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


The Case of H. B. in His Own Words.

"My early home was one of quite narrow limitations. I did not find myself among books, though such was my desire for them that nothing else had any attractions for me. My mental activity must have been noticeable, as I can now see it, in comparison with that of others about me. I never found much pleasure in the ordinary amusements of boyhood. I preferred to be alone, and in summer I loved most of all to be in the woods. I found companionship in the trees; they seemed nearer to me than human beings. I used to talk to them, and think they said something to me. All my life the woods have thus drawn me to themselves, and now, if I could, I would live among the trees. All my life I have loved to be alone and still do. Whether, according to Byron's dictum, I am 'a wild beast or a God' I will not stop to guess. It is also true that I love the society of congenial spirits in domestic and general life.

"I soon learned that men regulated their intercourse with each other by conventional rules and not by what I now understand as spiritual laws, but which I could not then name and could not understand, though I felt their presence, as Wordsworth felt 'an outward presence' in nature.

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"The shocks that my spiritual consciousness experienced as I came in contact with rough men were such as no language can reach. There has been a gradual development of this perception, or spiritual vision, all through life. I early began to inquire how things came to be as they are, and that is what I am now trying to do. As things look to me now, I must always regard it as a misfortune that I was born into the atmosphere of the Calvinistic theology. I lived for a score of years under the shadow of that black cloud—years which might have otherwise been spent in healthy growth. This theology I tried to accept intellectually because everybody about me did; but my soul never endorsed it. At the age of forty I was quite free from the dwarfing influence of such a line of thought, and since then have breathed freely.

"What I am I owe mostly to books. I have been but little in contact with men who could have taught me and given me strength. A year or two at an academy and twenty weeks in college is all I have known in those directions. As I came out from the shadow of that dark theology I chanced to hear Emerson. I then got his books. I have been a close student of them for fifty years. I owe more to him than to, I almost might say, all other men beside. Next I found my way to Darwin. Mine was the only copy of the 'Origin of Species' to be found in my community for ten years.

"The first real mental illumination I remember to have experienced was when I saw that the universe exists in each of its individual atoms—that is, the universe is the result of a few simple processes infinitely repeated. When a drop of water has been mathematically measured, every principle will have been used which would be called for in the measurement of the heavens. All life on the globe is sustained by digestion and assimilation; when by voluntary and traumatic action these stop death follows. The history of an individual mind is the history of the race. Know one thing in its properties and relations and you will know all things. All crystallography is in one grain of sand, all animal life in one insect, all vegetable in a single bud. I was then about forty.

"My next was when I saw there was no boundary line between

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vegetable and animal life, and hence no beginning nor end to either. The first of these experiences came to me long before I found what Thales said on this point. These statements are perhaps enough to indicate the direction in which my intellect has developed.

"Whatever calm delights have come to me through the intellect the true grandeur of my days has been found in the atmosphere of the moral sentiment—a grandeur which reduces all material happenings to the value of toys. I felt this when a boy as an overshadowing presence that was constantly drawing me away from all that seemed to make up the life of those about me—drawing me away I knew not how or whither. What I then saw dimly, or as 'through a glass darkly,' now shines all about me with a brightness exceeding that of the sun. In its light I see that love and justice cannot be limited by what, in the poverty of our ignorance, we call time and space. Hence all the thinking and all the teaching that has been done in the world, founded in our ideas of time and space, are blown away like chaff, or are consumed like 'wood, hay and stubble.'

"I was nearly sixty when I came to see that what is true at any time and in any place is also true at all times and in all places, or, what we call law, found anywhere will be found everywhere, though men may give it different names. What men call gravity holds in mental no less than in physical phenomena, and all physical phenomena, at their best, are dull and murky till they come up into spiritual life. As an illustration that every law has its universality take the familiar law or principle that action and reaction are equal. What is this but reaping the whirlwind after one has sown the wind, or how does that natural law differ from this teaching: 'Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap?' Are they aught but different strains in the great cosmic melody?

