Cosmic Consciousness, by Richard Maurice Bucke, , at sacred-texts.com
Gautama the Buddha.
It is not, of course, intended to write biographies here of the men given in this volume as cases of Cosmic Consciousness, nor, equally of course, can more than the faintest hint be given of their teaching. The facts quoted from their lives and the passages from their words are simply intended to establish and illustrate the fact that these men were illumined in the sense in which that word is used in this book.
Siddhartha Gautama was born of wealthy parents (his father being rather a great landowner than a king, as he is sometimes stated to have been), between the years 562 and 552 B.C. It seems sufficiently certain that he was a case of Cosmic Consciousness, although, on account of the remoteness of his era, details of proof may be somewhat lacking. He was married very young. Ten years afterwards his only son, Rahula, was born. Shortly after Rahula's birth, Gautama, being then in his twenty-ninth year, suddenly abandoned his home to devote himself entirely to the study of religion and philosophy. He seems to have been a very earnest-minded man who, realizing keenly the miseries of the human race, desired above all things to do something to abolish, or at least lessen, them. The orthodox manner of attaining to holiness in Gautama's age and land was through fasting and penance,
and for six years he practiced extreme self-mortification. He gained extraordinary fame, for which he cared nothing, but did not gain the mental peace nor the secret of human happiness, for which he strove. Seeing that that course was vain and led to nothing, he abandoned asceticism and shortly afterwards, at about the age of thirty-five, attained illumination under the celebrated Bo tree.
For our present purpose it is important to fix the age of the oncoming of the Cosmic Sense in this, as ii, other cases, as precisely as possible. A very recent and probably good authority  gives it as thirty-six. Ernest de Bunsen in his work "The Angel Messiah" says that Buddha, like Christ, "commenced preaching at thirty years of age. He certainly must have preached at Vaisali, for five young men became his disciples there and exhorted him to go on with his teachings. He was twenty-nine when he left that place; therefore he might well have preached at thirty. He did not turn the wheel of the law (became illumined) until after a six years’ meditation under the tree of knowledge" [109: 44].
Now as to the result of his illumination. What did he say about it? And what change did it effect in the man? The Dhamma-Kakka-Ppavattana-Sutta  is accepted by all Buddhists as a summary of the words in which the great Indian thinker and reformer for the first time successfully promulgated his new ideas [160: 140]. In it over and over again Gautama declares that the "noble truths" taught therein were not "among the doctrines handed down," but that "there arose within him the eye to perceive them, the knowledge of their nature, the understanding of their cause, the wisdom that lights the true path, the light that expels darkness." He could not well more definitely
state that he did not derive his authority to teach from the merely Self Conscious, but from the Cosmic Conscious, mind—that is, from illumination or inspiration. Compare with this what Behmen says of himself in the same connection: "I am not collecting my knowledge from letters and books, but I have it within my own Self; because heaven and earth with all their inhabitants, and moreover God himself, is in man" [97: 39].
In the Maha Vagga [162: 208] it is said that "during the first watch of the night following on Gautama's victory over the evil one (the night following upon his attainment of Cosmic Consciousness) he fixed his mind upon the chain of causation; during the second watch he did the same, and during the third watch he did the same." This tradition exists among both northern and southern Buddhists, has come down from the time before the separation of these churches, and is therefore probably genuine and from Gautama himself. But it embodies in clear and concise language one of the most fundamental phenomena belonging to the oncoming of the Cosmic Sense: most probably "the revelation of exceeding greatness" of which Paul speaks; the vision of the "eternal wheels" of Dante; "the knowledge that passes all the argument of the earth" of Whitman; the "inner illumination by which we can ultimately see things as they are, beholding all creation—the animals, the angels, the plants, the figures of our friends, and all the ranks and races of human kind—in their true being and order," of Edward Carpenter.
Again in the Akankheyya-Sutta [161: 210–18] is set forth the spiritual characteristics which belong to those who possess the Cosmic Sense. No one, not having it, could have written the description which, doubtless proceeds, as claimed, directly from
[paragraph continues] Gautama. Neither could any later possessor of the faculty set forth more clearly in the same number of words the distinctive marks which belong to it. For instance, it is said there that the attainment of Arhatship (supernatural insight—Nirvâna—illumination—Cosmic Consciousness) "will cause a man to become":
† "Yet O my soul supreme! Knowest thou the joys of pensive thought? Joys of the free and lonesome heart, the tender, gloomy heart?" [193: 147].
