Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Beyond Perceptions and Conceptions to 'Acceptive Consciousness'

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)
In our ordinary consciousness we see the world as a manifested reality of "things" - animal, mineral and vegetable. But at the smallest levels, physicists tell us that our "world" consists of granular, distinct quanta (or, sub-particles) of energy, which are "realized" by the act of observation. Because of this, it has been said that modern physics has become "the study of the structure of consciousness."

Humans, with our many layers of consciousness, are capable of "envisioining" our world at both levels. In his most personal writing, "Some of the Dharma" Beat-writer, Jack Kerouac, set this out rather poetically:
 Instead of bothering with one side of the coin
  or the other, throw it away---in the same way,
   instead of either bothering with arbitrary conception
    of manifested phenomena or non-manifested non-phenomena,
     the coin of existence,
                                       throw it away----
                                                                  Rest beyond conception.

Richard M. Bucke (1837-1902)
Richard M. Bucke, one of the first Westerners to attempt a "scientific" explanation and synthesis of the mystic or enlightenment experiences recorded in the world's wisdom traditions, discussed four progressively higher states of consciousness in his iconic work "Cosmic Consciousness" (sometimes referred to as "The Hippie Bible.")

At the lowest state of consciousness, the simplest animal organism will respond to stimuli. This receptive consciousness, may be illustrated by a simple earth worm recoiling from the prick of a needle. 'Reception' of the stimulus begets a reaction.

At a higher level of consciousness, what Bucke called perceptive consciousness, the "perception" of a stimulus will provoke a reaction. Thus, the second time you take your dog to the vet for its shots, your dog will react when it merely sees the needle.

At the higher level of ordinary human consciousness, what Bucke called conceptive consciousness, the mere "idea" of the stimulus will provoke a response. If you tell a child that he or she is going to get a shot, that the doctor will poke a needle into her arm, the mere thought (or "concept") causes a "response," most often tears.

Bucke speculated that there is yet another higher level of consciousness beyond 'ordinary' human, "conceptive consciousness" - a level he called cosmic consciousness - and he compared the recorded experiences of saints and sages, from Lao-Tze to Jesus, and from Paul, Mohammed, St. John of the Cross and Shakespeare to his mentor, Walt Whitman - in order to outline the parameters of what this higher state of consciousness is. He theorized, like so many before and after, (see, "Pain, Sex and Time" by Gerald Heard, or the "evolutionary enlightenment" teachings of Andrew Cohen), that humankind is inexorably evolving towards this higher state of consciousness and awareness.

In that higher state (known in the West as "enlightenment" and in the East as 'samadhi,' 'moksha,' 'nirvana' or, simply, "liberation") ordinary consciousness, with its "conceptions" that crystallize the world, moves to a higher all-inclusive awareness that is beyond stimuli. For that reason, I call it "acceptive" rather than "cosmic" consciousness. It is in this state of "acceptive consciousness" - beyond the labelling and attachments of our egoic conceptions - that the spiritually adept has an experiential realization and radical acceptance of both the 'manifest' and 'unmanifest' realms or worlds. It is "the ineffable" or what, I believe, the Buddha pointed to as "suchness."

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