Cosmic Consciousness, by Richard Maurice Bucke, , at sacred-texts.com
Case of C. M. C. in Her Own Words.
It is important to clearly realize that in writing the following pages C. M. C. (and the same may be truly said of every person whose evidence is included in this volume) had no prior or contemporary case before her mind upon which, if she were capable of so doing, she could have modeled her narrative. This latter is, beyond all question, a faithful account (as simple and straightforward as she could make it) of her actual psychological experience as she lived through it.
There I rested, not altogether content, it is true.* Something in life had been missed which it seemed ought to be there; depths in my own nature which had never been sounded; heights I could see, which had not been reached. The chasm between what I was and what I needed to be was deep and wide, but as this same incompleteness was obvious in the lives of others, it was accepted as my share in the common lot. But now into this life, past its meridian and apparently fixed for good or ill, was to come a new element, which should transform me, my life and the world to me. The soul, the deeper self, was to awake, and demand its own! An irresistible force was to be aroused which should, with mighty throes, rend the veil behind which nature hides her secrets. An illness, combining extreme bodily prostration with equally extreme mental and emotional disturbance, revealed to me the depths in my own nature. After some months my strength was restored and my mental condition to some extent improved, but the deep unrest remained. With the power to suffer came the power of sympathy with all suffering. What I had hitherto known or realized of life was as the prick of a pin to the thrust of a dagger. I had been living on the surface; now I was going down into the depths, and as I went deeper and deeper the barriers
Walt Whitman, in "Leaves of Grass," had portrayed with wonderful power and sublimity this phase of mental and spiritual development, as those who look deeply into their own natures must see. In those wonderful poems nature herself utters her voice, pouring out the elemental pain and passion in living, burning words as lava is poured in torrents from the crater of a volcano—not his voice alone, but that of the soul of humanity imprisoned, struggling to break the bonds which enclose and hold it in. How sweet to lean upon that great soul! to feel that tender human sympathy! and seeing what heights he had reached, and knowing the road he had traveled, what courage!
Passing over the interval between this time and September, 1893, as unimportant, except for the constant struggle within me, I proceed to describe, as well as may be, the supreme event of my life, which undoubtedly is related to all else, and is the outcome of those years of passionate search.
I had come to see that my need was greater even than I had thought. The pain and tension deep in the core and centre of my being was so great that I felt as might some creature which had outgrown its shell, and yet could not escape. What it was I knew not, except that it was a great yearning—for freedom, for larger life—for deeper love. There seemed to be no response in nature to that infinite need. The great tide swept on uncaring, pitiless, and strength gone, every resource exhausted, nothing remained but submission. So I said: There must be a reason for it, a purpose in it, even if I cannot grasp it. The Power in whose hands I am may do with me as it will! It was several days after this resolve before the point of complete surrender was reached. Meantime, with every internal sense, I searched for that principle, whatever it was, which would hold me when I let go.
At last, subdued, with a curious, growing strength in my weakness, I let go of myself! * In a short time, to my surprise, I began to feel a sense of physical comfort, of rest, as if some strain or tension was removed. Never before had I experienced such a feeling of perfect health. I wondered at it. And how bright and beautiful the day! I looked out at the sky, the hills and the river, amazed that I had never before realized how divinely beautiful the world was! The sense of lightness and expansion kept increasing, the wrinkles smoothed out of everything, there was nothing in all the world that
I felt myself going, losing myself.* Then I was terrified, but with a sweet terror. I was losing my consciousness, my identity, but was powerless to hold myself. Now came a period of rapture, so intense that the universe stood still, as if amazed at the unutterable majesty of the spectacle! Only one in all the infinite universe! The All-loving, the Perfect One! The Perfect Wisdom, truth, love and purity! And with the rapture came the insight. In that same wonderful moment of what might be called supernal bliss, came illumination. I saw with intense inward vision the atoms or molecules, of which seemingly the universe is composed—I know not whether material or spiritual—rearranging themselves, as the cosmos (in its continuous, everlasting life) passes from order to order.* What joy when I saw there was no break in the chain—not a link left out—everything in its place and time. Worlds, systems, all blended in one harmonious whole. Universal
* Order to order: This is the cosmic vision—the Brahmic Splendor—the sense or consciousness of the cosmos, which lies (apparently) at the root of this whole business, just as the sense or consciousness of self is the central fact in humanity as we see it to-day about us. It is the "Chain of Causation" of Gautama, the "eternal wheels" of Dante, the "measured and perfect motion" of the "procession of the universe" [193: 85] of Whitman.
How long that period of intense rapture* lasted I do not know—it seemed an eternity—it might have been but a few moments. Then came relaxation, the happy tears, the murmured, rapturous expression. I was safe; I was on the great highway, the upward road which humanity had trod with bleeding feet, but with deathless hope in the heart and songs of love and trust on the lips. I understood, now, the old eternal truths, yet fresh and new and sweet as the dawn. How long the vision lasted I cannot tell. In the morning I awoke with a slight headache, but with the spiritual sense so strong that what we call the actual, material things surrounding me seemed shadowy and unreal. My point of view was entirely changed. Old things had passed away and all had become new. The ideal had become real, the old real had lost its former reality and had become shadowy. This shadowy unreality of external things did not last many days. Every longing of the heart was satisfied,* every question answered, the "pent-up, aching rivers" had reached the ocean—I loved infinitely and was infinitely loved! The universal tide flowed in upon me in waves of joy and gladness, pouring down over me as in torrents of fragrant balm.
