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



Born 570; died 632.

This case, both in detail and ensemble, is marvellously complete. The contempt entertained towards this man by Christians is as creditable to them as is the corresponding contempt entertained towards Jesus by Mussulmans creditable to these. Mohammed was born in the tribe of Koreish, in August, in the year 570. His inheritance was five camels and a slave girl. His father died before his birth and his mother when he was six years old. As a boy and youth he earned his living tending sheep and goats.

Later he was a camel driver. At the age of twenty-five he married Cadijah, who was forty. The union was an eminently happy one. He was an honest, upright man, irreproachable in his domestic relations and universally esteemed by his fellow-citizens, who bestowed upon him the sobriquet of El Amin—"the trusty." "Mohammed was a man of middle height but a commanding presence; rather thin, but with broad shoulders and a wide chest; a massive head, a frank, oval face, with a clear complexion, restless black eyes, long, heavy eyelashes, a prominent, aquiline nose, white teeth and a full, thick beard. . . . He was a man of highly nervous organization, thoughtful, restless, inclined to melancholy and possessing an extreme sensibility, being unable to endure the slightest unpleasant odor or the least physical pain. . . . He was simple in his habits, kind and courteous in his demeanor and agreeable in conversation" [152: 19–20].

It seems that Mohammed had been, as a young and middle-aged

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man, before his experience on Mount Hara, serious, devout, earnest and deeply religious. It also seems (as already stated) that this mental constitution is an essential prerequisite to the attainment of Cosmic Consciousness. He clearly saw that the religion of his countrymen was far from being in a satisfactory condition, and it appeared to him that the time for reform or a new departure had arrived.

We are told that he gradually absented himself from society and sought the solitude of a cavern on Mount Hara (about three leagues north of Mecca), where, in emulation of the Christian anchorites of the desert, he would remain days and nights together engaged in prayer and meditation. . .. He became subject to visions, ecstasies and trances. . .. At length, it is said, what had hitherto been shadowed out in dreams was made apparent and distinct by an angelic apparition and a divine annunciation.

It was in the fortieth year of his age when this famous revelation took place. Accounts are given of it by Moslem writers, as if received from his own lips, and it is alluded to in certain passages of the Koran. He was passing, as was his wont, the month of Ramadan in the cavern of Mount Hara, endeavoring by fasting, prayer and solitary meditation to elevate his thoughts to the contemplation of divine truth.

It was on the night called by Arabs Al Kader, or The Divine Decree; a night in which, according to the Koran, angels descend to earth and Gabriel brings down the decrees of God. During that night there is peace on earth, and a holy quiet reigns over all nature until the rising of the morn.

As Mohammed, in the silent watches of the night, lay wrapped in his mantle, he heard a voice calling upon him. Uncovering his head, a flood of light broke upon him of such intolerable splendor that he swooned. On regaining his senses he beheld an angel in a human form, which, approaching from a distance, displayed a silken cloth covered with written characters. "Read!" said the angel. "I know not how to read!" replied Mohammed. "Read!" repeated the angel, "in the name of the Lord, who has created all things; who created man from a clot of blood. Read, in the name of the Most High, who taught man the use of the pen; who sheds on his soul the ray of knowledge and teaches him what before he knew not."

Upon this Mohammed instantly felt his understanding illumined with celestial light and read what was written on the cloth, which contained the decree of God, as afterwards promulgated in the Koran. 'When he had finished the perusal the heavenly messenger announced: "Oh, Mohammed, of a verity thou art the prophet of God! And I am his angel Gabriel!"

Mohammed, we are told, came trembling and agitated to Cadijah in the morning, not knowing whether what he had heard and seen was indeed true, and that he was a prophet decreed to effect that reform so long the object of

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his meditations; or whether it might not be a mere vision, a delusion of the senses, or worse than all, the apparition of an evil spirit [102: 32–3].

