Bliss Emptiness and Bodhichitta

by Peter Morrell

In the generation of bliss, even from gross worldly passions, the bliss can be enjoyed as a deity, as an offering to deities, and oneself as a deity and to generate and deepen the sense of emptiness of all phenomena and self. This is the tantric function of blissful states. They are generated and enjoyed purely as means towards enlightenment, as aspects of the path, not as ends in themselves. In themselves they are mere sensations – part of samsara. The generation of bliss can be kept going all the time. It is possible to experience and re-experience joy and feelings of intense elation, controlled ecstasy and serene, tranquil bliss. To begin with, bliss seems to preclude emptiness, but then the two become thoroughly entwined, such that touching one brings out the other.

The three main components of the tantric path, the vajrayana, therefore, are these three – bliss, emptiness and compassion/bodhichitta. Bodhichitta [strong compassion] is required at the start of the path, in the middle and at the end. Bliss and emptiness, likewise, are required at all stages.

It is the most intense bliss of sexual union that is so highly regarded by tantrikas, because it is so intense and all-consuming. It can also be controlled through tantric sexual yogas so that it keeps burning on rather than climaxing and then ending. This function is to increase wisdom and tranquillity and lead also to deeper and deeper feelings both of compassion and bodhichitta or pity, and also of emptiness. The deeper and more intense the preceeding bliss, so the deeper and more intense the apprehension of compassion and emptiness. Bliss is therefore just a stepping-stone into the fuller apprehension of compassion and emptiness.

The essence of tantric practice is the transformation of oneself into a deity and the transformation of the world into a pure realm paradise, ie. to become a Buddha and to view the world as a Buddha views it.

It is not to be achieved through abandoning the world or abandoning oneself as is often sommonly believed and erroneously taught, but through transforming our perception of both – tranforming this perception slowly, continuously, incrementally and very thoroughly. By saturating the mind in Buddhist images, concepts, doctrines and practices one gradually becomes a deity and one views self and world as pure. One key feature of this process is to use self and world to generate a body and mind of great bliss, for without this bliss one is not a Buddha and one’s view of the world is thus still impure or samsaric.

This process means to use the multifarious sensations of this body and mind in this world to generate continuous and unfading bliss. Bliss that is also and very importantly continually, inseparably and intimately commingled, conjoined and blended with emptiness, tranquillity, non-attachment and bodhichitta. All of these qualities must be blended with the bliss. If not then one simply falls into hedonism – sensations and pleasure for the sake of it and as an end in itself, thus lacking all spirituality and achieving no purifcation of the mind or of one’s perception of the world.

The Buddha view is only attained through bliss and the bliss is only attained and maintained through deity yoga and seeing the world as mandala. This is the final step into Buddhahood – maintaining the unfading bliss. Rather than seeing the world as one big distraction from spiritual practice, we can then begin to use it as a source of bliss and use it continuously to generate bliss. This bliss we make from everything we see, everything we hear, touch, taste and smell. All matter, all motion, all mass, all colours, all sensations. Thus we can have sound bliss, music bliss, noise bliss, red bliss, blue bliss, pink bliss, softness bliss, coarse bliss, lumps bliss, silk bliss, pain bliss, salty bliss, sweet bliss, fruity bliss, minty bliss, fragrant bliss, etc.

Once our body and senses become the source of continuous and unfading bliss, conjoined with emptiness etc then we are very close to seeing the world as mandala and of achieving the truth body, enjoyment body and emanation body of a Buddha.

Even the defilements become forms of bliss – anger bliss, hatred bliss, envy bliss, ignorance bliss, jealousy bliss, attachment bliss.

The bliss must be welded with compassion or bodhichitta and tranquillity as this makes it warm, caring and powerful, radiant and supple. Ifthe compassion element is missing then it becomes selfish bliss, indulgent bliss and falls into hedonism. The non-attachment is also important or we become deeply attached to the bliss and the pleasure element. Similar arguments apply to the other required elements.

The bliss we experience can be generated from past experiences and memories. Many of our childhood experiences can be used as perfectly valid sources of bliss and joy. It is true that during childhood we tended often to experience sensations of pure bliss. They may not have appeared significant at the time, but they were. By reviewing and re-experiencing them we can sensate great bliss again as a perfectly valid part of the path.

