Cosmic Consciousness

"Cosmic Consciousness - A consciousness of the cosmos, knowing the life and order of the universe. It is considered a higher, yet, at present, a rare and exceptional peak in human evolution which the race is expected to reach in a distant future.

"The definitive book on the subject is considered to be 'Cosmic Consciousness', by Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke, published in 1901. Still in print today, this book has become a classic of mysticism, exerting worldwide influence nearly a century after his death. It is a truly unique book which looks at mystical experience from the point of view of psychology.

"Bucke created his own psychology to cover what he saw as all the states of consciousness that are possible from the perceptual consciousness of lower animals to the illumined cosmic consciousness of the religious sage or mystic. He did not live to see this book's success, and it has still not yet made its impact on psychology or psychiatry, Bucke's disciplines, because of the extreme materialistic turn of these two subjects in the twentieth century. Psychology and its sister, psychiatry, have hardly begun to assimilate the archetypal psychology of Carl Gustav Jung, let alone the spiritual psychology of Richard Maurice Bucke. Bucke's psychology is a whole domain of consciousness deeper than Jung's (although it skips over many facts that Jung brought out), and leaves Freud far behind, even though Bucke lived and died before the time of Freud or Jung. Dr. Bucke was a century ahead of his time.

"This volume was the logical sequel to his earlier books. In it Bucke posited a third type of consciousness among humans. There is, first, the simple consciousness of existence and, second, a higher level of self-consciousness. Bucke added a third and profoundly higher level, 'cosmic consciousness', which he believed to have been attained by only a few dozen individuals by 1901. These include Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Dante, Whitman, Francis Bacon, Blake, as well as Bucke himself. He believed that the occurrence of this special form of consciousness was increasing and attainable, eventually, by all. Whether this may turn out to be the case, only the future can tell.

"Just a few months after Cosmic Consciousness appeared in 1901, Bucke fell on an icy porch, fractured his skull, and died. He had been well appreciated by his professional colleagues, who saw him elected a charter member of the Royal Society of Canada, president of national and international societies, as well as a distinguished professor at Western University in London, now the University of Western Ontario.

"According to Dr. Bucke a personal friend of Walt Whitman, certain individuals, between 30 and 40, and who are highly developed with good intellect, high morals, a superior physique, and an earnest religious feeling can acquire this consciousness.

"Dr. Bucke considered thirteen individuals to have possessed such a consciousness: Gautama, Jesus, Paul, Platinus, Mohammed, Dante, Las Casas, John Ypes, Francis Bacon, Jacob Behmen, William Blake, Balzac and Walt Whitman.

"The experience comes suddenly without warning with a sensation of being immersed in a flame or rose-colored cloud and is accompanied by a feeling of ecstasy, moral and intellectual illumination in which, like a flash, a clear conception in outline is presented to the mind of the meaning and drift of the universe.

"The man or woman going through this experience knows that the universe is a living presence, that life is eternal, the soul of man is immortal, the foundation principle of life is love, and the happiness of every individual in the long run is absolutely certain. All fear of death, all sense of sin is lost, and the personality gains added charm and is transfigured. In a few moments of the experience the individual will learn more than in years or months of study and will learn much that no study will teach.

"Walt Whitman described cosmic consciousness as 'ineffable light, light rare, untellable, light beyond all signs, descriptions and languages.' "

"Dr. Bucke was a descendent of Sir Richard Walpole, and was in the position of superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane at London, Onterio, Canada, for 25 years.

"Distinctly there are many degrees of higher consciousness from the elementary awareness of shared consciousness with other individuals to the perception of profound scientific insight, and the transcendental experience of the mystic. These represent the varying degrees of creative intelligence of the cosmos, the infinite divine principle represented in the anthropomorphic symbolism of 'God' in the many religions of the world.

" 'Cosmic Consciousness' is a truly unique book which looks at mystical experience from the point of view of psychology. Bucke created his own psychology to cover what he saw as all the states of consciousness that are possible from the perceptual consciousness of lower animals to the illumined cosmic consciousness of the religious sage or mystic. He did not live to see this book's success, and it has still not yet made its impact on psychology or psychiatry, Bucke's disciplines, because of the extreme materialistic turn of these two subjects in the twentieth century. Psychology and its sister, psychiatry, have hardly begun to assimilate the archetypal psychology of Carl Gustav Jung, let alone the spiritual psychology of Richard Maurice Bucke. Bucke's psychology is a whole domain of consciousness deeper than Jung's (although it skips over many facts that Jung brought out), and leaves Freud far behind, even though Bucke lived and died before the time of Freud or Jung. Dr. Bucke was a century ahead of his time.

"The following is a short excerpt from 'Cosmic Consciousness', Richard Maurice Bucke's classic book."

"As has been either said or implied already, in order that a man may enter into Cosmic Consciousness, he must belong (so to speak) to the top layer of the world of Self Consciousness. Not that he need have an extraordinary intellect (this faculty is rated, usually far above its real value and does not seem nearly so important, from this point of view, as do some others) though he must not be deficient in this respect, either. He must have a good physique, good health, but above all he must have an exalted moral nature, strong sympathies, a warm heart, courage, strong and earnest religious feeling. All these being granted, and the man having reached the age necessary to bring him to the top of the self conscious mental stratum, some day he enters Cosmic Consciousness. What is his experience? Details must be given with diffidence, as they are only known to the writer in a few cases, and doubtless the phenomena are varied and diverse. What is said here, however, may be depended on as far as it goes. It is true of certain cases, and certainly touches upon the full truth in certain other cases, so that it may be looked upon as being provisionally correct.

