Nondual Zen Article:

Breakthrough Bliss

nondual title

Breakthrough Bliss
by Kathleen Sutherland

Imagine yourself in the best of all possible human circumstances: You are young, healthy, intelligent, rich, powerful, respected and loved. According to the Taittiriyu Upanishad, the bliss of Brahman (your true nature) is 100 to the power of nine (a quintillion), times greater than this supremely happy human life. And this happiness shines within you, ever available. It is the essence of who you are. “He who is in man (purusha), and he who is in the sun, are one.” Ch. 2, Lesson 8.

A friend of mine who struggled with alcohol addiction once explained that, despite round-the-clock drinking, he still reached the point where he couldn’t prevent “breakthrough suffering.” His despair was right there, just below the surface of his alcohol-induced haze, ever on the verge of breaking through. This is the desperate and tragic plight of the addict.

But even for those of us not caught up in outright addiction, much of what we engage in day to day is aimed toward these same ends. We evade stillness and quiet, as this renders us captive audience to our thoughts – thoughts which so often generate fear, anger, regret, anxiety and sorrow. This is inherent to the human condition. The ego is perennially dissatisfied. The mind is restless. We stay active and keep the mind engaged in an attempt to avoid the raw suffering that is always felt by the ego, the separate, personal self. It’s always there, just below the surface of our busy lives.

But the wonderful discovery of spirituality is that we are not this ego, and that beneath the ego lies its opposite: a self of infinite expansion, light and joy. Just as the ego continually threatens our tenuous surface serenity, our true nature continually presses against the darkness of the ego, the separate self. We have all experienced breakthrough suffering. But we have also at times experienced transcendent moments, moments of great peace or bliss. Sometimes the reason was clear. We were newly in love, or some other fortune had come our way. Sometimes the joy surfaced for seemingly no reason. We were just strolling through the park, or drifting off to sleep, or meditating. But all of these are instances of “breakthrough bliss.”

This joy is always there – always. We usually feel only a minute portion of its full radiance. Much of our appreciation is not even very conscious. But each day, provided we are not in an especially dark place, we enjoy the experience of being alive. We enjoy being a sentient being. We enjoy the sense of being an autonomous individual.

We enjoy all the little pleasures and comforts in our day: tasty food, a cozy home, daily activities. We especially enjoy our interactions with other living beings – the love in our lives from friends, family, animals.

But we don’t feel infinite bliss. Why not? Because the ego has strategically positioned itself between us and our true nature. The many veils of the ego obscure our essential brilliance. First we believe we are a separate self. This binds us to a false reality, and sets us up for endless trouble: We worry about personal problems of health, finances or relationships. The state of the world disturbs us, too, with climate change, strife and violence.

We believe that if things changed to suite us, then more light would shine upon our lives, more bliss would be felt. So we engage in continual effort to change things for the better. We strive for physical and mental health and comfort. We strive for peace among people and nations. And all the while, we also must work to keep what is right, what is going well, from slipping away. We may be healthy, but guard this with vigilance. We may have enough money, but we handle it carefully and work to generate more. Our relationships may be harmonious, but still require maintenance. And there is always the fear that those we love will have troubles, leave us, or die.

So we are rarely at ease. We imagine a better time to come, or perhaps remember better times of past. This casts a shadow over the luminosity of here and now. We refuse to see it. We have conditions. When pressure lightens up, we tell ourselves, then we’ll relax and life will be sweet.

But a sense of ease, “the great okayness,” is always here, regardless of fluctuating circumstances or moods. It does its utmost to break through your defenses. Why not let it in? Our conditions for allowing complete contentment to settle into our minds and hearts may never be met. In fact, they most assuredly won’t be, if past experience is any teacher at all. And so we remain suspended in varying degrees of shadow.

We think we have no choice in this. We believe the light is unavailable, that it cannot fully shine without a change in our lives and the world. But the light is always there. It is we who refuse it, or can’t seem to let it in, absent certain conditions. It seems we can only love this reality conditionally.

Be willing to try something different, to be other than the way you (habitually) are. Try for just this moment to accept and love unconditionally whatever presents itself to you, especially all perceived troubles and problems. We may still want certain things to change, but welcoming this moment with love will not interfere with your actions for good. On the contrary, it will energize your endeavors.

Lift the veil. Joy is here for you – in these circumstances, in these exact circumstances. Reality gave rise to this, just for you, just for your awakening in this moment. And the next moment. This perfect moment is fluid. Let it carry you along. Today’s circumstances, including your thoughts, feelings and moods are essential components of this perfect totality.

Absolute peace is here for you. You needn’t take it all in. Hold some in reserve. Its pure brilliance might overwhelm the senses. But go ahead and serve yourself a generous portion. And then be open to receiving more, to abiding more steadily in the light of What Is.

Relinquish your conditions. Relax deeply, and notice that everything is a seamless part of you: the table, the rug, the house, the trees, earth and sky, the space between all these things, the air you breathe. And other beings. Notice yourself in the face of everyone you meet. The same energy that animates you, animates them.

Be still and know that you are that. Initially, the practice of stillness may give rise to breakthrough suffering – the fears and resistance of the ego. Settle into that, look at it carefully, feel what needs to be felt. Then slowly begin to explore and notice that behind the dark veils of the separate self is an ocean of light. A light that yearns to shine now. A light that is shining now. Know that you are that. And be willing to be what you are. There is nothing better than that. There is nothing better than this – this bliss.


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