Source: Cosmic Consciousness

In his classic work, Cosmic Consciousness (1901), Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) did not presume to place himself in the company of the illumined individuals whose lives he examined in his book, but he did relate—in the third person—the account of his own experience. It was in the early spring at the beginning of Bucke’s 36th year. He and two friends had spent the evening reading selections from such poets as William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats and Robert Browning, with a special emphasis on Walt Whitman.

The young men had become so enraptured by their readings that they didn’t part until midnight, and Bucke faced a long ride home in a horse-drawn hansom cab. He recalled that his mind was still deeply under the influence of the many inspirational ideas, images, and emotions that had been provoked by the reading and discussions of the evening. He was feeling calm and peaceful when, without any warning of any kind, “he found himself wrapped around as it were by a flame-colored cloud.” For an instant, he thought of a great fire somewhere in the city, then “he knew that the light was within himself.”

Upon this realization, Bucke experienced a great sense of exultation, of joyousness, “immediately followed by an intellectual illumination quite impossible to describe.” It seemed as if there streamed into his brain “one momentary lightning-flash of the Brahmic Splendor” which would henceforth forever lighten his life. He saw and knew that the cosmos is not dead matter but a living presence, that the soul of man is immortal, that the universe is so built and ordered that without peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all, that the foundation principle of this world is what we call love and that the happiness of everyone is in the long run absolutely certain. Bucke would ever after insist that he learned more within the few seconds during which the illumination experience lasted than in previous years of study— and “he learned much that no study could ever have taught.”

 Richard Bucke found the marks of the “Cosmic Sense” to be the following:

1.Subjective light: The person suddenly finds himself or herself immersed in flame, or a rose-colored cloud, or “perhaps a sense that the mind is itself filled with such a cloud of haze.”

2.Moral elevation: The recipient is bathed in an emotion of “joy, assurance, triumph, ‘salvation.'” But, Bucke explains, it is not “salvation” in its usual context of deliverance from sin, but it is the realization that “no special ‘salvation’ is needed, the scheme upon which the world is built being itself sufficient.”

3.Intellectual illumination: The recipient does not merely come to believe, “but he sees and knows that the cosmos, which to the self-conscious mind seems made up of dead matter, is in fact far otherwise—is in very truth a living presence.”

4.Sense of immortality.

5.Loss of the fear of death.

6.Loss of the sense of sin.

7.Instantaneousness of the illumination.

8.Previous character of high intellectual, moral, and physical degree.

9.Age about 36.

10.Added charm of the illumined personality.

11.Transformation or change of appearance: Although this change may gradually pass away, Bucke writes, “In those great cases in which the illumination is intense, the change in question is also intense and may amount to a veritable transfiguration.”

Bucke’s primary thesis is that during the centuries of humankind’s evolutionary development as a species there have been three forms of consciousness. First, there was simple consciousness, our instinctual awareness. Next came a self-consciousness, a self-awareness that allowed human beings to realize themselves as distinct individuals. And now, developing among the human species, are those individuals possessed of cosmic consciousness, a new faculty of consciousness, that will lead humankind to the pinnacle of human evolution.

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