Cosmic Consciousness, by Richard Maurice Bucke, , at sacred-texts.com
Was born August 29th, 1844, at Brighton, where he spent his early youth. His father came from Cornwall. He went for several years to Brighton College, and in 1864 entered Trinity Hall,
[paragraph continues] Cambridge, where he obtained a scholarship, graduated in 1868 as tenth wrangler, and afterwards was elected a fellow of the college. In due course he was ordained, and for some years acted as curate of St. Edward's Church, Cambridge, of which at the time Frederic Dennison Maurice was vicar. He never profoundly believed in the historical accuracy of the Bible. His father was a Broad Churchman, and brought him up to think for himself. When quite young he had made up his mind to take orders and stuck to that notion largely from an idea that the church could be widened from the inside. Once fairly inside, however, he found it would take a precious long time. In fine, he soon felt himself so ill at ease that a complete break with the whole thing became absolutely necessary. He was in orders from 1869 to 1874.
We find him immediately after this working with approved success in a new field—that of university extension. He was at this time, from 1874 to 1880, especially known and loved in and about York, Nottingham and Sheffield.
About the same time he began to study deeply social questions, and became convinced that society was on a wrong basis and moving in a wrong direction.
It was early in 1881, as he tells us, when in his thirty-seventh year, that Carpenter entered into Cosmic Consciousness. The evidence of the fact is perfectly clear, but it is not within the power of the writer to give details of illumination in the case beyond those given below. As a direct result of the oncoming of the Cosmic Sense he practically resigned his social rank and became a laborer; that is to say, he procured a few acres of land not many miles from Dronfield, in Derbyshire, built upon it a small house and lived there with the family of a working man as one of themselves. Dressing in the common corduroy of the country side, he took up his spade and worked steadily with the others. It seemed to him that the manners and habits of the rich were less noble than those of the poor; that the soul and life of the rich were less noble. He preferred to live with the comparatively poor and to be himself comparatively poor, in that respect (not following the example of, but) participating in the instinct of Gautama. Jesus,
[paragraph continues] Paul, Las Casas and Whitman. He retains his piano, and after his hours of manual toil will refresh himself with a sonata of Beethoven, for he is an accomplished and original musician. It is needless to say that he is a pronounced and advanced socialist—perhaps an anarchist. He is one with the people, the "common" people (made so numerous, so common, said Lincoln, because God loves them and likes to see many of them). It is childish to say (as some have thought and said) that men of this stamp live as poor men with the poor for the sake of influencing these and as an example to the rich. They simply live as poor men with the poor, as laboring men with laborers, because they prefer the life, the manners, the habits, the surroundings, the personality of these to the life, the manners, the habits, the surroundings and the personality of the rich. Occasionally he descends into so-called "good society" (having close and dear relations there), but does not remain in it for any length of time. He loves above all things, in himself and others, honesty, candor, sincerity and simplicity, and he says he finds more of these in the poor, common, working people than he finds in the rich men and women who constitute "society."
In 1873 Carpenter published "Narcissus and Other Poems," and in 1875 "Moses: A Drama." He began reading Whitman in 1869, and read the "Leaves" continuously for ten years thereafter. Whether Carpenter would have acquired Cosmic Consciousness if he had never read Whitman cannot perhaps be said, either by himself or by any one else, but there seems little doubt that the study of the "Leaves" was a material factor leading up to his illumination. He is not the only man who has been helped forward by the same agency, and it is probable that in the world's future many thousand men and women will be in similar manner helped to the same goal. For (and in this fact is the raison d'être of the present volume), next to the necessary heredity and the right constitution (bodily and mental), association with the minds of those who have passed the boundary into "Specialism" is of supreme importance. He began to write "Towards Democracy" (the book in which he attempted to embody the teachings of the
[paragraph continues] Cosmic Sense) immediately after his illumination. The first edition, small and thin, was published in 1883; the second, a good deal enlarged, in 1885; the third, grown into a stout, handsome volume, in 1892; and the fourth, in 1896. No better book can be read from which to obtain an idea as to what Cosmic Consciousness is and in what it differs from self consciousness. Besides "Towards Democracy," Carpenter published, in 1887, "England's Ideal"; in 1889, "Civilization, its Cause and Cure," and in 1893, "From Adam's Peak to Elephanta"; all of which are exceedingly well worth attention.
