Cosmic Consciousness Revisited
This is a new book by Robert M. May, Ph.D., the author of Physicians of the Soul, which Dr. Jean Houston has called “the seminal work in the field of sacred psychology.” In a personal letter to the author, Nobel Laureate, Sir John Eccles said of Dr. May’s new book: “It is an amazing book … l appreciate very much your intense involvement with the human mystery of being.”
May’s new book begins by revisiting the life and work of Richard Maurice Bucke, MD, author of Cosmic Consciousness (1901), and goes on to examine Dr. Bucke’s revolutionary theory of Cosmic Consciousness – which Dr. Bucke considers to be the future stage of human evolution. Bucke considers this experience of Cosmic Consciousness to be the basis of all the high religions of humankind, and the common experience of the mystics and saints of all religious traditions: Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, etc. Bucke wrote this book in the 1890’s and it was published in 1901. May goes on to trace in depth the subsequent evolution (and it was at first a devolution) and development of modern 20th century psychology’s views and theories on religious and mystical experience from William James, and his The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), through the anti-religious views of the behaviorists, e.g. Watson and Skinner, and Freud, whose The Future of an illusion (1927) called religious experience and man’s belief in God “an illusion,” to the gradual rediscovery of a spiritual psychology through the researches and writings of Jung, who came in old age to say about God, “I do not believe; I know,” Gurdjieff, the mystic philosopher, Maslow, the founder of both humanistic and transpersonal psychology, and Jean Houston, contemporary woman mystic, philosopher, and sacred psychologist, who rediscovered the truths of Bucke through her researches into the human mind and its capacities. In addition to the spontaneous religious/mystical experience, Dr. May looks at LSD experiences, and Near-Death experiences in this book, which culminates in a comparison of the evolutionary theories of the late 19th century psychiatrist, Bucke, with the 20th century religion-science synthesis of the Jesuit paleontologist-philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin.
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“In 1901 a book entitled Cosmic Consciousness was published, written by R.M.. Bucke, who is credited as being the father of western spiritual psychology. Much has changed since those early days of psychology, and Robert May has returned to Bucke’s book to reappraise it in the light of recent psychological research.
Beginning with Bucke’s book, May looks at developments in psychology including the major influences of Watson, Freud and Jung as well as Maslow, Gurujieff, Ouspensky, Masters and Houston, and other contemporary workers in this field.
He examines the emergence of spiritual and transpersonal psychologies and relates their evolution to ancient spiritual traditions as well as casting an eye to the future direction of human spiritual and psychological evolution.
In dealing with Bucke, the author gives an excellent historical portrayal, examining in depth his life and work…
The book makes very interesting reading, with good comment on the failure of behaviorism, the development of humanistic and transpersonal psychology and the need to develop a sacred psychology.
Clearly there are many people who have experienced extraordinary spiritual insights, whether sought after or not, that have common elements to them from widely differing background and religious beliefs. Some of these come into the description of Cosmic Consciousness according to Bucke and May. May goes into great detail as to what in his opinion can be accorded that status.” Pedr Becklev, Church of England Newspaper
‘This is a significant work on mystical experience, carefully researched and including biographies of each figure included. The author experienced cosmic consciousness himself at the age of twenty, an occurrence that launched a personal quest for answers.
May hoped in vain to find answers in his academic studies in psychology and philosophy. He then turned to study with spiritual masters, efforts that inspired his earlier book Physicians of the Soul (1982). Then he turned to Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke’s Cosmic Consciousness, published in Canada in 1902. A considerable portion of May’s book is devoted to Bucke’s life and this earlier work, along with that of William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience.
May compares Bucke’s stages of the development of consciousness to the theories of Jean Piaget, and asserts the Piaget, Freud, B. F. Skinner, and Noam Chomsky have all stopped short by ignoring the final step in development of consciousness, cosmic consciousness, or the ‘Brahmic Splendor of the East. ”
Each of the schools of the psychology is included in this book, beginning with the stimulus-response psychology of John B. Watson, which May calls “soulless behaviorism. May also finds that the determinism o[ Pavlov and Skinner disposed of religion,” worshipping at the throne of scientism. On the other hand, the recovery o[ consciousness has come with the refutation o[ behaviorism. Figures familiar to most readers of The Quest and acclaimed by May are Rupert Sheldrake, whose concept of morphogenetic fields May calls “the most innovative theory in biology since Danwin,” and David Bohm, whom May describes as “an enlightened physicist” whose language resembles that of the great mystics.
May credits Carl Jung with esoteric understanding o[ the psyche, even though Jung disparaged cosmic consciousness.
An interesting comparison is made by May of the first meeting between Gurdjieff and Ouspensky and the first meeting between Whitman and Bucke. As to Gurdjieff’s theoretical ‘objective consciousness,’ or fourth stage of consciousness, May finds it the very same as Bucke’s cosmic consciousness. Either is the same as enlightenment, according to May.
As to Abraham Maslow, May finds that the ‘peak experience’ bears little resemblance to Bucke’s cosmic consciousness or to mystical experience as described by Evelyn Underhill.
Related theories referred to in May’s book include those of Claudio Naranjo Jean Houston, Teilhard de Chardin, Roberton Assagioloi, and Victor Frakl – along with near-death researchers Kenneth Ring and Raymond Moody.
May rounds out his work with an evaluation of the spontaneous mystical experience. He states that humanity has come full circle with the new-old paradigm of cosmic consciousness, and offers ten contemporary instances. His book will hold interest for readers familiar with Bucke’s book as well as those wishing to delve into the background o[ this realm of human experience.’ Mary Jane Newcomb. DC, Ph.D., The Quest
‘The book takes us from the early psychological discoveries of R M Bucke through behaviorism and Freud, and onto the more fruitful areas of discovery with such people as Jung, Gurdjieff, Maslow and son on. There is some interesting investigation into near death experiences, new reports on spontaneous religious or mystical experiences, and finally a chapter describing ten contemporary cases of Cosmic Consciousness… ‘Tony Parsons, South West Connection – Aug/Nov 93
Robert May has taken as his starting point the work of the 19th Century writer and psychiatrist Richard Bucke, who sought to evaluate the mystical experience which lies at the heart of all core religions. This he termed ‘Cosmic Consciousness’ – a spiritually acquired awareness of the living Universe, the immortality of the soul, and the Ultimate foundation of love. May traces the development of modern psychology, which, via thinkers such as Pavlov and Freud, completely dismissed as illusion mystical experiences and revelations.
He takes US on a journey from Bucke to William James’ “The Varieties of Religious Experience” to J.B. Watson’s behaviorism with its “Banishment of Consciousness.’ from the psychology curricula. ‘Recovering’ consciousness for US, he goes on to discuss Freud’s “Reduction of Religious Experience” and then Jung’s recognition of the image of God (The Imago Dei)). Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, and then Maslow and Sacred Psychology each get a chapter “Ken Chitty, Psychotherapist
“In 1872 Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke had a mystical experience which affected him for the rest of his life. He wrote it up in a book called Cosmic Consciousness which has been selling well ever since. Cosmic Consciousness Revisited is an attempt to assess the importance of this book in the development of modern ideas about spiritual psychology. The author takes US through the ideas of a great many thinkers: William James, J.B. Watson, Ivan Pavlov, Sir John Eccles, David Bohm, Einstein, Max Panck, Roberton Assagioli, Sir Alistair Hardy and Ouspensky and many others He also talks aboUt the Kabbala and Yoga. This a very thorough book and generally reliable…. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in cosmic consciousness. ” John Rowan Writes, British Reviewer
“Cosmic Consciousness is a classic in the field… but most of all you did a brilliant job in your Jung section.” John A Sanford
“I am pleased and impressed and find it a noble book.” Robert A. Johnson
“[a] masterful piece of study and research.” Morton T. Kelsey
“Cosmic Consciousness Revisited is a major contribution to the Understanding of the sources of the newly emerging world spirituality Mr. May has given us a profound portrait of Richard Maurice Bucke, MD, the father of spiritual psychology, and of his unique importance to our time.” Jean Houston
“I found your manuscript very stimulating.” Hans Kung
“It is an amazing book… l appreciate very much your intense involvement in the human mystery of being.”
Sir John Eccles (Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Neurophysiology)
‘”Robert May, in his new book, Cosmic Consciousness Revisited, provides an immensely important opportunity to recapture some of Bucke’s important insights and to extend our understanding of cosmic consciousness through a number of significant twentieth century examples of the same phenomena.” Prof. Wiliiam R. Rogers, (President Guilford College, former chairman of Psychology and Religion Dept. of Harvard Divinity School).
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Chapter 1: Richard Maurice Bucke, MD: Physician and Mystic
© Robert M. May
Reproduction without permission is forbidden
Richard Maurice Bucke was a man of “marked personality.”
His individuality impressed itself on all who came in contact with him. Of striking presence, great native ability, wide and varied experience of the world and of human nature, he distinguished himself in more than one line of thought and action.1
To the Reverend Horatio Walpole Bucke and his wife, Clarissa, were born seven sons and three daughters in the village of Methwold in Suffolk, England. Their seventh child, born on March 18, 1837 was Richard Maurice Bucke. His father, the Reverend Bucke, was the great grandson of the Prime Minister of England, Sir Robert Walpole, and a grandnephew of Horace Walpole, a distinguished man of letters. On his father’s side, too, was his great uncle, Charles Bucke, author of Beauties of Nature and Ruins of Ancient Cities. Literature was a part of Bucke’s inheritance. 2
In 1838, the Reverend Bucke, his wife, and seven surviving children, immigrated to Upper Canada, and settled down to the life of a pioneer farmer. He brought with him his huge library of several thousand volumes in several languages. These were to form the basis of his sons’ education at their homestead, Creek Farm, in the province of Ontario, Canada. The Reverend Bucke was a learned man who read in seven languages. He was the sole teacher to his boys, including Richard Maurice. They were all avid students born with the “desire to know.” 3
Maurice, as he was called, learned Latin from his father, and read from among the thousands of books in their home library. This was a superb foundation for his future education as a doctor and literary man. Bucke never went to school in the ordinary sense; there were none. He was self-educated in the highest sense of the word. In Bucke’s own words, in third person singular, as he was wont to write about himself.
He was born of good middle class English stock and grew up … on what was then a backwoods Canadian farm. As a child he assisted in such labor as lay within his power: tended cattle, horses, sheep, pigs; brought in firewood, worked in the hay field, drove oxen and horses, ran errands. His pleasures were as simple as his labors. An occasional visit to a neighboring small town, a game of ball, bathing in the creek that ran through his father’s farm, the making and sailing of mimic ships, the search for birds’ eggs and flowers in the spring’ and for wild fruits in the summer and fall, afforded him, with his skates and handsled in the winter, his homely, much loved recreation. While still a young boy he read with keen appreciation Marryat’s novels, Scott’s poems and novels, and other similar books dealing with outdoor nature and human life. He never, even as a child, accepted the doctrines of the Christian church; but, as soon as old enough to dwell at all on such themes, conceived that Jesus was a man – great and good no doubt – but a man. That no one would be condemned to everlasting pain. That if a conscious God existed he was the supreme master and meant well in the end to all; but that, this visible life here being ended, it
was doubtful, or more than doubtful, whether conscious identity would be preserved. The boy (even the child) dwelt on these and similar topics far more than anyone would suppose… He was subject at times to a sort of ecstasy of curiosity and hope. As on one special occasion when about ten years old he earnestly longed to die that the secrets of the beyond, if there was any beyond, might be revealed to him… The boy’s mother died when he was only a few years old, and his father shortly afterwards. The outward circumstances of his life in some respects became more unhappy than can readily be told. 4
At the age of sixteen, as Bucke describes it, “ . . . the boy left home to live or die as might happen.” 5 For the next five years Bucke wandered over North America from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico to the Upper Ohio to California. His adventures were remarkable for a man of any age; this was how Bucke spent his adolescence to young adulthood.
One June day of 1853, Bucke crossed Lake Erie. He lived for the next three years in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys, working at any employment he could find. He was a gardener, railroad worker, farmhand, etc. During the winter of 1854-55, Bucke made it to the cypress swamps of Louisiana. He found work as a fireman and deckhand of a Mississippi stearnboat. 6
At the age of twenty, this vigorous young man, Bucke, was determined to cross the Great Plains and make it to the Pacific Ocean. He hired on with the manager of a train of freight wagons and travelled the perilous trail west. His wagon train went through Indian Territory, the lands of the Pawnee and the Sioux, passing the immense herds of bison. They finally reached the Rocky Mountains, and their wondrous beauty was a revelation to the young man, Bucke. 7
From the Rocky Mountains (of present day Colorado), Bucke and his party crossed the great American desert where they took up gold mining at Gold Canyon through which the Carson River flowed in winter (in summer it was bone dry). Bucke worked for a year as a gold miner. Contrary to our modern views of the “Wild West,” based mostly on motion pictures and television, Bucke reports that:
The social state of this small community was genuinely Arcadian in its simplicity. No civil, military, or ecclesiastical organization existed among us. There were no laws, no courts, and no churches of any denominations. 8
Despite this lack of external authority, Bucke says:
… there was no theft, no violence, and hardly drunkenness or a quarrel. 9
Leaving Gold Canyon in search of further adventure, Richard Bucke, and his friend, Allen Grosh, decided to cross the Sierra Nevadas to try to make it to the Pacific Ocean. They crossed the eastern summit, 9,000 feet high, and then came down into Lake Tahoe and Squaw Valley. They were trapped in the Sierras for a week of continuous snow in the late fall of 1857. They suffered four days of total starvation and severe frostbite. They eventually crawled upon hands and knees, wet, cold, and hungry, all the way to the “Last Chance” Mining Camp. His friend Grosh
died, but Maurice’s powerful physique stood him in good stead, and he survived. But, not without the loss of one of his feet, and part of the other, for a surgeon, sent for by the miners, had found it necessary to amputate. After Bucke had recovered from his injuries in the care of the “Last Chance” miners, they gave him enough gold nuggets to travel by stagecoach to San Francisco. Bucke said: “I was born again.” 10
Crippled in body, but whole in soul, Bucke returned to Canada, a man of twenty-one. He was maimed, but the store of life experiences he had acquired was already far greater than that of most mature men. Bucke used his inheritance left to him by his mother to go to college. He entered medical school in the year 1858, graduating four years later, at twenty-five. He won that year’s medical class prize for his doctoral thesis entitled: “The Correlation of the Vital and Physical Forces.”* Through his tremendous will power, and his desire to become what he could become, Bucke overcame his physical handicaps, although he suffered pain for the rest of his life. Bucke went back to Europe for post-graduate work, both University College in London, and the Hospital of the Colleges des Medicins in Paris. Returning to Canada in 1864, Bucke settled down to the practice of medicine, but then took a year off to do some mining business in California. He returned considerably richer in 1865. He married Jessie Maria Gurd that year. It was a happy marriage which produced eight children, six surviving into adulthood. 11
(* Bucke takes a “scientific-materialist” position in this M.D. thesis: “Are these forces [the physical and vital] distinct and separate the one from the other, or are the forces which we see manifested by organized beings, another and modified form of the forces existing in the inorganic world…? It is the object of this paper to show that, abstractly considered, no such line can be drawn; that in fact there is no difference between these two groups of forces except in their mode of manifestation, and that this is due to the difference in the material substratum through which they in each case manifest themselves.” 12)
Bucke met with extraordinary success in his chosen profession of medicine. The premier of Canada was his first patient! His medical career went on to psychiatry or medico-psychology as it was then called, and he was appointed superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in Hamilton, Ontario in 1876, and the superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in London, Ontario in 1887, a post he held till his death in 1902. 13
Bucke wrote many papers and gave many addresses to medical and psychological societies of his time. He was among the foremost in his profession. In his work, he was the first psychiatrist to discontinue the use of restraints and seclusion in the treatment of the insane. He abandoned the straitjacket and the locked padded cell, and treated his patients as the human beings they were. He found that the laws of love were as effective with the so-called insane as they were with the rest of humanity. 14
In addition to his innovative work in psychiatry, Bucke was to become a friend and biographer of Walt Whitman, the “good gray poet.” This is what Whitman said about the character of Dr. Bucke as a psychiatrist in Whitman’s visit to the London Asylum where he observed his doctor friend at work:
His method is peaceful, uncoercive, quiet; though always firm – rather persuasive than anything else. Bucke is without brag or bluster. It is beautiful to watch him at his work – to see how he can handle difficult people with such an easy manner. 15
Dr. Bucke, whose name is almost unknown in psychiatry or psychology today, perhaps because he was an avowed mystic, was president of both the Canadian and the American Medico-Psychological Associations of his day. Yet, today, one never even finds his name in the indexes of books in these fields. So extreme, it seems, is the prejudice against mystical and religious experience, that its great expositors were totally “excised” from history! One will search in vain in “modern” psychology textbooks for any references to “mystical,” “religious,” or “cosmic consciousness.” The “psychological sciences” omit completely the spiritual, for which there exists more than ample evidence in the history of all cultures of humankind. Bucke was to eventually become the greatest psychologist of spiritual experience. The poet, Walt Whitman, was to become part of this development, as well. It is to this story that we will now turn.
Soon after he had settled down to the career of medicine as a family doctor in a small town, Bucke wrote this in his diary of March 1866:
My life also now that I am married and settled down to work is so monotonous that what I said of it one day answers for every other day. 16
It was during this period of his life, one of a state of what we would call “anomie,” that Bucke first discovered Walt Whitman, who was later to have a profound effect upon him. On reading the Leaves of Grass, Bucke wrote the following to his close friend, Harry Buxton Forman:
You will have seen the collection of Walt Whitman’s poems that have been edited by Rossetti & published by John Camden Hotten, Son, 1868. You will have got a copy and taken it home and looked at it, but have you soaked through the crust into the heart of it? Have you seen that here is the modern poet? Especially the American poet, and the only one so far, the founder of American literature as Goethe was of German literature? That here at last in the doings of man is something consummate with the broadcast of day and night? That here in fact is a master mind in literature – A mind too great to be confined to poems and usages … A mind & heart on a large scale in which there is no littleness, no humbug, no pretense, no make believe … In fact if I am not mistaken we have here correct revelation -For this is a man who reveals himself. 17
In a later letter of that spring, in April 1869, Bucke wrote again to his friend, Forman, about Whitman:
The secret of the man is the secret of success in all things – literature and everything else – Truth – Sincerity … here is a man who receives images of spiritual and material things from without and transmits them again without the least thought of what the world will say of this idea and how will the world like this form of expression, or into what form did such a great poet cast his thought. He speaks from his own soul with the most perfect candor, sincerity and truth. There is nothing in modern literature like it . . . 18
His friend, Forman, was not as totally enthralled with Whitman as Bucke was, and wrote this reply in July 1869:
Sincerity is stamped in every page – doubtless, but bad taste according to our notions is stamped on the surface of many pages, and paradoxes abound. 19
On a visit to England in the spring of 1872, where he was vacationing for reasons of health (the harsh winter of Ontario and overwork had made him ill), Bucke had the seminal experience of his life. It was a pleasant evening of early spring, and Bucke had spent the evening reading poetry with his friends. They read to each other from the works of Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Browning, and Whitman, and went on like that till midnight. Bucke took his leave and drove home alone in a hansom under the influence of the inspiring ideas, emotions, and images of the evening. He felt peaceful and calm in the quiet of the night. Then, as he describes it himself in the third person:
All at once, without warning of any kind, he found himself wrapped around as it were by a flame-coloured cloud. For an instant he thought of fire, some sudden conflagration in the great city, the next he knew that the light was within himself Directly afterwards came upon him a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness, accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination quite impossible to describe. Into his brain streamed one momentary lightning-flash of Brahmic Splendor which has ever lightened his life; upon his heart fell one drop of Brahmic Bliss, leaving thenceforward for always an after taste of heaven. 20
Bucke goes on to say:
Among other things he did not come to believe, he saw and knew that the Cosmos is not dead matter, but a living Presence, that the soul of man is immortal, that the universe is also 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 one is in the long run absolutely certain. He claims that he learned more within the few seconds during which the illumination lasted than in previous months or even years of study, and that he learned much that no study could ever have taught. 21
Bucke’s experience of what he calls “Cosmic Consciousness” resembles that of the great mystics throughout history and in every culture; Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, or no religion at all, the mystical experience is very much one and the same, although it is interpreted afterward differently through the filters of one’s cultural and religious schemata. Bucke’s experience of the living universe, the immortality of the soul, and the ultimate foundation of love, is universal to the mystics of all times and places. Two books flowed from this experience of Bucke’s: Man’s Moral Nature and Cosmic Consciousness. It took several years, however, before Bucke could render his experience in any literary form. In a February 1875 letter to his friend, Forman, Bucke writes:
No prospect of my book going ahead just at present, though I have as much faith in its central idea and the light thrown by it on many things in life and literature, yet I see great difficulty in carrying it out logically to its ultimate conclusion. Still I hope some day to get at least a skeleton of it set down in black & white. I have been thinking of putting a sketch of it in a series of magazine articles. But I do not know what I shall do. I am a good deal in the dumps lately. 22
Bucke wrote articles that were precursors to Man’s Moral Nature in the psychiatry journals of his time. He related the moral nature to the functioning of the autonomic nervous system. To Bucke, the moral nature had much more to do with feeling than thinking.
Without a doubt, the next great experience for Bucke was his meeting with the poet, Walt Whitman, which he called the turning point in his life. Its effect upon him was as strong, in its way, as his earlier experience of illumination. Bucke wrote Whitman a short letter immediately prior to his uninvited visit to the poet’s home in the autumn of 1877. He wrote Whitman that he had read his books and thought very highly of them, and that he wished to meet the author, and proposed to call on him. Whitman sent no reply. Bucke went ahead and visited Whitman sans invitation. He describes the meeting in a letter to his wife of October 1877:
To Jessie Bucke
I have had bad luck getting letters from you. I got one at New York & one at Boston and I made sure I should find one here on my arrival last night. Nary letter.
I expect I shall leave here some time tomorrow though it is just possible I may leave tonight – This will depend on how I get on with the hospitals – I called this morning upon Walt Whitman and we were old friends at once. He is the most delightful man I ever saw –
I stayed over an hour at his house and then we crossed the river to Phil’ together [!] He made a kind of half promise that he would come and see us some time at London and spend some days – I would give anything that he would – his health has been very poor for years but it is now slowly mending.
He has an invitation present to go to California on a trip but he has not quite made up his mind whether or not to accept it
I think I shall certainly be home on Saturday.
I am always my sweet darling your loving husband. R M Bucke 23
Bucke wrote a letter to his friend, Harry Buxton Forman, on the same subject of his meeting with Walt Whitman. It is a bit more expressive of his true feelings on the occasion.
Oct. 24, -77
I crossed the Delaware River to Camden, N.J. and went to see Walt Whitman. We were old friends in less than two minutes and I spent a good part of the forenoon with him . . . I hardly know how to tell you about W. W. If I tried to say how he impressed me you would probably put it down to exaggeration – I have never seen any man to compare with him … he seems more than a man and yet in all his looks and ways entirely commonplace (Do I contradict myself?). He is
an average man magnified to the dimensions of a god… 24
This is how Bucke describes his meeting with Whitman years later in his biography of the poet:
He called on Whitman and spent an hour at his home in Camden, in the autumn of 1877. He had never seen the poet before, but he had been profoundly reading his words for some years. He said that Walt Whitman only spoke to him about a hundred words altogether, and these quite ordinary and commonplace; that he did not notice anything peculiar while with him, but shortly after leaving a state of mental exaltation set in, which he could only describe by comparing to the slight intoxication by champagne, or to falling in love! And this exaltation, he said, lasted at least six weeks in a clearly marked degree, so that, for at least that length of time, he was plainly different from his ordinary self Neither, he said, did it then, or since pass away. Though it ceased to be felt as something new and strange, but became a permanent element in his life, a strong and living force… 25
Clearly Bucke had discovered his spiritual teacher, his “guru.” There is a discipleship here that is akin to that between Jesus and Peter, the Buddha and Ananda, or Krishna and Arjuna. Walt Whitman was forever to have a crucial effect upon Bucke’s life and work.
During the period from his first meeting with Walt Whitman in 1877 to the latter’s visit to Bucke’s home in Canada in 1880, there are several letters exchanged between Bucke and Whitman. Bucke became a proselytizer for Whitman’s poetry during these years. It was during this period that Bucke wrote a book called Man’s Moral Nature, which he dedicated to Walt Whitman. It was published in New York in 1879. So, we see that his meeting with the bard was the crucial element that enabled Bucke to crystallize his own ideas in literary fashion.
Man’s Moral Nature borrows from the physiology, philosophy, theology, and psychology of the time, and combines these with facts of history and Bucke’s own personal observations on life. The book, however, is a dry and pedantic treatise on the evolution of man’s moral nature. Bucke, in this work, is no poet, like his mentor Whitman, and it is frankly a rather unwieldy work which Whitman himself apparently never commented directly upon. Whitman did make an indirect comment on it by refusing to allow Bucke to include passages from it in his biography on the poet: Walt Whitman: A Contemporary Study (1883). When Bucke did, Whitman deleted these passages! The intellectual scientist Bucke lacked the living force in his writing, which he so admired in the poet-sage Whitman. It was to take twenty more years of discipleship before Bucke could begin to express himself in a manner fitting of his illumination, in his later work, Cosmic Consciousness, which combines both intellectual and poetic inspiration.
The principal point of Man’s Moral Nature is that man has three natures (or at least three that Bucke had discovered): the active nature, the intellectual nature, and the moral nature. In Bucke’s conception in this book, the moral nature has two sides: positive and negative. The positive side is love and faith. The negative side is hate and fear. Bucke relates the intellectual nature to the cerebrospinal nervous system, and the moral nature to the autonomic nervous system* (* The autonomic nervous system has two branches, sympathetic and parasympathetic, which regulate involuntary action, glandular and smooth musculature, mediating tension and relaxation, respectively.) in a somewhat crypto-scientific explanatory system. The main point of the book is that human beings are evolving from the negative side, fear and hate, to the positive side, love and faith. Whereas the intellectual nature gives rise to philosophy and science, the moral nature generates religions and works of art. The religions of humankind are expressions of faith, whereas art is the expression of love. In religion, the intellectual nature is a means of expressing doctrines, which are merely tools for expressing faith. In poetry, Bucke says, those who emphasize reason are second rate. True art and true religion come from feeling. Whereas Bucke has hit upon some truth in seeing the import of the feeling components of religion and art, no doubt, his views on this are rather simplistic. Especially unconvincing is his “locating” of love and faith in the autonomic nervous system. The element of truth in this is that the autonomic nervous system mediates tension vs. relaxation, the fight or flight response vs. calmness, etc., as is admirably pointed out in Herbert Benson’s book, The Relaxation Response (1975). But I think there is more to love and faith than the relaxation response! Jesus’ commandment to “love ye one another,” or “love thy neighbor as thyself,” and his parables of faith, such as the “mustard seed parable,” surely come from a higher place than that which we share with the lower animals. It is curiously consistent with the dominant materialism of his late nineteenth century era that Bucke reduces the bases for religion and art to a primitive anatomical feature of the nervous system. Darwin and Marx and other materialist philosophies were very much “in the air” at the time, and Bucke, although a true mystic was also a man of his historical era. It was the time when physicists thought of atoms in terms of billiard balls bouncing around. There has been a revolution in physics since that time wherein leading physicists of our era see consciousness as a basic ingredient, if not the underlying foundation, of nature. These views have hardly penetrated down to the biological and psychological sciences to any great extent, and the attempt to reduce the psychical or the spiritual to the readily identifiable physical brain is as common today as it was in Bucke’s time. Oddly enough, physics may lead in a revolution against this materialism, as we shall see later. Bucke in Man’s Moral Nature mixes good psychological and spiritual insights with a dubious materialistic reductionism.
In the concluding sections of his book, Bucke wishes to prove that love and faith are justified in a benevolent universe. Whitman showed the same thing in his poetry without proofs. Bucke set out to rove what he knew from his illumination in laborious and sometimes incredible ways. We will compare the scientist and the poet in the following quotations.
To quote from Dr. Bucke’s Man’s Moral Nature:
I need not insist upon the fact that, speaking generally, all the religions which have originated subsequently to Buddhism such as the various forms of Christianity, and Mahometanism, all differ from Buddhism and Zoroastrianism in these two essential particulars – first, that they declare the good power or principle in the government of the universe to be stronger than the evil power; and, secondly, that they represent the state beyond the grave to be, for the good man, more to be desired than feared. The meaning of this, of course, is that . . . in the last two thousand years, the scale has turned, and faith is now in the human mind in the excess of fear and consequently the ideas projected into the unknown world by man’s moral nature, are on the whole, a plus quantity instead of being . . . a minus quantity or simply equal to zero. 26
Bucke’s view here, extending from an earlier discussion of animistic and polytheistic religions, is that the history of man’s religions shows an evolutionary development from a time when fear and hate was predominant (we can imagine prehistoric man in a continual state of fear and hate, feeling surrounded by hostile forces, as it were) to a time when the highest religious impulse was the assertion that “God is love,” as was expressed by St. John the Divine, a disciple of Jesus. Buddhism, historically earlier, perhaps saw a “zero state” as the best that could be attained, and Zoroastrianism saw the universe as the ground of a battle between the forces of good and evil, each being identified with a god. If there is this evolutionary development, we surely have not come very far from the time of Jesus and John, but have, it would seem, regressed rather badly, making very real the basis for fear and hate in the twentieth century with Auschwitz and Hiroshima, and a 45 year long “cold war” (now ending) which threatened us with a nuclear holocaust. Today’s ecological crisis of global warming – due to C02emissions and deforestation is surpassing nuclear war as a clear and imminent danger! Whether Bucke’s “always upward and onward” optimistic evolutionism is actually true is a question to be asked. On the other hand, there is no doubt that religions showed a development from an emphasis on fear to an emphasis on love.
The poet, Whitman, expresses his truths quite a bit more directly. Perhaps this is the contrast between the thinking and the feeling functions. To quote Walt Whitman on the human soul, the following is Whitman’s personal expression of his own supreme confidence:
Was somebody asking to see the soul?
See, your own shape and countenance, persons, substances, beasts, the trees, the running rivers, the rocks and sands.
All hold spiritual joys and afterwards loosen them;
How can the real body ever die and be buried?
Of your real body and any man’s or woman’s real body,
Item for item it will elude the hands of the corpse-cleaners and pass to fitting spheres,
Carrying what has accrued to it from the moment of birth to the moment of death.
Not the types set up by the printer return their impression, the meaning, the main concern,
Any more than a man’s substance and life return in the body and the soul,
Indifferently before death and after death,
Behold, the body includes and is the meaning, the main concern, and includes and is the soul;
Whoever you are, how superb and how divine is your body, or any part of it? 27
Perhaps influenced by Whitman’s poetical feeling expression, more than by the materialistic sciences of his time, Bucke concludes Man’s Moral Nature with a splendid moral injunction.
This then is the end, the conclusion of the whole matter. Love all
things – not because it is your duty to do so, but because all things are
worthy of your love. Hate no thing. Fear nothing. Have absolute
faith. Whoso will do this is wise; he is more than wise – he is happy.” 28
Walt Whitman is, for Richard Bucke, the living proof of his evolutionary hypothesis. Bucke dedicated the book “to the man who of all men past and present that I have known has the most exalted moral nature -WALT WHITMAN.” 29
In the summer of 1880, Whitman finally paid Bucke the visit he had long hoped for. Bucke accompanied the poet from Camden, New Jersey to London, Ontario. Bucke for the next four months with the “god man,” Walt Whitman. It was during these months that Bucke began to gather the information he needed for his biography of Whitman. He also visited Whitman’s ancestral home in Long Island, and corresponded with poets and writers from all over the world who knew the American master poet. Bucke occasionally wrote to Whitman asking him to reveal his “interior life.” These requests from the scientist to the poet were never answered. Whitman’s response was no response. Here is one example of such a letter from Bucke to Whitman:
To Walt Whitman
[London] Jan 19th 1880
My dear Walt,
I am going to ask a great favor of you – I want you to write a sketch of your interior life – especially in relation to the conception & elaboration of “Leaves of Grass. ” The germancy & growth of such a product as “Leaves of Grass” is a psychological expression almost unique in the history of the race and some record of it ought to remain if possible – I need not explain any further what I want from you for you will understand at once what I mean and you must surely have often thought of putting it upon record. –
I hope you will take this matter into serious and favorable consideration.
And I am
R. M. Bucke 30
The poet, Whitman, never revealed his “inner life” to the scientist, Bucke, except to continue writing his poetry. His poetry is at once inner and outer. It is a direct expression. The poet does not dissect reality into inner and outer like the scientist. There is no “inner thought” which expresses itself in the “outer poem.
There is just the poem! It is the inner and the outer. Whitman had nothing to report to Bucke on this except to write poems.
Whitman was never to visit Bucke’s house again because Bucke’s wife began to resent her husband’s extreme attachment to the poet, and she refused to allow him into their home. Bucke respected his wife’s wishes in this, but told her that she would never succeed in ending his friendship with Walt Whitman. He said that if the rest of the universe were on one side and Walt Whitman were on the other, he would go with Whitman! Speak of loyalty. Bucke completed his biography of Whitman in 1883.
