For years now, largely by word of mouth, a rising tide of spiritual seekers have discovered the astonishing insights of visionary philosopher Ken Wilber. Yet few have heard him speak in person. To our surprise, early this year the famously “low profile” author agreed to join Sounds True to create an unprecedented 10-part series of candid and in-depth audio sessions. Here, Ken Wilber talks about this landmark recording, titled Kosmic Consciousness.
Sounds True: What do you mean by “Kosmic consciousness?” And why is it Kosmic with a K instead of cosmic with a c?
Ken Wilber: The Greeks had a beautiful term, Kosmos, which means the sum total of reality, including matter, body, mind, and spirit. But somewhere along the line, the modern world tended to leave out mind and spirit, and so we ended up with the belief that the physical or material world is the only reality, a reality that we call the “cosmos,” or the vast expanse of physical stuff. Scientific materialism stripped mind and spirit from the universe—it reduced the Kosmos to the cosmos, making it impossible to figure out how consciousness fits in the universe. Indeed, our minds and souls and spirits are strangers in a strange land, aliens in a world to which they do not belong.
Sounds True: But it's different if we live in a Kosmos instead of a cosmos?
Ken Wilber: Exactly. In a Kosmos that also contains mind and spirit, suddenly we're at home in the universe. Meaning returns. Suddenly, the very consciousness that is in me is in all things great and small. Suddenly, you smile.
Sounds True: Is that Kosmic consciousness?
Ken Wilber: That's part of it, yes. If the universe really does contain matter and mind and spirit—if spirit is the lining or the interior of the entire universe—then this is a reality that can be directly experienced. And that direct experience of unity or oneness with the entire world is called Kosmic consciousness.
Most of the great wisdom traditions have techniques—from shamanic voyaging to yoga to meditation to contemplation—that can help us discover and nurture this connection to all beings. There are well-tested paths to this oneness, stages in life that lead to an unfolding of ever-greater Kosmic consciousness.
What I'm trying to do is include both the best of science and spirituality in an integral view that makes room for both.
Sounds True: In your work, you offer a map of these various paths of growth and development.
Ken Wilber: Yes, what I've tried to do is take all of the world's wisdom traditions and look at the various paths and stages they offer, and then construct an “overall map” that draws on all of them. The general idea is simple: everybody is right. No mind can produce 100% error, so we want to bend over backwards to include as many truths as possible, from as many systems as possible, with each system being true, if partial. The result is this integral map. Because it draws on so many traditions, it tends to be more inclusive, more complete, more balanced. You can then use this map to help you navigate in your own journey of self-discovery.
Sounds True: On Kosmic Consciousness, you explain that map very clearly. You also point out that there is a “reduction in fear” as people grow and evolve toward Kosmic consciousness. Can you explain?
Ken Wilber: As individuals progress toward Kosmic consciousness, their sense of identity expands to include more and more beings. You go from identifying with just your organism—or just “me”—to identifying with your family, group, tribe, or nation—an identity with “us”—to identifying with all humans—which is “all of us”—to even identifying with all sentient beings and the entire universe—which is Kosmic consciousness. decreases. Because as your identity grows, there are fewer and fewer things that appear alien, other, not-self, threatening. Consciousness and love increase, ignorance and fear decrease. That sounds very simple, but it is very simple. There are paths to your own deepest Self, which is the Self of the Kosmos as well.