The calls of Bliss
Perhaps you glimpsed at that in a piece of art. Art takes the materiality of sensory experience, it refines, reshuffles, restructures, transmutes, transfigures it, until there is something that suddenly begins to emerge. An image, a suggestion, a meaning looking at a far behind and beyond. A sense of more, a greater depth than what can be ordinarily seen and sensed. A promise of significance—immense and divine—that reassures the world of material existence: you are not abandoned to yourself, behold, there is more. By itself, art does not fulfil this promise, but it makes it tangible, it announces and proclaims it with soothing symbols of beauty. Art is a messenger, an interpreter, a voice coming from somewhere else with good news. But art embodies itself in the forms and materials of the ordinary senses, pretending to make them work differently. There is no art without a mastery and play of illusion, a disguising, a masking, a dissimulation, which is needed to open a channel to something beyond the coarse materiality of the means used to express the message. And yet, since there is this play of illusion, one might always wonder to what extent that promise that art brings is genuine, to what extent it is real beyond the sheer play of art’s own fancy, and hopes—and despair.
Perhaps you glimpsed at that in a religious form. Religion, as it exists ordinarily, is like the face of old farmers, who spent their lives growing crops and raising cattle. Their hands have now the shape of the hoe, their gaze has the same sceptic laziness and diffidence of the cow’s humid eyes. Their face is a map carved up in deep wrinkles, marked by countless days of sun and wind and cold, in the effort of keep going. And yet, behind all of this shrinking and rigidity, there are sudden little motions, instants of a forgotten grace. A memory of those summery nights, when clothed in youth they were preparing for the village’s festival, anxious of entering the dances, searching for a still innocent sense of love, and community, and lightness, and freedom without a reason. Deeply buried in the religious dogma, securely locked in unreachable tabernacles, walled up in temples inaccessible—that breath of bliss is still there. Alone perhaps, unseen most often, and yet undecaying. But how to reach it now? How to disentangle it from the process of aging and ossification to which religious experiences are inevitably subject to? They point to something, and yet they make it seem as if that belongs to an unredeemable and unreachable past, which is now gone.
Perhaps you glimpsed at that in philosophical speculations. Philosopher are really nothing but cartographers. But the territories they are better at mapping are those of far distant stars, the worlds of what is possible are their home, more than the triviality of what is actual. Philosophers are really astronomers, looking into sideral distances to find the key to explain both the far and near. They can reach a sophisticated degree of accuracy in describing the nature of lands and planets and whole galaxies that no other human eye has ever observed. The accuracy and detail they add to their mythical maps contributes to a sense of trust and even certainty—to know so much, they must have seen something real! And yet, the more detailed the map, the clearer also the seemingly unbridgeable gap between what the map describes and all other known lands and territories familiar to ordinary life. In the attempt at becoming more convincing, philosophy’s tale begins to appear as nothing but a fairy tale. As the philosopher persist in taking it seriously, he makes a fool of himself in the market place. This too, then, seems nothing but a walking shadow, a tale told by an idiot.
Perhaps you glimpsed at that in a moment of ordinary life. It was the usual daylight, the common landscape. The noise what the same as ever, the words the most ordinary, the event completely unremarkable. But something happened. A crack broke for a single moment of grace the crust of experience, and from that subtle fissure a flicker of bliss escaped, crying: ‘I’m here!’ But it was just a moment, a split second, too quick to catch it, too mysterious and sudden to really understand what it was. It was real, but it was not enough. The leady weight of the ordinary quickly closed the fissure, the crack was diligently sealed for another forever. All that remained was memory. But how can you really trust memory of uncommon things? Maybe it wasn’t memory—just a dream. ‘Forget about it’ said the wise voice of awakened reason. And all was gone again.
Perhaps you glimpsed at that in another million different ways. But all these glimpses will eventually reach nowhere, they will remain nothing but anticipations, and dreamy insights, never able to really gain the momentum they search for. They are like sparks of a divine fire falling on wet ground, or seeds buried in sterile sand that has no concern for making them grow.