Underlying Bucke’s letters to Whitman of the rest of the 1880s is the fact that the poet is slowly dying. Bucke is greatly concerned with Whitman’s health and comfort. He appointed a full-time doctor to look over him. The following is a representative letter from Bucke to Whitman during this period. The replies of Whitman, if there were any, are lost.
Dec. 17, 1888
You have had a hard fight and a long fight, but we may say of you to-day that you have won the battle. If you have fallen at the end (though I trust even yet you may still have before you some good days), but even if you are to fall now, your fame is safe beyond all peradventure. Your work is well done; and here or elsewhere (I do not know that it matters which – except for those you leave a little while behind you), you will always live and be honored always. Yes, and loved always.
R. M. Bucke 31
The warmth and love expressed between these two late nineteenth century men is quite extraordinary, and reflects, I believe, a far more humane age than our own. The following is a poem sent by Walt Whitman to Dr. Bucke:
17 July 1891
The College Welcome to Dr. Bucke
Comrade – stranger, glad we greet you.
One and all are pleased to meet you;
Cordial friendship here shall heat you,
whilst with us you stay
Friend of Walt! Be that the token,
That enough our hearts be open,
Though no other word be spoken
Friends are we alway
Friendship let us treasure
Love to greatest measure,
Comrades true our journey through
Life’s thus made a pleasure.
Hall! to Whitman, Lover’s poet!
Here his portrait. All we know it
To the world we gladly show it
Proud his friends to be.
Doctor Bucke, Walt’s brave defender,
Thanks to you we gladly tender
Noble service did you render
To our hero’s fame.
You, his chosen “explicator,”
“Leaves of Grass’s” indicator,
You, his life’s great vindicator
Honoured be your name.
Health to Walt’s glory!
Long live the poet hoary!
Noble life through
Peace and strife
Immortal be his story!
Let us cherish his example,
Kind, heroic, broad and ample
Be our lives of his a sample
Worthy friends prove we. 32
Walt Whitman concluded the letter with the statement: “I’m a flickering well-burnt candle, soon to be all out.” The “good gray poet” died March 26, 1892. Bucke was an honorary pallbearer at Whitman’s funeral, and he delivered a short oration at the gravesite:
In your own right you took the rank here below as a supreme creative workman; in 13our own right to-day you rank among the supreme creative gods. 33
Indicative of Bucke’s almost religious veneration for Whitman is the following letter to his friends J. W. Wallace and John Johnston:
10 April 1892
Dear Wallace and Johnston,
Many thanks for your good kind letter. I cannot write to you yet – my heart is heavy as lead. But it will pass off and please God we will work for dear Walt harder than ever. Over & over again I keep saying to myself. The Christ is dead! And this time there seems to be an end of everything. But I know he is not dead and I know that this pain will pass. Give my love to all the dear College fellows – Now we are really brothers. God bless you all.
R. M. Bucke 34
Some have suggested that Bucke regarded Whitman as a kind of “messiah figure.” There is some truth in that. *
In the Jungian view, he projected the archetype of the Self onto his hero, Walt Whitman. Some beings, who are very highly evolved, somehow attract this projection, without doing anything consciously about it. The best teachers will not encourage it, and we cannot see anything that Whitman did to encourage this projection on the part of Bucke. Usually he did this by not responding to what he considered inappropriate questions or statements. To Bucke this made Whitman seem all the greater. This is the most difficult juncture in the teacher/pupil relationship: the withdrawing of projections. In the case of Jesus, his followers could not withdraw their veneration from him, so he withdrew from them, and said that it would be better this way. He will send another: the Holy Spirit. After this happened, in the Christian story of Crucifixion/ Resurrection/ Ascension/ and Pentecost, the disciples found new strength. We could say they awakened to their own true Selves. They would call this the Christ. Similarly with Bucke, his own spiritual teacher-mentor, the poet Walt Whitman, had to withdraw from him. He died. Bucke actually went on to do his very best work after Whitman’s death, his magnum opus, Cosmic Consciousness.
Bucke’s chief project of the 1890s was the examination of the faculty which he called “Cosmic Consciousness” based upon his examination of fifty instances. His sources of inspiration for this work were twofold: his own mystical illumination in 1872 and his long friendship with the poet-sage, Walt Whitman, whom Bucke considered the “greatest instance” of this emergent gift. In May 1894, Bucke spoke on “Cosmic Consciousness” to the American Medico-Psychological Association. He completed his book, Cosmic Consciousness in 1898, but it did not find a publisher immediately. It was finally published in 1901, one year before Bucke’s death in 1902. Only five hundred copies of this book were printed and sold during Bucke’s remaining year of life. Yet, today, ninety years later, it continues to exist in several paperback forms, and is in the home library of nearly every person with an interest in mysticism and spiritual psychology.
(* Bucke compares Whitman’s Leaves of Grass with the holy scriptures of other civilizations in his biography of the poet: “What the Vedas were to Brahmanism, the Law and the Prophets to Judaism, the Avesto and Zend to Zorastrianism, the Kings to Confucianism and Taoism, the Pitakas to Buddhism, the Gospels and Pauline writings to Christianity, the Quran to Mohammedanism, will Leaves of Grass be to the future American civilization. Those were all Gospels . . . 35)
The author, Bucke, finds the state of Cosmic Consciousness in such diverse persons as the Buddha, Jesus of Nazareth, St. Paul, Plotinus, Dante, St. John of the Cross, Francis Bacon, Jacob Boehme, and, of course, Walt Whitman. His instances cover the greats of religion, mysticism, poetry, and science. 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.
Death came to Richard Maurice Bucke quite suddenly on February 19, 1902. After dinner with friends on an intensely cold Canadian night, Bucke returned home. He went outside on the veranda to take what was to be his last look at the stars. He slipped on a patch of ice, being after all a man with only one foot, and struck his head violently against a pillar. He died instantly. 36 Bucke was sixty-five years of age, still vigorous of mind and body. The world lost one of its truly great and many-sided men. He died at the beginning of our twentieth century.
BUCKE’S EVOLUTIONARY THEORY OF COSMIC CONSCIOUSNESS
Cosmic Consciousness is a difficult book to classify. It has nothing to do with formal religion or with the conscious preparation of traditional mysticism. Bucke was first and foremost a psychologist, a student of the human mind. He treated illumination from the standpoint of psychology, as a very rare and extraordinary state of mind, which is recognizable, and well-authenticated in the religious and mystical literature of every culture of humankind. Bucke takes no position for or against one religion, or another but rather penetrates to the common core of all religions, the state of cosmic consciousness. Bucke’s view is that the human race is, very slowly and sporadically, in the process of developing a new consciousness so far above the ordinary human consciousness that we shall prove true the Biblical prophesy: “I have said, Ye are gods, and all of you are children of the most High. 37
Bucke deals first with three distinct stages of consciousness which precede cosmic consciousness which are observable in living creatures: the perceptual mind of the lowest animals on the phylogenetic scale, the receptual mind of higher animals, and the conceptual mind of human beings. Bucke also calls receptual mind (which includes perceptual mind) “simple consciousness,” and conceptual mind, he refers to as “self consciousness.” Bucke was not the first to recognize that self-consciousness is distinctly human, in fact, the sine qua non of the human race.
By virtue of self-consciousness, we humans are not only conscious of our external environments, our bodies and movements, but are conscious of ourselves as distinct entities, apart, as it were, from the rest of the universe: individual selves. Bucke says that there is no other animal who can do this, ask the question, “Who am I?”
The animal is, as it were, immersed in his own consciousness, as a fish
in the sea; he cannot, even in his imagination, get outside of it for one
moment so as to realize it. 38
How do we know that humans are self-conscious, Bucke asks? We know because he/she can speak to us, because he/she possesses language. “Language is the objective of which self-consciousness is the subjective. 39 Self-consciousness and language are two halves of the same coin. No animal has conceptual language; no animal possesses self-consciousness, according to Bucke. Signal systems, which occur in many animal species, do not imply concepts. The possession of self-consciousness and language in the human creates an enormous gap between us and our nearest neighbors in the animal world. * It is “Adam,” or man/woman, to whom God, according to the Bible, gave the ability to name things. It is, therefore, he/she who has dominion (or stewardship) over the created world. Bucke points out.) that conceptual mind and linguistic communication are an enormous power making possible human social life, manners, customs, institutions, industries of all kinds, arts useful and fine, all of human history, culture, and development. From the dances and hunts of Paleolithic man to the space explorations of contemporary man it is the gift of self-consciousness and conceptual mind, including language.
(* The sciences of language, animal communication, linguistics, and psycholinguistics, present strong evidence that language is uniquely human and species specific. It is associated with fairly recent evolutionary developments of the brain: language capacity tends to be localized in the left cerebral hemisphere – Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas. However, studies of chimps and apes have proven they possess rudimentary language learning capacities, not vocal, but utilizing sign learning or tokens, and studies of our large-brained sea mammal relatives, the dolphins, are in their infancy. Yet the best scientists of language, especially since Noam Chomsky’s revolutionary work in transformational grammar, do conclude that this kind of rule learning, necessary to acquire human language, syntax and semantics, is biologically specific to Homo Sapiens.)
Yet, there is a new stage of consciousness so far beyond self-consciousness that it enables the man or woman who experiences it to directly see the oneness of the universe, the immortality of the soul, and the divine love behind it all. Beyond perceptual mind, receptual mind, and conceptual mind, is intentional or Cosmic Conscious mind, as Bucke calls it. In almost prophetic language, Bucke predicts that Cosmic Consciousness will appear more and more often until it becomes the everyday consciousness of humanity.
Professor William James, the great American philosopher and psychologist, read Cosmic Consciousness soon after it appeared and wrote a letter to Richard Bucke, its author, saying:
I believe that you have brought this kind of consciousness “home” to the attention of students of human nature in a way so definite and unescapable that it will be impossible henceforward to overlook or ignore it … But my total reaction on your book, my dear Sir, is that it is an addition of first rate importance, and that you are a benefactor of us all. 40
Despite these warm and felicitous words by William James, the professions of psychology and psychiatry were to very soon “close the door, ” as it were, on religious and spiritual experience for more than a half century. The behaviorists, Watson in America, and Pavlov in Russia, to name two of its chief exponents, were to “banish consciousness” itself from psychology’s ken. Freud, and the psychoanalytic tradition, was, in its way, as hostile to the religious experience. Nonetheless, we will go back to these earlier and more propitious days of psychology’s path to look at the work of a truly great mind, Richard Bucke, who synthesized an all-embracing theory of the stages and evolution of human consciousness.
Figure 1. 1 From Bucke’s Table on the Psychogenesis of Man:
Name of Faculty Approximate How Frequent? When is the
Age of Appearance Faculty lost in
in Man Man?
Simple Few days after Universal Only lost in deep Consciousness Birth sleep and coma;
present in dreams
Consciousness Three years Nearly Universal; Lost in coma,
absent in 1 a 1,000 delirium,
Cosmic Thirty-five One in many millions Only present
Consciousness for a few seconds
few hours in
any case; then
passes away of
“Cosmic consciousness,” according to Bucke, is a higher form of consciousness than that possessed by ordinary men and women. This last is called self-consciousness and is the faculty upon which rests all human life, as we know it, both subjective and objective. Before we look at Bucke’s theory of the unfolding of cosmic consciousness from self-consciousness, we will go back to the evolution of self-consciousness from sentient life.
Beginning with simple consciousness, which is possessed by the animal kingdom, it is by means of this faculty that a dog or a horse, for instance, is conscious of things about him, and is also conscious of his own limbs and body as part of himself. Simple consciousness is a miracle in itself having arisen from non-conscious sentient life. This is how Bucke puts it:
Later in the history of creation comes the beginning of Simple Consciousness. Certain individuals in some one leading species in the slowly unfolding life of the planet, some day – for the first time – become conscious; know that there exists a world, a something without them. Less dwelt upon, as it has been, this step from the unconscious to the conscious might well impress us as being as immense, as miraculous and as divine as that from the inorganic to the organic. 41
In this powerful book, Bucke has a way of making us awaken to the mystery of much of what we simply take for granted: life, consciousness, self-awareness, etc. Simple consciousness, no less than self or cosmic consciousness, is nothing to be merely assumed as “the way things are. ” Bucke leads us to think about this mystery of consciousness.
This simple consciousness that has arisen in the animal kingdom, perhaps first among invertebrates and simple fishes, is composed of two constituents: perceptual mind and receptual mind in Bucke’s view. What is perceptual mind? It occurs in evolution when the primary quality of excitability or sensitivity is established in living organisms. At this point began the acquisition and registration of sense impressions, that is, of percepts. A percept is a sound heard, an object seen, a pressure felt, and so on. If we could go far back enough in the evolution of the human species, we could find creatures whose whole “mind” was made up simply of these percepts. Many of the species of planet earth are at this stage now: hydra, jellyfish, earthworms, and protozoa. They can sense and respond, and that is about all. They truly follow the classic “Stimulus – Response” formula of the behaviorists! We, indeed, carry much of this early evolutionary machinery in us, as well, in our elementary reflexes. In infants, these would include the plantar response, the knee jerk reflex, the crying response, the sucking reflex, the visual tracking response, and so on. The infant is mostly taking in vast inputs through its sensory apparatus into its nervous system, and responding to some of these in simple ways. The registering and response to sense impressions, or perceptual mind, is our elementary beginning, both phylogenetically and ontogenetically.
What are recepts? From generation to generation, our perceptual creatures accumulated countless millions of percepts and the constant repetition of these led in the struggle for existence to an accumulation in the central nervous system of groupings of these percepts throughout the nerve ganglia into what we may call recepts. 42 A recept is a group percept. Similar percepts, say of a tree, are registered one over the other, until they are generalized; this is a recept. It seems to involve memory and a form of “stimulus generalization” and also “response generalization. ” Hence trees are grouped, as are rocks, certain species of animals, etc. Behavior becomes more efficient that way. One can learn to avoid certain
enemies, such as snakes, or seek out and find certain prey, or edible substances. One does not have to respond to each case individually anymore. Percepts and recepts make up what Bucke calls “simple consciousness.” It involves perception and memory, and moreover, concrete classifications, such that one exists in a world of relatively stable objects over time. With receptual mind, consciousness of the “out there” comes into existence. With merely perceptual mind, there is barely the faintest glimmer of consciousness, if we can call immediate sensation consciousness at all. It is Proto-consciousness at best. In our infant, there is now recognition of a certain recurring pattern of stimuli as the “mothering one,” and another as the “breast from which one sucks nourishment, ” etc. There are no linguistic concepts or names whatsoever at this point, merely the consciousness of certain objects quite concretely cognized. If you can “enter into this” scenario, you can experience what this receptual mind of the baby of about age six months to a year, or of the higher animal, is like. You once experienced the world in this way yourself! Species of all kinds from the dinosaurs to the woolly mammoths of ages past, to the leopards and kangaroos and sheep and elephants and rhinosoruses and racoons of today are creatures of simple consciousness. Obviously, there is a continuum of intelligence within the world of simple consciousness with levels of problem-solving ability. Yet in all these creatures, there is not the slightest glimmer of conceptual mind or self-consciousness. If there was, we would know it, animal communications experiments notwithstanding, it has not been shown, to this date anyway, that there is an animal species who is self-conscious and conceptual besides the human race. As stated earlier, sign language learning capacities of primates and dolphins suggest a proto-self-conscious stage between simple and self-consciousness in these large-brained mammals. Self-consciousness is our peculiar burden. It involves a suffering that animals do not know, as is symbolized in the myth of Adam and Eve
who eat of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” – and become self-conscious human beings! They are forced to leave the Edenic paradise of simple consciousness forever.
What is self-consciousness? A recept is a composite image of hundreds or thousands of percepts. It is an image abstracted from many images. But a concept is that same recept named for some abstract quality that it possesses. 43 For example, when members of a class of furry creatures who run on all fours, and bark sometimes, and lick your hand other times, are recognized as “dogies,” that is the beginning of concept formation. There is a similar but somewhat different class of furry creatures which meow” rather than bark, and they behave somewhat more shyly and less gregariously, and these we recognize as “kitties.” This is what it’s like for a recept to become a concept. The revolution by which concepts are substituted for recepts is a gigantic increase in the efficiency of the brain. It made possible language formation, tool invention and use, and simple mores and customs in humanity’s early history. Likewise, the child with concepts and language begins to communicate with others, use simple implements, and not so simple (like the computer), and, in general, become a socialized member of his/her human subculture. The young human individual, who is in possession of concepts, hence Ianguage, inevitably comes to self-consciousness. The being with language can ask itself. “Who am l?” This is not iust a philosophical speculation, but a real fact of early childhood development. It is curious that the great child psychologist, jean Piaget (1896-1980) who raised all kinds of questions about childhood conceptual or from the concept of number to the concept of time to the concept of physical causality etc., deals very little with the origin of the child’s concept of self, or the dawning of self-consciousness. * This is a question which Bucke, his nineteenth century predecessor in the history of ideas looked at very much. The study of consciousness per se seems to be almost as “taboo” among the cognitivists as it was among the behaviorists.
(* Among the many works of Piaget, one finds some reference to self-consciousness, or specifically its absence in the following quote from The MoraI Judgement of the Child (1965): “Every observer has noted that the younger the child, the less sense he has of his own ego. From the intellectual point of view he does not distinguish between external and internal, subjective and objective. 44)
In the individual development of the human child, the transition from simple to self-consciousness begins between two and three years old and corresponds closely to the development of language. This is a question, which the psycholinguists, even the Chomskians, with their emphasis on innate structures, have looked at virtually not at all. I have looked in vain among the psycholinguistics texts for some reference to this subject. I think that the impact of behaviorism on psychology has been far more devastating than is commonly acknowledged. To look at the question of consciousness, and its development, one does well to look back to the great psychologists of the late nineteenth century, such as William James and Richard Bucke.
The present author had a psycholinguistic period in his psychology study and looked a bit into the question of language and self-consciousness. One can observe that children of about two already have the beginnings of language, certainly words used meaningfully and simple sentences. There is a peculiarity in the usage of two-year-old children in that they tend to refer to themselves objectively rather than subjectively. For example, “Benjy want ice cream!” At about three years old, the personal pronoun “I” comes into the vocabulary, as for example, I want ice cream, Mommy!” Does the use of “I” imply the dawning of self-consciousness? I certainly believe so. You may recall vaguely that this was the time that you first began to become conscious of yourself as a separate being: I am. “I” comes into existence signifying self-consciousness. Bucke points out that what took the human race several hundred thousand years to develop is the possession of every human child of today by about three years old.
For some hundreds of thousands of years, upon the general plane of Self-Consciousness, an ascent, to the human eye gradual, but from the point of view of cosmic evolution, rapid, has been made. In a race, large brained, walking erect, gregarious, brutal, but king of all other brutes, man in appearance but not in fact, the so-called alalus homo, was, from the highest Simple Consciousness born the basic human faculty Self Consciousness and its twin, language. 45
In each case, there is an enormous hiatus that is Jumped, from sentient life to simple consciousness, and from simple consciousness to self-consciousness. Bucke does not speculate too much about what was the “mechanism” which “Jumped the gap,” whether chance factors and natural selection, as Darwinians would have it, or some purposive intelligence manifesting itself in nature, as creative evolutionists would claim, as for example, Teilhard de Chardin. Needless to say, Bucke points out the mystery with wonderment and awe.
Once there exists conceptual mind and self-consciousness, there is an immense and complex development both in the history of the human race, and correspondingly, in the development of the human individual from infancy to adulthood. Bucke treats of this development in his chapter called “On the Plane of Self-Consciousness.” Simple consciousness, Bucke estimates, appeared many millions of years ago; self-consciousness, he judges, is perhaps three hundred thousand years old. This is a long development on the plane of self-consciousness! Just as simple consciousness phylo genetically evolved from the simplest vertebrates to the nearly human higher primates, and perhaps dolphins, self-con- sciousness, historically and anthropologically speaking, evolved from the simplest food-gatherer in the forests to the philosophers and playwrights of the Greek city-states … whether we have evolved much from Plato and Sophocles, I am not sure!
Bucke first treats of the development of intellect and language, the inner and outer sides of the same thing – conceptual mind. He tends to look mostly at historical and racial developments; I will supplement this with a look at the development of the human individual which was the subject of much of my graduate school studies. Bucke looks at the work of the linguist, Max Mueller, who estimated that the Indo-European ancestral language may be reduced to one hundred and twenty-one root concepts. 46 From these came the millions of words in the various descendant Indo-European languages of today. Bucke goes further and says that these over one hundred roots words of Indo-European probably were derivatives of about one half dozen words. After all, human language had to begin somewhere; it did not appear in full-blown form suddenly out of nowhere! We can imagine our cave-dwelling ancestors coining a very few basic words: hungry, eat, danger, love, and so on. You get the idea.
In quite exact parallel to this, the human child begins his Ianguage developmental history with a very few words. Some possibilities are: “mama, ” “dada, ” “doggie, ” “see, ” “want, ” and “no. ” These kinds of records exist in psycholinguistic developmental studies. From these single words, simple two-word sentences are formed, such as, “see doggie,” or “see dada,” or “want doggie,” and so on. Of course, vocabulary is continually and rapidly enriched from the few words of age two to the, perhaps, five hundred words of the five-year-old child of kindergarten age. Not that development stops here by any means. By age thirty, our child may have become an author of several books, and a “linguistic athlete” with a vocabulary of hundreds of thousands of words and the capacity to forge these into totally novel sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and whole books!
Bucke speculates that the entire intellectual development of the human race could have evolved from a single initial concept. 47 I wonder what that was? I suppose that nobody will ever know. Parallel to this is the possibility that individual mental development begins with a single concept. This would be very difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain. Bucke’s analogy is the development of the whole complex human (or animal) organism from a single cell. Whether this analogy between the development of the organism from a single cell and the development of the mind from a single idea is accurate or not, I do not know. It is interesting to speculate on the analogues between biological and conceptual evolution as Bucke did, and likewise Piaget, with their biological science backgrounds. * (*Bucke was trained as a physician with an M.D., and Piaget was a Ph.D. in biology.)
After his discussion of the development of language and intellect, “on the plane of self-consciousness,” Bucke looks at other developments, such as the evolution of the color sense. Based upon the study of ancient documents, it can be fairly well demonstrated that our ancestors recognized fewer colors than we do. Even Aristotle spoke of a “tricolored rainbow!” 48 We see the rainbow as seven colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Obviously the Greeks of Aristotle’s era made fewer distinctions among the colors. The Rig Veda, Bucke points out, also mentions only three colors. The Bible never mentions the color blue! It takes sky and sea for granted, apparently. The earliest human documents of the ancient civilizations of the Fertile Crescent utilize only two color names: red and black. I do not think it is logically possible for there to be only one color! Then, everything is the same. Children, as is well known, have to learn to use color names and concepts.
Anticipating by more than fifty years the “moral development” specialists in child psychology such as Kohlberg, Bucke looks at the development of man’s moral nature, his conscience, his sense of right and wrong, his sense of duty and responsibility, and his love of his fellow men, as another, and crucial aspect of development in the obviously very complex “plane of self-consciousness. ” Bucke, based upon his -own study of history, asserts that human moral nature is not more than ten or twelve thousand years old. 49 Of course, Bucke, as any scholar, is limited to the study of the historical period, in the nature of the case, as “prehistory” is beyond the range of investigation! We do not know what the morality, or lack of it, of our Neolithic or Paleolithic ancestors was like. However, we had on our own continent, a Neolithic culture, that of the Native American, and they surely had a moral code of highest level stressing honor, honesty, duty to one’s fellow man, etc. Our concept of democracy comes from the Indian tribes of the Northeast. Who knows that Paleolithic, or Old Stone Age man, did not have a moral code? Bucke, here, as elsewhere, often claims more than he can know. He does, however, suggest the study of the written historical documents of the early Romans, Hellenes, Hebrews, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and so on, to ascertain whether there is a moral development. I would suspect that there is. Whether it is “always upward” is another question. One of Gautama Buddha’s Ten Commandments was “kill no sentient being.” This was his teaching of 2,500 years ago. Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish rabbi and central figure of Christianity of two thousand years ago, taught that even anger, or hate of one’s fellow human being, was the moral equivalent of murder. Yet in our twentieth century, amoral monsters such as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin ruled over millions of people in “civilized countries” and set their own standards of violence and murder. We are just emerging (since late 1991) from a 45-year “cold war” during which time we lived under a nuclear “sword of Damocles” which threatened us with human extinction. There may be major regressions as well as progressions in moral evolution! As to the moral development of the child from infancy to adolescence, it is commonly believed that there is a progression.
I attended the William James lecture at Harvard Divinity School given by the psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Coles. He talked about the case of a little black girl named Ruby, who caused him to throw all “theories of moral development” out the window. She was about six years old, and would be in the “pre-operational stage” of Piaget, hence, presumably was “incapable” of true moral reasoning. In any event, Ruby was one of the early cases of school integration in the Deep South. While Ruby was jeered at and threatened by violent redneck types, Dr. Coles observed that she muttered something to herself. He asked her what she was doing. She replied that she was praying. He said, “For whom?” She said, “For those men who are shouting at me.” Dr. Coles in disbelief, asked her, “Why, Ruby, why?” Ruby replied that it was because they needed prayer, and besides, “Jesus told us to love our enemies. ” I think that this makes the point without further comment. Strangely, Bucke states that moral development in the child is very late, and usually does not appear until mid-adolescence! I think the doctor errs here. But he is correct in looking at moral development as one of the chief features on “the plane of self-consciousness.”
Bucke concludes this chapter by looking at some other self-conscious faculties such as musical sense. It is clear that self-consciousness is a vast subject and it is amazing how many complexities of human psychology and culture are developments thereof
It will be interesting to compare the four-stage developmental theory of Richard Bucke with the likewise four-stage developmental theory of Jean Piaget, the well-known child psychologist and genetic epistemologist of our time, before we go “beyond self consciousness” to Bucke’s discussion of the emergence of cosmic consciousness. Bucke anticipates Piaget’s theory in certain ways, and also goes a giant step beyond it.
Piaget’s Stages of Moral Development: 50
Sensori-Motor: The sensori-motor stage spans roughly the age range that most psychologists call infancy from birth to age two. According to Piaget, the salient feature of this first stage is that internalized thinking processes are absent. In other words, infants cannot carry out many activities “inside their heads.” Infants, at least according to Piaget, are capable only of those processes that can be manifest in overt behavior. Examples would be sucking, grasping, crying, and overall motor processes.
Preoperational: This stage covers ages approximately two to seven. Piaget believes that children in this stage acquire internalized thought processes that they lacked as infants. These processes are said to originate in the child’s internalization of overt action schemas that dominated the sensori-motor stage. So, the early precursors of thought are the internal representations of overt actions. This is very primitive thinking by adult standards. The preoperational is the stage of Piaget’s well-known “conservation” experiments. The child of this stage lacks the abstract concept of the conservation of substance despite transformations.
Concrete Operational: The third or concrete operational stage is said to begin about age seven and end at age eleven. Children can now “figure things out.” They can reason. However concrete operational cognitive processes produce logical thinking only when applied to concrete informational inputs. The child at this stage lacks the abstract thinking capacity of the adolescent or adult. He is able to “solve,” however, the “conservation” experiments mentioned above.
Formal Operational: This stage begins at about eleven years old and goes on indefinitely, according to Piaget, into adulthood. The thinking processes are capable of reaching full abstraction at this stage. Thinking processes are no longer dependent upon concrete observed data. Thought operations can be carried out on hypothetical information making possible higher mathematics, experimental science, and philosophical reasoning.
Piaget believed that intelligence has arrived at its ultimate equilibrium by the formal operational stage, and no further qualitative structural improvements can or will occur. By fifteen the child is capable of mathematics and science, and abstract reasoning of a philosophical character. Further adult developments are simply elaborations upon this in Piaget’s view. Of course, there are enormous individual differences in intelligence and capacity for abstract reasoning from the checkout clerk’s figuring your bill at the supermarket to the nuclear physicist’s complex equations of quantum theory. These are just variations within the formal operational scheme according to Piaget. This is man’s “highest attainment.” This is a peculiarly narrow academic view of things! It does not take into account that achievements in certain fields, such as literature and poetry, can take place in midlife and later. It certainly does not include within its range of possibilities the experiences of the mystics and sages, nor their teachings, some of which are considered holy scriptures, e.g., the Bible, Upanishads, etc. Piaget, as admired as he is by the new and trendy “cognitive psychology,” simply falls far short of including the “possible human,” to use jean Houston’s expression, within its range of sight. The cognitivists, and Piaget was one of the best in that school, raise the human vision from “S – R” to the “formal operational schemata,” but there is an enormous jump beyond this in human possibilities, and Piaget and the cognitivists do not make this jump. Interestingly enough, Bucke, of the previous century, did, somewhat negating his own optimistic theory of continual “upward development.”
Comparing Piaget’s stages with Bucke’s, we see considerable overlaps. The sensori-motor stage of Piaget compares very well with the perceptual mind stage of Bucke. However, from what I know of early child development, I would say that the infant by age six months to a year has certainly begun to form recepts from its initial percepts, and is therefore a being of receptual mind, or simple consciousness. So, simple consciousness is the term that corresponds most completely with the sensori-motor stage. The infant, even of a year, does not possess self-consciousness in any way yet and is comparable (if not behind) in cognitive capabilities to a chimpanzee of the same age. It differs only in that it has the potential for self-consciousness and conceptual mind (it has this potential in its genes even as a fertilized ovum!).
By age two, rudimentary concepts and language have begun in most human beings. This is the beginning of Piaget’s preoperational stage. The thinking process at this stage is extremely concretistic, and moreover, lacks the “reversibility” of later thought. In the famous conservation experiment,” the young child of between two and seven is shown a ball of clay. He can look at it or touch it. Then, the adult experimenter stretches out the clay ball into an elongated tubular shape, for example. He asks the child, “Is it the same amount of clay or is it more?” The child will inevitably say, “It’s more clay.” This experiment can be done with water too. The experimenter first shows the child water in a short fat glass. He can look at or feel the water. Then, the water is poured by the adult into a tall thin glass. Again, when queried as to whether there is the same amount of water, or more, the child will respond, “There’s more water. ” In both cases the child will be a bit puzzled about the “mystery” about how clay or water came from “nowhere. ” The child’s mind at this stage lacks reversible operations, even at the very concrete level. Try it with your four or five year old, and you will see that it “works.” There is no way to teach the preoperational child about concrete operations either. His internal schemata have not gotten to that stage. It would be like trying to teach calculus to a chimpanzee. By seven, on the average, based upon much experience of concrete things, the child’s mind will make the “jump” to concrete operations, and hence, Piaget calls this the “concrete operational stage.” Yet no child of seven or eight will be capable of abstract mathematical or scientific reasoning. This is the achievement of the stage of formal operations, which is reached by about eleven or twelve (with the onset of puberty approximately – although it may have no relation of sex hormones).
This pioneering work of Piaget’s is of vast importance to educational theory and practice, along with his concepts of “schemata, assimilation, accommodation, and equilibrium. ” Schemata have to do with inner mental structures, assimilation with taking in information via these structures, accommodation with modifying these structures based upon experience, and equilibrium with a “fit” between inner structures and the external world. All of this complex development from the preoperational to the formal operational stage of mental development corresponds with Bucke’s stage of “conceptual mind.” You recall that Bucke dealt with the complex developments of this period, for instance, concepts and language evolving from the very few and simple to the very many and complex. There is something of the idea of the epigenetic interaction between organism and environment in Bucke, as with Piaget. Organisms move from percepts to recepts because percepts alone become too inefficient in dealing with the world. Recepts are a jump in efficiency. The jump from recepts to concepts, a monumental one, is also spurred by interactions between the brain and the outer world which force an accommodation to a new and higher synthesis. Within the conceptual stage, movement is from simple to complex. Piaget delineates the substages of the conceptual stage, perhaps more elaborately than Bucke does. Piaget’s great insights were within the area of the development of conceptual thought. We see the adumbrations of Piagetian “genetic epistemology,” i.e. the development of knowing, in Bucke’s question about the development of the “concept of science” from early childhood to mid-adulthood. Piaget wrote an entire book on the child’s concept of causality, and how it evolves. So, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational are sub-stages of what Bucke would call “conceptual mind” which he recognized had a long and complex development.
