In order to get a clearer picture of the meaning of Ananda, we can even turn to the Bible, it says in Isaiah 55:12
“For you shall go out in Joy And be led forth in peace; The mountains and hills before you Shall break into singing And all the trees of the field Shall clap their hands.”
It obviously sounds like an ecstatic state of being; a state where once a being experiences that…the whole universe rejoices. We have the same said in the yogic context.
It is said that Nityananda of Vareshvari was born like that…we are clearly Not!
And maybe we are not ready yet, I hear many of you think, “But I still want to enjoy life, not disappear into some strange ecstatic state”…YES You might even think; “there is beauty, there is a sacred universe out there…why dissolve into something that is so beyond our experience, that we have no awareness, feeling or use for?”
Swami Veda talked about the concept of Space…in a way that might help us understand: For some people a 2 by 4 m. room, their room is the known Space they are aware of (i.e. in a hospital). For some people the word ‘Space’ is bigger; it’s their home, their family, the literal space of their town….is ‘known Space’. For some known Space is the countryside…with wide open vistas, like the whole area they live and move in, their country even!
For some known Space is the world, the whole earth even, they have explored…and/or can imagine. For some known Space is the world and the skies, the planets… For some known Space, is the universe… For some known Space… is infinity… So it is!
Each one lives in ‘his/her known Space’, and as the mind opens and includes dimensions ‘undreamed of’ we expand, space expands, perception expands, identity expands! If we can’t see beyond the ‘so called material reality…’ it simply means we are not ready for that step. So let us step down from the lofty heights of the Great Avadhutas, Siddhas and Sages, more to the level of what is talked about in the Yoga Sutras, where after due inquiry and insight (vitarka and vicara) we can experience, can glimpse, can taste, be aware of … simply… “that happiness which is not the absence of unhappiness” as Swami Venkateshananda calls it, but which never the less is “…………the essence of all existence.”
Let’s go to that state, where we still experience, feel this bliss which is completely different from any state of normal happiness we have experienced before.
You, I am sure have also had glimpses/experience of it! A vision, which is so powerful that it is all around, all engulfing that the whole universe seems to participate, and although there is the experiencer – the experiencer is not limited by its conditioning, there is just supreme awareness, of this Joy! There is Awe and delight! A very different feeling of what we experience as ‘fun’ and happiness… which we spend so much of our lives pursuing; like chasing the wind.
No in this joy, there is homogeneity, yet we are still the observer. There is ‘I’ who experiences.
BUT, (there is always a but) because as long as ‘I’ the observer is there, there is the possibility of trouble. The very ‘I’ who is the experiencer…might fall into its own old patterns (as we all know).
Therefore, there is a need for great vigilance and humility…lest the ego raises its head and tries to take advantage of your state. The ego, part of the mind, is an expert in co-opting any situation for its own advantage.
Swami Muktananda wrote, “…the mind does not want supreme bliss, …it wants duality and this duality is the source of all our problems.”
As mentioned before, in this lower state of Ananda, there is still the experiencer and the experience, thus there is still duality! Even if the awareness of one-ness is dawning, the ego will do whatever it can to hold on to this position of being different, separate.
Actually we know that very well from our Meditation practice, the ego is very clever of finding ways to distract us.
In the same way the ego will do everything to survive, to not dissolve; in fact it feels the proud “owner of the experience of Joy”! No surrender! “I want the experience of Joy” (so we think!) or even “I want the experience of Joy to last”. I… want!
One of the most well-known writers about Ananda, or rapture, as she calls it, in the Christian Tradition is Theresa of Avila. Her book “The Interior Castle” is almost a guide book to states of Rapture.
She warns us against “deluding ourselves about feigning rapture, about self-induced rapture”, she warns of being a “glutton of this state… so we cannot anymore tend to our daily responsibilities”. She says that the ‘acid test’ is whether our behaviour changes, due to the experience of rapture, call it Ananda, and expand this to include Meditation.
If the experience is real, we change in our actions, in our attitude to others in our deepening capacity and willingness to serve. So quite the opposite of what people often think.
Becoming quieter, more “so called spiritual…” is not it; your actions in the interaction with life have to change! There must be more gratitude, more love, more caring about the plight of other beings as a result, rather than vain glory or self-serving behaviour.
If we cling to our pettiness, “judging one’s neighbour….. lack of charity, not loving others”… then our experience of Ananda has not loosened the grip of the ego, but has been annexed.
