Ancient & Modern Wisdom Are Much More Connected to Consciousness Than We Think

Recently I watched as Deepak Chopra used a synergy between neuroscience and Vedanta to describe 5 levels of consciousness at the Shrine Auditorium with Eckhart Tolle:

  1. Deep sleep
    Awareness without experience
  2. Dream sleep
    Subject object split
  3. Waking state
    One activity
    Subject object split
  4. Transcendent consciousness
    “Now” state of awareness — an ever present witness is watching
  5. Cosmic or Divine consciousness — a clear sense of something not “higher” but Oneness

According to Ananda, or the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, with sufficient discernment one can sense everything in flower.

Deepak concluded that this is sometimes also referred to as Brahman consciousness, or the “creative principle which lies realized in the whole world.”

This gave me pause, because several generations before Deepak brought Eastern concepts to Western medicine and psychology, there was G. I. Gurdjieff, a Russian mystic who attracted audiences even in the United States with a new and distinctly Eastern cosmology and psychology of consciousness.

Here is Gurdjieff’s view on the subject from the book In Search of the Miraculous:

Neither the psychical nor the physical functions of man can be understood… unless the fact has been grasped that they can both work in different states of consciousness.

In all there are four states of consciousness possible for man, but ordinary man, that is, man number one, number two, and number three, lives in the two lowest states of consciousness only. 

The two higher states of consciousness are inaccessible to him, and although he may have flashes of these states, he is unable to understand them and he judges them from the point of view of those states in which it is usual for him to be.

The two usual, that is, the lowest, states of consciousness are first, sleep, in other words a passive state in which man spends a third and very often a half of his life. 

And second, the state in which men spend the other part of their lives, in which they walk the streets, write books, talk on lofty subjects, take part in politics, kill one another, which they regard as active and call ‘clear consciousness’ or the ‘waking state of consciousness.’ 

The term ‘clear consciousness’ or ‘waking state of consciousness’ seems to have been given in jest, especially when you realize what clear consciousness ought in reality to be and what the state in which man lives and acts really is.

The third state of consciousness is self-remembering or self-consciousness or consciousness of one’s being. It is usual to consider that we have this state of consciousness or that we can have it if we want it. 

Our science and philosophy have overlooked the fact that we do not possess this state of consciousness and that we cannot create it in ourselves by desire or decision alone.

The fourth state of consciousness is called the objective state of consciousness.

(Gurdjieff differentiated between Man No. 1, 2, and 3 as by those dominated by a “center” — Instinctive, Emotional, or Intellectual).

If you combine Deepak’s two dream states into one, the respective descriptions of consciousness from Deepak and Gurdjieff overlap nicely. The language is slightly different, but the meaning is clearly similar if not identical.

A third state of consciousness is characterized by differentiation between the thinking mind and its witness — a key point that is also made by Eckhart Tolle.

So it is interesting to go a little deeper into the presumed historical context of the Gurdjieff teaching.

While Gurdjieff also was thought to have visited Tibet and therefore also have brought aspects of Buddhism and Vedanta back to Russia, France, and ultimately America, he also revealed that he had spent many years in Egypt and had been initiated into various secret societies connected to antiquity.

(One of the most tantalizing stories was that he saw a map of “pre-sand Egypt” with the Sphinx being surrounded by lush vegetation — before Egypt was a desert — which dovetails with modern theories by Graham Hancock that Egypt was a remnant of Atlantis with a very advanced science, philosophy, and metaphysics all combined.)

Interestingly, Gurdjieff himself would say that his teaching came from an ancient form of Christianity that originated before Egypt — in a more advanced culture — and that the current version is fragmented and distorted.

Gurdjieff said that this true Christianity was the real meaning behind the Gospels of Jesus, especially the Gnostics; you can read similar interpretations in the works of Eckhart Tolle.

I found more information about the possible source and details of this “Lost Christianity” in the work of Jacob Needleman, a modern devotee of Gurdjieff and a former professor of philosophy, who wrote extensively on the subject.

What this lost Christianity seemed to represent was actually a manual for consciousness; it was a deep experiential and psychological examination of the nature of thought and physicality without separating human endeavor into different areas like science, art, music, philosophy and so on. 

Instead all of experience was studied and appreciated in its totality with an attitude of awe and reverence for the Sacred — Being itself or that which is beyond comprehension.

In many ways this interpretation of ancient Christianity resonates with Nondualism, which sees consciousness as primary and indivisible; from this perspective all human endeavors are appreciated as expressions of simply perfect Being (that is, not a personal entity but Being itself — an impersonal but highly evolved Essence that permeates everything).

All language is simply a pointer to this reality (in Nondualism), as it also is in mystical forms of Christianity and the Old Testament, where the true God could not be named.

As Eckhart Tolle would suggest, what this meant was not that he had no name per se, but rather that its Being was of another dimension — the vertical dimension outside or Space/Time and beyond the intellect.

This Being is energy, not matter (“no thing”) of a much finer state or higher frequency (intelligence) than our ordinary mentality is able to conceive intellectually; it can only be perceived via direct experience using a harmonious synergy of all aspects of our own biochemical nature: sensations (instinct), emotions, and of course, the intellect.

This interpretation would put ancient Christianity in alignment with modern physics and neuroscience, as well as the Eastern traditions of consciousness as described by Deepak Chopra and Gurdjieff.

What would be out of alignment, of course, would be the Scientism or devotion to an assumed material and separate reality propounded in our corporations and universities in denigration of serious philosophical inquiry.

This Scientism sees our human intellect as expressed via thought as the only basis for what is real and true.

It will be interesting to see how this powerful meme will play out in the coming years when, as Deepak describes, our material science continues to come upon limitations that ensue directly from its inability and unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of consciousness.