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Ananda, or bliss, is not a state of mind that can be ‘specially’ brought about or engineered, but rather it is the state of mind we find ourselves in when we stop trying to bring special states of mind about, when we stop manipulating or controlling. We could also say that bliss is the state of mind which arises when we are no longer preoccupied with nonsense – with this trivial problem or that trivial problem.



Even more to the point, we could say that bliss is the state of mind that naturally comes about when the self or ego is no longer present as the supreme organizing factor.



Straightaway we can see why bliss is a state of mind that nobody seems to have any interest in! When we hear about ananda, the state of bliss, it does of course sound marvellous. How can ‘bliss’ not sound good? And yet bliss remains only a word for us – it is not on the menu as far as everyday life is concerned. It is not a possibility for us. Whatever else is on offer, bliss most certainly isn’t…



This has got to be surprising because bliss is so very superior, in all respects, to all the states of mind that we do value and seek after. All of the other states of mind – all of the states of mind that everyday life has to offer, all the states of mind that society has to offer, are infinitely inferior in comparison! The everyday states of mind are tawdry and banal, as Krishnamurti says – despite the fact that we can’t see this, despite the fact that we value some of them very highly indeed and spend all of our time trying to obtain them by this means and that.



Bliss, despite the fact that it makes everything else (all the conditioned states of consciousness) seem utterly worthless in comparison, is as we have said strictly ‘off the menu’, ‘out of bounds’. Bliss is more than just ‘off the menu’ – it is illicit, it is illegal. It is unmentionable, it is not the topic of polite conversation. Bliss is taboo, just as according to Alan Watts ‘knowing who you really are’ is taboo. We can have any state of mind we want to have just so long as it isn’t bliss, and we can be anyone we want to be, just so long as it isn’t who we really are…



Since the bliss of unconditioned consciousness – also known as ecstasy – is an unmentionable, something that is not in any way permissible by the system we live in – we have to make do with a kind of ‘tame substitute’. The tame substitute is what Daisaku Ikeda calls the state of rapture, which is the intensely rewarding feeling of pleasure or euphoria that comes about when we ‘realize our dreams’, when we get things to be the way we have always wanted them to be. Or we could also say that rapture is the intoxicating glow of satisfaction that occurs when the ‘organizing factor’ which is the self or ego gets to manipulate things successfully, when it gets to ‘win out’…



Pleasure is the inferior substitute for bliss, or ananda. But why should pleasure be so very inferior to bliss? It certainly seems pretty good at the time – everyone likes pleasure! The shortcoming (or ‘snag’) of pleasure or euphoria as a valued state of mind is however very easy to demonstrate; we all know what this snag or short-coming is – we just don’t dwell on it very much. We don’t dwell on the snag that comes with pleasure until we really have to, until we are forced to, and then afterwards we forget all about the downside again and get on with the all-important business of seeking the next high…



The trouble is that pleasure comes at a price and we don’t generally see that price until after the purchase has been made. It feels at the time that we are getting something that is ‘unreservedly great’, something that is so fantastic that it justifies putting any amount of effort into winning it, but the truth which we never focus on is that there is a very serious downside to it all. The bargain deal that we have signed up for isn’t such a bargain at all – in fact it is all a bit of a con when it comes down to it. It is all a bit of a swindle!



The sweetness of the rapture is the lure that sucks us in but this sweetness masks an underlying bitterness which we don’t taste until it is too late to pull out of the deal. We are buying into something that looks like something it isn’t – what we are buying looks like something that is ‘unreservedly good’, but which is in fact only good initially, and which proves after a while to be not good at all!



One way to explain what is happening here is to say that in order to avail of the pleasure or euphoria, we have to narrow ourselves down to an extraordinary degree. We have to set limits on ourselves. We don’t of course notice this at the time because we are so dead set on obtaining the sweetness but as soon as we have tasted this sweetness we are then left with the pain (or ‘aridity’) of having narrowed ourselves, of having limited ourselves, of having made ourselves so much less than we were before. It could be said that in order to have the pleasure we have had to give away our actual spacious being, so that after the event we are hollow, cramped, restricted, painfully lacking in this essential ‘being’.



After the euphoric phase of the process therefore, in which we traded away our being, we are left only with our narrowness – the narrowness which is like a closed fist that has in fact closed upon nothing at all. We thought we had something good clasped in it but we don’t. Whatever it was has now got away from us and so we have no alternative but to go through the whole process again, with the fond hope that we will be luckier next time!



This shows us another aspect of the snag – that really the whole business is just a revolving door that never actually gets us anywhere. We keep thinking that we are getting there, or that we might be getting there, but we never are. So what we have here is a circular movement, a continual thankless fruitless striving which always leads us right back to where we started: empty of pocket and – generally speaking – none the wiser!



