Bliss refers to a state of ecstatic happiness, a perfect and exalted state of joy and love. It also refers to a state of contentment oblivious to any problems or suffering.

The term “bliss” is associated with the words “blithe” and “bless.” Blithe refers to happiness —the person in this state is joyful and gay. Bless refers to religious consecration—especially with blood, as in the French verb “blesser,” meaning to wound; it means to hallow or sanctify. The state of a person who is blessed is beatitude—the loving joy that arises from salvation.

Bliss may be associated with time and space. Times of bliss are usually in the future—the Rapture, the Millennium, the Messianic Age —though they may also be in the past as in the Golden Age of mankind described by Hesiod and Ovid; the Hindu Krita Yuga; and the Garden of Eden. Bliss may also refer to the places in which such states are experienced, such as the heavens of mystical Christianity and Kab-balistic Judaism, the Garden of Allah, the Jodo Shinsu Pure Land, Vaishnavism’s eternal Vrin-davana, and the Shaivite Kailash.

In the secular world, the word “bliss” may be used broadly to denote any form of happiness. It is used primarily in romantic love, in which the love object is idealized as a perfect being, and the lover is in a blissful state of tntense love. Romantic love prevails in the courtly love tradition of Europe, but love poems reflecting this kind of love can also be found in ancient Egypt and India, and in Chinese poems of separation and loss. Additionally, bliss may describe new love, especially the love of a new mother for her infant.

The term “bliss” is more often used in relation to religious love. The Sanskrit term prem-ananda literally means the “bliss of love,” which is based on selfless love ( prema) rather than selfish and sensual love (kama). Historically, blissful love has been ascribed to Ma-hayana bodhisattvas, Catholic saints, and Sufi Pirs. However, the term is also used to describe the experience associated with two other religious states—divine wisdom and mystical union.

States of bliss are described in the greatest detail in three types of Hinduism: Vedanta, Tantra, and Bhakti. In the form of Vedanta known as Advaita or nondual Vedanta, the state of bliss arises from union with Brahman —the ground of being or Ultimate Reality. When the individual self or jivatman merges with the ultimate Self or paramatman, the individual merges with the universal as the drop of water flows into the sea. The resulting state of freedom and liberation is described as satchidananda—the state of perfect truth, pure consciousness, and ultimate bliss. Satchi-dananda is the highest attainment of the human spirit.

In the Tantric traditions, bliss is the result of union, which occurs on multiple levels. According to the philosopher Abhinavagupta, there are seven levels of bliss (ananda): innate bliss, transformative bliss, supreme bliss, bliss of Brahman, great bliss, consciousness bliss, and bliss of the world. Among the Bengali Tantric Bauls and Sahijiyas, God is found in bliss of love, and life is the carnival of love on the playground of the earth. Love causes the tantrika to be dazzled by the rays of divine beauty, which are like lightning in the clouds. In the West, Tantra is often associated with sexual bliss; in the Hindu tantric traditions, sexuality is only one dimension of a union that is complex and unites worlds and universes.

The states of bliss associated with love appear most strongly in the devotional or Bhakti traditions of Hinduism, in which the devotee loves the god or goddess intensely. In the Vaishnava tradition (which worships the god Vishnu), there are five traditional relational moods or bhavas of love: god as master and devotee as slave; god as friend and devotee as friend; god as child and devotee as parent; god as beloved and devotee as lover; and when both are realized as ultimately identical, sharing their identities. In the Shakta tradition of goddess worship, the bhavas are similar, except that the goddess may take on the role of the mother and the devotee that of the child.

In the Gaudiya Vaishnava school of Bengali Bhakti, the ideal state for the devotee is a blissful state of love that echoes the passion of Radha—the god Krishna’ s beloved and perfect devotee, his Hladini Shakti, or power of bliss. In her most intense state of love, which is called Mahabhava, she experiences all states of passionate love simultaneously, including sorrow at the absence of the god and joy at his presence. By sharing in Radha’s love, which is ever-new, the devotee gains an eternal future in Krishna’s paradise of Vrindavana. One way that the devotee may do this is to take on a female soul, even if the devotee is physically male. Whereas the Gaudiya ideal is eternal romantic love, the Bengali Shakta ideal is eternal mother-child love, and the Shakta devotee looks forward to a joyful eternal life in the arms of a blissful mother.

In Buddhism, the Theravada tradition emphasizes individual knowledge and liberation, while the Mahayana tradition stresses love and compassion. The ideal Mahayana figure is the bodhisattva, the person on the edge of liberation who steps back to help a suffering world. The love of the bodhisattva is both blissful and sorrowful, for he or she recognizes the tragedy of the world, but also the joy of its salvation. There are many schools of Mahayana, and one that speaks of bliss is the Jodo Shinshu or Pure Land form of Buddhism. According to this tradition, Amida Buddha created a Land of Bliss or Pure Land in which all beings may attain perfect enlightenment. Amida did this because of his great and compassionate love for all beings. In Vajrayana Buddhism, bliss is found through experience of the Clear Light of the Void, as well as within the earthly world, the world of bliss (Sambhogakaya), and the world of liberation. The bliss world is the place of union of oppo-sites—the set of meditative states through which the practitioner passes on his or her way to liberation.

In Judaism, bliss is found in the Hasidic and Kabbalistic traditions. The ideal is to love God with all of one’s heart and soul, to obey him and his commandments. We see devekut, the cleaving to God in which he is present at all times as recognition of God’s glory and greatness. In Kabbalah, there are blissful visions of divine splendor and ascents to God’s throne. God is recognized through his female presence (Shekhinah), and this presence may dwell with the Kabbalist. He may experience God’s divine glory (kavod), and learn the secrets of creation and emanation, or become part of God’s action in history. In Hasidism, bliss comes through song, dance, and love of God and mankind, which opens the gates of heaven. The intense love of the tzaddik may also cause an elevation of the soul, in which he may call upon God for mercy toward mankind, and his states of love may be shared with his community. The ideal is a life of fervor and exalted joy in the present, rejoicing in God’s blessings and recognizing the holiness of mankind.

In Christianity, bliss may involve such visionary experiences as being caught up in the third heaven, hearing words in paradise, undergoing transformation in Christ, and becoming a new creature. There is the bliss of exaltation and glory, being risen with Christ and sharing his divine love. In Eastern Orthodoxy, the process of deification or theosis allows the person to share in the light and love and energies of the Trinity, participate in God’s glory, and gain perfection through love and the fire of grace. In Catholic mysticism, the saints speak of the marriage of the human soul and the Word, the bliss that occurs through conformity of the soul in the union of divine love, and the role of soul as bride to God. Among Protestant charismatics, there is bliss in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The goal is perfect love, with God’s love communicated through the soul.

In Islam, bliss is found in the mystical Sufi traditions. It comes through appreciation of God’s beauty and mercy. Beauty and love are like body and soul, and awareness of them can transform the human soul into light and allow its ascent to the one who is Truth and Unity. God is love, lover, and beloved. The blissful conditions are earthly love (‘ishq), in which one sacrifices all for God; the state of fana, in which the person experiences divine love-madness; and the state of baqa, the state of stable perfection before God, which balances the madness. This love is shown in the story of Laila and Majnun, in which Majnun so loved Laila that the world was transformed into her image, and he lived in blissful madness surrounded by her presence. Her image eventually became that of Allah, and Majnun’s love of a human woman was transformed into love of God.

Bliss may arise from human or divine love, and may also come from spiritual knowledge and mystical union. It is a state of joy, and a sign that the person’s experience is true and legitimate.

Next post:

Previous post: