Sacred Texts  Esoteric  Index  Previous  Next 

Cosmic Consciousness, by Richard Maurice Bucke, [1901], at

p. 1





What is Cosmic Consciousness? The present volume is an attempt to answer this question; but notwithstanding it seems well to make a short prefatory statement in as plain language as possible so as to open the door, as it were, for the more elaborate exposition to be attempted in the body of the work. Cosmic Consciousness, then, is a higher form of consciousness than that possessed by the ordinary man. This last is called Self Consciousness and is that faculty upon which rests all of our life (both subjective and objective) which is not common to us and the higher animals, except that small part of it which is derived from the few individuals who have had the higher consciousness above named. To make the matter clear it must be understood that there are three forms or grades of consciousness. (1) Simple Consciousness, which is possessed by say the upper half of the animal kingdom. By means of this faculty a dog or a horse is just as conscious of the things about him as a man is; he is also conscious of his own limbs and body and he knows that these are a part of himself. (2) Over and above this Simple Consciousness, which is possessed by man as by animals, man has another which is called Self Consciousness. By virtue of this faculty man is not only conscious of trees, rocks, waters, his own limbs and body, but he becomes conscious of himself as a distinct entity apart from all the rest of the universe. It is as good as certain that no animal can realize himself in that way. Further, by means of self consciousness, man (who knows as the animal knows) becomes capable of treating his own mental states as objects of consciousness. The animal is, as it were, immersed in his consciousness as a fish in the sea; he cannot, even in imagination, get outside of it

p. 2

for one moment so as to realize it. But man by virtue of self consciousness can step aside, as it were, from himself and think: "Yes, that thought that I had about that matter is true; I know it is true and I know that I know it is true." The writer has been asked: "How do you know that animals cannot think in the same manner?" The answer is simple and conclusive—it is: There is no evidence that any animal can so think, but if they could we should soon know it. Between two creatures living together, as dogs or horses and men, and each self conscious, it would be the simplest matter in the world to open up communication. Even as it is, diverse as is our psychology, we do, by watching his acts, enter into the dog's mind pretty freely—we see what is going on there—we know that the dog sees and hears, smells and tastes—we know that he has intelligence—adapts means to ends—that he reasons. If he was self conscious we must have learned it long ago. We have not learned it and it is as good as certain that no dog, horse, elephant or ape ever was self conscious. Another thing: on man's self consciousness is built everything in and about us distinctively human. Language is the objective of which self consciousness is the subjective. Self consciousness and language (two in one, for they are two halves of the same thing) are the sine qua non of human social life, of manners, of institutions, of industries of all kinds, of all arts useful and fine. If any animal possessed self consciousness it seems certain that it would upon that master faculty build (as man has done) a superstructure of language; of reasoned out customs, industries, art. But no animal has done this, therefore we infer that no animal has self consciousness.

The possession of self consciousness and language (its other self) by man creates an enormous gap between him and the highest creature possessing simple consciousness merely.

Cosmic Consciousness is a third form which is as far above Self Consciousness as is that above Simple Consciousness. With this form, of course, both simple and self consciousness persist (as simple consciousness persists when self consciousness is acquired), but added to them is the new faculty so often named

p. 3

and to be named in this volume. The prime characteristic of cosmic consciousness is, as its name implies, a consciousness of the cosmos, that is, of the life and order of the universe. What these words mean cannot be touched upon here; it is the business of this volume to throw some light upon them. There are many elements belonging to the cosmic sense besides the central fact just alluded to. Of these a few may be mentioned. Along with the consciousness of the cosmos there occurs an intellectual enlightenment or illumination which alone would place the individual on a new plane of existence—would make him almost a member of a new species. To this is added a state of moral exaltation, an indescribable feeling of elevation, elation, and joyousness, and a quickening of the moral sense, which is fully as striking and more important both to the individual and to the race than is the enhanced intellectual power. With these come, what may be called a sense of immortality, a consciousness of eternal life, not a conviction that he shall have this, but the consciousness that he has it already.