In a letter to the present writer, who had asked for certain facts about the new sense, he says:
In another place he has the following clear and explicit passage on the subject:
In a later book, Carpenter has a chapter, "Consciousness Without Thought" [56: 153], written expressly to give to the uninitiated an idea of what is meant by the words used as the title of the present volume. Here follows that chapter entire. Those interested in the subject had better see the book itself, as it contains other chapters almost equally important. The chapter begins:
For these reasons I prefer not to attempt or pretend to give the exact teaching, unbiased, of the Indian Gurus or their experiences, but only to indicate, so far as I can, in my own words, and in modern thought-form, what I take to be the direction in which we must look for this ancient and world-old knowledge which has had so stupendous an influence in the East, and which indeed is still the main mark of its difference from the West.
And first let me guard against an error which is likely to arise. It is very easy to assume, and very frequently assumed, in any case where a person is credited with the possession of an unusual faculty, that such person is at once lifted out of our sphere into a supernatural region, and possesses every faculty of that region. If, for instance, he or she is, or is supposed to be, clairvoyant, it is assumed that everything is or ought to be known to them; or if the person has shown what seems a miraculous power at any time or in any case, it is asked by way of discredit why he or she did not show a like power at other times or in other cases. Against all such hasty generalizations it is necessary to guard ourselves. If there is a higher form of consciousness obtainable by man than that which he can for the most part claim at present, it is probable—nay, certain—that it is evolving and will evolve but slowly, and with many a slip and hesitant pause by the way. In the far past of man and the animals consciousness of sensation and consciousness of self have been successively evolved—each of these mighty growths with innumerable branches and branch-lets continually spreading. At any point in this vast experience a new growth, a new form of consciousness might well have seemed miraculous. What could be more marvellous than the first revealment of the sense of sight, what more inconceivable to those who had not experienced it, and what more certain than that the first use of this faculty must have been fraught with delusion and error? Yet there may be an inner vision which again transcends sight, even as far as sight transcends touch. It is more than probable that in the hidden births of time there lurks a consciousness which is not the consciousness of sensation and which is not the consciousness of self—or at least which includes and entirely surpasses these—a consciousness in which the contrast between the ego and the external world, and the distinction between subject and object, fall away. The part of the world into which such a consciousness admits us (call it supermundane or whatever you will) is probably at least as vast and complex as the part we know, and progress in that region at least equally slow and tentative and various, laborious, discontinuous and uncertain. There is no sudden leap out of the back parlor onto Olympus; and the routes, when found, from one to the other, are long and bewildering in their variety.
All this, or a great part of it, the Indian teachers insist on. They say—and I think this commends the reality of their experience—that there is nothing abnormal or miraculous about the matter; that the faculties acquired are on the whole the result of long evolution and training, and that they have distinct laws and an order of their own. They recognize the existence of persons of a demoniac faculty, who have acquired powers of a certain grade without corresponding moral evolution, and they admit the rarity of the highest phases of consciousness and the fewness of those at present fitted for its attainment. With these little provisos, then, established I think we may go on to say that what the Gñáni seeks and obtains is a new order of consciousness—to which, for want of a better, we may give the name universal or Cosmic Consciousness, in contradistinction to the individual or special bodily consciousness with which we are all familiar. I am not aware that the exact equivalent of this expression "universal consciousness" is used in the Hindu philosophy; but the Sat-chit-ánanda Brahm, to which every yogi aspires, indicates the same idea: "sat," the reality, the all pervading; "chit," the knowing, perceiving; "ánanda," the blissful—all these united in one manifestation of Brahm.
The West seeks the individual consciousness—the enriched mind, ready perceptions and memories, individual hopes and fears, ambition, loves, conquests—the self, the local self, in all its phases and forms—and sorely doubts whether such a thing as an universal consciousness exists. The East seeks the universal consciousness, and in those cases where its quest succeeds individual self and life thin away to a mere film, and are only the shadows cast by the glory revealed beyond.
The individual consciousness takes the form of Thought, which is fluid and mobile like quicksilver, perpetually in a state of change and unrest fraught with pain and effort; the other consciousness is not in the form of Thought. It touches, hears, sees, and is those things which it perceives—without motion, without change, without effort, without distinction of subject and object, but with a vast and incredible Joy.
The individual consciousness is specially related to the body. The organs of the body are in some degree its organs. But the whole body is only as one,~ organ of the Cosmic Consciousness. To attain this latter one must have the power of knowing one's self separate from the body—of passing into a state of ecstasy, in fact. Without this the Cosmic Consciousness cannot be experienced. It is said: "There are four main experiences in initiation—(1) the meeting
Great have been the disputes among the learned as to the meaning of the word Nirvâna—whether it indicates a state of no-consciousness or a state of vastly enhanced consciousness. Probably both views have their justification; the thing does not admit of definition in the terms of ordinary language. The important thing to see and admit is that under cover of this and other similar terms there does exist a real and recognizable fact (that is, a state of consciousness in some sense), which has been experienced over and over again, and which to those who have experienced it in ever so slight a degree has appeared worthy of lifelong pursuit and devotion. It is easy of course to represent the thing as a mere word, a theory, a speculation of the dreamy Hindu; but people do not sacrifice their lives for empty words, nor do mere philosophical abstractions rule the destinies of continents. No, the word represents a reality, something very basic and inevitable in human nature. The question really is not to define the fact—for we cannot do that—but to get at and experience it. It is interesting at this juncture to find that modern Western science, which has hitherto—without much result—been occupying itself with mechanical theories of the universe, is approaching from its side this idea of the existence of another form of consciousness. The extraordinary phenomena of hypnotism—which no doubt are in some degree related to the subject we are discussing, and which have been recognized for ages in the East—are forcing Western scientists to assume the existence of the so-called secondary consciousness in the body. The phenomena seem really inexplicable without the assumption of a secondary agency of some kind, and it every day becomes increasingly difficult not to use the word consciousness to describe it. Let it be understood that I am not for a moment assuming that this secondary consciousness of the hypnotists is in all respects identical with the Cosmic Consciousness (or whatever we may call it) of the Eastern occultists. It may or may not be. The two kinds of consciousness may cover the same ground, or they may only overlap to a small extent. That is a question I do not propose to discuss. The point to which I wish to draw attention is that Western science is envisaging the possibility of the existence in man of another consciousness of some kind beside that with whose workings we are familiar. It quotes (A. Moll) the case of Barkworth, who "can add up long rows of figures while carrying on a lively discussion, without allowing his attention to be at all diverted from the discussion"; and asks us how Barkworth can do this unless he has a secondary consciousness which occupies itself with the figures while his primary consciousness is in the thick of argument. Here is a lecturer (F. Myers) who for a whole minute allows his mind to wander entirely away from the subject in hand, and imagines himself to be sitting beside a friend in the audience and to be engaged in conversation with
Many actions and processes of the body, e.g., swallowing, are attended by distinct personal consciousness; many other actions and processes are quite unperceived by the same; and it might seem reasonable to suppose that these latter, at any rate, were purely mechanical and devoid of any mental substratum. But the later developments of hypnotism in the West have shown—what is well known to the Indian fakirs—that under certain conditions consciousness of the internal actions and processes of the body can be obtained; and not only so, but consciousness of events taking place at a distance from the body and without the ordinary means of communication.
Thus the idea of another consciousness, in some respects of wider range than the ordinary one, and having methods of perception of its own, has been gradually infiltrating itself into Western minds.