"Soon after I began to understand the paradoxical teachings of Jesus, as when he declared that 'he that would save his life must lose it and he that would lose it (for Jesus’ sake) alone shall find it.' The same in Paul, 'as having nothing yet possessing all things.' From this it was but a step to a knowledge of the central

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principle of all spiritual life—namely, the giving of one's self for others.

"About ten years ago, at the age of sixty, I found myself tormented with that question with which intelligence has wrestled since there was any of that commodity in the earth—namely, the beginning of things. When in deep agony, a side light was flashed upon my soul, with almost blinding suddenness—'If you could find a beginning, would not that beginning be itself an end?' Hence, if you could find one end of things, would not that show you that there must also be another end? What! an end of all things, beyond which there could be only blankness, as there must have been before things began to be, if they did begin. No! 'There was no beginning and there can be no end!' Since that moment's experience I have not been troubled as to the immortality of the soul, and I now think I never shall be again.

"Five years ago I had an experience which has proved more fruitful to me perhaps than all others combined. I had a fall, striking on my head. I lost consciousness. In regaining possession of myself I passed through all the experiences of the race! In the first stage I simply was aware of the fact that I was something; what that was, I neither knew nor cared to know. I did not know what knowing was. I was calm, blissfully happy, and to me there was no past nor any future. There was to me no time, no place, no anything, save that tiny speck of consciousness—myself. As there was nothing to note duration—that stage might have been in duration incomprehensible. At any rate, such was its lesson to me.

"This stage of blissful existence was ended by my discovering that there was something about me which was not myself. I began to see and seeing I began to reason, and so I at length found my objective world. As in the previous stage, I had no use for time, and so, to me, there was none. This stage might have lasted an eternity, so far as I took note of it. I was busy in studying myself first, and then the things about me, and so the infinite peace of my first experience was broken up.

"Unable to think otherwise, I concluded that what I saw must

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be like myself, and so I began my acquaintance with this outer world by transferring to its objects what I found in myself. This stage lasted in my experience from the moment I saw things about me to the dawn of experimental science. I then became acquainted with the beginning of all knowledge and especially of all religion. Of course, self consciousness soon returned and I came back into my old world again. Since that hour my experience has seemed more than that of all my previous life. Nothing is now any longer dim or obscure. My spiritual expansion has been rapid in these three or four past years. I live in the world, but I seem to myself not of it!

"I enjoy what I must call spiritual vision. No sooner does the intellect seize upon a fact than I see it in its spiritual relations, no less than in its material, only much more clearly. The perfection of mathematics is simply a demonstration of the spiritual truth that God cannot lie.

"Natural phenomena are but the shadows of the spirit from which they spring, as the human face changes under the influence of love, hatred or fear. Color in nature, which washes all things in its warm waves, shows us what spiritual love would do if once let loose in the world. The Bible is simply a picture, which I see with infinite clearness. This vision seems to extend to the atom-dance in nature, no less than through all laws, all knowledge, all science, all history and all religion.

"You set me a hard task when you bid me give 'the difference I perceive in myself' since these experiences. I find no language in which I can tell of the things in this realm where I now am. I have not even discovered an alphabet. When, O when, shall I be able to reveal its poetry? I see everywhere and in every object unceasing motion, and in that motion a creative force forever and forever repeating and re-repeating the same simple process as to infinity. Through all nature the grand rhythms roll and heaven and earth are filled with the melody. Men are but boys chasing shadows. The spiritual significance of the world none seem to see—the infinite simplicity of its processes none care to understand."

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This seems to the editor to be probably, though not certainly, a true case of Cosmic Consciousness, in which the cosmic plane was reached gradually, and not as usually happens per saltum. If it is not that, then it is a case of gradual ascent to the extreme limit of the self conscious mind. In any case, the experience of H. B. is interesting and instructive and well deserves a place in this book.

Next: Chapter 22. R. P. S.