Cosmic Consciousness, by Richard Maurice Bucke, , at sacred-texts.com
John Yepes (Called St. John of the Cross).
Born 1542; died 1591.
John Yepes was born at Fontibere, near Avila, in old Castile, on the twenty-fourth of June, 1542. His father died when he was a child, and his mother was left poor. He studied at the College of Jesuits. At twenty-one years of age he took the religious habit among the Carmelite Friars at Medina. His religious zeal continually increased. When he arrived at Salamanca, in order to commence his higher studies, the austerities which he practiced were excessive. At twenty-five years of age he was promoted to the priesthood. At the age of about thirty, or perhaps between that age and thirty-three, he passed through a period of "interior trouble of mind, scruples and a disrelish of spiritual exercises; . . . the devils assaulted him with violent temptations; . . . the most terrible of all these pains was that of scrupulosity and interior
desolation, in which he seemed to see hell open, ready to swallow him up" [31: 552].
He had another period of depression, followed by still more perfect illumination and happiness.
He enjoyed the happiness characteristic of the Cosmic Conscious state. Butler quotes him as saying: "The soul of one who serves God always swims in joy, always keeps a holiday, is always in her palace of jubilation, ever singing with fresh ardor and fresh pleasure a new song of joy and love" [31: 557].
For originating, or adhering to, some monastic forms he was, in 1578, imprisoned for some months, and it was during this time, at the age of thirty-six, that he entered Cosmic Consciousness.
On the fifteenth of August, 1578, he had been eight months in prison. On the twenty-fourth of June the same year he was thirty-six years of age.
Illumination occurred when he was in prison and apparently (but the record is not clear on this point) a very few months before the fifteenth of August. All available evidence considered, it seems about certain that illumination took place in spring or early summer, and that Yepes was within a month or two (before or after) of his thirty-sixth birthday at the time [112: 108].
It was in the same year, after illumination [112: 141], that he began to write.
The phenomenon of the subjective light seems to have manifested itself with unusual intensity in this case.
Others are said to have seen it. Also it is said to have lighted him about the monastery. These latter statements doubtless rest upon exaggeration or confusion such as is found in the description of the same phenomenon in Paul's case. It is curious, too, that in the case of John Yepes, partial blindness, lasting some days, followed, and was evidently in some way connected with the subjective light.
In the case of Paul the blindness was more marked and lasted longer. It would seem that the centric disturbance which must coexist with the subjective light may be so great as to leave the optic centre, for a time, incapable of reacting under its ordinary stimulus. It seems clear that both in the case of Paul and in that of Yepes the change that gave rise to the blindness was centric. One of Yepes' biographers describes the phenomenon of the light itself and its effects upon his eyes in the following words:
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 away as if it were but a moment. When his imprisonment was drawing to its 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" [112:108].
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, "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
After illumination, and upon the solicitation of persons about him who saw that he had, as Emerson says, "a new experience," he wrote several books, the object of which was to convey to others a knowledge of the new life that had come to him, and, if possible, to convey something of that new life itself. The following extracts are chosen because they exhibit with some clearness the mental status and attitude of the man John Yepes after illumination, and so contribute toward a picture of Cosmic Consciousness
On this road,* therefore, to abandon one's own way is to enter on the true way, or, to speak more correctly, to pass onwards to the goal; and to forsake one's own way is to enter on that which has none, namely, God. For the soul that attains to this state has no ways or methods of its own, neither does it nor can it lean upon anything of the kind. I mean ways of understanding, perceiving, or feeling, though it has all ways at the same time,* as one who possessing nothing, yet possesseth everything. For the soul courageously resolved on passing, interiorly and exteriorly, beyond the limits of its own nature, enters illimitably within the supernatural, which has no measure,
N. B.—The author of the Bhagavatgita is not given in this volume as a case of Cosmic Consciousness for the reason that nothing is known of his personality. The Divine Lay, itself, however, carries on its face the proof that he was so—in it Krishna is the Cosmic Sense, and the speeches of Krishna the utterances of Cosmic Consciousness.