There is another idea, which modern science has been familiarizing us with, and which is bringing us towards the same conception—that, namely, of the fourth dimension. The supposition that the actual world has four space-dimensions instead of three makes many things conceivable which otherwise would be incredible. It makes it conceivable that apparently separate objects, e.g., distinct people, are really physically united; that things apparently sundered by enormous distances of space are really quite close together; that a person or other object might pass in and out of a closed room without disturbance of walls, doors, or windows, etc.; and if this fourth dimension were to become a factor of our consciousness it is obvious that we should have means of knowledge which to the ordinary sense would appear simply miraculous. There is much, apparently, to suggest that the consciousness attained to by the Indian giianis in their degree, and by hypnotic subjects in theirs, is of this fourth-dimensional order.
As a solid is related to its own surfaces, so, it would appear, is Cosmic Consciousness related to ordinary consciousness. The phases of the personal consciousness are but different facets of the other consciousness; and experiences which seem remote from each other in the individual are perhaps all equally near in the universal. Space itself, as we know it, may be practically annihilated in the consciousness of a larger space of which it is but the superficies; and a person living in London may not unlikely find that he has a back door opening quite simply and unceremoniously out in Bombay.
"The true quality of the soul," said the Guru one day, "is that of space, by which it is at rest, everywhere.
"At rest everywhere," "Indifference," "Equality." This was one of the most remarkable parts of the Guru's teaching. Though (for family reasons) maintaining many of the observances of caste himself, and though holding and teaching that for the mass of the people caste rules were quite necessary, he never ceased to insist that when the time came for a man (or woman) to be "emancipated" all these rules must drop aside as of no importance—all distinction of castes, classes, all sense of superiority or self-goodness—of right and wrong even—and the most absolute sense of equality must prevail towards everyone, and determination in its expression. Certainly it was remarkable (though I knew that the sacred books contained it) to find this germinal principle of Western Democracy so vividly active and at work deep down beneath the innumerable layers of Oriental social life and custom. But so it is; and nothing shows better the relation between the West and East than this fact.
This sense of equality, of freedom from regulations and confinements, of inclusiveness, and of the life that "rests everywhere," belongs, of course, more to the Cosmic or universal part of a man than to the individual part. To the latter it is always a stumbling-block and an offense. It is easy to show that men are not equal, that they cannot be free, and to point the absurdity of a life that is indifferent and at rest under all conditions. Nevertheless to the larger consciousness these are basic facts, which underlie the common life of humanity, and feed the very individual that denies them.
Thus repeating the proviso that in using such terms as Cosmic and universal consciousness we do not commit ourselves to the theory that the instant a man leaves the personal part of him he enters into absolutely unlimited and universal knowledge, but only into a higher order of perception—and admitting the intricacy and complexity of the region so roughly denoted by these terms, and the microscopical character of our knowledge about it—we may say once more, also as a roughest generalization, that the quest of the East has been this universal consciousness, and that of the West the personal or individual consciousness. As is well known the East has its various sects and schools of philosophy, with subtle discriminations of qualities, essences, godheads, devil-hoods, etc., into which I do not propose to go, and which I should feel myself quite incompetent to deal with. Leaving all these aside, I will keep simply to these two rough Western terms, and try to consider further the question of the methods by which the Eastern student sets himself to obtain the Cosmic state, or such higher order of consciousness as he does encompass.
Later  Carpenter has made still another attempt to explain or at least indicate the nature of the new sense. He says:
Quite a long time ago (say when I was about twenty-five, and living at Cambridge) I wanted to write some sort of a book which should address itself very personally and closely to any one who cared to read it—establish, so to speak, an intimate personal
relation between myself and the reader; and during successive years I made several attempts to realize this idea—of which beginnings one or two in verse (one, for instance, I may mention, called "The Angel of Death and Life") may be found in a little volume entitled "Narcissus and Other Poems," now well out of print, which I published in 1873. None of my attempts satisfied me, however, and after a time I began to think the quest was an unreasonable one—unreasonable because, while it might not be difficult for anyone with a pliant and sympathetic disposition to touch certain chords in any given individual that he met, it seemed impossible to hope that a book—which cannot in any way adapt itself to the idiosyncrasies of its reader—could find the key of the personalities into whose hands it might come. For this it would be necessary to suppose, and to find, an absolutely common ground to all individuals (all, at any rate, who might have reached a certain stage of thought and experience), and to write the book on and from that common ground; but this seemed at that time quite unfeasible.