You can do many months of practices, hours per day… if you do not become more loving and caring to others, it has been a waste of time; your spirituality is superficial! . Real spirituality purifies first and foremost our relationship to others.
This is also described as “the imperative” contained within the experience of ecstasy. Spiritual ecstasy (similar to Bliss/Ananda) includes revealing knowing, but this must bear fruit in our daily lives. Theresa of Avila says, “Rapture/Bliss/ecstasy must always result in good work”.
This is what is called in the world of Yoga, Selfless service! It leads to humility and surrender for the being, and furthermore if the experience was real it leads to compassion for others, it leads to greater love… not to brittle egotistic behaviour!
Often the word “enthusiasm” is used to describe these states. The Greek word enthusiasm – comes to mind, which means in its original meaning “filled with God”; Yes everything is filled with God – with Joy, with Love. What does this mean?
It means to experience Joy, to experience enthusiasm or even an expanded (non-object orientated) love… is experiencing God!
In Kashmir Shaivism it says, God is in everything, means God is the joy, the love you experience; and more it means God is in You as You! It also means there is Joy intrinsically in you.
Now to me this is interesting from a different angle. If God made man in HIS, i.e. Gods image – how can we be born in sin?
Contrary to this, in the Indian context it is said, “The Shakti (the inner Divine Force) is the energy of enthusiasm of joy, of greatness, and this stirs the heart of every creature”.
We can use a French term, There is in all of us – even if buried a “Joy de vivre”.
Our very nature is this permanent inner joy, Ananda, some call it “the inner Self” some call it God! It has nothing to do with what is happening on the outside world, in fact there is another Sanskrit word for it, Nira-ala- maya… Not needing any support! It needs nothing it’s there, and we can feel it, it stands alone… it is Ananda, absolute, limitless Joy! It is there for us to notice, so the Shiva-Sutras say, “It is there for us in all three states of consciousness; waking, dreaming and deep sleep and even the fourth state (tureeya)”.
This is the “I am-ness” the state of Self-awareness. And when we contemplate this I am-ness, we expand and realise we are all there is. We feel a connectedness a sharing with all there is.
For some this awareness awakens when they are in nature. There is a sense of belonging, a sense of connection to the energetic flow, the “joy de Vivre” that is seen in the face of the flower, the dance of the grass, even the solitude of a tree, or a mountain, the joy de vivre of a bubbling spring, the slapping of the waves… where ever you find yourself, you can find an echo of the feeling inside – outside!
There is recognition of beauty, inside out, an echo of the same life-force in us as in the land, the animals, the plants. It’s like we feel coming home, the soul comes home to its own fountain, its spring of life, love and Joy.
To be present in nature, is to feel its pulse as your pulse, its positive sense of always expanding, evolving, moving towards light and love.
There is a sense of awe and wonder that we share this grace, this life-force…which might causes a tingling inside…a knowing of being connected, a familiarity such as you feel when you come home!
“Coming Home”…means what? Means somewhere there is a connection of being part of a greater, part of everything, that is experienced as Joy…
Which also means whenever we separate ourselves, strive for being different, strive for so called individualism… we go against the flow… we swim against the flow of the river of JOY! We go against our own nature!
Swami Rama of the Himlayas says, “Remember, we are all born first as humans, all differentiation, of gender, religion, nationality, race etc… are superimposition.”
Meaning, the first step is to return to the awareness of being human, One humanity, sharing love and compassion with all of humanity. Then continue your expanded awareness to include all of existence!
It’s only a step, but it opens into the experience of joyous existence…a state of awareness of where one belongs, a state of being home, a state of borderless-ness, call it freedom!
It is a state of openness that embraces all and excludes none! (in the words of Swami Rama). There is no otherness, no division…
The Sufi Saint Sarmad says,
“Beloved and lover, rose and thorn – are One”
….and he talks of “The ocean that has no shore….”
The whole point of doing Sadhana, of doing Yogic practices is to experience Ananda, the unbroken joy, the limitless joy, the ocean that has no shore!
It starts with becoming aware that there is an ocean, then we walk the path towards the ocean, when we reach its shores…we experience that great Joy of having found and having been found.
Then only we can merge in the Ocean….
Once we know the ocean is there, once we see it… in no matter how great the distance, no matter how far away it is… with that awareness, with that glimpse, with that knowing… we change!