The four Levels of Bliss
An excerpt from Inner Fire in 7 Steps
Inner Fire is a bliss meditation. However, we need to understand what bliss is, and we need to know for sure how to identify it and not to suppress it.
The first thing we might think is that bliss is a sort of feeling or emotion. This is what it sounds like—that it’s basically a feeling—but this would be very superficial. Bliss is so much more than an emotion or a feeling. I am going to illuminate the experience of bliss from different angles, because bliss is physical and energetic, but also emotional, mental, and spiritual. It has many layers, each of which needs to be understood.
So, let’s talk about the four levels of bliss.
Energetic blissBefore bliss is a feeling or an emotion, it is an energetic phenomenon, an energetic experience. And in this sense, it has many subtleties: in Tibetan Buddhism, for instance, four experiences of energetic bliss are defined. These are called the four blisses. Ultimately, energetic bliss is simpler: it is either the jump of kundalini shakti, or the downward flow of cosmic kundalini, through the central channel of the subtle nervous system, the Sushumna. Bliss is Sushumna, and Sushumna is bliss. The first important thing is the upward flow: if the flow is going upward, we are beginning to experience bliss (eventually, by the way, it also goes downward). First of all, we become unified within ourselves; all the contradictions, all the conflicts of the side channels are gone, and we become just one flow. And as soon as we are unified beings, we flow as one toward the great oneness. This obviously evokes bliss, because we are approaching reality and becoming similar to it. Secondly, when we move upward, we are not just moving with clean simple energy, because we are also drawing all our sexual energy with us. This is very important. The regular orgasm can never lead to full satisfaction, because we are accumulating the heat and then expelling it, rather than keeping it inside the central channel; the heat does not rise or become transformed. But if the heat and the energy become absorbed in the central channel and go all the way up, we experience a different type of orgasm. This is what happens when the energy goes up to the crown: we experience a type of orgasm. It feels like a spreading inside the brain; it is a cool orgasm of the brain and of the higher chakras, and one that sometimes manifests as white light. It is so delicious that you will actually be less and less impressed by the physical orgasm, because you will realize that there is an orgasm that ends in full satisfaction. It has no sadness following it, or any disappointing sense of “almost.” In other words, you are transforming sexual energy. Whenever you do this, earthly pleasure becomes heavenly pleasure. This is a source of bliss. Another thing: when the energy goes all the way up, you are melting the kundalini inside the crown chakra. This is a subtle liquid, and when it melts and spreads, it also eventually falls, like drops of kundalini, and you begin to experience an even more refined type of bliss. All this takes place in your energy system, and is purely energetic. It is meant to fill our subtle nerves.
The emotional level is all about our ability to experience total or overwhelming happiness. Psychologically, we are conditioned not to allow ourselves to be too happy. You might enter meditation, feel something, and then perhaps merely give a little smile, and say, “mm, yeah, it’s good, it’s good.” Why is this?
Essentially, our brain signals to us that being in a state of bliss might cause us to be inattentive and overlook dangers ahead. This is a remnant of the primitive and instinctive brain that was originally responsible for anticipating hazards.
There is another reason for our conditioned mind to signal to us: “Hey, not too much! This is dangerous—now you are messing with dangerous stuff.” Underlying this is the idea that you are going to be hurt later on. Our brain still interprets this type of pure joy as part of the world of opposites; there is joy, but it will be replaced with pain. Our brain thus makes us moderate beings: if you experience only a little pleasure or happiness, you will also experience just a little pain, but if you experience great pleasure and great happiness, you will fall so painfully against the floor of reality that you really will be sorry. “Listen to me,” the brain says, “I know what I’m talking about.” As a result, we become very cautious. Unfortunately, however, with this caution we basically reconfirm the brain’s illusion that this type of joy is a part of the world of opposites; that it is not a transcendent joy that is completely untouched. Bliss is our freedom from dependency on this external pendulum of sorrow and happiness.
Thirdly, it is considered very antisocial to be too happy. Walk around in complete happiness and people will start looking at you and saying, “What’s wrong with this person? Don’t they have a brain, can’t they control themselves?”
When I was attacked by bliss at the age of 23, I was flooded so helplessly and powerlessly by it that I started crying and laughing all the time. I would be walking down the street, and then I’d need to take a corner. I couldn’t control it. Until it finally happens—until reality finally begins to bubble—would you limit and minimize it? I would sit with my parents for dinner on Friday, and at a certain point I’d feel the bliss. I would say to them, “Wait for me for five minutes,” and then I would go down to my room and cry and laugh for five minutes, and then relax and come back. Or I would just run onto the street because the energy was so powerful, so joyful; the energies were dancing inside my body. Perhaps you are reading this and thinking: “Yes, but maybe this was particularly and unusually powerful.” You must understand that to allow it to be particularly powerful, you need to be psychologically ready in the first place—psychologically accepting and welcoming of this experience.