Years followed, more or less eventful, with flight from Cambridge and university lectures carried on in the provincial towns, and so forth; but of much dumbness as regards writing, and inwardly full of extreme tension and suffering. At last, early in 1881, no doubt as the culmination and result of struggles and experiences that had been going on, I became conscious that a mass of material was forming within me, imperatively demanding expression—though what exactly its expression would be I could not then have told. I became for the time overwhelmingly conscious of the disclosure within me of a region transcending in some sense the ordinary bounds of personality, in the light of which region my own idiosyncrasies of character—defects, accomplishments, limitations, or what not—appeared of no importance whatever—an absolute freedom from mortality, accompanied by an indescribable calm and joy.
I also immediately saw, or felt, that this region of self existing in me existed equally (though not always equally consciously) in others. In regard to it the mere diversities of temperament which ordinarily distinguish and divide people dropped away and became indifferent, and a field was opened in which all might meet, in which all were truly equal. Thus the two words which controlled my thought and expression at that time became Freedom and
By the end of 1881 this was finished—though it was worked over and patched a little in the early part of 1882; and I remember feeling then that, defective and halting and incoherent in expression as it was, still if it succeeded in rendering even a half the splendor which inspired it, it would be good, and I need not trouble to write anything more (which, with due allowance for the said "if," I even now feel was a true and friendly intimation).
The writing of this and its publication (in 1883) got a load off my mind which had been weighing on it for years, and I have never since felt that sense of oppression and anxiety which I had constantly suffered from before—and which I believe, in its different forms, is a common experience in the early part of life.
In this first poem were embodied, with considerable alterations and adaptations, a good number of casual pieces, which I had written (merely under stress of feeling and without any particular sense of proportion) during several preceding years. They now found their interpretation under the steady and clear light of a new mood or state of feeling which previously had only visited me fitfully and with clouded beams. The whole of "Towards Democracy"—I may say, speaking broadly and including the later pieces—had been written under the domination of this mood. I have tested and measured everything by it; it has been the sun to which all the images and conceptions and thoughts used have been as material objects reflecting its light. And perhaps this connects itself with the fact that it has been so necessary to write in the open air. The more universal feeling which I sought to convey refused itself from me within doors; nor could I at any time or by any means persuade the rhythm or style of expression to render itself up within a room—tending there always to break back into distinct metrical forms; which, however much I admire them in certain authors, and think them myself suitable for certain kinds of work, were not what I wanted and did not express for me the feeling which I sought to express. This fact (of the necessity of the open air) is very curious, and I cannot really explain it. I only know that it is so, quite indubitable and insurmountable. I can feel it at once, the difference, in merely passing through a doorway—but I cannot explain it. Always, especially the sky, seemed to
But if I should be asked—as I have sometimes been asked—What is the exact nature of this mood, of this illuminant splendor, of which you speak? I should have to reply that I can give no answer. The whole of "Towards Democracy" is an endeavor to give it utterance; any mere single sentence, or direct definition, would be of no use—rather indeed would tend to obscure by limiting. All I can say is that there seems to be a vision possible to man, as from some more universal standpoint, free from the obscurity and localism which specially connect themselves with the passing clouds of desire, fear, and all ordinary thought and emotion; in that sense another and separate faculty; and a vision always means a sense of light, so here is a sense of inward light, unconnected of course with the mortal eye, but bringing to the eye of the mind the impression that it sees, and by means of the medium which washes, as it were, the interior surfaces of all objects and things and persons—how can I express it? And yet this is most defective, for the sense is a sense that one is those objects and things and persons that one perceives (and the whole universe)—a sense in which sight and touch and hearing are all fused in identity. Nor can the matter be understood without realizing that the whole faculty is deeply and intimately rooted in the ultra-moral and emotional nature, and beyond the thought-region of the brain.