Illumination in Mohammed's case took place in or about the month of April. It occurred in the Arabic month Ramadan (82a:553). Now in the first year after the Hegira this month fell in our December. But the Mohammedan year is ten days shorter than the time actually taken by the revolution of the earth in its orbit. It is plain, therefore, that any given Mohammedan date would recur ten days earlier year by year. Now the Hegira was twelve years after Mohammed's illumination. That is to say, if the month Ramadan corresponded with December just after the Hegira it would have corresponded with April at the time of the prophet's illumination. That illumination, therefore, would have taken place in April.

If Mohammed was a case of Cosmic Consciousness this fact ought to appear clearly in the writings which he left to the world. Does it? As a matter of fact these are not easily understood in an English translation and from the modern, western, point of view. Note, for instance, the remarks of one reader who might be supposed competent to appreciate such a work as the Qur’an. Carlyle says of it [59: 295]: "It is as toilsome reading as ever I undertook. A wearisome, confused jumble, crude, incondite, endless iterations, longwindedness, entanglement, insupportable stupidity in short," and so on at some length.

In spite of all this, however, even if multiplied a thousand times, the greatness, power, spirituality of the book must be considered established by the results it has produced in the world. No effect can be greater than its cause, and the effect in this case (the spiritual elevation of many millions of men for many generations) must be admitted to have been enormous. Moreover, it seems to the writer that, in spite of the undoubted difficulty above referred to, almost any candid reader may perceive for himself, upon its perusal, that the book has great qualities, even though he may not be able to fully grasp them.

But there is another reason why we do not find just what we want for our present purpose in the Qur’an. It is written entirely

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from the point of view of the Cosmic Sense; as its author would say, it is all dictated by Gabriel. There are no passages in which the self conscious tells us about the cosmic conscious Mohammed—such passages as occur with great frequency in the writings of Yepes, Whitman and others—passages written from the point of view of the "Shakespeare" Sonnets. Nevertheless, there are here and there sentences in the Qur’an that almost certainly refer to the experience in question, as, for instance, the following:

Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth,* and the alternation of night and day, and in the ship that runneth in the sea with that which profits man, and in what water God sends down from heaven and quickens therewith the earth after its death, and spreads abroad therein all kinds of cattle, and in the shifting of the winds, and in the clouds that are pressed into service betwixt heaven and earth, are signs to people who can understand [151:22].

And when we said to thee, "Verily, thy Lord encompasses men!"* and we made the vision which we showed thee only a cause of sedition unto men, and the cursed tree as well; for we will frighten them, but it will only increase them in great rebellion [153:7].

They will ask thee of the spirit.* Say, "The spirit comes at the bidding of my Lord, and ye are given but a little knowledge thereof." If we had wished we would have taken away that with which we have inspired thee: then thou wouldst have found no guardian against us, unless by a mercy from thy Lord; verily, his grace towards thee is great [153: 10]!

We do not descend* save at the bidding of thy Lord: His is what is before us, and what is behind us, and what is between those; for thy Lord is never forgetful—the Lord of the heavens and the earth, and of what is between the two; then serve Him and persevere in His service [153:31–2].

* Mohammed is seeking to point out the (to him) certainty of an infinitely good God and eternal life. He uses here very much the same language as does Whitman in the same connection: "I hear you whispering there O stars of heaven, O suns, O grass of graves, O perpetual transfers and promotions, if you do not say anything how can I say anything" [193: 77]?

* "The vision"—evidently the cosmic vision.

* He speaks of "the spirit" who visits him—"Gabriel," the Cosmic Sense—and uses almost the same words as Jesus: "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" [17: 3: 8].

* "We do not descend." Palmer's note to these words is: "Among various conjectures the one most usually accepted by the Mohammedan commentators is, that these are the words of the angel Gabriel in answer to Mohammed's complaint of long intervals elapsing between the periods of revelation. Compare, in chapter on Bacon, infra Sonnet xxxiii, and comment thereon.

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Verily, the hour is coming, I almost make it appear,* that every soul may be recompensed for its efforts [153:35].

