"The bliss body" is a real concept in yoga, known in Sanskrit as the "anandamaya kosha." With practice, you can go so deep into your physical body that you pass through the layers of your energetic, mental, emotional, and intellectual "bodies" and be in bliss.
The good question is how. How many hours of practicing yoga asana must a person do to get into the bliss body? What sort of meditation is required? It wasn't until day five of a ten-day Vipassana meditation retreat that I felt an ecstatic sensation of love and interconnectedness, accompanied by a complete release of thought. This feeling was likely bliss, but it took me almost 50 hours to get there. Then it vanished. Certainly there must be an easier way.
I imagine the search for bliss explains why people pursue gurus, why over a thousand people crowded into Swami Swatantranand Ashram in Rishikesh to see a guru named Mooji. On the day I joined them, I knew nothing about this Mooji except that his satsang (spiritual discussion) was in Q & A format and, more to the point, cost nothing. A friend came with me to the ashram, which was very easy to find, as all the rickshaw drivers at the taxi stand approached us shouting "Moo-ji! Moo-ji! Moo-ji!" Twenty rupees and a bumpy ride later, we were at the ashram.
The ashram was clean and welcoming. Silent volunteers--westerners, mostly--wore all white and greeted us with laminated signs that read "Silence Please." The quiet satsang hall was large as a warehouse and had chair seating along the sides and a large, thinly-carpeted space in the center to sit on the floor. The stage was simply decorated with a golden buddha statue flanked by potted palms. On the wall behind the guru's chair, an aquamarine tapestry edged in gold displayed a giant Ohm symbol in the center. (Yes, in India, giant golden buddhas and Ohm symbols count as "simple" decor.)
We sat on the floor. As the room began to fill up with both westerners and Indians, more silent, white-clad volunteers held up "Free Floor Space" signs to indicate available spots. They were resolved to pack us in there. A bearded white guy who could have been a snowboarder or jam-band hippie in another context came over to us and flipped his sign over so it read "Please Sit Closer Together." He gestured for us to keep moving forward until our knees were nearly touching the backs of our fellow sitters. As fate would have it, I was in the section under the broken fan.
Before Mooji came on stage, a white-clad woman preceded him to tell us the rules (no photography, for instance) and that "Mooji's body was not feeling well" as he had a fever. Because of this, she instructed us to limit our questions to only those that pertained to our own freedom. What that meant, I didn't know, other than that we weren't to waste the sick man's time.
When Mooji entered, helped up onto the stage by two more helpers in white, the crowd stood. A heavyset Jamaican man, Mooji had a beard and long, graying dreadlocks. He wore peach-colored robes. I couldn't see his face so well, but his voice was soft, cultured, that of a well-mannered Brit with a slight Jamaican accent. He also asked for "freedom questions," which he defined as questions that put you, the asker, "at risk because you're offering up your entire life to be exposed."
Despite this rather demanding stipulation, numerous people still risked their entire lives by raising their hands to be called upon. The first questioner at the mike had a French accent and asked how to rid himself of his arrogance. (This question seemed to me to fit the bill, admitting one's arrogance in front of a thousand people, and even more so because the guy was French.)
Mooji replied that to overcome the arrogance of the ego-mind, a "person first has to become presence." To do this, the guru advised us to "go to the noticing place" within us and observe our actions without identifying with them. I'd gotten this advice before--it is, after all, the general instruction for meditation--and thought of something my seat mate had said on the plane ride up from Delhi. As an Indian, his English was excellent but his phrasing was different from mine, which I noticed when he told me an anecdote about his first night in Rome when he got lost on the dark streets. Instead of saying "I was afraid," he told me this: "I had fear," implying that he was separate from his fear, that is was a temporary thing that he had and then he wouldn't.
Mooji took this one step further. Not only are we not to identify with our actions, but "our consciousness has to grow out of the tightness of being a person." Because, as a person, "our field of expansiveness is very narrow."
Yup. We were told to ditch our personhood, the very thing closest to us, what each of us obsesses over day in and day out as we feed the body and stimulate the mind. "Jump out!" Mooji told another questioner. "Like the cow who jumps over the moon!" His metaphor, which drew laughs, was intentional, because jumping over our own self is as easy to do as one of the large street cows here (bloated from eating trash) heaving itself into the lunar heights of outer space.
