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Two Kinds of Bliss
Martin: Hi, James. I had to read this over several times over several days to understand what you are saying, but I think I do now, in part. The ego (doer) becomes bored because, once enlightened, it sees that all action within the apparent reality of samsara is futile. As rajas fades under the influence of the hard and fast understanding that one is the non-dual self, so does this boredom. The ego can continue to “act,” but with no attachment to the results of action, so it all becomes play. When that point is reached, the boredom passes.
James: Yes, got it in one, Martin.
Martin: I still have a hard time understanding how the non-dual self can experience one half of a dualistic emotion: bliss, without pain. Does that not contradict the state of non-duality? I try to think of it as analogous to a spectator at a play or movie who enjoys the show while remaining detached. But do we remain detached in those circumstances? What about the “willing suspension of disbelief,” which allows us to identify with the players and feel their emotions? So it is an imperfect metaphor.
James: The problem here centers around the belief that non-dual means oneness. The intellect tends to think that a thing and its opposite cannot both be true – which is true if reality is a duality. But reality is non-dual and contains two orders of reality in it. So both a thing and its opposite can be true. Reality is a both/and, not an either/or. For example, a dreamer’s experience of daylight does not contradict the sleeper’s experience of darkness because they are in different orders of the same reality.
Non-duality means that that there is no other “state” to contradict it. So we have to look for another way to understand it. For example, a pot and the clay from which it is separate are both clay. They are non-dual, meaning they do not contradict each other, although they are not the same. The pot exists as a different order of clay, i.e. a form. The form of something does not contradict the substance of which it is a form. So the self “experiences” bliss because it is bliss, and the reflected self, which is a form of the self, experiences pleasure and pain simultaneously.
Martin: And if the non-dual self is blissful, why the need for samsara?
James: It is not blissful. It is bliss. Even if you say it is blissful, there is no “need” for samsara but there is samsara because samsara is simply ignorance of the nature of the blissful nature of the self. Vedanta removes the ignorance and the bliss the self always effortlessly experiences is revealed.
Martin: Why manifest as anything at all?
James: There is no answer to “why.” The one asking the question is a manifestation of a subtler cause. A gross thing cannot understand something that is subtler than it. From awareness’ point of view there is no manifestation. From ignorance’s point of view, there is.
Martin: Is the bliss a product of that manifestation?
James: There are two kinds of bliss: (1) the non-experiential bliss of awareness, which is just 100% confidence in the knowledge that one is awareness, and (2) experiential bliss which is non-experiential bliss reflecting in a sattvic subtle body. If you don’t know you are the self, you can still experience experiential bliss if you have a sattvic mind.
Martin: Or am I overthinking something that ultimately must be experienced to be understood?
James: Experience cannot validate awareness. It is the other way around. Vedanta is not theory and practice.
Martin: But you say that it is the intellectual understanding that matters, not the experience.
James: Your intellect must understand reality as it is because your nature as awareness is bliss, so you are already experiencing it. The experience of it is covered by rajas and tamas.
Martin: Or have I misunderstood that, and the understanding is only important because it is the means to the experience?
James: Yes. Understanding reveals what you are actually experiencing, not what you think you are experiencing. For this understanding to take place, the mind must be prepared. It will not understand as long as it is looking for some kind of blissful experience which is its nature. It has difficulty with the idea of inquiry because it seems counterintuitive.