* The words, "I almost make it appear," would seem to refer to the feeling almost or quite universal with those having cosmic consciousness that universal endowment with this faculty is near, is imminent, and that an individual having the faculty can bestow it almost at will. "I bestow," says Whitman, "upon any man or woman the entrance to all the gifts of the universe." There is a sense, of course, in which both these propositions are true: (1) The new faculty is becoming universal and (2) these men, having the faculty, do bestow it upon such others as coming into contact with them are eligible.

This life of the world is nothing but a sport and a play; but, verily, the abode of the next world—that is, life. If they did but know! [153: 124.]*

He who wishes for the tilth of the next world,* we will increase for him the tilth; and he who desires the tilth of this world, we will give him thereof; but in the next he shall have no portion [153:207].

The life of this world is but a play and a sport;* but if you believe and fear God, he will give you your hire [153: 232].

And every soul shall come—with it a driver and a witness! Thou wert heedless of this, and we withdrew thy veil* from thee, and to-day is thine eyesight keen! [153: 243.]

And paradise shall be brought* near to the pious—not far off [153:243].

This is what ye are promised,* to every one who turns frequently (to God) and keeps His commandments, who fears the merciful in secret and brings a repentant heart. Enter into it in peace; this is the day of eternity! [153: 244.]

And listen for the day* when the crier shall cry from a near place—the day when they shall hear the shout in truth—that is, the day of coming forth [153: 244].

*The distinction between the self and cosmic conscious lives.

*A rich man, from the mere fact of being such, is unlikely to enter cosmic consciousness. If he does he probably abandons his wealth, as did Gautama and E. C. If, however, a man (not having it) very earnestly desires wealth, or (having it) sets his heart upon it, such shall certainly in Cosmic Consciousness "have no portion."

*Insignificance of the self conscious as compared with the cosmic conscious life.

*"Withdrew thy veil"—reference to the illumination of Mohammed. He "saw the heavens rent asunder" [15: 1: 101.

*"The kingdom of God is nigh at hand" [16: 21: 31]. "The kingdom of God is within you" [16: 17: 21].

*Illumination—the Cosmic Sense—the Brahmic bliss—the kingdom of God—is rightly called here "the day of eternity," since the entrance to it is the entrance to immortality—eternity.

*The suddenness and unexpectedness of the oncoming of Cosmic Consciousness is noted in the writings of nearly all of those who have experienced illumination. "That day —the day of deliverance—shall come to you in what place you know not; it shall come, but you know not the time. In the pulpit while you are preaching the sermon, behold! suddenly the ties and the bands shall drop off; in the prison One shall come, and you shall go free forever. In the field, with the plough and chain-harrow; by the side of your horse in the stall; in the midst of fashionable

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life; in making and receiving morning calls; in your drawing-room——even there, who knows? It shall duly, at the appointed hour, come [61: 231].

Know that the life of this world is but a sport,* and a play, and an adornment, and something to boast of amongst yourselves; and the multiplying of children is like a rain-growth, its vegetation pleases the misbelievers; then they wither away, and thou mayest see them become yellow; then they become but grit [153:268].

Verily, we set it* down on the Night of Power! And what shall make thee know what the Night of Power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months! The angels and the spirits descend therein, by the permission of their Lord with every bidding [153: 337].

*Insignificance of the merely self conscious life.

*"It," the Qur’an, "the Night of Power" (the night of Mohammed's illumination), "is better than a thousand months!" So Böhme, referring to his illumination, says [40:15]: "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 an university."

In this case we have authentically reported (as it seems) all the fundamental elements required to constitute a case of Cosmic Consciousness:

a. The subjective light.

b. The moral elevation.

c. The intellectual illumination.

d. The sense of immortality.

e. The definiteness, suddenness and unexpectedness of the oncoming of the new state.

f. The previous mental and physical character of the man.

g. The age of illumination, in his fortieth year, later than the average, but while he was still in his prime.

h. The added charm to his personality, so that he was able to gain and hold devoted followers.

Next: Chapter 6. Dante