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Noetic Gnosis: Cosmic Consciousness
by Beatrix Murrell
So often we read or consider "gnosis" in religious terms, but I think today more of us are pondering gnosis within the context of "cosmic
consciousness." I would like to articulate a little on this particular phenomenon of gnosis.
R.M. Bucke wrote a treatise in 1902 entitled COSMIC CONSCIOUSNESS. His premise is that during the course of humanity's evolutionary development there
are three forms of consciousness.
Simple Consciousness, our instinctual consciousness.
Self Consciousness, that self-awareness that allows a human to realize herself as a distinct entity.
Cosmic Consciousness, a new developing faculty at the pinnacle of our evolution.
Dr. Bucke catalogued this newest form of consciousness in his book. But what about the experience itself? From his catalogue of those he believed to
have had this experience, he presented an outline:
"Like a flash there is presented to his consciousness a clear conception (a vision) in outline of the meaning and drift of the universe... He sees and
knows that the cosmos, is in fact, in very truth a living presence. He sees that instead of men being, as it were, patches of life scattered through
an infinite sea of non-living substance, they are in reality specks of relative death in an infinite ocean of life. He sees that the life which is in
man is as immortal as God is; that the universe is so built and ordered that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each
and all; that the foundation principle of the world is what we call love, and that the happiness of every individual is in the long run absolutely
"The person who passes through this experience will learn in the few minutes, or even moments, of its continuance more than in months or years of
study, and he will learn much that no study every taught or can teach. Especially does he obtain such a conception of *the whole*... Along with moral
elevation and intellectual illumination comes what must be called, for want of a better term, a sense of immortality."
Evelyn Underhill takes up the banner in her MYSTICISM. Talking of the mystical side of ecstasy, she stresses that it "represents the greatest possible
extension of the spiritual consciousness in the direction of Pure Being: the blind intent stretching here receives its reward in a profound experience
of Eternal Life. In this experience the departmental activities of thought and feeling, the consciousness of I-hood, of space and time... all that
belongs to the World of Becoming and our own place therein...are suspended. The vitality which we are accustomed to split amongst these various
things, is gathered up to form a state of pure apprehension...a vivid intuition of the Transcendent."
Underhill proceeds: "This is that perfect unity of consciousness, that utter concentration on an experience of love, which excludes all conceptual and
analytic acts. Hence, when the mystic says that his faculties were suspended, that he *knew all and knew naught,* he really means that we are so
concentrated on the Absolute that he ceased to consider his separate existence...so merged in it that he could not perceive it as an object of
thought, as the bird cannot see the air which supports it, nor the fish the ocean in which it swims. He really *knows all but thinks naught, perceives
all, but conceives naught.*"
Marsha Sinetar, in her book, ORDINARY PEOPLE AS MONKS AND MYSTICS, refers to this mystical ecstasy... this cosmic consciousness, in terms of the Peak
"The peak experience is critical to any discussion of the mystic's journey, since through it and because of it the individual gains an overarching and
penetrating view into what he is at his best, into what he is when he simply *is.* The peak experience means that the person experiences himself
*being* rather than becoming. He also experiences direct... the Transcendent nature of reality. He enters into the Absolute, becoming one with it, if
only for an instant. It is a life-altering instant which many have described as one in which the mind stops, as a time in which the paradoxical
change/ changeless nature opens up to a person."
Sinetar continues: "The peak experience expands the individual's field of consciousness to include everything in the universe...he feels he *has*
everything because he experiences everything within. This field is what author Joseph Chilton Pearce calls the *crack in the cosmic egg.* Although
Pearce is also talking about the metanoia... the transformation of an individual's entire believe system which accompanies the peak experience or the
moment of illumination...he writes of the exquisite insight which makes *all things new again,* the unifying, integrative moment which provides the
individual with a glimpse of the connectiveness of all things...the micro-macro web of the universe, interrelationships of all people and things."
Both James Redfield and Alan Watts provide beautiful metaphoric descriptions of this peak experience, this achievement of cosmic consciousness.
