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Cosmic consciousness is the theory that all consciousnesses are connected to one another, creating a vast, intricate system of awareness and higher thought. This idea springs from one of two major areas of study. One suggests that the universe is comprised of a single collective consciousness made up of each being's independently-produced consciousness. The other asserts that individual consciousness is created by a specific god or deity, and by virtue of this singular creation, all consciousness is interconnected.
Consciousness studies on this subject were pioneered by psychiatrist Richard Maurice Bucke, who published a landmark book in 1901 that explored this new thought in great depth. In Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind, Bucke identifies the three stages in the development of higher consciousness. These stages encompass the basic consciousness of animals, the consciousness of human beings—which includes the human processes of logic and creativity—and the cultivation of deeper levels of consciousness that lead to higher planes of understanding. Bucke studied 13 people who he felt had achieved cosmic consciousness. Among them were Jesus Christ, Gautama Buddha, Mohammed, Saint Paul, William Blake, Honore de Balzac, and Walt Whitman.
The actual state of cosmic consciousness is marked by a condition of "egoless-ness" and is more complex than mere self-awareness. In individuals who have achieved this state, knowledge surpasses beliefs; there is a certainty that one's thoughts and principles are working in recognition of a universal oneness and in perfect accordance with universal laws. Those with cosmic consciousness have a deep understanding of their own mental processes, as well as the mental processes of others. Many lead lives of quiet contemplation, away from the noise and hectic nature of the modern world.
There are several belief systems in which cosmic consciousness plays a pivotal role. In pantheism, believers maintain that there is no single god; instead, God can be found in nature, and God and the universe are one and the same. Panentheism asserts that there is a single God, and He or She permeates the universe and natural world. In transcendentalism, adherents support the idea that one should work toward achieving a higher spiritual state in which thoughts are clarified and consciousness goes beyond the accepted confines of the mind. These three belief systems each hold that the attainment of a cosmic consciousness is the highest level of knowledge, compassion, and awareness one can attain on Earth.