It is not just a lack of knowledge or experience that constitutes the problem. It is a positive, deliberate, systematic, thorough intention of blocking and shunning this all. In its more cultured and bourgeois form, this intention takes the shape and voice of a distinguished rational scepticism. It speaks with the sound of wise Reason, dismissing with a gloved gesture the hints and clues gathered around all the glimpses at the beyond. It takes just a few sound arguments, the appeal to some hard fact, a couple of irrefutable evidences. But the weightiest strategy always appeals to laziness: ‘what is more likely, my dear, believing and following up these irrational and mysterious glimpses that promise something Other, or rather the well-tested routine of life as we all know it? Sure, these glimpses are fascinating, but what they actually urge to do is to wake up from this life and embark on a perilous and uncharted travel. Isn’t this just a dangerous reverie? Be content with what you know, don’t be childish, follow the grain of those around you, only amidst the herd you’ll be safe and sound’—Reason smiles, with rotten teeth.
When pushed and challenged, this equanimous voice of Reason gets offended, it becomes crooked and starts losing its composure. It faces insistence and resistance with its second mask, cynicism. With a lowered, more dramatic voice, it now appeals to the hardness and unlikability of truth. Wearing the tragic cloth, stands on the stage for its monologue. ‘All these glimpses are nothing but self-delusions, projections of suffering souls who are too weak to embrace and accept their predicament. They want to escape; they want to live in their dreams. They have neither the force nor the honesty to embrace things as they are. And what is the surest criterion to ascertain that a truth is not self-invented by a deluded mind, if not assaying its unpalatability? Surely, what is hard to swallow is not what I could have deliberately made up myself, hence it must be true. And the truer a truth is, the more cruelly turned against the deepest aspirations and hopes—the truer a truth is, the more strongly it merciless exposes the falsity of all glimpses into an otherwise and elsewhere.’—moment of tense, suspended silence on the stage, lights drop, but no applause follows.
This would be already a quite effectful defence against the siege of the Other, if it did not also reveal its own glaring fallacy. Is it not precisely this very self of mine the first and most prone to chastise itself, to deny its own deepest pleasure and aspiration, to submerge itself in guilt and a sense of utter inadequacy? The cruel truth that denies all higher aspiration is verily not the most objective and reliable, but precisely the most subjective, the one that most glaringly bear the landmark of my own weakness. The cruellest truth is clearly the most in line with the attitude of self-torture that is so dear and deep in any self—hence, that’s the most subjective of all truths, the less true of all. Why the heck should truth be cruel? Isn’t this the most hilarious absurdity ever conceived?
Then even the cynic mask falls and we are faced with the amorphous character behind—hit but not defeated. A play of hindrances, a tangle of fear and craving and ignorance, a chaos of conflicting voices, all claiming to be ‘me’, all speaking in a cacophonic unison. Engrossed in the materiality of sense experience, they take it to be the all. In fact, this is nothing but short-sightedness elevated to norm and criterion of knowledge. Being entirely used and habituated to chasing the little shadows that fall within the scope of the coarser and dullest forms of matter, one loses the flexibility and sensitivity to tune into anything else, to the point that the rest in fact fades away from the horizon of one’s experience, as if it was not there—except for a few glimpses. Behind scepticism and cynicism there is just this weakness of habits that cling to their lifeless reef as mussels, determined no matter what not to be detached from it by the waves and storms of a reality that they have no eyes to see.
The remedy is in itself well-known. Deconstruct the self. Let go of appropriation. Counter the hindrances. Disrupt the habits. Be a spiritual anarchist. Do not be afraid of things that are not frightful. Wake up. But the remedy is difficult to implement. Or rather, it can be implemented only when a certain ripening is already at work. This tangle of craving wrapped in the name of ‘I’ seems to play its own function in a larger scheme of things. To some extent, it helps and allows for a certain development and even progress. No matter how often it fails—and in fact, it always fails, again and again—it does seem to contribute in its own crooked way to a certain evolution in the exploration of what’s possible in terms of developing new individualized forms of life. However, there is a point beyond which no further iteration of this scheme will bring genuine progress. There is a sort of marginal utility in playing this scheme of selfhood. When that is reached, then the time is ripe for dropping that scheme. That’s the time when practice can actually effectuate its results in the most direct and powerful way. But when this time will come, it is impossible to say a priori. The only way is to try, testing the ground with the plough of application and dispassion. If it penetrates it, if it breaks the crust, then that’s the time.