"a. The person, suddenly, without warning, has a sense of being immersed in a flame, or rose-colored cloud, or perhaps rather a sense that the mind is itself filled with such a cloud of haze.

"b. At the same instant he is, as it were, bathed in an emotion of joy, assurance, triumph, 'salvation.' The last word is not strictly correct if taken in its ordinary sense, for the feeling, when fully developed, is not that a particular act of salvation is effected, but that no special 'salvation' is needed, the scheme upon which the world is built being itself sufficient. It is this ecstasy, far beyond any that belongs to the merely self conscious life, with which the poets, as such, especially occupy themselves: As Guatama, in his discourses, preserved in the 'Suttas'; Jesus in the 'Parables'; Paul in the 'Epistles'; Dante at the end of the 'Purgatorio' and beginning of 'Paradiso'; 'Shakespeare' in the 'Sonnets'; Balzac in 'Seraphita'; Whitman in the 'Leaves'; Edward Carpenter in 'Towards Democracy'; leaving to the singers the pleasures and pains, loves and hates, joys and sorrows, peace and war, life and death, of self conscious man; though the poets may treat of these, too, but from the new point of view, as expressed in the 'Leaves'; 'I will never again mention love or death inside a house' [193:75]—that is, from the old point of view, with the old connotations.

"c. Simultaneously or instantly following the above sense and emotional experiences there comes to the person an intellectual illumination quite impossible to describe. Like a flash there is presented to his consciousness a clear conception (a vision) in outline of the meaning and drift of the universe. He does not come to believe merely; but he sees and knows that the cosmos, which to the self conscious mind seems made up of dead matter, is in fact far otherwise—is in very truth a living presence. He sees that instead of men being, as it were, patches of life scattered through an infinite sea of non-living substance, they are in reality specks of relative death in an infinite ocean of life. He sees that the life which is in man is eternal, as all life is eternal; that the soul of man is as immortal as God is; that the universe is so built and ordered that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all; that the foundation principle of the world is what we call love, and that the happiness of every individual is in the long run absolutely certain. The person who passes through this experience will learn in the few minutes, or even moments, of its continuance more than in months or years of study, and he will learn much that no study ever taught or can teach. Especially does he obtain such a conception of THE WHOLE, or at least of an immense WHOLE, as dwarfs all conception, imagination or speculation, springing from and belonging to ordinary self consciousness, such a conception as makes the old attempts to mentally grasp the universe and its meaning petty and even ridiculous.

"This awakening of the intellect has been well described by a writer upon Jacob Behmen in these words: 'The mysteries of which he discoursed were not reported to him, he BEHELD them. He saw the root of all mysteries, the UNGRUND or URGRUND, whence issue all contrasts and discordant principles, hardness and softness, severity and mildness, sweet and bitter, love and sorrow, heaven and hell. These he SAW in their origin; these he attempted to describe in their issue and to reconcile in their eternal results. He saw into the being of God; whence the birth or going forth of the divine manifestation. Nature lay unveiled to him—he was at home in the heart of things. His own book, which he himself was (so Whitman: ‘This is no book; who touches this touches a man’) [193:382], the microcosm of man, with his three-fold life, was patent to his vision' [79:852].

"d. Along with moral elevation and intellectual illumination comes what must be called, for want of a better term, a sense of immortality. This is not an intellectual conviction, such as comes with the solution of a problem, nor is it an experience such as learning something unknown before. It is far more simple and elementary, and could better be compared to that certainty of distinct individuality, possessed by each one, which comes with and belongs to self consciousness.

"e. With illumination the fear of death which haunts so many men and women at times all their lives falls off like an old cloak—not, however, as a result of reasoning—it simply vanishes.

"f. The same may be said of the sense of sin. It is not that the person escapes from sin; but he no longer sees that there is any sin in the world from which to escape.

"g. The instantaneousness of the illumination is one of its most striking features. It can be compared with nothing so well as with a dazzling flash of lightning in a dark night, bringing the landscape with had been hidden into clear view.

"h. The previous character of the man who enters the new life is an important element in the case.

"i. So is the age at which illumination occurs. Should we hear of a case of cosmic consciousness occurring at twenty, for instance, we should at first doubt the truth of the account, and if forced to believe it we should expect the man (if he lived) to prove himself, in some way, a veritable spiritual giant.

"j. The added charm to the personality of the person who attains to cosmic consciousness, which it is actually present, and lasting (gradually passing away) a short time thereafter, a change takes place in the appearance of the subject of illumination. This change is similar to that caused in a person's appearance by great joy, but at times (that is, in pronounced cases) it seems to be much more marked than that. In these great cases in which illumination is intense the change in question is also intense and may amount to a vertiable 'transfiguration.' Dante says that he was 'transhumanized into a God.' There seems to be a strong probability that could he have been seen at that moment he would have exhibited what could only have been called 'transfiguration.' In subsequent chapters of this book several cases will be given in which the change in question, more or less strongly marked, occurred."