Another way of explaining the unsatisfactory nature of the euphoric state of mind is to say that pleasure is the flip-side of pain, just as pain is the flip-side of pleasure. Euphoria can always be guaranteed to turn into its opposite therefore, which is dysphoria, or ‘negative pleasure’. “Everything arises in this way, opposites from their opposites” says Plato. So not only have we defined ourselves very narrowly in order to be able to avail ourselves of the sweetness we were hankering after, but we have also defined ourselves very narrowly so that we might avail ourselves of the bitterness that unfailingly comes after it.



Once we’re caught up in this merry-go-round dissatisfaction follows satisfaction, pain follows pleasure, and despair follows elation – with no end to the tiresome cycle anywhere in sight. There is no end to the cycle in sight because once we have narrowly defined ourselves in terms of the pleasure we keep on hoping to obtain then pleasure and pain are the only two possibilities open to us…



Both euphoria and dysphoria are dependent upon a fixed point of reference, and – contrariwise – from the basis of this fixed point of reference various shades of euphoria and dysphoria are all we are capable of experiencing. That is our repertoire – this is the emotional palette from which we draw the full range of mental states that are available to us in everyday life, which is the life of the narrowly defined self or ego. The reason the fixed viewpoint gives rise both to gain and loss, hope and fear, pleasure and sorrow in equal measure is because a fixed viewpoint always describes the world in terms of definite statements, and even though we don’t know it, all definite statements are inherently self-contradictory, all definite statements are inherently paradoxical.



Any given definite statement always exists as one half of a complementary pair of statements – the positive and the negative. Neither can exist without the other, although the other might be hidden from our view. So it is not just the case, as Plato says, that the opposites give rise to each other – they imply each other, they contain each other. The fact that any given definite statement always invokes its opposite means that it is ‘self-contradictory’ and this is another way of saying that it is redundant, or ‘empty’.



On the face of it, a definite statement appears to have pulled off a coup – by making a definite statement we seem to have nailed matters ‘once and for all’. This apparent victory masks the inner emptiness however – our achievement is not as far-reaching as we would like to think because we have – unbeknownst to ourselves – taken an illegitimate short-cut. We have assumed something we shouldn’t have assumed! In order to make a definite statement about anything we need to assume that we know absolutely everything about what we are talking about. This goes without saying really because if I didn’t know everything about the thing I am making a statement about then how could I be properly definite about it?



If there was some little part of things that I didn’t know about then uncertainty would have come into the equation; there would be a ‘maybe’ floating around in the mix somewhere and this would invalidate the whole endeavour. With certainty, it has to be ‘all or nothing’ – there is no half-way house. The cut-and-dried EITHER/OR nature of certainty derives from the polar (or ‘binary’) character of logic, which operates on the basis of mutually-exclusive opposites; the answer has to be one way or the other – either you turned off the cooker or you didn’t, either you locked the front door or you didn’t, either you sent the email or you didn’t, and so on. Because logical categories are constructed on the basis of black-and-white boundaries everything about them (and the data they produce) is black-and-white – as far as logic is concerned there is no such thing as an element that both ‘belongs’ and ‘doesn’t belong’ in a category, or that belongs equally inside the category and outside of it, or doesn’t belong in either. That would be illogical…



Because logic and our states of mind are linked (via the rational faculty) the EITHER/OR nature of logic carries over into the psychological domain of my feelings. To put this in the very simplest terms – if I WIN then I feel good and if I LOSE I feel bad, and it is either one way or the other. Certainty is therefore linked with our emotional states in that we have to assume certainty before we can then proceed to feel whatever emotion it is we are about to feel. This is why ‘black-and-white thinking’ is associated with anxious and depressed states of mind; it is as though I have to ‘jump to conclusions’ in order to feel whatever emotion my mental state wants me to feel – unless I am sure about whatever it is I am thinking then I can’t very well jump into the associated state of mind. The same is true for all of the ‘cruder emotions’ – if I am angry it is because I have jumped to conclusions, if I am jealous or envious it is because I have jumped to conclusions, if I am despairing or elated it is because I have jumped to conclusions, and so on. The whole game of emotional responses only works with black-and-white thinking, with crudely imposed boundaries or categories.



The problem here – as any therapist knows – is that crude logic is being used as a basis for how we feel, and yet logic doesn’t actually apply to the real world. The real world doesn’t come in neatly wrapped parcels – it doesn’t come complete with clearly drawn boundaries. Reality is not a black-and-white type of thing at all, that’s only a reflection of our thinking! The fact that we perceive and respond to our mental projections, our categories rather than the underlying reality basically means – not to put too fine a point on it – that what we are perceiving and consequently responding to is not actually real…



We have already said that in order to make a definite statement about some element or other we have to assume that we have total knowledge of whatever it is we are being definite about. This means that what we are being definite about is being ‘considered in isolation from everything else in the universe’ and this in turn means that what we are making the definite statement about cannot actually be real. There are no elements in reality that can be considered in isolation – that can only happen in logic, and logic is a formal system, a kind of ‘oversimplification’ or ‘game’.  So the process whereby I define some element in reality is the process by which I make that element unreal!