And now with regard to the "I" which occurs so freely in this book. In this and in other such cases the author is naturally liable to a charge of egotism, and I personally do not feel disposed to combat any such charge that may be made. That there are mere egotism and vanity embodied in these pages I do not for a moment doubt, and that so far as they exist they mar the expression and purpose of the book I also do not doubt. But the existence of these things do not affect the real question: What or who in the main is the "I" spoken of?
To this question I must also frankly own that I can give no answer. I do not know. That the word is not used in the dramatic sense is all I can say. The "I" is myself, as well as I could find words to express myself; but what that self is and what its limits may be—and therefore what the self of any other person is and what its limits may be—I cannot tell. I have sometimes thought that perhaps the best work one could do—if one felt at any time enlargements and extensions of one's ego—was to simply record these as faithfully as might be, leaving others—the scientist and the philosopher—to explain, and feeling confident that what really existed in oneself would be found to exist either consciously or in a latent form in other people. And I will say that I have in these records above all endeavored to be genuine. If I have said "I, Nature," it was because at the time, at any rate, I felt "I, Nature"; If I have said "I am equal with the lowest," it was because I could not express what I felt more directly than by those words. The value of such statements can only appear by time; if they are corroborated by others, then they help to form a body of record which may well be worth investigation, analysis and explanation. If they are not so corroborated, then they naturally and
These are questions which come all down Time, demanding solution—which humanity is constantly endeavoring to find an answer to. I do not pretend to answer them. On the contrary I am sure that not one of the pieces in "Towards Democracy" has been written with the view of providing an answer. They have simply been written to express feelings which insisted on being expressed. Nevertheless it is possible that some of them—by giving the experiences and affirmations even of one person—may contribute material towards that answer to these and the like questions which will one day most assuredly be given. That there is a region of consciousness removed beyond what we usually call mortality, into which we humans can yet pass, I practically do not doubt; but granting that this is a fact, its explanation still remains for investigation. I have said in these few notes on "Towards Democracy" nothing about the influence of Whitman—for the same reason that I have said nothing about the influence of the sun or the winds. These influences lie too far back and ramify too complexly to be traced. I met with William Rosetti's little selection from "Leaves of Grass" in 1868 or 1869, and read that and the original editions continuously for ten years. I never met with any other book (with the exception perhaps of Beethoven's sonatas) which I could read and re-read as I could this one. I find it difficult to imagine what my life would have been without it. "Leaves of Grass" "filtered and fiber’d" my blood; but I do not think I ever tried to imitate it or its style. Against the inevitable drift out of the more classic forms of verse into a looser and freer rhythm I fairly fought, contesting the ground ("kicking against the pricks") inch by inch during a period of seven years in numerous abortive and mongrel creations—till in 1881 I was finally compelled into the form (if such it can be called) of "Towards Democracy." I did not adopt it because it was an approximation to the form of "Leaves of Grass." Whatever resemblance there may be between the rhythm, style, thoughts, construction, etc., of the two books, must, I think, be set down to a deeper similarity of emotional atmosphere and intention in the two authors—even though that similarity may have sprung and no doubt largely did spring out of the personal influence of one upon the other.
All the above passages from the writings of Edward Carpenter are to be looked upon as utterances of the self conscious mind about Cosmic Consciousness. In "Towards Democracy" it must be understood that the Cosmic Sense itself speaks; sometimes about itself, sometimes about nature, man, etc., from the point of view of itself. As for instance:
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.*
a. Illumination occurred at the characteristic age—in the thirty-seventh year.
b. And in the characteristic season—in the spring.
c. There was a sense of "inward light," but not strictly the usual experience of subjective light.
d. There was the usual sudden intellectual illumination,
e. And the usual sudden moral elevation.
f. His life was absolutely governed henceforth by the new light that had dawned upon him—"it held his feet."
g. He lost, absolutely, upon illumination, the sense of sin.
h. He clearly saw himself to be immortal.
i. But the best proof of Cosmic Consciousness in his case is his description thereof, which could only be drawn (as he tells us it was) from his own experience.