The Gift of Cosmic Consciousness
By Dr. George Buletza Jr.
If a fire burns under a log, the log is likely to blaze up suddenly on its own, even after the original fire goes out. We call this kindling. An analogous series of events can occur in the brain’s limbic system. Limbic kindling may explain the process used by the psyche to produce the experience of illumination and Cosmic Consciousness.
Through exercise and experience [we learn] that the human mind is part of, and is fed from, the limitless reservoir of the Cosmic Mind. With preparation, study, perseverance and, after attuning through nobility of desire, meditation, and service, there arises from the depths of the subconscious a fire that illumines the intellect and heightens the emotions of the aspirant to a point of mystical rapture. Mystics call this experience the gift of illumination. Subsequent to illumination, the personality acts in accordance with its heightened awareness. The effects of the primary experience of illumination are felt from life to life throughout eternity. The outer trappings of enlightenment are the final result of many noetic experiences. The initial illumination and the altered awareness that follows is called Cosmic Consciousness, and permits the individual to participate consciously in the totality of the Cosmic.
The subject of Cosmic Consciousness was examined by the late Dr. Richard M. Bucke, a Canadian surgeon, and president of the American Medical-Psychology Association. At the age of thirty-five he had an overwhelming experience that coloured his subsequent thinking. He was, therefore, in the unique position of having experienced and deeply studied the phenomenon which he described in his book, Cosmic Consciousness. He states that a person who experiences Cosmic Consciousness will acquire more enlightenment in a few moments than in months of years of study. He added that with enlightenment much is learned that could not be gained in any other way. He himself experienced the Cosmic as a living, thinking, and feeling presence.
Adepts, sages, prophets, seers, poets, and men of extraordinary power and mystic vision (like Zoroaster, Lao Tzu, Buddha, St Paul, Plotinus, Muhammad, Boechme, Blake, and Swedenborg) have reported experiences of illumination. Subsequently, they were able to tap the wellsprings of the Cosmic Mind. Through transpersonal consciousness the enlightened lose awareness of the “outer self.” They receive a continuous understanding of the significance of human destiny and the living principle manifested by the Cosmic.
Some modern philosophers and psychologists have glimpsed the subconscious depths. “In our innermost being”, wrote Arthur Schopenhauer, “we are secretly aware of sharing in the inexhaustible springs of eternity.” Researcher Frederich Myers believed in a universal telepathic link connecting all mankind. William James, holding a similar view, wrote, “We live immersed in a continuum of cosmic consciousness that trickles and filters into the individual human mind.” James did not deny a possible interaction between the slumbering faculties of the individual mind and a conscious cosmic environment. Henri Bergson held that the Universal Mind is aware of everything, everywhere, but that for us this knowledge is modified by the limitations of the human brain. Carl Jung hand similar intimations of a Universal Mind distinguishable from his concept of the collective unconscious, the experience of mankind inherited by each individual
Does the brain, indeed, contain mechanisms for protecting the unprepared from the overwhelming and awe-inspiring experience of illumination? Is there a sleeping dragoon, or initiator and guardian at the threshold to our inner world? Answers to these questions may suggest themselves as we again examine the activities of the limbic system. The limbic system in man participates in the experiences of emotion, memory, an learning. There is also evidence that limbic kindling may be a part of the experience of illumination and subsequent Cosmic Consciousness.
Due to connections with pleasure centers, the firing of pyramid-shaped cells within the hippocampal portion of the limbic system can result in an experience of pleasure – the “this is fun” experience. Repeated firing of these hippocampal pyramid cells produces synchronous firing of the septal structures associated with the limbic system. This synchronous activity can eventually be accompanied by ecstasy and transcendental experience,emotional deepening, and feelings of an external illumination. When the hippocampal kindling reaches a critical threshold, the pyramid cells die. The hippocampus then becomes permanently hyper excitable, potentially producing such personality affects as religious fervor, euphoria, hypo sexuality, emotional instability and intensity. If the limbic threshold is prematurely breached, the amygdala portion of the limbic system can also be involved in the synchronous firing. Involvement of the amygdala is closely associated with seizures and temporal-lobe pathology.
Near-death experiences can also result in an alteration of limbic function. These alterations are often associated with positive changes in personality. After resuscitation many report transcendent and luminous experiences, a greater concern for others, and a deep humility. Their subsequent lives reflect a sense of direction and purpose. Subsequent to initiation many illumined mystics and adepts have reported personality changes unaccompanied by such negative affects as religiosity (a morbid, affected fervor) and emotional instability.
The pleasure experienced during synchronous firing of hippocampus and septum can be observed in deep EEG recordings from normal individuals. Questionable practices leading to repeated religious ecstatic experiences, long-sustained meditations, and repeated, prolonged sensory deprivation, can bring about permanent changes in personality and deep EEG recordings associated with pathology. In contrast, the sincere student in mystical pursuits recognizes the importance of slow but regular unflodment leading to illumination – not pathology. The hallmark of the illumined mystic is a fuller and more productive life.
Effects of Drugs
Some people attempt to improvise short-cuts to “mystical” or ecstatic experience. Such short-cuts are imputed to certain drugs and questionable practices. In the normal individual, serotonin (a nerve inhibitor) moderates the firing of hippocampal pyramid cells. Drugs interfering with serotonin synthesis allow the kindling of the limbic system to develop into a raging fire. The fire of the dragon at the threshold, having been unlawfully aroused, overwhelms the brash intruder.
Drugs such as the local anesthetic cocaine, the stimulant amphetamine, and the hallucinogens are some of the instruments employed by the impetuous improvisers of instant illumination. Just one dose of a hallucinogen can produce a high-voltage synchrony in the hippocampus and septum that may last for weeks. Cocaine and amphetamines induce a hyper-synchrony in the hippocampus and septum. When these drugs are taken chronically, the hypersynchrony eventually spreads to the amygdala and extralimbic structures. Withdrawal from alcohol and other drugs can also produce those effects. As Ralph M Lewis, once said, the use of drugs, for the purpose of promoting “mystical” experience, is analogous to backing a car out of a garage without bothering to open the garage door. The effects on our lives can be quick but long-lasting, uncontrolled, and even disastrous.
Illumination normally results from natural causes and endows the mystic with a beneficial and continuous awareness of cosmic immanence. In both the near-death experience and in the gradual unfoldment of mysticism, the inner preparation brought to the experience of illumination is of utmost importance. Desiring illumination is not sufficient; preparation and natural unfoldment are necessary. Enlightenment is not achieved in “ten easy lessons,” nor in the coaxing of the guardian with magic pills. The gates of wisdom may shake and crumble, but the Sacred Fire cannot be stolen. He who would profane the sacred binds himself in the chains of illusion.
The outer, physical trappings of illumination can result from the use of drugs and questionable “mystical” practices. In these cases the “this is it” feeling produced by the kindling of the limbic system may not be “it” at all. “It” may be only an outer affect, an outer appearance. Limbic kindling is a secondary effect that may either signify the gift of mystical attainment, or may be the unhappy product of impatience and greed. The intent to steal the Sacred Fire produces pain and unhappiness.