* Method of attainment of Cosmic Consciousness and general description of it.
* All ways at the same time: Carpenter tries to express this experience as follows: "What is the exact nature of this mood—of this illuminant splendor? All I can say is, there seems to be a vision possible to man as from some more universal standpoint, free from the obscurity and localism which especially connect themselves with the passing clouds of desire, fear and all ordinary thought and emotion—in that sense another
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 [203: 202].
Though it be true,* as I have said, that God is always in every soul, bestowing upon it and preserving to it,
* The distinction between the self conscious life even at its best and the life of Cosmic Consciousness.
At other times, also, the divine light strikes the soul* with such force that the darkness is unfelt and the light unheeded; the soul seems unconscious of all it knows, and is therefore lost, as it were, in forgetfulness, knowing not where it is nor what has happened to it, unaware of the lapse of time.
It may and does occur* that many hours pass while it is in this state of forgetfulness; all seems but a moment when it again returns to itself [203: 127].
* It is probable that a similar experience in the same circumstances is common though not universal.
Yepes’ thought is that God is always existent in the human soul, but (in general) in a passive or sleeping state, or at least outside consciousness. The soul that knows that God is in it is blessed, but the soul in which God wakes is that which is supremely blessed. This waking of God in the soul is what is called in the present volume "Cosmic Consciousness."
One of the characteristics of the Cosmic Sense many times touched, and to be touched, upon is the identification of the person with the universe and everything in the universe. When Gautama or Plotinus expresses this fact it is called "Mysticism." When Whitman gives it voice it is "Yankee bluster." What shall we call it when a simple, humble-minded Spanish monk of the sixteenth century says of it in such plain language as the following?
Visions of incorporeal substances,* as of angels and of souls, are neither frequent nor natural in this earthly life, and still less so is the vision of the divine essence, which is peculiar to the blessed, unless it be communicated transiently by a dispensation of God, or by conservation of our natural life and condition, and the abstraction of the spirit; as was perhaps the case of St. Paul when he heard the unutterable secrets in the third heaven. "Whether in the body," saith he, "I know not, or out of the body, I know not; God knoweth." It is clear from the words of the apostle that he was carried out of himself, by the act of God, as to his natural existence [203: 198–9].
Knowledge of pure truth requires, for its proper explanation, that God should hold the hand and wield the pen of the writer. Keep in mind, my dear reader, that these matters are beyond all words.* But as my purpose is not to discuss them but to teach and direct the soul through them to the divine union, it will be enough if I speak of them
* The Cosmic vision compared in a few common sense words with more ordinary "visions" of, for instance, angels and spirits, in which Yepes seems to have little faith.
* "Beyond all words." This is the universal experience.
In so far as this becomes pure contemplation, the soul sees clearly that it cannot describe it otherwise than in general terms which the abundance of delight and happiness forces from it. And though at times, when this knowledge is vouchsafed to the soul, words are uttered, yet the soul knows full well that it has in nowise expressed what it felt, because it is conscious that there are no words of adequate signification [203:206].
This divine knowledge concerning God* never relates to particular things, because it is conversant with the Highest, and therefore cannot be explained unless when it is extended to some truth less than God,* which is capable of being described; but this general knowledge is ineffable. It is only a soul in union with God that is capable of this profound loving knowledge, for it is itself that union. This knowledge consists in a certain contact of the soul with the Divinity, and it is God Himself who is then felt and tasted, though not manifestly and distinctly, as it will be in glory. But this touch of knowledge and sweetness is so strong and so profound that it penetrates into the inmost substance of the soul, and the devil cannot interfere with it, nor produce anything like it—because there is nothing else comparable with it—nor infuse any sweetness or delight which shall at all resemble it. This knowledge savors, in some measure, of the divine essence and of everlasting life, and the devil has no power to simulate anything so great [203: 207].