This describes an actual sensation.* The infinite love and tenderness seemed to really stream down over me like holy oil healing all my hurts and bruises. How foolish, how childish, now seemed petulance and discontent in presence of that serene majesty! I had learned the grand lesson, that suffering is the price which must be paid for all that is worth having; that in some mysterious way we are refined and sensitized, doubtless largely by it, so that we are made susceptible to nature's higher and finer influences—this, if true of one, is true of all. And feeling and knowing this, I do not now rave as once I did, but am "silent" "as I sit and look out
* Every longing of the heart was satisfied: The abolition or extinction of the passions and desires belonging to the self conscious life (hence the name Nirvana) is one of the characteristic features (as we have seen many times already) of the kingdom of heaven—the Cosmic Sense. This point is noted in every genuine case, but is nowhere better expressed than in the following words: "Jesus said unto her, If thou knowest the gift of God, and who it is that saith unto thee, Give me to drink: thou wouldest have asked of him and he would have given thee living water. The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence hast thou that living water? Jesus answered and said unto her, Every one that drinketh of this water [that is, whoever seeks to quench, by satisfying them, the appetites, passions and desires of the self conscious life] shall thirst again [for these cannot be satisfied and quieted by gratification]: but whosoever drinketh of the water [the kingdom of heaven—the Cosmic Sense] that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life" [17: 4: 10.14].
* Our light affliction (which is for the moment) worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory [21: 4: 17].
What astonished me beyond all else was, as the months went on (from that September), a deepening sense of a Holy Presence. There was a hush on everything, as if nature were holding her breath in adoration. There were times when the feeling came over me with such force as to become oppressive, almost painful. It would not have surprised me if the very rocks and hills had burst forth in one great anthem of praise. At times I felt as if they must, to relieve my feelings.
"The rent veil," "the holy of holies," "the cherubim with folded wings," "tabernacles" and "temples"—I saw that they were symbols—the attempts of man to give expression to an inward experience. Nature touched me too closely; I sometimes felt oppressed by it, such extreme exaltation exhausted me, and I was glad when I could have a common day. I looked forward with somewhat of dread to the summer, and when it came its light and its profusion of color, although delightful, were almost more than I could bear. We think we see, but we are really blind—if we could see!
One day, for a moment, my eyes were opened. It was in the morning, in the early summer of 1894, I went out in happy, tranquil mood, to look at the flowers,* putting my face down into the sweet peas, enjoying their fragrance, observing how vivid and distinct were their form and color. The pleasure I felt deepened into rapture; I was thrilled through and through, and was just beginning to wonder at it, when
* Outshone the brightness of the sun: "Above the brightness of the sun," says Paul. Mohammed saw "a flood of light of such intolerable splendor that he swooned away." Yepes was for some days partially blinded by it. In Dante's experience, "On a sudden, day seemed to be added to day, as if He who is able had adorned the heaven with another sun;" and Whitman was dazzled by "Another sun ineffable, and all the orbs I knew, and brighter, unknown orbs."
* A parallel experience is related of Behman. He sat down in a green field, "and, viewing the herbs and grass, he saw into their essences, uses and properties" [40: 13].
There was and is still, though not so noticeable as earlier, a very decided and peculiar feeling across the brow above the eyes, as of tension gone, a feeling of more room. That is the physical sensation. The mental is a sense of majesty, of serenity, which is more noticeable when out of doors.* Another very decided and peculiar effect followed the phenomena above described—that of being centred, or of being a centre. It was as if surrounding and touching me closely on all sides were the softest, downiest pillows. Lean in what direction I might there they were. A pillow or pillows which fitted every tired spot, so that though I was distinctly conscious of that lightest touch there. was not the least resistance or obstruction to movement, and yet the support was as permanent and solid as the universe. It was "the everlasting arms." I was anchored at last! But to what? To something outside myself?
The consciousness of completeness and permanence in myself is one with that of the completeness and permanence of nature.* This feeling is quite distinct from any that I had before illumination and has sprung from that. I often ponder on it and wonder what has happened—what change can have taken place in me to so poise and individualize me. My feeling is as if I were as distinct and separate from all other beings and things as is the moon in space and at the same time indissolubly one with all nature.
Out of this experience was born an unfaltering trust. Deep in the soul, below pain, below all the distraction of life, is a silence vast and grand—an infinite ocean of calm, which nothing can disturb; Nature's own exceeding peace, which "passes understanding."
That which we seek with passionate longing, here and there, upward and outward, we find at last within ourselves. The kingdom within! The indwelling God! are words whose sublime meaning we never shall fathom.
* The sense of immortality, eternal life, which belongs to Cosmic Consciousness.
The subjoined note was sent the editor by a younger sister of C. M. C. in reply to inquiry made by him as to whether or not any change in the appearance of C. M. C. had been noticed at the time of or subsequent to her experiences given above. The note is dated February 2d, 1895, and is, word for word, as follows: