The Consciousness of Bliss

The Taittiriya Upanishad focuses substantial attention on the level or plane of consciousness called Ananda, translated as “bliss”. The seeker Bhrigu is asked to concentrate in order to know the Eternal, and after exploring the planes of Matter, Life, Mind and Gnosis, he finally comes to the realisation that it is Ananda that is the foundation: “He knew Bliss for the Eternal. For from Bliss alone, it appeareth, are these creatures born and being born they live by Bliss and to Bliss they go hence and return. This is the lore of Bhrigu, the lore of Varuna, which hath its firm base in the highest heaven.” (Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhriguvalli, Chapter 6, pg. 278)

Sri Aurobindo describes this status: “Ananda, a supreme Bliss eternal, far other and higher in its character than the highest human joy or pleasure is the essential and original nature of the spirit. In Ananda our spirit will find its true self, in Ananda its essential consciousness,in Ananda the absolute power of its existence. The embodied soul’s entry into the highest absolute, unlimited, unconditional bliss of the spirit is the infinite liberation and the infinite perfection.”

There are experiences of bliss at each level of consciousness, as consciousness is a continuum. “There can be the experience of a spiritual and boundless Ananda on the plane of matter, on the plane of life, on the plane of mind as well as on the gnostic truth-plane of knowledge and above it.”

The Upanishad reminds us, in a passage frequently cited as “the calculus of bliss”, that there are innumerable levels of the experience of bliss, with human bliss at the lowest rung of that ladder: “Let there be a young man, excellent and lovely in his youth, a great student; let him have fair manners and a most firm heart and great strength of body, and let all this wide earth be full of wealth for his enjoying. That is the measure of bliss of one human being.” With this baseline, the Upanishad goes on to set forth another 10 succeeding levels of bliss to reach the bliss “of the Eternal Spirit”, with each level “a hundred and a hundredfold” the intensity of the preceding level. (Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, Chapter 8, pp. 272-273)

Sri Aurobindo observes that the experience can be so rewarding and overpowering that the seeker may become absorbed in one of these lesser (and incomplete) manifestations of bliss. “But the integral perfection can come only by a mounting ascent of the lowest into the highest and an incessant descent of the highest into the lowest till all becomes one at once solid block and plastic sea-stuff of the Truth infinite and eternal.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 24, Gnosis and Ananda, pp. 477-478