Only a personal experience of it, or a prolonged study of men who have passed into the new life, will enable us to realize what this actually is; but it has seemed to the present writer that to pass in review, even briefly and imperfectly, instances in which the condition in question has existed would be worth while. He expects his work to be useful in two ways: First, in broadening the general view of human life by comprehending in our mental vision this important phase of it, and by enabling us to realize, ire some measure, the true status of certain men who, down to the present, are either exalted, by the average self conscious individual, to the rank of gods, or, adopting the other extreme, are adjudged insane. And in the second place he hopes to furnish aid to his fellow men in a far more practical and important sense. The view he takes is that our descendants will sooner or later reach, as a race, the condition of cosmic consciousness, just as, long ago, our ancestors passed from simple to self consciousness. He believes that this step in evolution is even now being made, since it is clear to him both that men with the faculty in question are becoming more and more common and also that as a race we

p. 4

are approaching nearer and nearer to that stage of the self conscious mind from which the transition to the cosmic conscious is effected. He realizes that, granted the necessary heredity, any individual not already beyond the age may enter cosmic consciousness. He knows that intelligent contact with cosmic conscious minds assists self conscious individuals in the ascent to the higher plane. He therefore hopes, by bringing about, or at least facilitating this contact, to aid men and women in making the almost infinitely important step in question.


The immediate future of our race, the writer thinks, is indescribably hopeful. There are at the present moment impending over us three revolutions, the least of which would dwarf the ordinary historic upheaval called by that name into absolute insignificance. They are: (1) The material, economic and social revolution which will depend upon and result from the establishment of aerial navigation. (2) The economic and social revolution which will abolish individual ownership and rid the earth at once of two immense evils—riches and poverty. And (3) The psychical revolution of which there is here question.

Either of the first two would (and will) radically change the conditions of, and greatly uplift, human life; but the third will do more for humanity than both of the former, were their importance multiplied by hundreds or even thousands.

The three operating (as they will) together will literally create a new heaven and a new earth. Old things will be done away and all will become new.

Before aerial navigation national boundaries, tariffs, and perhaps distinctions of language will fade out. Great cities will no longer have reason for being and will melt away. The men who now dwell in cities will inhabit in summer the mountains and the sea shores; building often in airy and beautiful spots, now almost or quite inaccessible, commanding the most extensive and magnificent views. In the winter they will probably dwell in communities

p. 5

of moderate size. As the herding together, as now, in great cities, so the isolation of the worker of the soil will become a thing of the past. Space will be practically annihilated, there will be no crowding together and no enforced solitude.

Before Socialism crushing toil, cruel anxiety, insulting and demoralizing riches, poverty and its ills will become subjects for historical novels.

In contact with the flux of cosmic consciousness all religions known and named to-day will be melted down. The human soul will be revolutionized. Religion will absolutely dominate the race. It will not depend on tradition. It will not be believed and disbelieved. It will not be a part of life, belonging to certain hours, times, occasions. It will not be in sacred books nor in the mouths of priests. It will not dwell in churches and meetings and forms and days. Its life will not be in prayers, hymns nor discourses. It will not depend on special revelations, on the words of gods who came down to teach, nor on any bible or bibles. It will have no mission to save men from their sins or to secure them entrance to heaven. It will not teach a future immortality nor future glories, for immortality and all glory will exist in the here and now. The evidence of immortality will live in every heart as sight in every eye. Doubt of God and of eternal life will be as impossible as is now doubt of existence; the evidence of each will be the same. Religion will govern every minute of every day of all life. Churches, priests, forms, creeds, prayers, all agents, all intermediaries between the individual man and God will be permanently replaced by direct unmistakable intercourse. Sin will no longer exist nor will salvation be desired. Men will not worry about death or a future, about the kingdom of heaven, about what may come with and after the cessation of the life of the present body. Each soul will feel and know itself to be immortal, will feel and know that the entire universe with all its good and with all its beauty is for it and belongs to it forever. The world peopled by men possessing cosmic consciousness will be as far removed from the world of to-day as this is from the world as it was before the advent of self consciousness.

p. 6


There is a tradition, probably very old, to the effect that the first man was innocent and happy until he ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That having eaten thereof he became aware that he was naked and was ashamed. Further, that then sin was born into the world, the miserable sense whereof replaced man's former feeling of innocency. That then and not till then man began to labor and to cover his body. Stranger than all (so it seems to us), the story runs, that along with this change or immediately following upon it there came into man's mind the remarkable conviction which has never since left it but which has been kept alive by its own inherent vitality and by the teaching of all true seers, prophets and poets that this accursed thing which has bitten man's heel (laming him, hindering his progress and especially making this halting and painful) should eventually be crushed and subjugated by man himself—by the rising up within him of a Saviour—the Christ.

Man's progenitor was a creature (an animal) walking erect but with simple consciousness merely. He was (as are to-day the animals) incapable of sin or of the feeling of sin and equally incapable of shame (at least in the human sense). He had no feeling or knowledge of good and evil. He as yet knew nothing of what we call work and had never labored. From this state he fell (or rose) into self consciousness, his eyes were opened, he knew that he was naked, he felt shame, acquired the sense of sin (became in fact what is called a sinner), and learned to do certain things in order to encompass certain ends—that is, he learned to labor.

For weary eons this condition has lasted—the sense of sin still haunts his pathway—by the sweat of his brow he still eats bread—he is still ashamed. Where is the deliverer, the Saviour? Who or what?

The Saviour of man is Cosmic Consciousness—in Paul's language—the Christ. The cosmic sense (in whatever mind it appears) crushes the serpent's head—destroys sin, shame, the sense

p. 7

of good and evil as contrasted one with the other, and will annihilate labor, though not human activity.

The fact that there came to man along with or immediately after his acquisition of self consciousness the inchoate premonition of another and higher consciousness which was yet, at that time, many millenniums in the future is surely most noteworthy though not necessarily surprising. We have in biology many analogous facts such as premonition of, and preparation for, by the individual of states and circumstances of which he has had no experience and we see the same thing in the maternal instinct in the very young girl.

The universal scheme is woven in one piece and is permeable to consciousness or (and especially) to sub-consciousness throughout and in every direction. The universe is a vast, grandiose, terrible, multiform yet uniform evolution. The section which especially concerns us is that which extends from brute to man, from man to demigod, and constitutes the imposing drama of humanity—its scene the surface of the planet—its time a million years.


The purpose of these preliminary remarks is to throw as much light as possible on the subject of this volume, so as to increase the pleasure and profit of its perusal. A personal exposition of the writer's own introduction to the main fact treated of will perhaps do as much as anything else could to further this end. He will therefore frankly set down here a very brief outline of his early mental life and give a short account of his slight experience of what he calls cosmic consciousness. The reader will readily see therefrom whence came the ideas and convictions presented in the following pages.

He was born of good middle class English stock and grew up almost without education 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

p. 8

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 recreations. 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 ever 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; but probably not more than many other introspective small fellow mortals. 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; also to agonies of anxiety and terror, as for instance, at about the same age he read Reynold's "Faust," and, being near its end one sunny afternoon, he laid it down utterly unable to continue its perusal, and went out into the sunshine to recover from the horror (after more than fifty years he distinctly recalls it) which had seized 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. At sixteen the boy left home to live or die as might happen. For five years he wandered over North America from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Upper Ohio to San Francisco. He worked on farms, on railways, on steamboats, and in the placer diggings of Western Nevada. Several times he nearly suffered

p. 9

shipwreck by sickness, starvation, freezing, and once on the banks of the Humboldt River, in Utah, fought for his life half a day with the Shoshone Indians. After five years' wandering, at the age of twenty-one, he returned to the country where his childhood had been passed. A moderate sum of money from his dead mother enabled him to spend some years in study, and his mind, after lying so long fallow, absorbed ideas with extraordinary facility. He graduated with high honors four years after his return from the Pacific Coast. Outside of the collegiate course he read with avidity many speculative books, such as the "Origin of Species," Tyndall's "Heat" and "Essays," Buckle's "History," "Essays and Reviews," and much poetry, especially such as seemed to him free and fearless. In this species of literature he soon preferred Shelley, and of his poems, "Adonais" and "Prometheus" were his favorites. His life for some years was one passionate note of interrogation, an unappeasable hunger for enlightenment on the basic problems. Leaving college, he continued his search with the same ardor. Taught himself French that he might read Auguste Comte, Hugo and Renan, and German that he might read Goethe, especially "Faust." At the age of thirty he fell in with "Leaves of Grass," and at once saw that it contained, in greater measure than any book so far found, what he had so long been looking for. He read the "Leaves" eagerly, even passionately, but for several years derived little from them. At last light broke and there was revealed to him (as far perhaps as such things can be revealed) at least some of the meanings. Then occurred that to which the foregoing is preface.

It was in the early spring, at the beginning of his thirty-sixth year. He and two friends had spent the evening reading Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Browning, and especially Whitman. They parted at midnight, and he had a long drive in a hansom (it was in an English city). His mind, deeply under the influence of the ideas, images and emotions called up by the reading and talk of the evening, was calm and peaceful. He was in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment. All at once, without warning of any kind, he found himself wrapped around as it were by a flame-colored

p. 10

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 the Brahmic Splendor which has ever since lightened his life; upon his heart fell one drop of Brahmic Bliss, leaving thenceforward for always an aftertaste of heaven. 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 so built and ordered that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all, that the foundation principle of the world is what we call love and that the happiness of every 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.

The illumination itself continued not more than a few moments, but its effects proved ineffaceable; it was impossible for him ever to forget what he at that time saw and knew; neither did he, or could he, ever doubt the truth of what was then presented to his mind. There was no return, that night or at any other time, of the experience. He subsequently wrote a book (28a.) in which he sought to embody the teaching of the illumination. Some who read it thought very highly of it, but (as was to be expected for many reasons) it had little circulation.

The supreme occurrence of that night was his real and sole initiation to the new and higher order of ideas. But it was only an initiation. He saw the light but had no more idea whence it came and what it meant than had the first creature that saw the light of the sun. Years afterwards he met C. P., of whom he had often heard as having extraordinary spiritual insight. He found that C. P. had entered the higher life of which he had had a glimpse and had had large experience of its phenomena. His conversation

p. 11

with C. P. threw a flood of light upon the true meaning of what he had himself experienced.

Looking round then upon the world of man, he saw the significance of the subjective light in the case of Paul and in that of Mohammed. The secret of Whitman's transcendent greatness was revealed to him. Certain conversations with J. H. J. and with J. B. helped him not a little. Personal intercourse with Edward Carpenter, T. S. R, C. M. C. and M. C. L. assisted greatly in the broadening and clearing up of his speculations, in the extension and co-ordination of his thought. But much time and labor were still required before the germinal concept could be satisfactorily elaborated and matured, the idea, namely, that there exists a family sprung from, living among, but scarcely forming a part of ordinary humanity, whose members are spread abroad throughout the advanced races of mankind and throughout the last forty centuries of the world's history.

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 the great modern religions, beginning with .Taoism and Buddhism, and speaking generally, have created, through religion and literature, modern civilization. Not that they have contributed any large numerical proportion of the books which have been written, but that they have produced the few books which have inspired the larger number of all that have been written in modern times. These men dominate the last twenty-five, especially the last five, centuries as stars of the first magnitude dominate the midnight sky.

A man is identified as a member of this family by the fact that at a certain age he has passed through a new birth and risen to a higher spiritual plane. The reality of the new birth is demonstrated by the subjective light and other phenomena. The object of the present volume is to teach others what little the writer himself has been able to learn of the spiritual status of this new race.

p. 12


It remains to say a few words upon the psychological origin of what is called in this book Cosmic Consciousness, which must not be looked upon as being in any sense supernatural or supranormal—as anything more or less than a natural growth.

Although in the birth of Cosmic Consciousness the moral nature plays an important part, it will be better for many reasons to confine our attention at present to the evolution of the intellect. In this evolution there are four distinct steps. The first of them was taken when upon the primary quality of excitability sensation was established. At this point began the acquisition and more or less perfect registration of sense impressions—that is, of percepts.

A percept is of course a sense impression—a sound is heard or an object seen and the impression made is a percept. If we could go back far enough we should find among our ancestors a creature whose whole intellect was made up simply of these percepts. But this creature (whatever name it ought to bear) had in it what may be called an eligibility of growth, and what happened with it was something like this: Individually and from generation to generation it accumulated these percepts, the constant repetition of which, calling for further and further registration, led, in the struggle for existence and, under the law of natural selection, to an accumulation of cells in the central sense ganglia; the multiplication of cells made further registration possible; that, again, made further growth of the ganglia necessary, and so on. At last a condition was reached in which it became possible for our ancestor to combine groups of these percepts into what we to-day call a recept. This process is very similar to that of composite photography. Similar percepts (as of a tree) are registered one over the other until (the nerve center having become competent to the task) they are generalized into, as it were, one percept; but that compound percept is neither more nor less than a recept—a something that has been received.

Now the work of accumulation begins again on a higher plane:

p. 13

the sensory organs keep steadily at work manufacturing percepts; the receptual centers keep steadily at work manufacturing more and yet more recepts from the old and the new percepts; the capacities of the central ganglia are constantly taxed to do the necessary registration of percepts, the necessary elaboration of these into recepts and the necessary registration of recepts; then as the ganglia by use and selection are improved they constantly manufacture from percepts and from the initial simple recepts, more and more complex, that is, higher and higher recepts.

At last, after many thousands of generations have lived and died, comes a time when the mind of the animal we are considering has reached the highest possible point of purely receptual intelligence; the accumulation of percepts and of recepts has gone on until no greater stores of impressions can be laid up and no further elaboration of these can be accomplished on the plane of receptual intelligence. Then another break is made and the higher recepts are replaced by concepts. The relation of a concept to a recept is somewhat similar to the relation of algebra to arithmetic. A recept is, as I have said, a composite image of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of percepts; it is itself an image abstracted from many images; but a concept is that same composite image—that same recept—named, ticketed, and, as it were, dismissed. A concept is in fact neither more nor less than a named recept—the name, that is, the sign (as in algebra), standing henceforth for the thing itself, that is, for the recept.

Now it is as clear as day to any one who will give the least thought to the subject, that the revolution by which concepts are substituted for recepts increases the efficiency of the brain for thought as much as the introduction of machinery increased the capacity of the race for work—or as much as the use of algebra increases the power of the mind in mathematical calculations. To replace a great cumbersome recept by a simple sign was almost like replacing actual goods—as wheat, fabrics and hardware—by entries in the ledger.

But, as hinted above, in order that a recept may be replaced by a concept it must be named, or, in other words, marked with a sign

p. 14

which stands for it—just as a check stands for a piece of baggage or as an entry in a ledger stands for a piece of goods; in other words, the race that is in possession of concepts is also, and necessarily, in possession of language. Further, it should be noted, as the possession of concepts implies the possession of language, so the possession of concepts and language (which are in reality two aspects of the same thing) implies the possession of self consciousness. All this means that there is a moment in the evolution of mind when the receptual intellect, capable of simple consciousness only, becomes almost or quite instantaneously a conceptual intellect in possession of language and self consciousness.

When we say that an individual, whether an adult individual long ago or a child to-day does not matter, came into possession of concepts, of language and of self consciousness in an instant, we, of course, mean that the individual came into possession of self consciousness and of one or a few concepts and of one or a few true words instantaneously and not that he entered into possession of a whole language in that short time. In the history of the individual man the point in question is reached and passed at about the age of three years; in the history of the race it was reached and passed several hundred thousand years ago.

We have now, in our analysis, reached the point where we each individually stand, the point, namely, of the conceptual, self conscious mind. In acquiring this new and higher form of consciousness it must not for a moment be supposed that we have dropped either our receptual intelligence or our old perceptual mind; as a matter of fact we could not live without these any more than could the animal who has no other mind than them. Our intellect, then, to-day is made up of a very complex mixture of percepts, recepts and concepts.

Let us now for a moment consider the concept. This may be considered as a large and complex recept; but larger and more complex than any recept. It is made up of one or more recepts combined with probably several percepts. This extremely complex recept is then marked by a sign; that is, it is named and in virtue of its name it becomes a concept. The concept, after being

p. 15

named or marked, is (as it were) laid away, just as a piece of checked baggage is marked by its check and piled in the baggage-room.

By means of this check we can send the trunk to any part of America without ever seeing it or knowing just where it is at a given moment. So by means of their signs we can build concepts into elaborate calculations, into poems and into systems of philosophy, without knowing half the time anything about the thing represented by the individual concepts that we are using.

And here a remark must be made aside from the main argument. It has been noticed thousands of times that the brain of a thinking man does not exceed in size the brain of a non-thinking wild man in anything like the proportion in which the mind of the thinker exceeds the mind of the savage. The reason is that the brain of a Herbert Spencer has very little more work to do than has the brain of a native Australian, for this reason, that Spencer does all his characteristic mental work by signs or counters which stand for concepts, while the savage does all or nearly all his by means of cumbersome recepts. The savage is in a position comparable to that of the astronomer who makes his calculations by arithmetic, while Spencer is in the position of one who makes them by algebra. The first will fill many great sheets of paper with figures and go through immense labor; the other will make the same calculations on an envelope and with comparatively little mental work.

The next chapter in the story is the accumulation of concepts. This is a double process. From the age, we will say, of three years each one accumulates year by year a larger and larger number, while at the same time the individual concepts are becoming constantly more and more complex. Consider for instance the concept science as it exists in the mind of a boy and of a middle aged thinking man; with the former it stood for a few dozen or a few hundred facts; with the latter for many thousands.

Is there to be any limit to this growth of concepts in number and complexity? Whoever will seriously consider that question will see that there must be a limit. No such process could go on

p. 16

to infinity. Should nature attempt such a feat the brain would have to grow until it could no longer be fed and a condition of deadlock be reached which would forbid further progress.

We have seen that the expansion of the perceptual mind had a necessary limit; that its own continued life led it inevitably 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.

But we do not need to depend on abstract reasoning to demonstrate the necessary existence of the supra conceptual mind, since it exists and can be studied with no more difficulty than other natural phenomena. The supra conceptual intellect, the elements of which instead of being concepts are intuitions, is already (in small numbers it is true) an established fact, and the form of consciousness that belongs to that intellect may be called and has been called—Cosmic Consciousness.

Thus we have four distinct stages of intellect, all abundantly illustrated in the animal and human worlds about us—all equally illustrated in the individual growth of the cosmic conscious mind and all four existing together in that mind as the first three exist together in the ordinary human mind. These four stages are, first, the perceptual mind—the mind made up of percepts or sense impressions; second, the mind made up of these and recepts—the so called receptual mind, or in other words the mind of simple consciousness; third, we have the mind made up of percepts, recepts and concepts, called sometimes the conceptual mind or otherwise the self conscious mind—the mind of self consciousness; and, fourth, and last, we have the intuitional mind—the mind whose highest element is not a recept or a concept but an intuition. This is the mind in which sensation, simple consciousness and self consciousness are supplemented and crowned with cosmic consciousness.

But it is necessary to show more clearly still the nature of these four stages and their relation one to the other. The perceptual or sensational stage of intellect is easy enough to understand, so

p. 17

may be passed by in this place with only one remark, namely, that in a mind made up wholly of percepts there is no consciousness of any sort. When, however, the receptual mind comes into existence simple consciousness is born, which means that animals are conscious (as we know they are) of the things they see about them. But the receptual mind is capable of simple consciousness only—that is, the animal is conscious of the object which he sees, but he does not know he is conscious of it; neither is the animal conscious of itself as a distinct entity or personality. In still other words, the animal cannot stand outside of itself and look at itself as any self conscious creature can. This, then, is simple consciousness: to be conscious of the things about one, but not to be conscious of one's self. But when I have reached self consciousness I am not only conscious of what I see, but I know I am conscious of it. Also I am conscious of myself as a separate entity and personality and I can stand apart from myself and contemplate myself, and can analyze and judge the operations of my own mind as I would analyze and judge anything else. This self consciousness is only possible after the formation of concepts and the consequent birth of language. Upon self consciousness is based all distinctively human life so far, except what has proceeded from the few cosmic conscious minds of the last three thousand years. Finally the basic fact in cosmic consciousness is implied in its name—that fact is consciousness of the cosmos—this is what is called in the East the "Brahmic Splendor," which is in Dante's phrase capable of transhumanizing a man into a god. Whitman, who has an immense deal to say about it, speaks of it in one place as "ineffable light—light rare, untellable, lighting the very light—beyond all signs, descriptions, languages." 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, and that no evil ever did or ever will enter into it; a great deal of this is, of course, from the point of view of self consciousness, absurd;

p. 18

it is nevertheless undoubtedly true. Now all this does not mean that when a man has cosmic consciousness he knows everything about the universe. We all know that when at three years of age we acquired self consciousness we did not at once know all about ourselves; we know, on the contrary, that after a great many thousands of years of experience of himself man still to-day knows comparatively little about himself considered even as a self conscious personality. So neither does a man know all about the cosmos merely because he becomes conscious of it. 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.

As on self consciousness is based the human world as we see it with all its works and ways, so on cosmic consciousness is based the higher religions and the higher philosophies and what comes from them, and on it will be based, when it becomes more general, a new world of which it would be idle to try to speak to-day.

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 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 the intuitional mind, or, in other words, cosmic consciousness.

The scheme by which the mind is built up is uniform from beginning to end: a recept is made of many percepts; a concept of many or several recepts and percepts, and an intuition is made of many concepts, recepts and percepts together with other elements belonging to and drawn from the moral nature. The cosmic vision or the cosmic intuition, from which what may be called the new mind takes its name, is thus seen to be simply the complex and union of all prior thought and experience—just as self consciousness is the complex and union of all thought and experience prior to it.

Next: Chapter 1. To Self Consciousness