‡ "Tomb-leaves, body-leaves growing up above me, above death" [193: 96].
§ "Heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ" [19:8–17].
║ "The other I am" [193: 32]. "Thou teachest how to make one twain" [176: 39].
* Is this not a perfect description of a large and important part of what the Cosmic Sense did, for instance, for Dante, "Shakespeare," Balzac, Whitman?}
* "I pass death with the dying and birth with the new washed babe." "No doubt I have died myself ten thousand times before" [193: 34–37].
* Compare "Faces" [193: 353] where this "heavenly vision" is seen in action.
* The final and supreme test.
A few other passages alluding to the cosmic sense and having more or less close parallels in the writings of more modern illuminati may be given in further illustration, but it is almost needless to say that whoever desires light on this subject should read for himself—not once, but over and over again—the words left us by these lords of thought. Mere is a passage from "The Book of the Great Decease." Gautama is teaching his disciples; he speaks as follows:
It is needless to quote parallel passages from Jesus, they are so numerous and will occur to everyone. But it is worth noting that Paul uses almost the same language, referring to the same figure which is in the mind of the Buddhist writer, when he says (comparing Nirvâna, the Cosmic Sense and the things belonging to it to the prize of a race): "one thing I do, forgetting the things (the lesser things of the Buddhist text) which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize" [24: 3:13]. Compare also "The Song of the Open Road," in which the same thought is elaborately worked out [193:120]. Then as to the admonition against "business" and the "lesser things," such as wealth, consider the lives of Gautama, Jesus, Paul, Whitman and E. C., most of whom either were or might easily have been "well off," but either turned their backs upon their wealth (as Gautama or E. C.) or simply declined
to have any (as Jesus and Whitman) . In commentary upon this fact read these words of Whitman:
The following lines are quoted as a plain allusion to the Cosmic Sense—the whole Upanishad should be read:
Having begun his apprenticeship with a teacher when he was twelve years of age, Svetaketu returned to his father when he was twenty-four, having studied all the Vedas, conceited, considering himself well read and stern.
His father said to him: "Svetaketu, as you are so conceited, considering yourself so well read, and so stern, my dear, have you ever asked for that instruction by which we hear what cannot be heard, by which we perceive what cannot be perceived, by which we know what cannot be known" [148:92]?
In the same connection read this verse:
Just one more passage:
And he who beholds all beings in the self and the self in all beings, he never turns away from it. When to a man who understands, the self has become all things, what sorrow, what trouble can there be to him who once beheld that unity [150: 311]?
The specific reasons for believing that Gautama was a case of Cosmic Consciousness are:
a. The initial character of his mind, which seems to have been ardent, earnest and aspiring; such, indeed, as usually (always 2) precedes the oncoming of the Cosmic Sense.
b. The definiteness and suddenness of the change in the man from unceasing aspiration and endeavor to achievement and peace. "A religious life is well taught by me" (says Gautama). "An instantaneous, an immediate life" [157: 104]. And, again, Gautama is said to teach "the instantaneous, the immediate, the destruction of desire, freedom from distress, whose likeness is nowhere" [157: 211].
c. The age at which illumination is said to have been attained—the typical age for the oncoming of the Cosmic Sense—thirtyfive years.
d. The general teaching of the "Suttas," said to have come from Gautama, which teachings undoubtedly spring from a mind possessed of Cosmic Consciousness.
e. The intellectual illumination—"supernatural insight" [157: 78]—ascribed, and justly ascribed, to Gautama and proved by the above teachings—if these proceed from him.
f. The moral elevation attained by Gautama which nothing but the possession of Cosmic Consciousness will account for.
g. Gautama seems to have had the sense of eternal life which belongs to Cosmic Consciousness. The Mahavagga is supposed to give with considerable accuracy his actual teaching in such matters
[158: 11] and [162: 208]. In it we find these words: "The man who has no desire, who knowingly is free from doubt, and has attained the depth of immortality, him I call a Brahmana" [157: 114]. It is important to note that the test is not a belief or assurance (however strong) in a future eternal life. The man, in order to be a Brahmana (to have attained Nirvâna—Cosmic Consciousness), must already have acquired eternal life.
h. The personal magnetism exerted directly by him upon his contemporaries, and through his words upon his disciples in all ages since.
i. There is a tradition of the characteristic change in appearance known as "transfiguration." When he came down "from the mountain Mienmo a staircase of glittering diamonds, seen by all, helped his descent. His appearance was blinding" [109:63]. Allowing for Oriental exaggeration, a germ of truth may be contained in this tradition.
If, now, Gautama had Cosmic Consciousness, and if, as seems almost certain, it has appeared among his followers generation after generation from his time until now, then it must have a name in the copious literature of the Buddhists. There is, in fact, a word used by these people as to the exact value of which Western students have always been more or less in doubt, but if to that word we assign this meaning all difficulty seems to be ended and the passages in which that word occurs are seen to have a clear and simple signification. The word referred to is Nirvâna.
Kinza M. Hirai says [2: 263]: "Nirvâna is interpreted by Western nations as the actual annihilation of human desire or passion; but this is a mistake. Nirvâna is nothing else than universal reason."
It may be doubted whether Mr. Hirai by "universal reason" means "Cosmic Consciousness," but his intention in using the expression is the same. If he realizes or shall ever realize what
[paragraph continues] Cosmic Consciousness is it is certain that he will say that Nirvâna is a name for it.
In further illustration of this point read (as follows) part of a chapter on Nirvâna by an excellent authority [73: 110]—Rhys Davids:
There is no suffering for him who has finished his journey, and abandoned grief, who has freed himself on all sides, and thrown off all fetters. The gods even envy him whose senses like horses well broken in by the driver, have been subdued, who is free from pride, and free from appetites. Such a one who does his duty is tolerant like the earth,* like Indra's bolt; he is like a lake without mud; no new births are in store for him. His thought is quiet, quiet are his word and deed when he has obtained freedom by true knowledge [131:27].
They who by steadfast mind have become exempt from evil desire, and well trained in the teachings of Gautama; they, having obtained the Fruit of the Fourth Path, and immersed themselves in that Ambrosia, have received without price and are in the enjoyment of Nirvâna. Their old Karma † is exhausted, no new Karma is being produced; their hearts are free from the longing after a future life;* the cause of their existence being destroyed, and no new yearning springing up within them, they the wise are extinguished like this lamp (Ratana Sutta). That mendicant conducts himself well who has conquered (sin) by means of holiness, from whose eyes the veil of error has been removed, who is well trained in religion; and who, free from yearning, and skilled in the knowledge, has attained unto Nirvâna (Sammaparibbājanīya Sutta). What, then, is Nirvâna, which
"The earth neither lags nor hastens, does not withhold, is generous enough, the truths of the earth continually wait, they are not so concealed either, they are calm, subtle, untransmissible by print" [193: 176].
† Karma—one's action or acts considered as determining his lot after death and in a following existence.
* A man who has acquired the Cosmic Sense does not desire eternal life—he has it.
* Nir, "out," vana "blowing," from root va, "blow," with suffix ana. That Nirvana p. 92 cannot mean extinction in the sense of death is clear from the following passage: "And erelong he attained to that supreme goal of Nirvâna—the higher life—for the sake of which men go out from all and every household gain and comfort to become homeless wanderers, yea that supreme goal did he by himself, and while yet in this visible world, bring himself to the knowledge of and continue to realize and to see face to face" [163: 110].
That extinction is to be brought about by, and runs parallel with, the growth of the opposite condition of mind and heart; and it is complete when that opposite condition is reached. Nirvâna is therefore the same thing as a sinless, calm state of mind; and if translated at all may best, perhaps, be rendered "holiness"—holiness, that is, in the Buddhist sense—perfect peace, goodness and wisdom.
To attempt translations of such pregnant terms is, however, always dangerous, as the new word—part of a new language which is the outcome of a different tone of thought—while it may denote the same or nearly the same idea, usually calls up together with it very different ones. This is the case here; our word holiness would often suggest the idea of love to, and awe in the felt presence of, a personal creator—ideas inconsistent with Buddhist holiness. On the other hand, Nirvâna implies the ideas of intellectual energy,* and of the cessation of individual existence;† of which the former is not essential to, and the latter is quite unconnected with our idea of holiness.
Holiness and Nirvâna, in other words, may represent states of mind not greatly different; but these are due to different causes and end in different results; and, in using the words, it is impossible to confine one's thought to the thing expressed, so as not also to think of its origin and its effect.
It is better, therefore, to retain the word Nirvâna as the name of the Buddhist summum bonum, which is a blissful holy state, a moral condition, a modification of personal character;* and we should allow the word to remind us, as it did the early Buddhists, both of the Path which leads to the extinction of sin,† and also of the break of the transfer of Karma, which the extinction of sin will bring about. That this must be the effect of Nirvâna is plain; for that state of mind which in Nirvâna is extinct (upādāna klesa, trishna) is precisely that which will, according to the great mystery of Buddhism, lead at death to the formation of a new individual, to whom the Karma
† Not so much cessation as the swallowing up of individual in universal existence.
* A modification of the man's personality.
† The loss of the sense of sin is one of the most striking characteristics of the state of Cosmic Consciousness.
The life of man, to use a constantly recurring Buddhist simile or parable, is like the flame of an Indian lamp, a metal or earthenware saucer in which a cotton wick is laid in oil. One life is derived from another, as one flame is lit at another; it is not the same flame, but without the other it would not have been. As flame cannot exist without oil, so life, individual existence, depends on the cleaving to law and earthly things, the sin of the heart. If there is no oil in the lamp it will go out, though not until the oil which the wick has drawn up is exhausted; and then no new flame can be lighted there. And so the parts and powers of the sinless man will be dissolved, and no new being will be born to sorrow. The wise will pass away, will go out like the flame of a lamp, and their Karma will be individualized no longer.
Stars long ago extinct may be still visible to us by the light they emitted
† i.e., desire and sin.
‡ We have here the same point of view as that taken by Paul—the worthlessness, the essential sinfulness, of the flesh. To the Buddhist Nirvâna (the Cosmic Sense) is all in all; as to Paul, Christ (the Cosmic Sense) is all in all. The body is nothing or less than nothing. It is against this most natural view (for the glory of the Cosmic Sense is well calculated to throw into deep shade all the rest of life) that Whitman from first to last set himself. He saw with the eye of a true seer—with the eye of absolute sobriety and common sense—that the self conscious life was as great in its way as was that of the new sense—let that be as divine as it would; saw that nothing ever was or could be greater than simple seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, knowing—and on that he took his stand. "The other I am," he says (the old self) "must not be abased to you" (the new sense) "and you must not be abased to the other."
Whitman has, and will always have, the eternal glory of being the first man who was so great that even the Cosmic Sense could not master him.
Death, utter death, with no new life* to follow, is then the result of, but is not, Nirvâna. The Buddhist heaven is not death, and it is not on death, but on a virtuous life here and now, that the Pitakas lavish those terms of ecstatic description which they apply to Nirvâna, as the Fruit of the Fourth Path of Arahatship.
Thus Professor Max Mueller, who was the first to point out the fact, says (Buddhaghosha's Parables): "If we look in the Dhamma-pada, at every passage where Nirvâna is mentioned there is not one which would require that its meaning should be annihilation, while most, if not all, would become perfectly unintelligible if we assigned to the word Nirvâna that signification. The same thing may be said of such other parts of the Pitakas as are accessible to us in published texts. Thus the commentator on the Jātaka quotes some verses from the Buddhavansa, or history of the Buddhas, which is one of the books of the second Pitaka. In those verses we have (inter alia) an argument based on the logical assumption that if a positive exists, its negative must also exist; if there is heat, there must be cold; and so on. In one of these pairs we find existence opposed, not to Nirvâna, but to non-existence; whilst in another the three fires (of lust, hatred and delusion) are opposed to Nirvâna (Fausboll Jātaka texts). It follows, I think, that to the mind of the composer of the Buddhavansa, Nirvâna meant not the extinction, the negation of being, but the extinction, the absence, of the three fires of passion."*
So little is known of the books of the northern Buddhist Canon, that it is difficult to discover their doctrine on any controverted point; but so far as it is possible to judge, they confirm that use of the word Nirvâna which we find in the Pitakas. In the Lalita Vistara the word occurs in a few passages, in none of which is the sense of annihilation necessary, and in all of which I take Nirvâna to mean the same as the Pâli Nibbāna.†
For the words "virtuous life" read "life with the Cosmic Sense."
† Gautama says: "I went to Benares, where I preached the law to the five Solitaries. From that moment the wheel of my law has been moving, and the name of Nirvâna made its appearance in the world" [164: 56]. This refers to the date of Gautama's illumination, and seems to plainly show that "Nirvâna'' is a name of Cosmic Consciousness. Elsewhere in the same book we are told of "men who walk in the knowledge of the law after the attaining of Nirvâna" [164: 125]. And again: ''Nirvâna is a consequence of understanding that all things are equal" [164: 129]. Once more: "There is no real Nirvâna without all-knowingness (Cosmic Consciousness); try to reach this" [164: 140]. Also, Gautama speaks of himself as having explained in this world the perfect law, of having conducted to Nirvâna innumerable persons [30: 179]. If he explained the perfect law and conducted to Nirvâna
The early Sanskrit texts of the northern Buddhists, like the Pâli texts of the Pitakas, all seem to look upon Nirvâna as a moral condition, to be reached here, in the world, and in this life.
Finally, in order to show that as the word is used by those who know its meaning best it can hardly mean death and may well mean what is here called cosmic consciousness, read the following passages culled from the Dhamma-pada, one of the oldest and most sacred of the Buddhist scriptural books. Every passage in this book in which the word Nirvâna occurs is here given and with them parallel passages from other analogous writings:
Men who have no riches,* who live on recognized food, who have perceived void and unconditioned freedom (Nirvâna), their path is difficult to understand, like that of birds in the air [156: 27]. He whose appetites are stilled, who is not absorbed in enjoyment, who has perceived void and unconditioned freedom (Nirvâna), his path is difficult to understand, like that of birds in the air [156: 28]. Some people are born again; evil-doers go to hell; righteous people go to heaven; those who are free from all worldly desires attain Nirvâna [156: 35]. If, like a shattered metal plate (gong), thou utter not, then thou hast reached Nirvâna; contention is not known to thee [156: 37]. The Awakened call patience the highest penance, long-suffering the highest Nirvâna; for he is not an anchorite (pravragita) who strikes others, he is not an ascetic (stramana) who insults others [156: 50].
Hunger is the worst of diseases,* the body the greatest of pains; if one knows this truly, that is Nirvâna, the highest happiness [156: 54]. Health is the greatest of gifts; contentedness the best riches; trust is the best of relationships; Nirvâna the highest happiness [156: 55]. He in whom a desire for the Ineffable (Nirvâna) has sprung up, who is satisfied in his mind, and whose thoughts are not bewildered by love, he is called ûrdhvamsrotas (carried upward by the stream) [156: 57]. The sages who injure nobody, and who always control their body, they will go to the unchangeable place (Nirvâna), where, if they have gone, they will suffer no more [156:58]. Those who are ever watchful, who study day and night, and who strive after Nirvâna, their passions will come to an end [156: 58]. Cut out the love of self, like an autumn lotus, with thy hand! Cherish the road of peace. Nirvâna has been shown by Sugata (Buddha) [156:69]. A wise and good man who knows the meaning of this, should quickly clear the way that leads to Nirvâna [156: 69]. For with these animals does no man reach the untrodden country (Nirvâna), where a tamed man goes on a tamed animal—viz., on his own well tamed self [156: 77]. He who having got rid of the forest (of lust) (i.e., after having reached Nirvâna), gives himself over to forest-life (i.e., to lust), and who, when removed from the forest (i.e., from lust), runs to the forest (i.e., to lust), look at that man! though free, he runs into bondage [156: 81]. The Bhikshu who acts with kindness, who is calm in the doctrine of Buddha, will reach the quiet place (Nirvâna), cessation of natural desires, and happiness [156:86]. O Bhikshu, empty this boat! if emptied, it will go quickly; having cut off passion and hatred,
Gautama, then, was a case of Cosmic Consciousness, and the central doctrine in his system, Nirvâna, was the doctrine of the Cosmic Sense. The whole of Buddhism is simply this: 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. The object of all Buddhist literature is to convey some idea of this state and to guide aspirants into this glorious country, which is literally the Kingdom of God.