Whereas Piaget thinks that formal reasoning goes on forever, Bucke asks the question whether there is a limit to the growth and complexification of concepts just as there was a limit to the growth and complexification of percepts and recepts. 51 He says that anyone who seriously considers the question will see that there must be a limit. No such processes could go on into infinity. To be illustrative, if you study the history of philosophy from Plato to Wittgenstein, you will see endless complexification of concepts, often going around in circles within circles. The philosophers seem to be “trapped” in conceptual thought. In the play, Godspell, there is a scene in the beginning in which philosophers from every period of history and culture are all spouting their philosophies simultaneously. The result is babble! On the scene comes John the Baptist who announces the “coming of the Lord!” This is a breakthrough, which symbolizes the coming to a new and higher level. To quote Bucke on this subject:
We have seen that the expansion of the perceptual mind had a necessary limit … led . . . up to and into the receptual mind. That the receptual mind by its own growth was inevitably led up to and into the conceptual mind. A priori considerations make it certain that a corresponding outlet will be found for the conceptual mind. 52
Bucke, the psychiatrist-mystic who had experienced cosmic consciousness some years earlier, probably did not get to this hypothesis via a priori considerations,” but through his own spontaneous experience of illumination. It is clear that Piaget never came to any such thing, and seems to have had no idea that such a thing could exist as “cosmic consciousness.” Contrary to this, Bucke says that we do not have to depend upon abstract reasoning to demonstrate the necessary existence of the supraconceptual mind, since it exists and can be studied with no more difficulty than other natural phenomena.
It was the genius of Bucke to not only recognize the existence of cosmic consciousness, or supraconceptual mind, but to dare to say that this was a natural phenomenon, ergo, it is potentially researchable by science. Others who would recognize the truth of scriptures, for example, would relegate this to the “untouchable realm” of religious faith. I am not sure I agree entirely with Bucke’s naturalism, which sometimes involves a kind of reductionism. The supernatural may be as real an aspect of reality as the natural, and moreover, the two may in no way be in contradiction. In simpler language, if God created the world, He is in no way “alien” to it. In the mystical view of the Kabbalists (Jewish mystics), for instance, God pervades the world. In a later chapter, I will argue that Cosmic Consciousness may be a breakthrough of ego or Self to God. The mention of “God” to many in our secular-materialist world, especially to scientists of the biological, or behavioral, or social science variety, seems to bring immediate grimaces of extreme discomfort and irritation. Their immediate response is “It’s not scientific!” I would be more concerned with “Is it true?” There may be much in the universe, both inner and outer, which is beyond the range of what we currently call science (it is overly narrowly defined). Bucke, who was himself an instance of Cosmic Consciousness, could not in truth to his experience “rule it out of existence.” Nor can 1. Further, it is not just a rare and anomalous experience; it is the central experience of all religions! Bucke had the boldness and the courage to open the doors of a much broader conception of science to this reality. Some of today’s physicists, e.g. David Bohm with his concept of the “implicate order,” are opening doors, as well. We will look at that later.
Bucke says, writing back in the 1890s, that the existence of supraconceptual mind is an established fact. He says that the elements of supraconceptual mind are intuitions rather than concepts. Beyond the self-conscious mind, Bucke is dealing here with the cosmic conscious mind. In this, he goes as far beyond Piaget and the cognitive school as the Buddha and Jesus went beyond the philosophers of their time.
Let us review Bucke’s theory of the four levels of consciousness:
Bucke’s Stages of Consciousness: 53
(1) Perceptual Mind – In a mind made up wholly of percepts, there is only the barest glimmer of consciousness, as we understand it. For example, is the starfish conscious?
(2) Receptual Mind – When receptual mind comes into existence, simple consciousness is born. This means that animals are conscious of the things they see, hear, smell, and feel around them. The animal is conscious of the objects, which he sees, but he does not know that he is conscious of it. He is not conscious of his consciousness; neither is the animal conscious of itself as a distinct and separate entity, or personality. Surely the zebra running in its herd is conscious of sights, sounds, and smells, etc., but it is hardly conscious of its consciousness or identity. Nor does it possess the capacity for concepts or language.
(3) Conceptual Mind – When a creature has reached self-consciousness, it is not only conscious of what it sees and hears and feels, but it knows that it is conscious of it. It is conscious of itself as a separate entity and personality. It can stand apart and contemplate itself. It can observe and judge the contents of its own mind, as it can observe and judge external objects. This creature is a human being! Only human beings are self-conscious. Self-consciousness entails the existence of concepts and language.
(4) Intuitional or Cosmic Conscious Mind – Finally, the basic fact of Cosmic Consciousness, implied by its name, is the consciousness of the cosmos as a livina presence. It involves the immediate perception of the immortality of one’s soul. It is what the Hindus of the East call the “Brahmic Splendor. ” The beings who are cosmic conscious are human beings who have attained to enlightenment or illumination.
Most of twentieth century psychology and psychiatry are about
levels of consciousness one, two, and three. From Freud to Piaget,
and from Skinner to Chomsky, they have ignored consciousness of the
fourth level. Whether even the brilliant innovator, Jung, deals with
this is a question we will look at in one chapter. A priori, then, all
of these “modern psychologists” have ignored or denied the reality
of religious or spiritual experience. They either deny its existence,
or reduce it to something else, perhaps “delusion,” or “regression
to the womb,” etc. We will look into more of this in later chap-ters. Bucke did not ignore or reduce the irreducible and inescapable reality of Cosmic Consciousness. He could not because he had sampled, he had seen. Others, less enlightened, and less illumined, chose to totally ignore him! We ignore him today at our peril because we live in an age of “conceptual mind” gone nearly mad in our world of potential nuclear annihilation and environmental suicide, not to mention the depersonalization and anomie of late twentieth century life. Bucke would say that the answer to this problem is not endless conferences and studies by self-conscious men and women, but the heeding of the holy truths of the enlightened beings who have been on this planet from time to time and left high religions in their wake. He emphasized the value of contact whether directly or through readings or religious forms with the persons of Cosmic Consciousness. An example was Bucke’s long association with Walt Whitman. Bucke very much believed that Cosmic Consciousness was the key to bringing in a new age.
What does Cosmic Consciousness reveal about the world? Bucke says that:
… this consciousness shows the cosmos to consist not of dead matter governed by unconscious, rigid, and unintending law; it shows it on the contrary as entirely immaterial, entirely spiritual and entirely alive; it shows that death is an absurdity, that everyone and everything has eternal life; it shows that the universe is God and that God is the universe… 54
Mystics have experienced this consciousness for moments, and have been changed for life by the experience. Enlightened ones like Jesus and the Buddha lived in this consciousness: the Kingdom of God or Nirvana. We are the beneficiaries of these supraconscious human beings. Bucke would also claim that they represent the future of the human race. In saying this, Bucke is in agreement with the prophesies of a Messianic Age found in many, if not most, of the high religions. Bucke sees this in “naturalistic” as opposed to “supernaturalistic” terms. I am not sure that this is a real distinction at all, but rather two different ways of seeing one and the same reality: the way of science vs. the way of revelation. These seemed in opposition for the past several centuries during which time science declared its independence from religion, but now in the late twentieth century, at the dawn of a new millenium, there is the very real beginning of a convergence between science and religion, which was predicted by no less a mind than Teihard de Chardin, himself a scientist and a mystic. Bucke makes a wonderful statement along these lines when he says:
If it has taken the race several hundred thousand years to learn a smattering of the science of humanity since its acquisition of self-consciousness, so it may take it millions of years to acquire a smattering of the science of God after its acquisition of cosmic consciousness. 55
Bucke says that it is upon self-consciousness that our human world is based, as we see it, with all its works and ways. Upon self-consciousness are based capitalist and communist economic and political systems, philosophical materialism and idealism, business, science, literature, art, laws, customs, folkways, and ethics. All are the products of self-conscious minds. Human culture is the self-conscious world, whereas the animal kingdom is the simple conscious world. In this world of self-consciousness walked from time to time a man or woman of cosmic consciousness. It is the cosmic conscious world that is revealed in the Holy Scriptures of the higher religions. It has been dealt with by no twentieth century psychologist whom I know of as it was by Richard Maurice Bucke, M.D., the late nineteenth century Canadian psychiatrist-mystic. Dr. Bucke knew it firsthand. Bucke gives the following speculative account of the birth of Cosmic Consciousness from self-consciousness:
The philosophy of the birth of cosmic consciousness in the individual is very similar to that of the birth of self-consciousness. The mind becomes overcrowded, as it were, with concepts and these are constantly becoming larger, more numerous and more complex; some day (the conditions being all favorable) the fusion or what might be called the chemical union of several of them and of certain moral elements takes place; the result is an intuition and the establishment of intuitional mind, or, in other words, cosmic consciousness. 56
Where Bucke is theorizing about the evolution of Cosmic Consciousness from self-consciousness, he is a self-conscious scientist like any other, and his theory is no better or worse than that of any other self-conscious scientist, except for the fact that he knew and experienced Cosmic Consciousness, however briefly. This is a “naturalistic theory” of Cosmic Consciousness in which the higher emerges from the lower by some form of synthesis. This viewpoint has been criticized by others of more metaphysical inclination, such as, P. D. Ouspensky, and we shall look at his views in a later chapter. We must observe that Bucke lived during the heyday of the Darwinian theory and was surely influenced by it. He was also influenced by Spencer’s social evolutionism. We can detect in his enthusiasm for socialism that he was also influenced by Marx’s dialectical theory. Bucke was, after all, a man of his time. His theories have to be understood in this historical context. But, his experience of Cosmic Consciousness cannot be so understood. That experience is essentially the same whether it is that of a late nineteenth century Canadian psychiatrist named Bucke, or that of a thirteenth century Persian poet named Rumi, or a first century Pharisee called Saul of Tarsus. Theory is one thing, direct experience is another. Cosmic Consciousness comes to atheists as well as believers. Bucke’s theory of Cosmic Consciousness bears considerable resemblance to theories of “emergent evolution,” such as that of Henri Bergson, and to “purposive evolutionary” theories, such as that of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. These connections were pointed out in a doctoral thesis by James Robert Horne called “Cosmic Consciousness: Then and Now” which was done at the Religion Department of Columbia University in 1964. Horne views Bucke in terms of his social context. As a scientist and theorist, Bucke was influenced by his times, but as a mystic, he was a man of all times. Mystical experience is universal and not much influenced by culture, except in the interpretation of it.
There is a certain basis in truth to Bucke’s theory that conceptual mind becomes “overloaded” leading to a new level of synthesis: “intuitional mind.” This idea resembles the practice of Rinzai Zen, which involves meditating upon a Koan. The student is given an unsolvable riddle, such as, “What was your Original Face before your parents were born?” One can see that since this is a “logical” and “scientific” impossibility that it would tend to “overload” the circuits of the conceptual mind. The student wrestles incessantly with this Koan for days, weeks, or months until it becomes “too much” for his existing mental machinery. Here, he may experience a breakthrough, as it were, to a higher form of consciousness, known as “satorl” in Zen Buddhism. This is the realm of pure intuition. Now, the Zen student can answer the question satisfactorily to the Zen master. He speaks from enlightened consciousness. Prior to this he spoke from ego consciousness, and, in some Zen schools that would involve getting a whack on the head by the Zen master! Bucke is speaking about the evolutionary process to higher forms of consciousness over the millennia; however, the individual process of the spiritual aspirant may involve a similar mechanism.
However, the question is whether Cosmic Consciousness is created by a synthesis of elements from the lower forms of consciousness, as hydrogen and oxygen give rise to water in chemical union, or whether the cosmic consciousness pre-exists in some potential form awaiting realization. This may be a philosophical rather than a scientific question, bringing to mind the nominalist-realist debates. What I have in mind here is whether God, the Supreme Consciousness, conveys Cosmic Consciousness when “the time is right,” or whether Cosmic Consciousness is an “emergent” from the elements of self-consciousness, and that from simple consciousness, and that from elementary percepts, and that from sentient life, and that from organic molecules, and so on. Bucke, in his theory, in keeping with the Darwinism of his time (which is only being questioned in very recent times in biology) seems to favor evolution “from below. ” Yet, he does sometimes talk about God and a “science of God,” which appears contradictory. I suppose that Bucke was not overly concerned with “the hobgoblin of consistency” which Ralph Waldo Emerson said was the characteristic of lesser minds! It is quite possible, probably certain, that there is a higher synthesis between emergent evolution and the idea that God is the Creator of all. Emergent evolution may be the “way” He does it! In this sense, then, Cosmic Consciousness was “awaiting” sentient beings from the time of unicellular life in potentia. You will notice my Platonic bias. Be this as it may, Bucke was the first psychologist of the modern era who treated these issues of the emergence of self and Cosmic Consciousness (and perhaps, he was the best). Speaking of the great drama of the evolution of life and consciousness, Bucke waxes poetic when he says:
As life arose in a world without life; as simple consciousness came into existence where before was mere vitality without perception; as self-consciousness leaping wide winged from simple consciousness soared over land and sea, so shall the race of man which has been thus established, continuing its beginningless and endless ascent, make other steps … and attain to yet higher life than any heretofore experienced or even conceived. 57
Bucke makes me think of such “New Age” philosophers of today as David Spangler, who writes eloquently of the coming of a “transformation” in such recent books as EMERGENCE: The Rebirth of the Sacred (1984). Pierre Teilhard de Chardin also spoke of these things, in Christian terms, as the convergence upon the Omega-Point, or Christ, in such books as CHRISTIANITY and EVOLUTION (1969). Based upon my own brief experience of Cosmic Consciousness, similar to Bucke’s in some ways, I can say that were we to enter collectively into this illumined state, we would know what “rebirth” is. We would know what Jesus meant by the “Kingdom,” and the Buddha by “Nirvana.” We would know the prophesied age of peace of which all prophets spoke. It will come, however, not as self-conscious utopians of various stripes plan. The enlightened ones of our planet earth’s history seem rather more to respect the human race’s gradual process of development, nature’s slow, and sometimes rapid ways, and God’s transcendence over all. Even Jesus said that only “the Father” knows the day of “Christ’s Second Coming.” Bucke considered “the Christ” to be Cosmic Consciousness, as we shall see in his interpretation of St. Paul. The “Second Coming” would be the day when we all have “the mind which was in Christ Jesus,” as the Apostle put it. Can you imagine a race of Christs and Buddhas on this planet? Richard Maurice Bucke, M.D. was creative genius enough to imagine such a possibility. In fact, he considered it to be not a possibility but a certainty. In the last forty centuries of human history, there have existed such men and women on planet earth and this is what Bucke says about them:
The trait that distinguishes these people from other men is this: Their spiritual eyes have been opened and they have seen. The better known members of this group who, were they collected together, could be accommodated all at one time in a modern drawing-room, have created all great modern religions, beginning with Taoism and Buddhism, and speaking generally, have created, through religion and literature, modern civilization. 58
Bucke gives in his book the most complete list of criteria of the Cosmic Conscious experience that has been given by any modern writer on the subject. Any case of Cosmic Consciousness has at least several of these characteristics. It forms an excellent basis for looking at the exemplars of the next section.
Bucke’s Criteria of Cosmic Consciousness 59
a. The subjective light: “The person, suddenly, without warning, has a sense of being immersed in a flame, or rose-coloured cloud . . . ”
b. The moral elevation: “At the same time he is, as it were, bathed in an emotion of joy, assurance, triumph, ‘salvation.’
c. The intellectual illumination: “ . . . there comes to the person an intellectual illumination quite impossible to describe. Like a flash there is a presented to his consciousness a clear conception (a vision) in outline of the meaning and drift of the universe.
d. The 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. The loss of the fear of death: “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 loss of the sense of sin: “The same may be said 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.”
9. The suddenness, instantaneousness, of the awakening: “The instantaneousness of the illumination is one of its most striking features. It can be compared to a dazzling flash of lightning in a dark night, bringing the landscape which had been hidden into clear view.”
h. The previous character of the man – intellectual, moral, and physical: “The previous character of the man who enters the new life is an important element in the case.”
i. The age of illumination: “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 be a veritable spiritual giant. ”
j. The added charm to the personality: “The added charm to the personality is always, it is believed, a feature in the case. ”
k. The transfiguration of the subject: “There seems to the writer to be sufficient evidence that, with cosmic consciousness, while 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 veritable transfiguration.’
