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

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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.

I was born in the year 1844. I have been told that as a child I never seemed young—that is, that along with my youth there was an air of thoughtfulness that belongs to more advanced years.* I cannot remember a time when I did not think and wonder about God. The beauty and sublimity of nature have always, from early childhood, impressed me deeply. Went to church and Sunday school, listened attentively to the prayers and sermons—thought over the latter more than was probably supposed. The sermons were old-time Presbyterian—the day of judgment, the sinner's lost condition, the unpardonable sin, and all those things so dreadful to a serious, imaginative child. The older I grew and the more I thought the more puzzled and bewildered I became. Over the sufferings of Jesus I wept bitter tears, grieving that my sins should have nailed him to the cross. How he could be God I could not understand, yet never doubted but that it must be true. I studied the Bible and catechism Mk and especially the "Confession of Faith," not only because it was a duty but because I felt as if I must find out the truth about things. How terribly I felt when I learned that without the gospel the heathen could not be saved. The cruelty and injustice of it made me almost hate God for making the world so. I joined the church, however, thinking that it might bring me peace and rest; but although feeling more safe I was just as far as ever from being satisfied. While still quite a girl we began taking some rather liberal church papers which I read and which were to a certain extent a comfort to me, since they showed me that the narrow doctrines in which I had been brought up were not the whole of Christianity. At this time "Paradise Lost," Pollock's "Course of Time" and "Pilgrim's Progress" were favorite books. The "Course of Time," however, left me depressed for many weeks. The vastness and grandeur of the God which I felt in nature I could never reconcile with the God in the Bible, try as I would, and of course I felt myself a wicked skeptic in consequence.

* C. M. C. seems to have had the mental constitution (as far as the evidence goes) of persons who, when the proper age arrives, reach Cosmic Consciousness.

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[paragraph continues]

So it went on and though to all appearance I was happy and full of life like other girls, there was always that undercurrent—a vein of sadness deep down, out of sight. Often as I have walked out under the stars, looking up into those silent depths with unspeakable longing for some answer to the wordless questions within me, I have dropped down upon the ground in a perfect agony of aspiration. But if the stars knew the secret I sought they gave no sign. My experience was no doubt ordinary—largely that of the average girl living the average commonplace life—with aspirations and ideals to all appearance beyond any hope of fulfillment. At twenty-two I was married. Ten years later a change of place broke up the old routine of my life, giving me new associates and new interests. I was thrown into relation with people of more liberal tendencies, and soon began reading the books and magazines ("Popular Science Monthly," etc.) which I found in the hands of my new acquaintances. Tyndall's "Belfast Address," one of the books in question, was the first really thoughtful book (from the point of view of modern science) I had ever read, and it was a revelation to me. From that time, without my going very deeply into the subject, a general idea of evolution was gained, and gradually the old conceptions gave place to more rational ones, and more in accordance with my own feelings. The questions of design or purpose in nature, of individual immortality, etc., were left for scientific research to discover, if to be discovered at all. My attitude was that of an agnostic.

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

* All readers of this book will have noticed the apparent incompatibility between the so-called religions—in other words, the churches—and Cosmic Consciousness. The man who enters or is to enter the latter either never belonged to a church, as Walt Whitman, or leaves the church before illumination, as C. M. C. did, or immediately upon illumination. Almost the only exception to this rule was John Yepes—an exception to be explained by the great breadth of the Catholic Church, which allowed him to interpret his experience in terms of the current religion. Churches are inevitable and doubtless indispensable on the plane of self consciousness, but are probably (in any shape) impossible on the Cosmic Conscious plane.

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which had separated me from my fellow men were broken down, the sense of kinship with every living creature had deepened, so that I was oppressed with a double burden. Was I never to know rest or peace again? It seemed not. Life had many blessings—home, husband, children, friends—yet it was with dismay that I thought of the coming years till death should set me free.

