Cosmic Consciousness

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Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind
The title page
AuthorRichard Maurice Bucke
Media typePrint

Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind is a 1901 book by the psychiatrist Richard Maurice Bucke, in which the author explores the concept of cosmic consciousness, which he defines as "a higher form of consciousness than that possessed by the ordinary man".

Forms of consciousness[edit]

In Cosmic Consciousness, Bucke stated that he discerned three forms, or degrees, of consciousness:[1]

  • Simple consciousness, possessed by both animals and mankind
  • Self-consciousness, possessed by mankind, encompassing thought, reason, and imagination
  • Cosmic consciousness, which is "a higher form of consciousness than that possessed by the ordinary man" [2]

According to Bucke,

This consciousness shows the cosmos to consist not of dead matter governed by unconscious, rigid, and unintending law; it shows it on the contrary as entirely immaterial, entirely spiritual and entirely alive; it shows that death is an absurdity, that everyone and everything has eternal life; it shows that the universe is God and that God is the universe, and that no evil ever did or ever will enter into it; a great deal of this is, of course, from the point of view of self consciousness, absurd; it is nevertheless undoubtedly true.[3]

Moores said that Bucke's cosmic consciousness is an interconnected way of seeing things "which is more of an intuitive knowing than it is a factual understanding".[4] Moores pointed out that, for scholars of the purist camp, the experience of cosmic consciousness is incomplete without the element of love, "which is the foundation of mystical consciousness".[4]

Mysticism, then, is the perception of the universe and all of its seemingly disparate entities existing in a unified whole bound together by love.[5]

Juan A. Herrero Brasas said that Bucke's cosmic consciousness refers to the evolution of the intellect, and not to "the ineffable revelation of hidden truths".[6] According to Brasas, it was William James who equated Bucke's cosmic consciousness with mystical experience or mystical consciousness.[6] Gary Lachman notes that today Bucke's experience would most likely be "explained" by the so-called "God spot", or more generally as a case of temporal lobe epilepsy, but he is skeptical of these and other "organic" explanations.[7]

He regarded Walt Whitman as "the climax of religious evolution and the harbinger of humanity's future".[8]

Similar concepts[edit]

William James[edit]

According to Michael Robertson, Cosmic Consciousness and William James's 1902 book The Varieties of Religious Experience have much in common:[9]

Both Bucke and James argue that all religions, no matter how seemingly different, have a common core; both believe that it is possible to identify this core by stripping away institutional accretions of dogma and ritual and focusing on individual experience; and both identify mystical illumination as the foundation of all religious experience.[9]

James popularized the concept of religious experience,[note 1] which he explored in The Varieties of Religious Experience.[11][12] He saw mysticism as a distinctive experience which supplies knowledge of the transcendental.[13] He considered the "personal religion"[14] to be "more fundamental than either theology or ecclesiasticism",[14] and states:

In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness. This is the everlasting and triumphant mystical tradition, hardly altered by differences of clime or creed. In Hinduism, in Neoplatonism, in Sufism, in Christian mysticism, in Whitmanism, we find the same recurring note, so that there is about mystical utterances an eternal unanimity which ought to make a critic stop and think, and which bring it about that the mystical classics have, has been said, neither birthday nor native land.[15]

Regarding cosmic consciousness, William James, in his essay The Confidences of a "Psychical Researcher", wrote:

What again, are the relations between the cosmic consciousness and matter? ... So that our ordinary human experience, on its material as well as on its mental side, would appear to be only an extract from the larger psycho-physical world?[16]

Collective consciousness[edit]

James understood "cosmic consciousness" to be a collective consciousness, a "larger reservoir of consciousness",[17] which manifests itself in the minds of men and remains intact after the dissolution of the individual. It may "retain traces of the life history of its individual emanation".[17]

Friedrich Schleiermacher[edit]

A classification similar to that proposed by Bucke was used by the influential theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), viz.:[18]

  • Animal, brutish self-awareness
  • Sensual consciousness
  • Higher self-consciousness

In Schleiermacher's theology, higher consciousness "is the part of the human being that is capable of transcending animal instincts".[19] It is the "point of contact with God" and the essence of being human.[19]

When higher consciousness is present, people are not alienated from God by their instincts.[19] The relation between higher and lower consciousness is akin to St. Paul's "struggle of the spirit to overcome the flesh".[19] Higher consciousness establishes a distinction between the natural and the spiritual sides of human beings.[20]

The concept of religious experience was used by Schleiermacher and by Albert Ritschl to defend religion against scientific and secular criticism and to defend the belief that moral and religious experiences justify religious beliefs.[12]

Other writers[edit]

Cosmic consciousness bears similarity to Hegel's Geist:[21][22]

All this seems to force upon us an interpretation of Hegel that would understand his term "mind" as some kind of cosmic consciousness; not, of course, a traditional conception of God as a being separate from the universe, but rather as something more akin to those eastern philosophies that insist that All is One.[22]

In 1913, Alexander J. McIvor-Tyndall authored Cosmic Consciousness: The Man-God Whom We Await.[23]

Teilhard de Chardin's concept of the noösphere also bears similarity to Bucke's ideas.[citation needed]

According to Paul Marshall, a philosopher of religion, cosmic consciousness bears resemblances to some traditional pantheist beliefs.[24]

According to Ervin László, cosmic consciousness corresponds to Jean Gebser's integral consciousness and to Don Edward Beck and Christopher Cowan's turquoise state of cosmic spirituality.[25]

Ken Wilber, integral philosopher and mystic, identifies four state/stages of cosmic consciousness (mystical experience) above both Gebser's integral level and Beck and Cowan's turquoise level.[26]

Paramahansa Yogananda wrote extensively about Cosmic Consciousness in the Self Realization Fellowship Lessons.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bucke 2009, p. 1-3.
  2. ^ Bucke 2009, p. 1.
  3. ^ Bucke 2009, p. 17–18.
  4. ^ a b Moores 2006, p. 33.
  5. ^ Moores 2006, p. 34.
  6. ^ a b Brasas 2010, p. 53.
  7. ^ Lachman 2003, p. 7.
  8. ^ Robertson 2010, p. 135.
  9. ^ a b Robertson 2010, p. 133.
  10. ^ Samy 1998, p. 80.
  11. ^ Hori 1999, p. 47.
  12. ^ a b Sharf 2000.
  13. ^ Harmless 2007, pp. 10–17.
  14. ^ a b James 1982, p. 30.
  15. ^ Harmless 2007, p. 14.
  16. ^ James 1987b, p. 1264.
  17. ^ a b Bridgers 2005, p. 27.
  18. ^ Johnson 1964, p. 68.
  19. ^ a b c d Bunge 2001, p. 341.
  20. ^ Merklinger 1993, p. 67.
  21. ^ Wentzel Van Huyssteen 2003, p. 569.
  22. ^ a b Singer 2001.
  23. ^ Stavig, Gopal; Shuddhidananda, Swami. (2010). Western Admirers of Ramakrishna and His Disciples. Advaita Ashrama. p. 128. ISBN 978-8175053342
  24. ^ Marshall, Paul (2005). Mystical Encounters with the Natural World: Experiences and Explanations. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 126. ISBN 9780199279432.
  25. ^ Laszlo, Ervin (2008). Quantum Shift in the Global Brain: How the New Scientific Reality Can Change Us and Our World. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions. p. 123. ISBN 9781594772337.
  26. ^ Wilber, Ken (2006). Integral Spirituality. London: Integral Books. pp. 68–69.


  1. ^ The term "religious experience" has become synonymous with the terms "mystical experience", "spiritual experience", and "sacred experience".[10]


External links[edit]