Bliss is a very important topic within Buddhism generally, and especially within the Vajrayana. This is because direct experience of bliss of all kinds can lead to profound states of tranquillity and become of great service in a spiritual path. It is especially important as an aspect of deity yoga within all the tantras.

2 forms of bliss exist
– Conditional bliss which depends entirely upon non-empty forms, sense stimuli and concepts and feelings for its generation and experience.
– Non-conditional bliss which depends for its generation on empty forms or on the perception of emptiness in general, on imagined visualised forms and concepts, etc.

All beings experience some forms of bliss, except possibly the pretas and hell-beings. Animals certainly experience sensations of pleasure and bliss, as do most humans, asuras and devas, but the problem is that most of the bliss we experience is contaminated or conditional bliss, that is generated in response to some pleasure, and is therefore impure.

Impure or contaminated bliss is impure for 2 reasons.

  1. it is based upon sensory forms
  2. it is not commingled with other superior qualities like deep tranquillity, non-attachment, emptiness, preciousness (deity), selflessness, bodhichitta or compassion, etc. Because it is not commingled with these superior qualities it is a transient and inferior bliss that is only partially helpful as a tool for spiritual practice. In order for this type of bliss to become of service in practice, it must be refined and purified by mixing it with superior and pure qualities.

Sense-based bliss is contaminated with desire (attachment, greed) and with ignorance (lack of selflessness) while pure bliss is not contaminated with these negative qualities. Yet through careful practice all sensory bliss can be utilised as pure by viewing it, self, world, etc as aspects of deity yoga and commingled with the superior qualities mentioned above. In this way even transient feelings of negative states like anger, hatred, aversion etc can be ‘seen and tasted as blisses’.

As a general rule the greater one’s merit, the more bliss, affection and joy one experiences in everyday life, especially during childhood, and especially associated with feelings of deep tranquillity, preciousness, compassion or pity, wonder, etc. Experiences like this in childhood and in dreams is a sure sign of past merit and the good effects of spiritual practice in past lifetimes.

Likewise, now, as a sign of one’s practice, one feels more pliant, blissful and tranquil, even enjoying transient (temporary) sense pleasures as forms of bliss. It is also true that the greater one’s bad karma, the less bliss, joy and affection one experiences in one’s life generally, and the more one tends to generate such negative feelings as hatred, anger and desire much more often than bliss. People with heavy karma very rarely if ever experience bliss of any kind. Even the supreme bliss of orgasm is sensed merely as a gross phenomenon of enjoyment.

Most bliss is contaminated with feelings of desire, and actually arises from the sensations of pleasure that arise from proximity to desired forms and objects. The pleasure is elicited in the mind in response to contact with a desired form. Yet there are also karmic seeds in the mindstream that establish the object as desirable in the first place. All the pleasures we experience fall into this category and the pleasure is experienced in this manner, and are a distraction from mind development. However, with uncontaminated bliss, the pleasure is experienced as an aspect of oneself as a deity, as a precious emanation of emptiness and in a non-attached and compassionate way. Thus, commingled with these superior qualities, the bliss is a pure uncontaminated bliss that is an aid to practice, instead of a dis traction from it.

Contaminated bliss is also subject to fading and loss which causes a sensation of grief, sadness or aversion. The loss of the pleasure is regarded as a form of inner loss. Uncontaminated bliss does not have these qualities as it is not subject to fading or loss. It does not involve attachment and so there is not a sense of loss as it is non-fading and self-regenerating.

The whole subject of aesthetics and art revolves around the question of sensuality, pleasure and its associated blisses. But these are all contaminated blisses that are suffused with desire and ignorance of the innate emptiness. Nor are these blisses enjoyed as sport of deities, out of compassion or in a non-attached manner. Quite the contrary, they are indulged for selfish reasons and without perceiving the innate emptiness of forms or the sublime non-attachment of a Buddha. The blisses here are to do with shape, tone, colour, symmetry and proportion. Yet they can be enjoyed in a non-attached manner as pure and radiant empty blisses of practice.

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