To a seeker’s assertion that he is not experiencing liberation in the here and now, Sri Ramana Marharshi explains that indeed he is, as one cannot deny one’s own Self, which is always here, always perceived. The seeker responds, “That means existence, not happiness.” Sri Ramana responds:
"Existence is the same as happiness, and happiness is the same as being. The word mukti [liberation] is so provoking. Why should one seek it? One believes that there is bondage and therefore seeks liberation. But the fact is that there is no bondage, but only liberation. Why call it by a name and seek it?"
Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi (Ch. 2), edited by David Godman, Penguin; Reissue edition (1991).
What appeared as mere existence to the seeker was happiness to Ramana. This “bliss” of enlightenment is sometimes explained to be more akin to a feeling of serenity, equanimity or, as Fred sometimes calls it, “the great okayness.” This is to remind us that bliss does not mean an endless ecstatic experience. Rather, it means we are settled into a peaceful acceptance of all that arises, recognizing it as all one thing: love. This is our bliss.
But when the ego, or “character” hears this, it is likely to react with suspicion or disdain: “That sounds like a real letdown. Is that really to be the end result of my years of searching and effort: the hours of meditating, the ascetic deprivations, the time and money spent on books, teachers, retreats? Can that be worth it?”
The answer is no. It is not worth it to the character. The person will never be satisfied with the great okayness, with “mere” existence. After all, that is what we've had all along, right from the start. And feeling achingly empty, we embarked upon an earnest search to find true fulfillment, something special and extraordinary. Typically, we first search through material or experiential acquisitions: money, things, status, relationships, or art, music, sports, adventure, etc. Then we might seek through self-improvement or psychology, pursuing the healthiest body and addressing our emotional issues. When this still doesn’t satisfy, then we undertake the journey of spiritual seeking.
If, after all this, the character is to end up back at square one, with nothing but the great okayness, then the search has been for naught. The quest has failed. The individual sees that he or she will never arrive. Hope is lost.
And this is where you arrive. The character finally steps aside and surrenders, utterly defeated. In doing so, it makes way for you. And so you appear, in your shining glory, to bask in the great stillness, the simple happiness of being. For you, it is magnificent.
When the character first surrenders and the pure bliss of being sweeps through, it may feel a great relief and believe that it has arrived at something extraordinary. And this is true for the character, as Oneness. But the character’s instinct is to immediately put itself, its separate self, back into the picture, front and center. It is eager to revel in this newfound sensation! But then, strangely, the magic seems to disappear. Again it all seems to be mere existence, nothing even remotely resembling bliss or happiness.
The dilemma is that the character is inherently incapable of basking in the simple bliss of being. So one of the two must go: the character or the bliss. As a child of the universe, the character can experience this bliss through its body and mind, resting in its true nature, the wide open space—but as an ego, never. The ego will always quibble, quarrel, and find fault with What Is. That is its nature; without resistance, it disappears. Bring it back, and there will be disturbance and discord. Love What Is, and again, it's gone.
At this point, should we fail to grasp this dynamic clearly, we may make the mistake of re-embarking upon the search, perhaps even with some anger, resentment or self-blame regarding our former endeavors. But not to worry: we will eventually come full circle, wearing ourselves out, settling down, and surrendering to what was always here, waiting.
Awareness, enlightenment, serenity and love will never be enough for the character, who cannot help but see itself as apart from Oneness. The individual will always remain to some degree or another in opposition to exactly what is, here and now. Its nature is to resist, to be dissatisfied. The fulfillment comes only with the recognition that he or she, as Oneness, has always been fulfilled, always was whole, complete and perfect.
The character’s inherent discontent need not be a threat. It can be there. Perhaps it needs to work itself out. It is a fluid energy, and will rise and fall. But it need not disturb you, as awareness.
We can choose not to listen to or believe its arguments. Let it resist or complain, but don’t allow it to pull you into its story. Treat is as you would a child who is learning. It will grow wiser, and the wiser it grows, the wispier, more translucent it will appear. Eventually it becomes so ethereal that you will enjoy it thoroughly for its unique personality and charm, but will no longer succumb to its schemes or delusion.
In the meanwhile, let go of any doubt or worry that this is enough. Trust that it is. Explore any feelings of dissatisfaction with detached interest, amusement and love. Doubt the doubter. And settle into what is. Illusion cannot harm you nor take you away from your true self. You are always you, gloriously you! Reality is here and now, offering itself to you. It is love, happiness, peace. Sat-cit-ananda—existence, consciousness, bliss—what more could we want? If what you have here and now ever seems wanting, don’t wander away. Simply look a little more closely. Slow down, and look a little more deeply. Be still, and know that I AM.