Such is the sweetness of deep delight of these touches of God,* that one of them is more than a recompense for all the sufferings of this life, however great their number [203: 208].
* Compare Behmen: "Spiritual knowledge cannot be communicated from one intellect to another, but must be sought for in the spirit of God" [97: 56].
* And Whitman's dicta: "Wisdom is of the soul; cannot be passed from one having it to another not having it" [193: 123].
* "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed to usward" [19: 8: 18].
The way of proficients, which is also called the illuminative way,* or the way of infused contemplation, wherein God himself teaches and refreshes the soul without meditation or any active efforts that itself may deliberately make [203:55–6]. I went forth out of myself, out of my low conceptions and lukewarm love, out of my scanty and poor sense of God, without being hindered by the flesh or the devil. I went forth out of the scanty works and ways of my own to those of God; that is, my understanding went forth out of itself, and from human became divine. My will went forth out of itself, becoming divine; for now united with the divine love, it loves no more with its former scanty powers and circumscribed capacity, but with the energy and pureness of the divine spirit [203: 67].
Now this is nothing else but the supernatural light* giving light to the understanding, so that the human understanding becomes divine, made one with the divine. In the same way divine love inflames the will so that it becomes nothing less than divine, loving in a divine way, united and made one with the divine will and the divine love. The memory is affected in like manner; all the desires and affections also are changed divinely according to God. Thus the soul will be of heaven, heavenly, divine rather than human [204: 111].
It was a happy lot for the soul* when God in this night put all its household to sleep—that is, all the powers, passions, affections, and desires of the sensual and spiritual soul, that it may attain to the spiritual union of the perfect love of God "unobserved"—that is, unhindered, by them, because they were all asleep and mortified in that night. O how happy must the soul then be when it can escape from the house of its sensuality! None can understand it, I think, except that soul which has experienced it [204:113]. It is, therefore, plain that no distinct object whatever that pleases the will can be God; and for that reason, if it is to be united with Him, it must empty itself, cast away every disorderly affection of the desire, every satisfaction it may distinctly have, high and low, temporal and spiritual, so that, purified and cleansed from all unruly satisfactions, joys
* He tells of the passage from self consciousness to Cosmic Consciousness and what it is like to be in the latter condition.
* As Dante says, this is being "transhumanized into a God" [72: 4].
* Further allusions to the necessary subjugation or even obliteration of the old self conscious mind before the cosmic conscious mind can emerge.
This abyss of wisdom now so exalts and elevates the soul—orderly disposing it for the science of love—that it makes it not only understand how mean are all created things in relation to the supreme wisdom and divine knowledge, but also how low, defective, and, in a certain sense, improper, are all the words and phrases by which in this life we discuss divine things and how utterly impossible by any natural means, however profoundly and learnedly we may speak, to understand and see them as they are, except in the light of mystical theology. And so the soul in the light thereof, discerning this truth, namely, that it cannot reach it, and still less explain it by the terms of ordinary speech, justly calls it secret [204: 126].
The spirit is now so strong, and has so subdued the flesh, and makes so little of it, that it is as regardless of it as a tree is of one of its leaves. It seeks not for consolation or sweetness either* in God or elsewhere, neither does it pray for God's gifts through any motive of self interest, or its own satisfaction. For all it cares for now is how it shall please God and serve Him in some measure in return for His goodness and for the graces it has received, and this at any and every cost [204: 134].
But if we speak of that light of glory which in this, the soul's embrace, God sometimes produces within it, and which is a certain spiritual communion wherein He causes it to behold and enjoy at the same time the abyss of delight and riches which He has laid up within it, there is no language to express any degree of it. As the sun when it shines upon the sea illumes its great depths and reveals the pearls and gold and precious stones therein, so the divine sun of the bridegroom, turning towards the bride, reveals in a way the riches of her soul, so that even the angels behold her with amazement [205: 292].