BUCKE’S EXEMPLARS OF COSMIC CONSCIOUSNESS –
(1) Gautama the Buddha
Siddhartha Gautama was born of immensely wealthy parents in India of the sixth century BC He grew up a prince, and he married at the age of nineteen. Ten years later, his only son was born. Shortly afterward, having seen the “three woes” of sickness, old age, and death, Gautama left home to devote himself to the quest for enlightenment, and the solution to the mystery of suffering. He studied first with the philosophers of his time, and then he practiced self-mortification with the ascetics. Neither course worked for him. Then, he sat for forty days under a Bodhi tree, resisting the temptations of Mara, the Evil One, meditating until the “doors of enlightenment” swung open to him. Gautama entered Nirvana, or illumination. He became the Buddha, or “Enlightened One.” Among the Buddha’s first words after he had attained enlightenment were:
As the rays of the sun drown the darkness of the world, so he who perseveres in his search will find the truth and the truth will enlighten him. 60
Gautama sounds remarkably like Jesus who said “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Gautama the Buddha said that all the enlightened ones speak the same truth. Following his enlightenment, the Buddha expounded upon the “four noble truths”: (1) the existence of suffering, (2) the cause of suffering, (3) the cessation of suffering, (4) the eightfold noble path that leads to the cessation of suffering. 61
Basically, what is the Buddha saying? He sees suffering as inherent in the nature of the ego or self (i.e. individual existence apart from the rest of reality), and its cause to be desire, among other things, desire for the continuation of the ego or self. He sees that suffering can cease through the abnegation of desires and the “way to do this” is the eightfold noble path culminating in meditation, which leads to Nirvana. Dr. Bucke would see all of this as the road from self to Cosmic Consciousness. Suffering seems to be inherent in the transition from the simple consciousness of the animal to the self-consciousness of the human being, as symbolized so beautifully in the Western tradition in the Garden of Eden myth. To “eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge” is to form an ego. This entails the tremendous suffering of the expulsion from Eden! The only salvation from this suffering is Cosmic Consciousness. Dr. Bucke’s predecessor in the history of ideas by about 2,500 years was Gautama the Buddha, who said:
There is self and there is truth. Where self is, truth is not. Where truth is, self is not. Self is the fleeting error of samsara; it is individual separateness and that egotism which begets envy and hatred. Self is the yearning for pleasure and the lust after vanity. Truth is the correct comprehension of things; it is the permanent and everlasting, the real in existence, the bliss of righteousness … Perfect peace can dwell only where all vanity has disappeared. 62
The following passages come from the Dhammapada, the oldest and most sacred scriptures of Buddhism:
Words of the Buddha
Earnestness is the path of immortality (Nirvana), thoughtlessness the path of death. Those who are in earnest do not die, those who are thoughtless are as if dead already. These wise people, meditative, steady, always possessed of strong powers, attain to Nirvana, the highest happiness. A Bhikshu (mendicant) who delights in reflection, who looks with fear on thoughtlessness, cannot fall away (from his perfect state) – he is close upon Nirvana. One is the road that leads to wealth, another the road that leads to Nirvana; if the Bhikshu, the disciple of the Buddha, has learnt this, he will not yearn for honor, he will strive after separation from the world.
Men who have no riches, who live on recognized food, who have perceived void and unconditioned freedom (Nirvana), their path is difficult to understand, like that of birds in the air. Some people are born
Bucke’s Interpretations It has been many times pointed out in this volume that earnestness of mind is a sine qua non to the attainment of cosmic consciousness. This verse here quoted brings out strongly this point.
After Confucius had seen Lao Tzu he said to his disciples: “I know birds can fly, fish swim and animals run, but the runner may be snared, the swimmer hooked and the flyer shot with the arrow. But there is the again; evil-doers go to hell; righteous people go to heaven; those who are free from all worldly desires attain Nirvana. If, like a shattered metal plate (gong), thou utter not, then thou hast reached Nirvana; contention is not known to thee. The Awakened call patience the highest penance, long-suffering the highest Nirvana; for he is not an anchorite (pravagita) who strikes others, he is not an ascetic (stramana) who insults others.
Hunger is the worst of diseases, the body the greatest of pains; if one knows this truly, that is Nirvana, the highest happiness. Health is the greatest of gifts; contentedness the best riches; trust is the best of relationships; Nirvana the highest happiness. He in whom a desire for the Ineffable (Nirvana) has sprung up, who is satisfied in his mind, and whose thoughts are not bewildered by love, he is called urdhvamsrotas (carried upward by the stream). The sages who injure nobody, and who always control their body, they will go to the unchangeable place (Nirvana), where, if they have gone, they will suffer no more. Those who are ever watchful, who study day and night, and who strive after Nirvana, their passions will come to an end. Cut out the love of self like an autumn lotus, with thy hand! Cherish the road of peace. Nirvana has been shown by Sugata (Buddha).
It has been many times pointed out in this volume that earnestness of mind is a sine qua non to the attainment of cosmic consciousness. This verse here quoted brings out strongly this point.
After Confucius had been Lao Tzu he said to his disciples: “I know birds can fly, fish swim and animals run, but the runner may be snared, the swimmer hooked and the flyer shot with the arrow. But there is the dragon; I cannot tell how he mounts on the wind through the clouds and rises to heaven. Today I have seen Lao Tzu and can only compare him to a dragon.” We might say the same in our own way of nearly any of the persons mentioned in this book as having attained the cosmic sense.
The true place of the body and of the appetites in life can only be perceived by one having cosmic consciousness. 63
Bucke concludes that Siddhartha Gautama was a true case of Cosmic Consciousness, and that Nirvana was the doctrine of the Cosmic Sense. As Bucke sees it, the whole of Buddhism is simply: “There is a mental state so happy, so glorious, that all the rest of life is worthless compared to it, a pearl of great price to buy which a wise man willingly sells all that he has; this state can be achieved. ”
(2) Jesus the Christ
Jesus was born a Jew nearly two thousand years ago in the time of King Herod when Israel was a Roman protectorate. His father was a carpenter, and his mother, a young Jewess. The circumstances of his birth in a stable in Bethlehem are well known. Jesus, except for unusual intelligence and precociousness, grew up as any other Jewish youth. He was trained in the synagogue in the Jewish scriptures and tradition, and by his father in the trade of carpentry. It was at age thirty, or so the scriptures have it, that Jesus was to undergo a profound transformation that began his career as a preacher and miracle worker. In the Biblical account, Jesus went down to the Jordan River to receive Baptism from John the Baptist and it was here that the “heavens opened”
And straightway coming out of the water, he saw the heavens rent asunder, and the Spirit as a dove descending upon him: and a voice came out of the heavens saying thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased. 64
Bucke interprets this passage as a description of the coming of the Cosmic Sense, which is spontaneous, sudden, and as if “a veil” were being torn from the mind’s eye, letting vision come through. St. John of the Cross said: “ . . . it is as if God drew back some of the many veils and coverings that are before it, so that it might see what he is.” 65
It is interesting that Jesus interprets this new state of being in the personal language of his Jewish culture as the “Kingdom of God,” as contrasted with Gautama’s non-personal view of this radically new consciousness as “Nirvana.” Bucke would claim that Jesus and Gautama experienced one and the same thing: Cosmic Consciousness. These men of the Cosmic Sense stand spiritually at the summit of the human race and are considered the “founders” of new world religions: Buddhism and Christianity. Bucke looks at some passages of the Gospels in terms of his theory, as he looked at some lines of the Dhammapada. The following are words reported to have been spoken by Jesus of Nazareth:
Words of Jesus
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
But seek ye first his kingdom (the kingdom of God) and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.
Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women there hath not arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet he that is but little in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Unto you is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept his enemy came and sowed tares also among the wheat, and went away. The kingdom of heaven is like unto a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; which indeed is less than all seeds; but when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the heaven come and lodge in the branches thereof
A proud man is hardly likely to acquire the Cosmic Sense.
Let a man have the Cosmic Sense and he will not be likely to worry about worldly goods. He will probably have all he wants, be his possessions ever so little.
Among the merely self-conscious (among “those who are born of women” distinguishing between those who are not and those who are “born anew”) there are none greater than John. But the least of those who have the Cosmic Sense is greater than he.
Through their personal intimacy with Jesus they saw and realized the preterhuman loftiness of his mind. They saw, in him, the kingdom of heaven – the higher life.
The antagonism between the Cosmic Sense and the merely self-conscious mind and the final subjection of the latter to the former. A perfect image of the initial apparent insignificancy of the Cosmic Sense as it exists in one of a few obscure individuals, and of its ultimate overwhelming preponderance in view both of the universal influence of the teaching of these (say Gautama, Jesus, Paul and Mohammed), and more especially in view of the inevitable universality of the Cosmic Sense in the future. The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened.
The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in the field; which a man found and hid; and in his joy he goeth and selleth all that he hath and buyeth that field.
The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a merchant seeking goodly pearls; and having found one pearl of great price he went and sold all he had and bought it.
I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, which went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the laborers for a penny a day he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing in the marketplace idle; and to them he said: Go ye also into the vineyard and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
If possible a still more exact simile – the Cosmic Sense leavens the individual, and is today leavening the world.
Men who have the Cosmic Sense give up everything for it – this whole volume is proof of it.
The same statement in other language.
The Cosmic Sense is the final arbiter of good and ill. Jesus seems to have looked forward to the establishment of a school or sect the members of which should possess the Cosmic Sense.
The writer has found no instance of a man absorbed in money-making entering into Cosmic Consciousness. The whole spirit of the former is antagonistic to the latter.
The Cosmic Sense is not given for work done or according to merit, as this can be estimated by the self-conscious mind. Why should Jesus, Yepes, and Behmen be chosen, and Goethe, Newton and Aristotle left?
And again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing: And he saith unto them: Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him: Because no man hath hired us.
He sayeth unto them: Go ye also into the vineyard. And when even was come the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward: Call the laborers and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
And when the first came, they supposed they would receive more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they received it, they murmured against the householder, saying: These first have spent but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat. But he answered and said to one of them: Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst thou not agree with me for a penny? Take up that which is thine, and go thy way: it is my will to give unto this last even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? or is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first and the first last.
And being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God cometh he answered them and said: the kingdom of God cometh not with observation; neither shall they say, Lo here! or there, for lo, the kingdom of God is within you.
Bucke concludes, as if we needed proof, that Jesus like Gautama before him, was a man who had attained the Cosmic Sense. His teachings come from the Cosmic Sense and they lead men toward Cosmic Consciousness, or as Jesus would call it, the Kingdom of God.
Paul, or Saul of Tarsus, as he was known before his conversion experience, was an Orthodox Jew born in a Greek land of the Roman Empire. The date of his birth was approximately AD 10 or 12. He never met Jesus of Nazareth during the latter’s lifetime, and, in fact, he was among the chief of the persecutors of the early Jewish Christian sect. He says: “I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prison both men and women. ” As regards Paul’s illumination experience, we are told that:
As I journeyed it came to pass that he drew nigh unto Damascus: and suddenly there shown round him a light out of heaven; and he fell upon the earth and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, who art thou Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: but rise and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men that journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but beholding no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing; and they led him by the hand into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and did neither eat nor drink.”
This illumination experience was indeed the turning point in Paul’s life (the name-change from Saul to Paul indicates, as do other name changes in the Bible, e.g. Abram to Abraham or Jacob to Israel, a transformation of consciousness and being), and the chief persecutor of the fledgling Christian sect becomes its most outspoken exponent, and, moreover, the apostle to the Gentiles. The following are words of Paul beginning with his account of his own illumination fourteen years later.
Words of Paul
I must needs glory, though it is not expedient; but I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago (whether in the body I know not or whether out of the body I know not; God knoweth) such a one caught up even to the third heaven. And I know such a man (whether in the body or apart from the body I know not: God knoweth) how that he was caught up into a paradise and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. On behalf of such a one will I glory; but on mine own behalf I will not glory, save in my weaknesses. For if I should desire to glory I shall not be foolish; for I shall speak the truth; but I forbear, lest anyman should account of me above that which he seeth me to be or heareth from me. And by reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations – wherefore that I should not be exalted overmuch there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me.
For this we may unto you by the word of the Lord, that we are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we that are alive, that are left, shall together
“Christ” is Paul’s name for Cosmic Consciousness.
Unspeakable words, to Whitman: “When I undertake to tell the best I find I cannot, my tongue is ineffectual on its pivots; my breath will not be obedient to its organs; I become a dumb man.”
The usual assurances of immortality that belong to Cosmic Consciousness.
with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
For I make known to you, brethren, as touching the gospel, which was preached by me, that it is not after man. For neither did I receive it from man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
But when it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach him among the gentiles; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood; neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned unto Damascus.
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order, Christ the first fruits; then they that are Christ’s, at his coming. Then cometh the end when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power.
If any man is in Christ he is a new creature; the old things are passed away; behold they are become new.
As regards his “Gospel,” Paul was instructed by the Cosmic Sense only.
He knew, however, enough about Jesus and his teachings to be able to recognize (when it came to him) that the teachings of the Cosmic Sense were practically identical with the teachings of Jesus.
A comparison between the self-conscious and the Cosmic Conscious states. Self-consciousness, he says, the Adamic state, is a condition of death. With “Christ” begins true life which shall spread and become universal.
No expression could be more clear cut, more perfect. The man who enters Cosmic Consciousness is really a new creature, and all his surroundings “become new” – take on a new face and meaning.
There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the ordinance of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace.
And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good …
In the case of Paul, there are many of the characteristics of the coming to Cosmic Consciousness, including the suddenness of its onset, the subjective light, in this case, very strongly manifested, the intellectual illumination, moral exultation, and the absolute conviction of immortality, and the extinction of the sense of sin and the fear of death. The Christ, or Cosmic Sense, must have been with him, for Paul literally put Christianity on the map of the Roman world.
In Cosmic Consciousness there is no sense of sin nor of death, the person feels that this last is an incident in continuous life. The merely self-conscious man cannot, by the keeping of the “law” or in any other way, destroy sin or the sense of sin, but, “Christ” – i.e. the Cosmic Sense, can and does accomplish both.
An expression of the optimism which belongs to Cosmic Consciousness… 68
Bucke, curiously enough, places Moses, the literal key figure of the Old Testament and the Jewish religion, in the category of “imperfect and doubtful instances of Cosmic Consciousness.” His explanation of this is the fact that he is a figure of four millennia ago, and we have no certainty of his actual existence. We do have with absolute certainty the account given in the Book of Exodus of the story of Moses the liberator and lawgiver, who was saved
from premature death by the ingeniousness of his mother who put him in a basket and floated him upon the Nile to avert the evil decree of Pharaoh that all male newborn Hebrews be put to death. He was found by Pharaoh’s daughter, who took him to be an answer to prayer, and was raised in Pharaoh’s court as a prince. You know the story of how Moses slays the Egyptian, and escapes into the Sinai desert. There he becomes a shepherd and has a mystical experience at a “burning bush” which was to transform his life, and to change the course of the history of his people, the Israelites, and all human history, for that matter. Doubtful case indeed! The following is a direct quotation from scripture of Moses’ encounter with God, whom he knew as YHWH, on Mt. Horeb from the burning bush. It comes from Exodus, chapter three, of the Hebrew Bible:
Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the farthest end of the wilderness, and came to the mountain of God, unto Horeb. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush, and said: “Moses, Moses,” And he said: “Here am 1. ” And He said, “Draw not nigh hither; put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” 69
God tells Moses that He is the God of Moses’ ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He tells Moses that He will deliver the children of Israel (the descendants of Jacob, renamed Israel: “He who wrestles with God”) from their affliction in Egypt into a land flowing with milk and honey (Canaan). Moses requests that this voice speaking out of the burning bush reveal its name to him.
And Moses said unto God: “Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them: The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me: What is His name? What shall I say unto them”? And God said unto Moses: “I AM THAT I AM”; and He said: “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: I AM hath sent me unto you.” 70
Although Bucke does not make his usual commentaries on the “imperfect and doubtful instances” of Cosmic Consciousness, this can obviously be viewed as a dialogue between Self and Cosmic Consciousness taking place within Moses. It has all the marks of the Cosmic Conscious experience: the suddenness of appearance, the subjective light, in this case exteriorized in projection, the intellectual elevation, the moral exultation, and so on. Without a doubt Moses was one of the greatest instances of Cosmic Consciousness in human history. The Jewish tradition regards Moses as the greatest prophet, the only man who “viewed God face to face.”
On a second trip to the “top of the mountain,” Moses came down
with the Ten Commandments, the later-to-be moral code of both
Judaism and its offspring, Christianity. It was to Moses that the
Most High Name of God was given: I AM. This connotes that God
is the Very Being and Essence of the Universe. He is the I AM in
every being including the I am that we are. This means, if it is true,
that we live in a universe in which consciousness in-itself precedes
what we call “matter,” and will outlive it. In fact, it means that
consciousness created matter. A mind such as ours, except on an
infinitely greater plane, willed the space-time-matter-energy uni–
verse into being and becoming, from a single point of light which
contained all the energy that was, and is, and will be to the “grand
explosion” into the universe as we know it in all its beauty and
complexity. This is the account given in the Kabbala, the mystical
teaching of Judaism, and it agrees remarkably with the modern
“Big Bang” theory of the origin of the universe. In “the mind” of
Ain Soph (Without Limit), the Godhead, the intention to create
shattered the prevailing nothingness with the awesome glory of
Creation. This creation has culminated in the appearance on a small
planet of a being who can envision his Creator. That’s us.