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 let go! Carpenter tells us [56: 166 et seq.] that the "suppression of thought" and the "effacement of projects and purposes" are the chief things insisted upon by the Indian experts or yogis in the attainment of the Siddhi or miraculous powers (meaning illumination—Nirvâna). The same doctrine has evidently been taught in India for ages. In the Bhagavad Gita it is laid down [154: 68] that the "working of the mind and senses" must be restrained—that, in fact, an absolute mental vacancy or blank is the condition in which to receive illumination. This seems to be the basis of the teaching of Jesus, that we shall not allow ourselves to be preoccupied with care tor money, food, clothing, household needs [14: 6: 25–16: 10: 42]. But one thing is needful, p. 326 he says: Nirvana, the kingdom of God. And worrying about these worldly matters only tends to keep us from that, while if we attain to the worldly things which we seek nothing is gained, for they are valueless. So Balzac says: The self conscious life "is the glory and scourge of the world; glorious, it creates societies; baneful, it exempts man from entering the path of specialism, which leads to the Infinite." So Whitman: "What do you seek?" he says. "Do you think it is love?" ''Yes," he continues, "love is great, but," he says (referring to the Cosmic Sense), "there is something else very great: it makes the whole coincide; it, magnificent, beyond materials, with continuous hands, sweeps and provides for all." If you have that you want nothing else.

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seemed out of place. At dinner I remarked: "How strangely happy I am to-day!" If I had realized then, as I did afterwards, what a great thing was happening to me, I should doubtless have dropped my work and given myself up to the contemplation of it, but it seemed so simple and natural (with all the wonder of it) that I and my affairs went on as usual. The light and color glowed, the atmosphere seemed to quiver and vibrate around and within me. Perfect rest and peace and joy were everywhere, and, more strange than all, there came to me a sense as of some serene, magnetic presence grand and all pervading. The life and joy within me were becoming so intense that by evening I became restless and wandered about the rooms, scarcely knowing what to do with myself. Retiring early that I might be alone, soon all objective phenomena were shut out. I was seeing and comprehending the sublime meaning of things, the reasons for all that had before been hidden and dark. The great truth that life is a spiritual evolution, that this life is but a passing phase in the soul's progression, burst upon my astonished vision with overwhelming grandeur. Oh, I thought, if this is what it means, if this is the outcome, then pain is sublime! Welcome centuries, eons, of suffering if it brings us to this! And still the splendor increased. Presently what seemed to be a swift, oncoming tidal wave of splendor and glory ineffable came down upon me, and I felt myself being enveloped, swallowed up.

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

* The fear that has been noted a dozen times in this volume:

* 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.

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life, synonymous with universal love!

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

* "At other times," says John Yepes, "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 happened to it, unaware of the lapse of time" [203: 127].

* 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].

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upon all the sorrow of the world"—"upon all the meanness and agony without end." That sweet eternal smile on nature's face!* There is nothing in the universe to compare with it—such joyous repose and sweet unconcern—saying to us, with tenderest love: All is well, always has been and will always be. The "subjective light" (it seems to me) is magnetic or electric—some force is liberated in the brain and nervous system—some explosion takes place—the fire that burned in the breast is now a mounting flame. On several occasions, weeks after the illumination described, I distinctly felt electric sparks shoot from my eyes. In my experience the "subjective light" was not something seen—a sensation as distinct from an emotion—it was emotion itself—ecstasy. It was the gladness and rapture of love, so intensified that it became an ocean of living, palpitating light, the brightness of which outshone* the brightness of the sun. Its glow, warmth and tenderness filling the universe. That infinite ocean was the eternal love, the soul of nature and all one endless smile!

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

* "That which I was seeing," says Dante, under the same circumstances, "seemed to me a smile of the universe. O joy! O ineffable gladness!"

* 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].

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deep within me a veil, or curtain, suddenly parted, and I became aware that the flowers were alive and conscious! They were in commotion! And I knew they were emitting electric sparks! What a revelation it was! The feeling that came to me with the vision is indescribable—I turned and went into the house, filled with unspeakable awe.

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.

* When out of doors: So Carpenter [56] tells us that in transcribing the thoughts and emotions of the Cosmic Sense he found it "necessary to write in the open air," for he says: "What I sought to convey refused itself from me within doors." So also the Cosmic Sense, speaking through Whitman, says [193: 75]: "I will never translate myself at all only to him or to her who privately stays with me in the open air."

* 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:

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It was in December, three months after, that I saw my sister for the first time after the experience described, and her changed appearance made such a deep impression on me that I shall never forget it. Her looks and manner were so changed that she scarcely seemed the same person. There was a clear, bright, peaceful light in her eyes, lighting her whole face, and she was so happy and contented—so satisfied with things as they were. It seemed as though some heavy weight had been lifted and she was free. As she talked to me I felt that she was living in a new world of thought and feeling unknown to me. Sincerely, P. M.

Next: Chapter 30. The Case of M. C. L. in His Own Words