And what do you find then? The truth, of course—but Beautiful as no glimpses of it could have ever anticipated. When all is clear and calm and quiet and equal—so much indeed that even the boundaries of the body are light, transparent, as if they were no boundary anymore—consciousness shines in its original form. A boundless light that does not run towards any object, but rather extend immensely in all directions, and even beyond all directions. You can’t follow it, you can’t see it, you can only slide in it, as by taking a hidden side path that suddenly reveals unforeseen vastnesses asking for nothing but to be followed till their impossible extremes. As this light stretches itself to infinites beyond any horizon, it becomes thinner and thinner. Eventually, it reveals something deeper in itself. There is a void, an emptiness, where no thing is left. This is at first like a wide-open dark nighty sky, with no moon and stars, with no breeze of light or sound—an immense pool of deep still primordial water. It awaits. If you drop in it, then also space and time recedes as faint memories of forgotten lives. The rest of reality is pulled away, floating afar as distant presences above the surface for one diving into the depth of unexplored oceans. There is nothing, and yet in this nothingness there is a vastness of possibility that blows away what remains of the mind. You could stay there, you could dissolve there, you might never come back. But listening to that nothingness, you might also go even deeper. Or rather, allowing something deeper coming nearer. In the hearth of immense emptiness throb a miracle. This is Beauty itself as nobody has ever seen it. This is the original Bliss from which everything is born. Any word stands to it as the sound of trivial blind wind stands to an angel’s luminous song.
Welling up from its own endless depths, this Bliss is one with emptiness, pervades its nothingness as a pulsation of freedom, possibility, and love to come. This pulsation lights consciousness up in its boundless flight over the horizons of reality. The three are one. They take the lead. Experience is no longer confined in its individual corner, like a prisoner looking at the world from the narrowness of its inadequate little window. Experience is now rescued and claimed back by its original source, which takes itself the point of view on its own immenseness. This little body and mind are there still, as tools put aside, and yet ready for new unforeseen work. They are not unimportant, in fact. Taken up and vivified by that triune Lord of experience, they recognize themselves as nothing but instruments, finite modes of an infinite unfolding source in them. By recognizing themselves as different from their source, they acknowledge their nature as expression of that source, and they allow within themselves that same source to become self-conscious of itself. That’s it, that was it.
This is the unity of experience, the grand mystery of reality. Bliss in itself is so pure and concentrated that knows all possible things everywhere only in their most potential form, as yet sheer nothingness. Bliss knows not itself by itself alone, and yet it can search for nothing but an expression of itself in which it could find itself. The unfolding of nature is the astonish legend of this search. The first movement is just a movement towards expression, which bring forth the thousandfold worlds that were envisaged in the depth of emptiness. But at this first stage, everything is searching for an unknown something that nobody has yet realized. This is the ignorant search that gives birth to self and ego. The tangle of craving and fear that animates their nasty gestures is nothing but a desperate quest for something that is deeply perceived and yet only most confusedly—a repeatedly frustrated thirsting for what can be found only by looking inside, and not outside. When this conversion—an ultimate turning from outside to inside—takes place, it is then that the second movement occurs. Then, there is descent to the depths, raising upward of the inner Bliss that was waiting for its own self-discovery, and triumph of self-consciousness in the unity of experience.
Then everything is transformed. Even the body, and the life-energy are no longer tools for individualizing and caging experience, but they learn how to evolve into a new way of being, which draws from within itself its own infinite contentment. The body and the life-energy, filled and satisfied by this inner inexhaustible source, open up themselves as a rusty lock that was kept closed for way too long. No longer means of separation, they become the transparent place in which the mystery of life celebrates its feast in the unity of experience.
Perhaps you glimpsed at that. It’s true, trust it, and know that there is more to see.