"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Monday, June 27, 2011

Religious Experience, Cosmic Consciousness, the Universe and Evolutionary Enlightenment

"(O)ur normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the flimsiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness. . . . No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded."
-- William James --
In the "Varieties of Religious Experience," William James, one of the fathers of American psychology, recounts a number of enlightenment experiences, including that undergone by Richard M. Bucke, author of "Cosmic Consciousness,' a work that had a profound and continuing effect not only on James, but on generations of spiritual seekers after its publication in 1901.
"I had spent the evening in a great city, with two friends reading and discussing poetry and philosophy," Bucke recalls. "We parted at midnight. I had a long drive in a hansom to my lodging. My mind, deeply under the influence of the ideas, images and emotions called up by the reading and talk, was calm and peaceful. I was in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment, not actually thinking, but letting ideas, images and emotions flow, as it were, through my mind."

"All at once, without warning of any kind," he remembers, "I found myself wrapped in a flame-coloured cloud. For an instant I thought of fire, an immense conflagaration somewhere close by in that great city; the next, I knew that the flame was within myself. Directly afterward there came upon me a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe."

"Among other things," Bucke notes, "I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living Presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life. It was not a conviction that I would have eternal life, but a consciousness that I possessed eternal life then; I saw that all men are immortal; that the cosmic order is such that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all; that the foundation principle of the world, of all the worlds, is what we call love, and that the happiness of each and all is in the long run absolutely certain."

"The vision lasted a few seconds and was gone," Bucke recalls, "but the memory of it and the sense of the reality of what it taught has remained during the quarter of a century which has since elapsed. I knew that what the vision showed was true. I had attained to a point of view from which I saw that it must be true. That view, that conviction, I must say that consciousness, has never, even during periods of the deepest depression, been lost."
[Wm. James, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," p. 399.]
"Mystical states in general," James observes, "assert a pretty distinct theoretic drift. . . . One of these directions is optimism, and the other is monism."

"We pass," he notes, "into mystical states from out of ordinary consciousness as from a less into a more, as from a smallness into a vastness, and at the same time as from an unrest to a rest. We feel them as reconciling unifying states."
[Ibid., page 416.]

Both James and Bucke talk of the aliveness of the universe and their experience of oneness with it, a point echoed in the "evolutionary enlightenment" teachings of modern spiritual teacher, Andrew Cohen.

At the point of enlightenment, Cohen points out in the attached video, "that is when the evolving Self can begin to authentically discern the difference between what it means to be a world-centrically aware and awake individual versus one who is cosmically awake and aware, in a way that is not merely cognitive. Then, you begin to experience emotionally, psychologically and existentially, and at every other level of yourself, what you are actually dealing with, what you are faced with, which is the future of this whole (evolutionary) process."

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