Bliss is a superlative state which is far above and beyond happiness. The happiness that we commonly refer to is in some way or the other related to the external world. Bliss, on the other hand, is an experience pertaining to the soul and is not related to external stimuli.
In life we find that whatever makes us happy has the potential to make us unhappy. To understand this further, we have to study the media through which we can experience happiness.
- The five senses: These are pleasures gained through the experiences of touch, taste, sound, smell or sight.
Example: A person who loves ice-cream yearns to go to the ice-cream parlour. The first ice-cream always tastes the best. As he keeps having more and more, the pleasure that he gained from the first one begins to wane until he begins to feel physically uncomfortble by the 7th or the 8th helping. Thus the pleasure gained from ice-cream could not be sustained over a period of time. We can relate this back to any object one desires in life – after our happiness from the object peaks, it begins to wane.
- The mind: It is the part of one’s thoughts that is linked with one’s emotions (our emotions and thoughts are interwoven with each other – unhappy thoughts lead to unhappy feelings and vice-versa). Pleasure gained through the mind is far superior to that gained through the five senses.
Example: What would be the most pleasurable emotion we could have? Probably it would be the experience of falling in love. So take the example of two people who fall in love and cannot dream of leading their lives apart from one another. Once their relationship evolves into marriage, we find that the peak of their happiness cannot be sustained. Each partner begins to see the other in a different light, and in time they find that no one can hurt them or make them angrier than the very spouse who also gives them so much joy!
- The intellect: This is our decision making and reasoning ability. It allows us to experience a different kind of pleasure that is qualitatively and quantitatively superior to the happiness gained through the mind.
Example: Let’s take the example of a scientist who has immersed himself in research. Now, say one day he solves a riddle that has baffled humankind for centuries – of course he is elated. But what happens to his ecstasy when after a while, the applause dies down? Now he is no longer on a high – in fact he is restless, as he needs to busy himself with something new to discover. Or worse still, he could be plunged into despair when he finds that this great discovery (e.g.: the energy formula E=mc2) has been used for the destruction of humankind by way of the atom bomb.
This diagram shows how the happiness that we perceive through each of the media (i.e. the 5 senses, mind, and intellect) progressively gets not only qualitatively better but also lasts for a longer duration
However, when we experience Bliss from the soul, it is the most superlative quality of happiness and lasts indefinitely. Bliss cannot be verbally described and has to be experienced.
To indicate the limitation of words, let’s take the example of the sweetness of sugar. Is there any way we can verbally explain the sweetness of sugar to someone who has no tongue? No! We find no words that can give us the actual experience of the taste of sugar. Just as with Bliss, sweetness has to be experienced to be understood. Spiritual practice is the only means by which one can experience Bliss.