“It must be understood that there are three forms or grades of consciousness. (1) Simple Consciousness, which is possessed by say the upper half of the animal kingdom. By means of this faculty a dog or a horse is just as conscious of the things about him as a man is; … (2) Over and above this simple consciousness,, … man has another which is called Self Consciousness. By virtue of this faculty man is not only conscious of trees, rocks, waters, his own limbs and body, but he becomes conscious of himself as a distinct entity apart from all the rest of the universe. … Man, by virtue of self consciousness can step aside, as it were, from himself and think: ‘Yes, that thought that I had about that matter is true; I know that it is true and I know that I know it is true.’ … Cosmic Consciousness is a third form which is as far above Self Consciousness as is that above Simple Consciousness.” ~Richard Maurice Bucke
One way of labeling these three types of consciousness is to call Simple Consciousness Instinct, Self Consciousness Intellect and Cosmic Consciousness just consciousness. At least in Cosolargy, when we talk about consciousness, it is this higher level we are referring to. The borders between the different levels of consciousness is not as clear cut as Bucke implies. While It is certainly true that higher animal species have what he calls simple consciousness, what about the lower animals and plants? There is no reason to believe that they have no consciousness at all. That is like assuming that someone moving slowly is standing still. You have to observe carefully to see the movements and the same is true here. Those who have conducted experiments with simple animals and plants show that they can learn and that they are aware of the death of other beings around them because they react to it.
Likewise, it is no longer clear that self consciousness is limited to man, despite Mr. Bucke’s strong insistence that is does. In short, he assumes that with self consciousness, animals would develop much as we have, with cites, languages, arts, etc. That seems like a rash assumption to me and there has been some indication in recent years that some animals are self aware, at least on a limited level. One example is that an elephant seems to be able to understand that it’s reflection in a mirror is itself and not just a random elephant. And bees, dolphins, and some other animals do seem to have a language of sorts.
The important thing though is the final level called Cosmic Consciousness, or Christ Consciousness. Mr. Bucke defines this as awareness of the cosmos and ourselves as part of it. While that is true, it is incomplete. Awareness of the physical universe is nothing more that normal self consciousness. Cosmic Consciousness is the recognition of all of existence including not just the material cosmos, but also spiritual dimensions of reality that are beyond the material. Further, one who has reached this level, which usually requires some effort, is aware of his oneness with all and specifically with God. No Atheist ever achieves Christ Consciousness, but then it is unlikely that they would ever try. Another important part of this is the awareness of truth, divine knowledge. With Christ Consciousness one achieves that state of complete knowledge called Gnosis. At this point, one is not only aware of the cosmos, but aware of the illusions of it and the truth behind and the destination of the material universe as well as our own destination. In shot, he understands what we truly are.