Moses envisioned his Creator as I AM THAT I AM. YHWH,
“He causes to be” is given slightly later. These sacred names are
considered “too awesome” in the Jewish tradition, and are replaced
by “Adonai” or “Lord, ” or “Adoshem” or “The Name” in prayer-
books. The Christian “God the Father” is even further removed
from the original revelation. Removing God from “His” original
meaning as “I AM” tends to project “Him” into the literal sky for
the simple minded and into the metaphysical sky for the complex
minded. But for the shepherd-mystic-prophet, Moses, God was
“I AM” who “spoke” in the solitude of Mt. Horeb. He was
Being-Itself Consider that the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob, knew God as “El Shaddal,” or “Mountain God,” and you
will realize what a quantum leap in theological and mystical insight
was made by Moses that day he encountered: I AM THAT I AM.
His predecessors located God spatially on a mountain as an “El,”
or “Power” of that mountain. Moses knew God as Existence
Absolute, as much in your heart as on a mountaintop or a distant
Galaxy. The Hasids say, “There is no place empty of Him.”
Moses, as was true of Jesus, “heard” a “subjective voice.” This is characteristic of the religious history of the Middle Eastern monotheistic faiths. The Far East gave rise to more monistic conceptions. There are two ways of relating to Cosmic Consciousness: impersonal and personal.
Dante Allighieri was born in 1265 and died in 1321. Not much is known about Dante’s life, but a contemporary of his said that even as a young man in Florence, he was:
Taken by the sweetness of knowing the truth of the things concealed in heaven, and finding no other pleasure dearer to him in life, he left all other worldly care and gave himself to this alone, and, that no part of philosophy might remain unseen by him, he plunged with acute intellect into the deepest recesses of theology, and so far succeeded in his design that, caring nothing for heat or cold, or watchings, or fastings, or any other bodily discomforts, by assiduous study he came to know of the divine essence and of the other separate intelligences all that the human intellect can comprehend. 71
Bucke comments that this kind of thoughtful, studious, and earnest nature that led to a life of poetic genius was typical of the kind of men who came to Cosmic Consciousness. Dante’s magnum opus, which he wrote in exile from Florence, was the Divine Comedy. It is an account of his own inner journey, in concrete metaphor, through hell, purgatory, and paradise. Hell is the place of utter hopelessness. Purgatory is the place where the imperfect human soul is purified until it is worthy to ascend to heaven. Paradise is, at least in Bucke’s conception, Dante’s word for the Cosmic Sense. It has been called the Kingdom of Heaven, Nirvana, Brahman, and so on in various religious traditions of the world. In his journey through hell and purgatory, Dante is led by his guide, Virgil. But it is Beatrice, the divine feminine, who leads Dante on his final ascent into paradise. The following quotation from Paradisio is accompanied by Bucke’s interpretation.
Dante’s Words A lady appeared to me robed with the color of living flame. I turned me to the left with confidence with which the little child runs to his mother when he is frightened, or when he is troubled, to Virgil: “Less than a drachm of blood remains in me that does not tremble, I recognize the signals of the ancient flame. ” But Virgil had left us deprived of himself.
And as my face stretched upward my eyes saw Beatrice. Beneath her veil and beyond the stream she seemed to me more to surpass her ancient self than she surpassed the others here when she was here.
The Cosmic Sense robed with the subjective light. At the threshold of the new sense, Virgil (the type here of human faculty short of it) leaves Dante. Not that simple and self-consciousness leave us when we enter Cosmic Consciousness, but they do cease to guide us “the eyesight has another eyesight, the hearing another hearing, and the voice another voice.” 72
Bucke completed his book, Cosmic Consciousness, when Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychiatrist, was only twenty-three years old and still a medical student in Zurich. If Bucke had lived in a somewhat later time, he surely would have availed himself of the vast writings and researches of Jung. He would have realized that Dante, in encountering Beatrice was not yet experiencing Cosmic Consciousness, or even the Self in the Jungian sense, but the anima, or the mysterious inner feminine in the male who is a guide to the deeper unconscious. Virgil, who had taken Dante through hell and purgatory, was a wise man figure who must indeed “bow out” and transfer one to the deeper entity within one, or the numinous anima. This is how Jung speaks about the anima:
Whenever she appears, in dreams, visions, and fantasies she takes on personalized form, thus demonstrating the factor she embodies possesses all the outstanding characteristics of a feminine being. She is not an invention of the conscious mind, but a spontaneous production of the unconscious. Nor is she a substitute for the mother. On the contrary, there is every likelihood that the numinous qualities which make the mother imago so dangerously powerful stem from the collective archetype of the Anima, which is incarnated anew in every male child. 73
Beatrice is an anima figure, as Virgil is a wise man figure in the deep unconscious of Dante. Here, as in other places, there are serious gaps in Bucke’s psychology, which skips from conscious self, or ego, to the illumined state of Cosmic Consciousness. Being a pre-Freudian, he largely ignores the personal unconscious, the repressed early history of the individual, and being a pre-Jungian, he omits the collective unconscious and its great archetypes, and skips all the way to the “beyond Jungian” state of Cosmic Consciousness. Great gaps need to be filled in that bridge of the “immense distance” between conscious self, or ego, and Cosmic Consciousness, even though this gap seems to be almost instantly jumped in the spontaneous illumination experience whenever and wherever it occurs. As one who has had both the Cosmic Conscious experience, and one who has suffered the long ordeals of the inward journey (hell and purgatory), I can report to you that the “distance” bridged between ego self and Cosmic Consciousness is immense. By Grace, it occurs in a fraction of a second, but by inner work, it is many years! Bucke is speaking more to the spontaneous experience of “Illumination” than to the incredibly slow process of the inner journey. Dante, who knew both, recognizes both the fantastically slow process of the journey through hell and purgatory (within oneself) and the marvelous spontaneity and instantaneousness of the transport into paradise. Bucke rejoins Dante, who is now truly ascended into paradise, Beatrice, the divine feminine, having led the way.
The glory of Him who moves everything penetrates through the universe and shines in one part more, in another less. In the heaven that receives most of its light I have been, and have seen things which he who descends from there above neither knows how nor is able to recount.
St. Paul heard “unspeakable
words,” and Whitman when he
“tried to tell the best” of that which he had seen became
Finally, Dante ascends to the highest heaven, having come all the way from the “dark wood” to the “heavenly rose.” The book was twenty-one years in the writing from 1300 to 1321, and Bucke surmises that the poet wrote it after his illumination. It is, perhaps, possible that Dante wrote the Divine Comedy parallel with his inner journey, or at least, that it came from his personal journals of these years. Dante Allighieri was surely a case of Cosmic Consciousness, and his poetic epic is one of the truest tellings of the story of the soul’s journey.
(6) John Yepes (St. John of the Cross)
John Yepes was born in 1542 and died in 1591. He was born in Spain. His father died when he was a child and his mother was left very poor. John studied with the Jesuits, and at twenty-one he took religious orders among the Carmelite Friars in Medina. He became a priest at twenty-five. In his early thirties, he passed through what he called “dark nights of the soul,” periods of profound despair and inner troubles. At one point, “he seemed to see hell open, ready to swallow him up. ” He knew well from personal experience, the Inferno and Purgatorio of Dante Allighieri. This first “dark night” was followed by a period of illumination:
After some time certain rays of light, comfort and divine sweetness scattered these mists and translated the soul of the servant of God into a paradise of interior delights and heavenly sweetness. 75
This was followed by another “dark night of the soul.” The first dark night, he called the “dark night of the senses”; the second, even more terrible, he called the “dark night of the spirit.” Following this, John Yepes experienced a still more perfect illumination and happiness, which Bucke would say is characteristic of the Cosmic Conscious state.
A certain brightness darted from his countenance on many occasions – especially when he came from the altar or from prayer. It is said that a heavenly light at times shone from his countenance. 76
For originating or adhering to certain monastic forms, he was imprisoned for several months, and it was during this imprisonment that John entered into Cosmic Consciousness. This is how one of his biographers describes it:
His cell became filled with light seen by the bodily eye. One night the friar who kept him went as usual to see that his prisoner was safe, and witnessed the heavenly light with which the cell was flooded. He did not stop to consider it, but hurried to the prior, thinking that someone in the house had keys to open the doors of the prison. The prior, with two religious went at once to the prison, but on his entering the room through which the prison was approached, the light vanished. The prior, however, entered the cell, and, finding it dark, opened the lantern with which he had provided himself, and asked the prisoner who had given him light. St. John answered him, and said that no one in the house had done so, that no one could do it and that there was neither candle nor lamp in the cell. The prior made no reply and went away, thinking that the gaoler had made a mistake.
St. John, at a later time, told one of his brethren that the heavenly light which God so mercifully sent him, lasted the night through, and that it filled his soul with joy and made the night pass as if it were but a moment. When his imprisonment was drawing to a close he heard our Lord say to him, as it were out of the soft light that was around him, “John I am here; be not afraid; I will set thee free.”
A few moments later, while making his escape from the prison of the monastery, it is said that he had a repetition of the experience as follows:
He saw a wonderful light, out of which came a voice saying, “Follow me.” He followed, and the light moved before him towards the wall, which was on the bank, and then, he knew not how, he found himself on the summit of it without effort or fatigue. He descended into the street, and then the light vanished. So brilliant was it, that for two or three days afterwards, so he confessed at a later time, his eyes were weak, as if he had been looking at the sun in its strength. 77
After his illumination, Yepes wrote several books to try to convey to others the new life that had come to him. The following passages are some examples from his writings with commentaries from Bucke in terms of the theory of Cosmic Consciousness:
It is clearly necessary for the soul, aiming at its own supernatural transformation, to be in darkness and far removed from all that relates to its natural condition, the sensual and rational parts. The supernatural is that which transcends nature, and, therefore, that which is natural remains below. Inasmuch as this union and transformation are not cognizable by sense or human power, the soul must be completely and voluntarily empty of all that can enter into it, of every affection and inclination, so far as it concerns itself
The more the soul strives to become blind and annihilated as to all interior and exterior things, the more it will be filled with faith and love and hope. But this love at times is neither comprehended nor felt, because it does not establish itself in the senses with tenderness, but in the soul with fortitude, with greater courage and resolution than before; though it sometimes overflows into the senses, and shows itself tender and gentle. In order, then, to attain to this love, joy and delight which visions effect, it is necessary that the soul should have fortitude and be fortified, so as to abide willingly in emptiness and darkness, and to lay the foundation of its love and delight on what it neither sees nor feels, on what it cannot see nor feel – namely, on God incomprehensible and supreme. Our way to Him is therefore, of necessity, in self-denial.
Though it be true, as I have said, that God is always in every soul,
bestowing upon it and preserving to it, by His presence, its natural being,
yet for all this He does not always communicate the supernatural life.
For this is given only by love and grace, to which all souls do not attain,
and those who do, do not in the same degree, for some rise to higher
degrees of love than others. That soul, therefore, has greater communion
with God which is most advanced in love – that is, whose will is most
conformable to the will of God. And that soul which has reached
perfect conformity and resemblance is perfectly united with, and
supernaturally transformed in God. For which cause, therefore, as
I have already explained, the more the soul cleaves to created things,
relying on its own strength, by habit and inclination, the less is it disposed
for this union, because it does not completely resign itself into the hands
of God, that He may transform it supernaturally.
This is the doctrine of the suppression and effacement of thought, and the subjection of desire taught by Hindu illuminati from the time of the Buddha until today – a doctrine undoubtedly resting upon actual experience.
So Balzac says that self-consciousness while glorious for what it has done is at the same time baneful, because it precludes man from entering the Cosmic Conscious life, which leads to the infinite _, which can alone explain God.
The distinction between self-conscious life even at its best and the life of Cosmic Consciousness. 78
Yepes’ thought is that God is always existent within the human soul but in a passive or unconscious state. What Yepes calls the waking of God within the soul is what Bucke terms “Cosmic Consciousness. ”
(7) Jacob Boehme
Jacob Boehme was born in Germany in the year 1575 and died in 1624. His only education was in a town school. He later apprenticed as a shoemaker. In 1599, he settled in Gorlitz, a master shoemaker, and married Katharina, the daughter of the town butcher.
The humble shoemaker, Boehme, had two distinct illuminations. The first was in 1600 at the age of twenty-five, and his biographer describes it as follows:
Sitting one day in his room his eyes fell upon a burnished pewter dish, which reflected the sunshine with such marvelous splendor that he fell into an inward ecstasy, and it seemed to him as if he could now look into the principles and deepest foundation of things. He believed that it was only a fancy, and in order to banish it from his mind he went out upon the green. But here he remarked that he gazed into the very heart of things, the very herbs and grass, and that actual nature harmonized with what he had inwardly seen. He said nothing of this to anyone, but praised and thanked God in silence. He continued in the honest practice of his craft, was attentive to his domestic affairs, and was on terms of good-will with all men. 79
In Bucke’s view the first illumination was not complete, and Boehme did not really attain to true cosmic consciousness on that day; “he passed into the dawn but not into the perfect day.” Ten years later, at the age of thirty-five, Boehme entered into the Cosmic Conscious state. In his own words:
The gate was opened to me that in one quarter of an hour I saw and knew more than if I had been many years together at a university, at which I exceedingly admired and thereupon turned my praise to God for it. I saw and knew the being of all beings, the byss and abyss and the eternal generation of the Holy Trinity, the descent and the original of the world and of all creatures through the divine wisdom: I knew and saw in myself all the three worlds, namely, (1) the divine
(angelical and paradisical) (2) and the dark (the original nature of the fire) and (3) then the external and visible world (being a procreation or external birth from both the internal and spiritual worlds). And I saw and knew the whole working essence, in the evil and the good, and the
original and the existence of each of them; and likewise how the fruitful-bearing-womb of eternity brought forth. So that I did not only greatly wonder at it but did also exceedingly rejoice. 80
Bucke says that “As utterances of the Cosmic Sense all the writings of Boehme are well-nigh totally unintelligible to the merely self-conscious mind.” Nonetheless, like those of Paul, Dante, Balzac, Whitman, and others of the Cosmic Sense, they are a veritable gold mine of wisdom and insight. The following passages are quoted from the writings of Boehme with Bucke’s comments:
If you will behold your own self and the outer world, and what is taking place therein, you will find that you, with regard to your external being, are that external world.
Not 1, the I that I am know these things: But God knows them in me.
He alone, therefore, in whom Christ exists and lives, is a Christian, a man in whom Christ has been raised out of the wasted flesh of Adam.
If thou climbest up this ladder on which I climb up into the deep of God, as I have done, then thou climbest well: I am not come to this meaning, or to this work and knowledge
“Strange and hard that paradox true I give, objects gross and the unseen soul are one,” and Gautama, Plotinus and Carpenter are all equally definite upon the same point.
“The other I am.” “‘Tis thee (myself) that for myself I praise. The recognition of the duplex individuality of the Cosmic Conscious person – i.e. the self-conscious self and the Cosmic Conscious self.
“Christ” here was used as Paul uses the word, as a name – that is, of Cosmic Consciousness.
None of those who have attained Cosmic Consciousness 11 sought” for it; they could not, for they did not know there was such a thing. But it would seem that all the pronounced cases through my own reason, or through my own will and purpose; neither have I sought this knowledge, nor so much as know anything concerning it. I sought only for the heart of God, therein to hide myself from the tempestuous storms of the devil.
were men who earnestly sought for the “heart of God” – i.e. I for the highest and best life. 81
If this author may introduce a personal note at this point, the statements of Jacob Boehme and Richard Bucke concerning the spontaneity and unplanned nature of the experience of Cosmic Consciousness were totally true in my own case, which is described in the preface. I did not “seek for” Cosmic Consciousness because I had no way in the world to know that there was such a thing. And even if I had read the accounts of the mystics, I would not have understood them in the least, because the language of the self-conscious mind or intellect can never truly express the experience of Cosmic Consciousness. As Boehme said that his (4own reason…. will and purpose” could not bring him to this, I fully concur. As a youth, however, I did seek for something, I knew not just what, that gave meaning and purpose to existence, and ‘had read very widely in philosophy, for example, from Bertrand Russell to Alfred North Whitehead, and from Ludwig Wittgenstein to Henri Bergson. However, no philosophy that has ever been or will ever be, in the nature of the case, will raise the human soul “up the ladder,” as Bucke puts it, from self to Cosmic Consciousness. Even the much-touted “cognitive psychologists” of today, whether of Piagetian, of Chomskian, or other variety, have not the slightest inkling, based upon their writings, of a state of consciousness as far beyond the rational mind or intellect as waking consciousness surpasses sleep in terms of awareness. The philosophers and cognitivists, as highly as they think of themselves, are beings who inhabit the cave of shadows in Plato’s metaphor as far as Cosmic Consciousness is concerned. Plato himself was master as well as philosopher, that is, a likely candidate for the status of Cosmic Consciousness. If he did not walk in that realm, he had a definite glimmer of it. I will end this section with a passage from a dialogue between a scholar and a master from Boehme’s writings:
Scholar. – What shall be after this world, when all things perish?