I considered this, sitting warehoused with a thousand other seekers on a hot Indian morning. The heat had already sent my friend home. Did I mention the fan above us was broken? But the glaring overhead light just above me--that one worked. I was uncomfortable because I was a person with a body that got hot, but when I tried switching my attention to "the noticing place," I felt better. I just observed my discomfort the way I observed Mooji on the stage in front of me. His beard and big belly made me think of him as a spiritual Santa Claus with his words as gifts.
I say that his words were gifts because they simplified the complicated philosophy of Advaita Vedantism, a nondualistic philosophy that states how we are not separate people but all part of the same consciousness, a greater Self. I'd played with this idea earlier in my trip at trance parties in Goa, dancing with a hundred or more people under a giant-faced moon. Without language, all of us could have been from anywhere--Europe, Australia, North America, Israel, Russia--and as we moved our bodies to the same beat, we appeared more similar than different.
Back to Mooji. He then said that "you cannot perfect the Self," this true nature that we share beyond our little personhood, because our "True Self is always perfect."
Nice! Now as shocking as this sounds to us, living in a culture of goal-setting and self-betterment, I rather like the idea of being perfect without having to do a darn thing. Because, frankly, trying to be perfect--or even qualify as "good"--is a real pain in the ass.
Santa also said that our mind doesn't really exist because "it's not fixed or stable." Yes - I was in a room of a thousand-plus people listening to a guy tell us that we have no mind. But just because it doesn't really exist doesn't mean the mind can't work against us, which it does as we get closer to our freedom, according to the guru. Because the closer we get, the more the mind clamors for our attention.
Certainly my mind is a clamorer. As Mooji was sharing this wisdom, my mind kept pointing me back towards how much I disliked sweating my tits off. So I kept reminding myself that I didn't have to focus on my discomfort, that my perfect true Self was bigger than a little sweat.
And then an odd thing happened. I began to feel like touching the people around me, strangers all, the ones sweating and sitting near me breathing their hot breath. I wanted to hug the woman over to my left, despite her massive dreadlocks, or the overweight guy in front of me struggling to stay seated with his legs crossed. I had to talk myself down from touching the guy just behind me, whose wide big toe I had an inexplicable urge to stroke.
Was this bliss? Wanting to touch and hug strangers in the zillion-degree (Celsius!) heat?
More people continued to ask questions, but they started to sound the same: how to handle the fact that we're already perfect? And Mooji's answers also sounded the same, just phrased differently:
Don't make effort.
You just have to trust.
Rest and drop your burdens. (Here he invoked Jesus Christ, quoting his words of "Come and release your burdens unto me.")
You are the witness of this game. And nothing touches this witness.
And-my favorite: Drop all your mind's notions.
As I kept writing the same message in my notebook, I realized that if one really understood Mooji's lesson, they'd never have to see him again. However, Mooji had been giving this satsang in Rishikesh for five weeks, five times a week. Many people came every day, and Mooji explained why: "the truth is simple but the mind is strong and wants to keep its old patterns."
So we need to be reminded. And besides, we still have our blocks. Near the end of the three-hour satsang, one woman came to the mike and, gulping back tears, apologized for her emotion. She was ashamed of crying, but Mooji encouraged her to let her feelings out: "There is no shame in being true."
She began sobbing. Then, twenty feet behind me, another woman joined her. A man also started crying. And then a half-dozen people throughout the hall were filling the ashram with the sound of their wailing. The depth of their pain frightened me; I sat up, alert, as if hearing screams in a haunted house.
Fortunately, several other people began laughing, possibly out of nervousness, making it easier for me to drop my fear--just another notion--and smile at the spectacle. Because the guru also said this: "Absorb everything and be in bliss."
When the crying subsided after several minutes, the hall felt lighter. When we filed out, I felt elated from the teachings. We could all be free. We could all follow Mooji's advice to "absorb everything and be in bliss." .
Bliss-ercise 2: Drop All Your Mind's Notions
Have a seat. Set a timer for five or ten minutes and close your eyes. Pay attention to your breath. Watch it go in and watch it go out. Yes, this is boring, but this exercise will help you take a break from thinking. Every time you realize that you're having a thought, tell yourself that you are dropping your mind's notions. Expect to do this over and over again.
Don't try to succeed. Don't even care about succeeding. Just breathe and drop each thought as soon as you pick it up. The longer you practice, the more bliss you will find.