Furthermore, not only is the thing that I am being definite about now unreal, but because I have established a relationship with that unreal object then I too must be unreal. Both me and the thing that I have created a definite relationship with are being considered in isolation, and so the system which is made up of ‘me relating to my object’ – because it is now closed – must be unreal. This is not some daft philosophical quibble that we can laugh at with impunity – it is an observation of the most profound psychological consequence. What this means is that both pleasure and pain only have that particular pressing (or ‘relevant’) quality that they do have for us because of the very definite ‘logical standpoint’ which is associated with the abstract, isolated self and its abstract, isolated objects.



This is pretty obvious – just as pleasure only really gratifies me if it is my pleasure, pain is only pain to me when it is my pain. This is far from being a foolishly obvious point to make, despite the fact that it might seem to be. What we have been saying so far in this discussion – in so many words – is that I can only experience pleasure when I ‘close down’ and experience life on the basis of being an isolated self, which is a kind of ‘special situation’ in that it is not the way that I naturally am, but rather a way that I have been conditioned to be. Pleasure (or ‘rapture’) is a possibility within a game that I am playing, therefore – no matter how hard it might be to appreciate this point. ‘Despair’ (which is personalized pain) is also a possibility within the game; it is the other possibility, the complementary possibility. The game of being an isolated, abstract (and therefore a fundamentally unreal) self is therefore made up of various admixtures of elation and despair, pleasure and pain, gratification and frustration, optimism and pessimism, such that the enjoyable aspect is always ultimately cancelled out by the painful aspect.



Crucial to this game is the fact that everything I experience is related to the very narrow focus of the isolated self. This is of course crucial in any game – it is crucial that it is me who triumphs and me who fails and the former is as lonely an estate as the latter, if only I could see it. The trouble is of course that I can’t see it – I can see that despair is a lonely and isolating place alright, but, very significantly, I never seem to stop to notice that triumph is every bit as lonely, every bit as isolating. I will complain about being lonely in my despair, in my pain, but not in my euphoria.



The truth of the matter is of course that I want to enjoy my euphoria ‘in private’, so to speak. That is what makes it euphoria rather than ananda, rather than bliss, which is as we have said non-self-related. We like the ‘self-ish’ nature of pleasure to the exact same extent that we hate the ‘self-ish’ nature of pain and it is because I want the one that I have to have the other!



I simply will not get that special taste of triumph unless I know that it is I who have triumphed rather than anyone else. There is of course such a thing as a ‘collectively experienced triumph’ but in this case it is simply the case that my group (my football team, my political party, my nation, etc) has won out over another, rival group, and this – very obviously – means that ‘the group’ is simply an extension of the individual ego or self.



In the same way that I can’t experience triumph unless I know for sure that it is me who has triumphed I don’t obtain that most distinctive taste of defeat unless that defeat is mine and mine alone – defeat isn’t defeat unless it thoroughly isolates me. Thus the experience of gaining and losing, triumphing and despairing, hoping and fearing only make sense from the standpoint of the isolated self – without this central point of reference they would be entirely meaningless concepts. We may therefore say again then that euphoria and dysphoria, pleasure and pain are all about the self – they are not about anything else at all, only the self or ego.



Making this point doesn’t necessarily sound very profound due to the fact that we see it as far too obvious to be worth mentioning. But it only sees obvious because we are afflicted with the subjective illusion that the self is the centre of the universe – which means that we take it for granted that everything is all about the ego. We have a kind of built-in incapacity to see that the self is not the centre of the universe at all, but only ‘an arbitrary way of looking at things’. If it so happened that we could clearly see – if only for a moment or two – that the assumed standpoint of the self was arbitrary then of course it would be the case that all these concepts of gain and loss, victory and defeat, pleasure and pain would seem ridiculously unreal…



The everyday self sees all these dualities as being real purely because it assumes that it is real, and it is not. Both the everyday self and all of its projections, all of its ideas about success and defeat, advantage and disadvantage, good luck and bad luck are as unreal as it is. Advantage and disadvantage only make sense from a very narrow perspective, a very restricted perspective; they only make sense from the standpoint of a single, narrowly defined (i.e. isolated or abstract) position. The very fact that I am looking at things from this particular position rather than from any out of an infinite number of other positions proves that my angle is arbitrary. This is the actual definition of arbitrary! ‘Arbitrary’ means that it doesn’t have to be so. It means that it is ‘only so because I chose for it to be so’, and this of course means that it isn’t really so at all…



