What does the word ‘bliss’ mean in connection with love & compassion teachings?

A student writes:

I am wondering about the connection between bliss and compassion, and happiness and love as it isn’t an immediate connection for me. I wonder if that is because of my Christian background which so strongly links pain and suffering with love and compassion? Is it more to do with needing a basis to sustain our compassion? So the tapping into bliss prevents burnout and enables our deep caring to flow on and on?

Lama Shenpen responds:

I wonder if this is a question about what bliss means exactly in this context.  It is likely that it is this word that is confusing you.  We tend to think of bliss as an intense version of a strongly excited state of being happy.  If so then its not really the right word here.  Maybe joy is better – an on-going joyful state of being in the sense that the suffering caused by grasping and clinging – especially to a false sense of self, is absent.

Absence of suffering is not just blank indifference – our very nature is joyful so as we let go of delusion there is just joy – the joy of equalness and equanimity, equal love for all beings.

That is why you experience the joy of connection – it’s the natural state once you let go of a deluded sense of separation. You don’t tap into happiness as somehow a source of love and compassion – it is more that if it’s love and compassion it is happiness, even though it is sharing in the pain and sadness of others. 

It doesn’t help others for you to be overwhelmed by their pain and suffering – it helps them for you to bring your heart and its natural qualities of connection – your calm and compassionate presence that is not afraid of overwhelm.

It is not afraid because of your confidence in your own true nature that cannot be overwhelmed and harmed – that is in its essential nature true happiness – the absence of delusion and the suffering associated with that.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

Find out more about Lama Shenpen’s Living the Awakened Heart Training – the structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight. The training, which is open to all, brings the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings to a Western audience in an experiential, accessible way, through spiral learning. Find out more and how to join at www.ahs.org.uk/training