Master. – The material substance only ceaseth – viz., the four elements, the sun, moon, and stars, and then the inward world will be wholly visible and manifest. But whatsoever hath been wrought by the spirit in this time, whether evil or good, I say, every work shall separate itself there in a spiritual manner, either into the eternal light, or into the eternal darkness; for that which is born from each will penetrateth again into that which is like itself. 82
(8) William Blake
William Blake, the poet-artist-mystic, was born in 1757 and died in 1827. W. M. Rossetti in his admirable biographical sketch helps us to answer the question: Was Blake a case of Cosmic Consciousness?
The difficulty of Blake’s biographers, subsequent to 1863, the date of Mr. Gilchrist’s book, is of a different kind altogether. It is the difficulty of stating sufficiently high the extraordinary claims of Blake to admiration and reverence, without slurring over those other considerations which need to be plainly and fully set forth if we would obtain any real idea of the man as he was – of his total unlikeness to his contemporaries, of his amazing genius and noble performances in two arts, of the height by which he transcended other men, and the incapacity which he always evinced for performing at all what others accomplish easily. He could do vastly more than they, but he could seldom do the like. By some unknown process he had soared to the top of a cloud-capped Alp, while they were crouching in the valley: But to reach a middle station on the mountain was what they could readily manage step by step, while Blake found that ordinary achievement impracticable. He could not and he would not do it; the want of will, or rather the utter alienation of will, the resolve to soar (which was natural to him), and not to walk (which was unnatural and repulsive), constituted or counted instead of an actual want of power.
Rapt in a passionate yearning, he realized, even on this earth and in his mortal body, a species of Nirvana: his whole faculty, his whole personality, the very essence of his mind and mould, attained to absorption into his ideal ultimate, into that which Dante’s profound phrase designates “il Ben dell’ intelletto.”
In the preface to “The Jerusalem” Blake speaks of that composition as having been “dictated” to him, and other expressions of his prove that he regarded it rather as a revelation of which he was the scribe than as the product of his own inventing and fashioning brain. Blake considered it “the grandest poem that this world contains;” adding, “I may praise it, since I date not pretend to be any other than the secretary – the authors are in eternity.” In an earlier letter (April 25th, 1803) he said: “I have written this poem from immediate dictation, twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time, without premeditation, and even against my will.”
Blake had a mental intuition, inspiration, or revelation – call it what we will; it was as real to his spiritual eye as a material object could be to his bodily eye; and no doubt his bodily eye, the eye of a designer or painter with a great gift of invention and composition, was far more than normally ready at following the dictate of the spiritual eye, and seeing, with an almost instantaneously creative and fashioning act, the visual semblance of a visionary essence.
His unworldliness, extreme as it was, did not degenerate into ineptitude. He apprehended the requirements of practical life, was prepared to meet them in a resolute and diligent spirit from day to day, and could on occasions display a full share of sagacity. He was of lofty and independent spirit, not caring to refute any odd stories that were current regarding his conduct or demeanor, neither parading nor concealing his poverty, and seldom accepting any sort of aid for which he could not and did not supply a full equivalent. 83
In other words, Blake was clearly a man who had come to Cosmic Consciousness, which gave him Divine vision and inspiration in his poetry and art. He called Cosmic Consciousness the “imaginative vision. ” Quoting Blake’s own words, with Bucke’s comments:
The world of imagination is the world of eternity. It is the divine bosom into which we shall all go after the death of the vegetated body. This world of imagination is infinite and eternal, whereas the world of generation, of vegetation, is finite and temporal. There exist in that eternal world the permanent realities of everything, which we see reflected in this vegetable glass of nature.
We are in a world of generation and death, and this world we must cast off if we would be artists such as Raphael, Michel-Angelo and the ancient sculptors. If we do not cast off this world we shall be only Venetian painters, who will be cut off and lost from art.
Blake’s name for Cosmic Consciousness. With this paragraph compare Whitman’s “I swear I think now that everything without exception has an eternal soul! The trees rooted in the ground! The weeds of the sea have! The animals.”
The world of self-consciousness. Balzac says: (Self-conscious) “Man judges all things by abstractions – good, evil, virtue, crime. His formulas of right are his scales, and his justice is blind; the justice of God (i.e. of the Cosmic Sense) sees – in that is everything.” 84
In the following passage from Blake, Bucke inserts his own terms as explanatory (in  brackets):
Beneath the figures of Adam and Eve (descending the generative stream from there) is the seat of the harlog, named mystery [self-conscious life], in the Revelations. She (mystery) is seized by two beings [life and death], each with three heads; they represent vegetative existence. As it is written in Revelations, they strip her naked and burn her with fire [I.e. death strips her naked, and the passions of self-conscious life burn it as with fire]. It represents the eternal consumptions of vegetable life and death [the life and death of the merely self-conscious] with its lusts. The wreathed torches in their hands [in the hands of life and death] represent eternal fire, which is the fire of generation or vegetation; it is an eternal consummation. Those who are blessed with imaginative vision [Cosmic Consciousness] see this eternal female [mystery – the self-conscious life] and tremble at what others fear not; while they despise and laugh at what others fear. 85
The master poet and artist, although also family man who ran a practical printing shop for a living, said that:
I am not ashamed, afraid or averse to tell you what ought to be told – that I am under the directions of messengers from heaven, daily and nightly. But the nature of such things is not, as some suppose, without trouble or care. 86
Bucke concludes that Blake seems to have had the Cosmic Conscious experience at about thirty years of age. Of his exact experience, nothing is known. He clearly is a case of great intellectual illumination and moral elevation, and had a clear sense of immortality which belongs to the Cosmic Conscious. Blake ranks with the greats.
(9) Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau, born in America, July 12, 1817, and died at the rather early age of forty-five on May 6, 1862, shares with Moses, Lao Tzu, Isaiah, and other luminaries, the designation It imperfect and doubtful instances.” The base of Bucke’s distinc-ions in these cases is very unclear indeed for surely the greatest Hebrew prophet, the founder of Taoism, and the prophet who prophesied the Messiah, were persons of the Cosmic Sense. Bucke thinks they may be, although he has no more direct access to the minds of others, such as Paul, Plotinus, and Dante, whom he feels definitely are. Be this as it may, Henry Thoreau, who spent two years as a mystic recluse at Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts, is as clearly to me a case of Cosmic Consciousness as Blake is, or Dante is, etc. Thoreau says of himself.
I hearing get who had but ears, and sight who had but eyes before, I moments live who lived but years, And truth discern who knew but learnings lore.
I hear beyond the range of sound, I see beyond the range of sight, new earths, and skies and seas around, and in my day the sun doth pale his light. 87
Bucke says that if Thoreau experienced illumination the evidence should be found in Walden, which was written between 1845 and 1854 when the author was twenty-eight to thirty-seven years of age. Bucke finds passages in Walden which do suggest to him, the presence of Cosmic Consciousness:
Sometimes, when I compare myself with other men, it seems as if I were more favored by the gods than they, beyond any deserts that I am conscious of-, as if I had a warrant and surety at their hands, which my fellows have not, and were especially guided and guarded. I do not flatter myself, but if it be possible they flatter me. I have never felt lonesome, or in the least oppressed by a sense of solitude, but once, and that was a few weeks after I came to the woods, when, for an hour, I doubted if the near neighborhood of man was not essential to a serene and healthy life. To be alone was something unpleasant. But I was at the same time conscious of a slight insanity in my mood and seemed to foresee my recovery. In the midst of the gentle rain, while these thoughts prevailed, I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very patterning of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once, like an atmosphere, sustaining me, as made the fancied advantages of human neighborhood insignificant, and I have never thought of them since. Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me. I was so distinctly made aware of the presence of something kindred to me, even in the scenes which we are accustomed to call wild and dreary, and also that the nearest blood to me and humanest was not a person nor a villager, that I thought no place could ever be strange to me again. 88
What Thoreau has said in the preceding paragraph gives one a sense of his pantheism; a sense of God’s presence in everything. Much of Walden gives one this sense.
I have a great deal of company in my house; especially in the morning, when nobody calls. Let me suggest a few comparisons, that someone may convey an idea of my situation. I am no more lonely than the loon in the pond that laughs so loud, or than Walden Pond itself. What company has that lonely lake, I pray? And yet it has not the blue devils, but the blue angels in it, in the azure tint of its waters. The sun is alone, except in thick weather, when there sometimes appears to be two, but one is a mock sun. God is alone, but the devil, he is far from being alone; he sees a great deal of company; he is legion. I am no more lonely than a single mullein or dandelion in a pasture, or a bean leaf, or sorrel, or a horse-fly, or a bumblebee. I am no more lonely than the Mill Brook, or a weathercock, or the north star, or the south wind, or an April shower, or a January thaw, or the first spider in a new house. 89
Thoreau does not often speak of God per se, but He is there nonetheless with the sage of Walden Pond. Bucke does not find a specific description of an illumination experience in Walden, but that is perhaps because the author already writes from an illumined perspective. Bucke did not have Thoreau’s journals available to him at the time, but in the year 1851, at age thirty-four, Thoreau wrote:
Methinks my present experience is nothing; my past experience is all in all. I think that no experience, which I have today, comes up to, or is comparable with, the experiences of my boyhood. And not only this is true, but as far back as I can remember I have unconsciously referred to the experiences of a previous state of existence. “For life is a forgetting, ” etc. Formerly, methought, nature developed as I developed, and grew up with me. My life was ecstasy. In youth, before I lost any of my senses, I can remember that I was all-alive, and inhabited my body with inexpressible satisfaction; both of its weariness and refreshment were sweet to me. This earth was the most glorious musical instrument, and I was audience to its strains. To have such sweet impressions made on us, such ecstacies begotten of the breezes! I can remember how I was astonished. I said to myself, I said to others, “There comes into my mind such an indescribable, infinite, all-absorbing, divine, heavenly pleasure, a sense of elevation and expansion, and  have had nought to do with it. I perceive that I am dealt with by superior powers. This is a pleasure, a joy, an existence which I have not procured myself I speak as a witness on the stand, and tell what I perceived.” The morning and the evening were sweet to me, and I led a life aloof from society of men. I wondered if a mortal had ever known what I knew. I looked in books for some recognition of a kindred experience, but, strange to say, I found none. Indeed, I was slow to discover that other men had had this experience, for it had been possible to read books and to associate with men on other grounds. The maker of me was improving me. When I detected this interference I was profoundly moved. For years I marched as to a music in comparison with which the military music of the streets is noise and discord. I was daily intoxicated, and yet no man could call me intemperate. With all your science can you tell me how it is, and when it is, that light comes into my soul? 90
Without a doubt Henry David Thoreau was a man of the Cosmic Sense.
(10) Walt Whitman
In Walt Whitman, whom we have discussed already, we find the man whom Bucke (and probably Bucke alone) regards as the “highest instance of Cosmic Consciousness.” This judgment of Bucke’s seems a bit exaggerated and out of balance, considering that he is comparing Whitman with such figures as Jesus the Christ, and Gautama the Buddha, who founded world religions that have survived 2,000 and 2,500 years respectively, and have given spiritual comfort and blessing to peoples of both Western and Eastern cultures for millennia. Gautama overcame samsara or ignorance, and Jesus proved himself master of sin and death itself. Both holy masters stood their ground and moreover bested the Evil One, call him Satan or Mara. Buddha showed the way out of suffering, and Christ transcended death itself! To say that the admittedly illumined poet, Walt Whitman, was greater than Christ or Buddha, is in the Californian lingo, a very “far out” claim. On the other hand, Bucke knew Whitman personally, and Whitman may have had a stronger effect upon him than anyone else. Therefore, the preeminence of Whitman is a rather subjective judgment on Bucke’s part. He does state that Whitman, unlike all the others, values equally self and Cosmic Consciousness.
He does not put one down at the expense of the other. No doubt Whitman was a very great man and a poet inspired by the Cosmic Sense.
Walt Whitman, the American poet, was born in 1819 and died in 1892. He lived through the American Civil War and worked as a nurse in that bloody conflict. However, his greatest love and devotion was for his book of poems he called Leaves of Grass which though sometimes derided in his time, went on to become the classic of American poetry of the nineteenth century.
What was Whitman like? The following description is Bucke’s own based upon his visit with him when the poet was sixty-one years of age:
At first sight he looks much older, so that he is often supposed to be seventy or eighty. He is six feet in height, and quite straight. He weighs nearly two hundred pounds. His body and limbs are full-sized and well proportioned. His head is large and rounded in every direction … Though his face and head gave the appearance of being plentifully supplied with hair, the crown is moderately bald; on the side and back the hair is long, very fine, and nearly snow white. The eyebrows are highly arched, so that it is a long distance from the eye to the centre of the eyebrow … The eyes themselves are light blue . . . 91
Bucke goes on to say:
His face has no lines expressive of care, or weariness, or age – it is the white hair and beard, and his feebleness in walking (due to paralysis) that makes him appear old. The habitual expression of his face is repose, but there is a well-marked firmness and decision. 92
Bucke describes Whitman as a man of extraordinary physical attractiveness, what we would call “charisma.” He has a magnetism about him, which is a very rare thing. Bucke said that Whitman dressed very plainly, but neatly, and he was, in a word, ordinary, but this is the ordinary of the Zen masters. Bucke says that Whitman had a very calm and self-contained manner, and he never saw him lose his temper, or become mean or bad-spirited. His favorite occupation was strolling or sauntering about outdoors looking at the grass, the trees, and the flowers, and listening to the birds and crickets. He was very fond of children. “Wandering amazed,” Whitman said, “at my own lightness and glee.” Bucke believes that Leaves of Grass gives all the evidence that one needs of the fact of Cosmic Consciousness in Whitman. Speaking of his soul, Whitman says:
I believe in you my soul … the other I am must not abase itself to you, and you must not be abased to the other.
Loaf with me on the grass … loose the stop from your throat,
Not words, nor music or rhyme I want, custom or lecture not even the best,
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valved voice.
I mind how we lay in June, such a transparent summer morning;
You settled your head athwart my hips and gently turned me over upon me,
And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your tongue to my bare-stript heart.
And reached till you felt my beard, and reached till you held my feet. Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and joy and knowledge that pass all the art and argument of the earth;
And I know that the hand of God is the elder hand of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the eldest brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers,
… and the women my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of creation is love. 93
Here, Bucke notes that Whitman has come to the experience of deep self, even Cosmic Consciousness, but he points out that the old self must not be abased to it, or overridden by it. Henceforth, Whitman says that his life is inspired by the newcomer, the new self. Whitman sums up the poem by expressing a direct sense of God as his “eldest brother.” This is an intimacy with the Divine that the Cosmic Conscious have. Jesus spoke of God as Abba, or “Papa. ”
Bucke states that the following lines make a clear case for Whitman as an instance of Cosmic Consciousness:
As in a swoon, one instant,
another sun, ineffable full – dazzles me,
and all the orbs I knew, and brighter, unknown orbs;
One instant of the future land, Heaven’s land. 94
Bucke states that all men (or women) before Whitman, who experienced Cosmic Consciousness were carried away by it, and subjugated to it. Even St. Paul and Gautama seemed to despise the old self,” or the “fleshly self” But, Whitman, according to Bucke, who knew him personally:
… saw, what neither Gautama nor Paul saw, what Jesus saw, though not so clearly as he, that though this faculty is truly Godlike, yet it is no more supernatural or preternatural than sight, hearing, taste, feeling, or any other, and he consequently refused to give it unlimited sway, and would not allow it to tyrannize over the rest. He believes in it, but he says the other self, the old self, must not abase itself to the new; neither must the new be encroached upon or limited by the old-, he will see that they live as friendly co-workers together. 95
This reminds me of Jung who called it a “disaster” if the ego is I ‘swallowed up” by the Self Jung saw the ideal as a healthy relationship between ego and Self. I am assuming here that there is a precise analogy between Bucke’s distinction between self and Cosmic Consciousness and Jung’s ego/ Self relationship. I am not sure that the parallel is exact. Self-consciousness in Bucke’s theory means ego consciousness in Jung’s. There is no higher Self in Bucke’s theory, but an immediate jump from ego-self into Cosmic Consciousness. Jung, on the other hand, never really reaches true Cosmic Consciousness in his theory (as we shall see). Nor is there in his writings that any evidence he experienced such himself, as Bucke did. If we take Bucke and Jung together, we have a fuller picture, which includes ego, higher Self, and Cosmic Consciousness, and the physical body, of course. These are distinguished in the great metaphysical systems of the past, such as Kabbala, as separate and distinct, and not reducible to each other. Bucke’s insight about Whitman is significant.
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