An arbitrary truth is not a truth at all. So given that I have constructed an entire world for myself on the basis of an arbitrary standpoint, it must be the case that this whole world -which is the only world I ever concern myself with – is also arbitrary. The whole world is seen in relation to myself, seen in terms of ‘what it means to me’, in terms of what advantages (or disadvantages) I stand to get out of it, in terms of the lucky (or unlucky) breaks that may be in store for me, and so on, and yet this is clearly nonsense. The world isn’t made up of advantage versus disadvantage – on the contrary, it’s got nothing to do with me at all! I make it be something to do with me with all my dualistic projections (like/dislike, good/bad, acceptable/ unacceptable, important/unimportant, etc) but really all of this business is just my own trip, my own subjective take on things, my own angle. Really all of this is just a game that I am playing for my own benefit, for my own entertainment…



When – in my own mind – I make everything relevant to me then I create a personalized virtual reality made up entirely of my own automatic evaluations. For something to be in this subjective virtual-reality bubble it has to have been dualistically evaluated by me one way or another or else it just won’t figure. If it hasn’t been evaluated then it won’t come into the picture – it simply won’t exist for me. And for every evaluation – good/bad, advantageous/disadvantageous, etc – there arises a corresponding state of mind, either pleasant or unpleasant, hopeful or pessimistic, euphoric or dysphoric.



These are the ‘inferior’ states of mind that I settle for in place of the transcendental and unoriginated state of ananda. They are inferior, we might say, because they are counterfeit – none of these states of mind are what they claim to be, what they appear to be. I go chasing hell-for-leather after some glittering euphoric state of mind and then shortly after winning it I find to my disappointment that it gets frayed and tatty around the edges, it becomes dull and wearisome instead of remaining wonderfully bright and exciting.



And then – if this were not bad enough – it turns around on me and becomes an afflictive state of mind, a manifestation of suffering. What used to give me pleasure is now a reliable source of pain. The falsity of these states of mind is the result of my wishful thinking more than anything else – the conditioned states of mind reflect my own willingness to be fooled back at me. I don’t want to look any deeper, and so time after time I take the glittering attractive exterior to be the whole of the picture. I make myself blind to the inevitable enantiodromic reversal – I refuse to hear any talk of it. In essence, I want to believe that I can ‘get something for nothing’, and the two-sided conditioned mind-states that I spend my time in are – we might say – a manifestation of my own unacknowledged willingness to deceive myself, my own aversion to seeing the truth.



Ultimately, the conditioned states of mind are ‘inferior’ because they are produced by having an arbitrarily skewed viewpoint on the world which we stubbornly refuse to see as being arbitrary – which we insist on seeing as being ‘right’ or ‘normal’. Being blind to the arbitrariness of our viewpoint in this way means that what we see is unreal and this unreality manifests itself both in the paradoxicality of all our ‘definite statements’ (or ‘definite evaluations’) and the enantiodromic nature of all the states of mind that arise out of them.



Unreality, or the state of being unreal, is not in itself a problem, or an obstacle. There is no problem whatsoever in unreal things being unreal! What is an obstacle is ‘unreality that we can’t see to be unreality’ – unreality that we relate to as if it were real. What happens then is that we are blocked off from the genuine by the fake, prevented from coming across what genuinely feels good and wholesome by what appears to feel good and wholesome…



It is as if we are travelling to some tropical island paradise and when we arrive at the airport a bus takes us directly to the main tourist drag. Here is to be found a thick swathe of grotty characterless hotels, fast-food joints, cafes, bars, identical shops selling generic tourist-type trash, and so on. If we weren’t adventurous enough, or wise enough, then this is where we would stay, spending all our time eating junk-food and buying over-priced, poor-quality tourist-orientated goods of one sort or another. We would never see anything worth seeing, never encounter anything genuine.



If on the other hand we were willing enough (or interested enough) to venture out of the tawdry two-dimensional ‘comfort-zone’ of the designated tourist area then instead of innutritious generic fast food we would dine upon the authentic stuff, food of the very highest quality, and instead of a ‘plastic culture’ which is no more than a shoddy reflection of our clichéd expectations, we would come into contact with the genuine local culture, and discover what this wonderfully surprising island paradise really has to offer…



The cheap-and-nasty ‘tourist zone’ corresponds of course to the conditioned states of consciousness that are all we generally know about or hear about or care about, whereas the ‘exotic island paradise’ that we never actually get to see (and which is beautiful beyond our imagining) is the state of bliss, the state of ananda

Author: Nick Williams

Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.

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