that you are free lets you appreciate the freedom that you are, and then you know what it feels like.

It just feels like you’re whole and you’re complete and you’re authentic. It feels like you’re solid and real. It feels like peace, because you don’t strive, you stop striving when you assert that fact about yourself.

We call this taking a stand as awareness. You situate yourself there, stand there, and take that as your identity and assert that fact. This is a fact about yourself. The fact is you are this complete, limitless being. All you have to do is take up that thought, as opposed to the thought that I’m my feelings, my actions, my thoughts, my sensations, and so forth and so on. Assert your true nature (to yourself).

We want this to be an intense feeling; no, it’s a conviction. The Vedanta word is
sthita, it means steady, firm, established; a firm conviction. It’s not a belief. You are 100% sure that’s how it is, experience shows you through your investigation that you’re okay. You’re much more than okay, but just start with that. :-) **

You may not have this sense of conviction right away. This takes time. This is what the teaching is designed for, this is what the repeated listening is for. Little by little, through your own examination of the claims that are presented, the logic of your true identity becomes inescapable. Vedanta is logical; it is the science of the Self. Vedanta simply shows you how it is, and slowly, you come to see for yourself.

* I always use “awareness” and “the Self” interchangeably. They are the same.

** James Swartz, “
Atma Darshan 3, Portland 2011” recordings, 1:07:00-1:12:00

Knowledge Alone Works

Someone in the audience is asking James: “Then that self-knowledge then has to come into form and work itself out and…”

James replies: “Knowledge takes care of the problem. ‘And the truth shall set you free.’ You don’t have to sit there and apply the knowledge. This is not theory and practice. The knowledge has its own action. It’s called jnana shakti, and that knowledge purifies everything here automatically, when it’s clear. You don’t have to go around doing it. …Understanding alone works. Knowledge alone works. Once it’s clear then it rearranges your whole life.”

- James Swartz, “Self-Inquiry India” recordings