I have said that God is pleased with nothing but love.* He has need of nothing, and so if He is pleased with anything it is with the growth of the soul; and as there is no way in which the soul can grow but in becoming in a manner equal to Him, for this reason only is He pleased with our love. It is the property of love to place him who loves on an equality with the object of his love. Hence the soul, because of its perfect love, is called the bride of the Son of God, which signifies equality with Him [205:333].
Before the soul succeeded in effecting this gift and a surrender of itself,* and of all that belongs to it, to the Beloved, it was entangled in many unprofitable occupations, by which it sought to please itself and others, and
* "What do you suppose," says Whitman, "I would intimate to you in a hundred ways but that man or woman is as good as God and that there is no God any more divine than yourself" [193: 299].
* Antecedent self conscious state. Compare Whitman: "Trippers and askers surround me, people I meet, the effect upon me of my early life or the ward and city I live in, or the nation, the latest dates, discoveries, inventions, societies, authors old and new, my
It is not without some unwillingness that I enter at the request of others upon the explanation of the four stanzas,* because they relate to matters so interior and spiritual as to baffle the powers of language [206:407]. All I say falls far short of that which passes in this intimate union of the soul with God. That love still more perfect and complete in the same state of transformation [206:408].
I entered, but I knew not where,* and there I stood not knowing, all science transcending.
I knew not where I entered, for when I stood within, not knowing where I was, I heard great things. What I heard I will not tell; I was there as one who knew not, all science transcending.
Of peace and devotion* the knowledge was perfect, in solitude profound; the right way was clear, but so secret was it, that I stood babbling, all science transcending.
I stood enraptured in ecstasy, beside myself, and in my every sense no sense remained. My spirit was endowed with understanding, understanding nought, all science transcending.
The higher I ascended the less I understood. It is the dark cloud illumining the night. Therefore he who understands knows nothing, ever all science transcending.
He who really ascends so high annihilates himself, and all his previous knowledge seems ever less and less; his knowledge so increases that he knoweth nothing, all science transcending.
This knowing that knows nothing is so potent in its might that the prudent in their reasoning never can defeat it; for their wisdom never reaches to the understanding that understandeth nothing, all science transcending.
* In this short poem John Yepes has tried to state the essential facts of the entrance into the Cosmic Conscious state. He says he entered it, but (having so done) he did not know where he was. He heard great things, but will not (cannot?) relate what. He found (in that state) perfect peace and knowledge.
* "Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all the arguments of the earth" [193: 32].
The right way (the right course of action), too, was clear (Whitman says the new sense "held his feet" [193:32]. Yepes, like Whitman and all the rest, became filled with joy. He then goes on to describe Nirvâna, even to the use of the word "annihilation."
Finally he pronounces the word which all the illuminati utter each in his own way. He says this profound wisdom consists in a sense of the essence of God. It is the Cosmic Sense—a sense, intuition, or consciousness of the Cosmos. The birth of the faculty which alone can comprehend God. It is that new birth through which only can a man see the kingdom of God.
And if you would listen, this sovereign wisdom doth consist in a sense profound of the essence of God: it is an act of His compassion, to leave us, nought understanding, all science transcending [208:624–5].
a. In the case of John Yepes the subjective light seems to have been present and even unusually intense, although there may be some confusion in the report of it.
b. Moral elevation was strongly marked.
c. Intellectual illumination well but not perhaps as strikingly as in some other cases.
d. His sense of immortality is so perfect that it does not occur to him to discuss it as a separate question or as a question at all. He has simply become God, a God, or a part of God, and he would no more think of discussing his immortality than he would think of discussing that of God.
e. Of course he lost (if he ever had it) all fear of death. Death is simply nothing to him. It is a matter that does not concern him in the least.
f. The instantaneousness of the change from self consciousness to Cosmic Consciousness in his prison in the spring or early summer of the year 1578, when he was thirty-six years old, seems to be clear from Lewis' narrative.
g. The change in the appearance of the person illumined called in the gospels "transfiguration"—seems to have been well marked.