Redfield, in his THE CELESTINE PROPHECY, allows his central character the experience. This character says that "I watched the limbs of the trees sway
gently in the breeze [and] experienced not just a visual perception of the event, but a physical sensation as well, as if the limbs moving in this
wind were hairs on my body."
Proceeding, "I perceived everything to be somehow part of me. As I sat on the peak of the mountain looking out at the landscape falling away from me
in all directions, it felt exactly as if what I had always known as my physical body was only the head of a much larger body consisting of everything
else I could see. I experienced the entire universe looking out on itself through my eyes.
Alan Watts, in his last treatise THE BOOK, says it in a similar fashion: "Thus when the line between myself and what happens to me is dissolved and
there is no stronghold for an ego even as a passive witness, I find myself not *in* a world but *as* a world which is neither compulsive or
capricious. What happens is neither automatic or arbitrary... it just happens, and all happenings are mutually independent in a way that seems
Watts carries forth that in "immediate contrast to the old feeling, there is indeed a certain passivity to the sensation, as if you were a leaf blown
along by the wind, until you realize that you are both the leaf and the wind. The world outside your skin is just as much you as the world
inside...they move together inseparably. Your body is no longer a corpse which the ego has to animate and lug around. There is a feeling of the ground
holding you up, and of hills lifting you when you climb them. Air breathes itself in and out of your lungs, and instead of looking and listening,
light and sound comes to you on their own. Eyes see and ears hear as wind blows and water flows. Time carries you along like a river, but never flows
out of the present; the more it goes, the more it stays...and all space becomes your mind."
Now that some outlines of this Cosmic Consciousness, this Noetic Gnosis, have been presented... let's look at this experience from some other
perspectives, beginning with questions.
What if this Cosmic Consciousness actually *is* another evolutionary step for the human mind (as Bucke believes)? The experience does seem
historically recent...traceable back only a few millennia in time. Is this new form of consciousness more of an in-road into the Consciousness of the
Cosmos...the Ground of All Reality? Is this Noetic Gnosis, this Cosmic Consciousness, total or complete? Being human, it is doubtful... but perhaps
maybe it is *more* in terms of grasping Cosmic Reality.
Working with the laws of evolution, are we perhaps being beckoned by the Ahead, the Omega... Teilhard's concept of the Ground of Cosmic Reality?
There seems an evolutionary movement afoot, moving from the religious construct to the cosmic construct. Yesterday's "seers" were often persecuted in
their own time, later restored either to sainthood or even relegated to being sons of God. Translating from the "noetic gnosis" of such special
people, lesser souls built whole institutional religious systems (and power hierarchies) around these supra-conscious experiences. Eventually, through
this translation, so much of the experience of the initial gnosis became lost. Still, perhaps not entirely totally! These great religious systems,
built upon a teacher-prophet-founder's gnosis, have served to perpetuate humanity's cultural and moral evolution.
But, alas, dissolution sets-in. Our present era is witness to this eroding dissolution of our old religious traditions and institutions. Yet the Peak
Experience, the Noetic Gnosis, continues...but not yet having found a new place within a new societal container system. Currently there seems to be no
perceptible translation of Noetic Gnosis into "something." So wher might supra-conscious awareness head?
Presently it looks diffused, but maybe not for long. Consider Teilhard's conception of a Noosphere... not only in terms of empirical, intellectual
knowledge but also a spiritual knowledge synthesizing into a Great Consciousness Base of the Planet. We seem to have the necessary ingredients already
in place: the advanced communications, an on-going spiritual revolution...New Age, New Consciousness Movements, etc... an integration of studies
through systems research and interdisciplinary programs, and a world community of minds coming together via the Internet.
Though still partial, perhaps our individual consciousnesses are slowly here and there evolving into supra-consciousness, Noetic Gnosis, that will
ultimately become the forerunner for what will become the Earth's Noosphere. If possible, than it just as possible that other Noetic Congregations
will rise forth from the presumed higher life-forms throughout the Cosmos... to become the *whole unfoldment* of Cosmic Consciousness!
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