We must learn to dare to be deeply, unconsciously, unashamedly, intoxicatedly happy. When I see people meditating but not radiating happiness, I know that something is missing. When there is bliss, there is often an uncontainable smile or laughter. There is great radiance. Their eyes are saturated. People either suppress it for social reasons, or they do not understand their own experience. They filter out certain aspects of their experience due to conditioning.
Because this happiness may be waiting for you around a corner, and you are pushing it away, saying, “Relax, relax, keep it for tomorrow, measure it, balance it with some rationality, be a social being,” and so on. We need to understand that on the emotional level, bliss is a kind of uncontainable happiness that actually has the power to drown the self. We do not kill the self or the ego with a sword or anything like that—we kill it with bliss. Bliss wipes away the inherent suffering of the separate self. There is so much bliss that it is like an overflowing cup; eventually, the self cannot contain this level of happiness. That’s why the brain warns you—it is like drowning.
At this point, it is interesting to note that in tantric Tibetan Buddhism, wisdom and bliss are two faces of the same phenomenon, the same experience. When practitioners in this tradition enter the practice of Inner Fire, they pray: “I implore you to bestow upon me the wisdom of bliss and emptiness.” And we need to understand that bliss, if it is just a tremendous feeling, a tremendous emotional flow or energetic process, is not enough. Because if it is just an energetic flow, you can become addicted to it, like it’s just a kind of heroin. You bring up the energy and you get that high; you feel awesome, you feel a lot of energy, you feel you can do anything. You master the energies of your subtle body and you can produce them endlessly, but it will lead to nowhere.
And this is the thing: bliss, when you follow it, is a two-direction phenomenon. If you follow bliss all the way, it leads you to wisdom, which in Buddhism is called emptiness. It is the realization of reality beyond the self. Thus, bliss is ultimately unified with the wisdom that understands emptiness.
Bliss helps to shatter and dissolve all kinds of mental concepts; it dissolves any type of impure thinking, but it also leads to the highest wisdom. For this reason, you need to follow it all the way to understanding. Bliss on its own can easily evaporate and even create desire. But when it is associated with wisdom, the two nourish and sustain each other. Essentially, we need an understanding of why we are in bliss. If you understand why you are in bliss, rather than just being in bliss, that is the addition of wisdom. This also goes the other way: just as bliss leads to wisdom, so wisdom leads to bliss. This means that one of the clearest indications that you have really understood something connected to reality is that you are immediately filled with bliss. Spiritual understanding is not just neutral or intellectual; you don’t just say, “Oh, now I understand.” You understand and you are flooded with an inner confirmation. Bliss thus confirms the existence of wisdom. Wisdom is also the result and the endpoint of bliss. And wisdom gives sense and direction to bliss. Bliss is all about drowning the personal self in uncontainable happiness; then you see reality unobstructed.
The spiritual aspect is very important to understand. There is a huge difference between happiness and bliss: everyone is looking for happiness, including those who say that they don’t believe in it. They say this, but really, they are waiting for happiness. If somebody really didn’t believe in happiness and didn’t wait for it, they would be instantly liberated. To really, truly stop believing in the project of happiness is instant enlightenment.
So, what is happiness? The great illusion is to think that there is either happiness, or a shift from happiness to bliss. In truth, there is no such thing as happiness. By becoming sensitive and aware, we realize that happiness is the thing that we are constantly waiting for. It is by its nature always waited for, always anticipated. It is always something that is just about to happen. It never lasts. We get flashes of happiness, but essentially, we are always in a state of waiting.
Essentially, the idea is not to let go of worldly happiness itself, but to let go of the illusion of happiness and the state of constant anticipation that comes with it. This is the only thing we really let go of. We simply realize that it is a waiting game. On the spiritual level, bliss is letting go of the anticipation of happiness.
As soon as you stop waiting, you shatter the illusion of happiness—as well as the illusion of the future—and you suddenly enter the state of bliss. This is the celebration of no longer waiting. As soon as you realize spiritually that you are no longer waiting, you are flooded by the intensity of bliss. You are no longer stuck in a dual relationship with the world, and to a certain degree the world disappears. This is not the disappearance of the actual world, obviously, but of the world that we have in our mind that promises happiness in the end. Bliss is knowing that you have found a happiness that cannot be taken away, not even by God.
This is a kind of bliss that you have never known, because it is the bliss of nonduality. It is a bliss that the relative you does not participate in, and in a way, it does not happen inside you, but instead almost in space. It is a bliss that has nothing to do with any concrete mental concepts that belong to the world; it is completely independent. It is the realization of the mind’s own purity, and the joy of this immaculate purity.
All these aspects—energetic, emotional, mental, and spiritual—are highly relevant to the experience of Inner Fire. In Inner Fire we evoke fire and heat. This heat leads directly to bliss. But we need to be prepared emotionally to understand the conditioning; we need to be prepared mentally to understand that it is not just about feeling high or wonderful; and we need to understand that on the spiritual level, we are preparing to let go of a great illusion.