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Cosmic Consciousness - Introduction-2

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Cosmic Consciousness - Introduction-2

"Someone was here the other day and complained that the Doctor was extreme. The sun`s extreme, too; and as for me-ain`t I extreme?" Again: " It`s beautiful to watch him at work -to see how he can handle difficult people with such an easy manner", and: "Bucke is aman who enjoys being busy swift of execution, lucid, sure, decisive. " And, comparing Bucke with Sir William Osler: " Osler, too, has his points, big points, but, after all, the real man is Doctor Bucke. He is top of the heap."

In 1894 the matter of Illumination and of the Cosmic Consciousness was increasingly  in Buckès mind. In May of that year he read a paper,entitled  " Cosmic Consciousness" before the American Medico Psychological Association at their annual meeting in Philadelphia, and his presidential  address to the British Medical Association  in Montreal in August of that same year he developed the idea of this new Consciousness  as a mental evolution of mankind, which as it became increasingly common,  and eventually general, would lift the whole of human life to a higher plane.

Four years later the book itself,Cosmic Consciousness, was published by Messrs. Innes of Philadelphia in a limited edition of 500 copies. Though Bucke outlived his friend and idol Whitman, he did not live long enough to see the success of his own book; for on a night of the winter following -February 19, 1902, to be precise-after coming home with his wife from an evening spent at a friends house, Bucke stepped out on the veranda before going to bed  to have another look at the stars, which, as it happened, that night were execeptionally brilliant in the clear winter sky, slipped on a patch of ice, struck his head violently against a veranda-pillar, and dropped. He was taken up dead.

" The Doctor;" as he was affectionately called by so many, was a figure that drew men`s eyes as well as their hearts. Upstanding, broad-shouldered, with his long pioneer`s beard spreading wide over his chest, he had the prominent nose and deep-set eyes of the man of action, while the eyes themselves sparkled with the light of a vivid and seeking intelligence. During the formative years when most men are having their originality suppressed and their opinions standardized by school and college routine, Bucke had been at grips with real life, so he became, and remained, something of a heretic. The very last evening of his life he spent discussing the evidence for the Baconian authorship of the Shakespeare plays and poems, a  question of which he firmly held to the unorthodox side.

He was a brilliant debator when in the vein, his amazing memory enabling him to quote verbatim whole pages of authorities to support his views-it is even said that he could repeat from memory the entire volume of Walt Whitman`s leaves of Grass-no mean feat.  Physically and mentally he gave an impression of force and adequateness which made people trust him as well as like him. English by descent and birth, Canadian in his upbringing and in his professional life, but knowing from the hard experiences of his wander-years more of the United States  than most  Americans, he might be said to focus in his own person what is essentially sane and vigorous  in the three branches of white civilization which are now being brought so closely together by current world events.

Cosmic Consciousness is a book very difficult to classify. It does not fall definitely into any of the regular categories. This is due to the fact that illumination or Estacy, of which it treats, is generally thought to belong to the realm of Religion  or of Mysticism, or of Magic and the Occult-or even, by some ultra materialists, to the domain of insanity. in Christian Mysticism, Illumination is the acknowledged third stage of the mystic`s progress,  coming after the two or preliminary stages of awakening and Purification. *  In both Brahmanism and Buddhism it is the reward of long and rigid self-discipline and effort.

But to Bucke it had nothing whatever to do with mysticism or formal religion,  or with conscious preparation and intention. He was a student of the human mind, a psychologist and he treated illumination from the standpoint of psychology, as a very rare but definite recognizable mental condition, of which many well-authenticated instances are on record  and available for examination.

He considered, on the evidence, that there have been in the last three thousand years of  human history, at least fourteen undeniable cases of complete and permanent illumination,and that in addition, to these there have been many other instances of  partial, temporary or doubtful illumination, several of which have occured  within the past century. Noting the increasing frequency of the experience, he deducted that very gradually-and, as it were, sporadically-the human race is in the process  of developing a new kind of consciousness, far in advance of the ordinary human self-consciousness, which will eventually lift the race above and beyond all the fears and ignorances, the brutalities and bestialities which beset it today.

Admittedly his argument is based largely on analogy. First he deals with three distinct stages of consciousness observable in living creatures: the perceptual mind of the lower animals, open only to sense-impressions;  the receptual mind of the higher animals, producing simple consciousness;  and the conceptual mind of human beings, accompanied by self-consciousness. He shows that the human race has, even in the last few thousand years, added to the original equipment several new kinds of consciousness- the color-sense for instance. The ancient Greeks, Aristotle and Xenophanes, knew  only three colors, and there is no word for any color  at all in the primitive  Indo-European speech. The blazing blue of the oriental sky  is not mentioned in Homer or in the bible, nor in the Rig Veda or the Zend Avesta. But in this present century we know not only the seven primitive colors, but literally thousands of different shades and gradations of them.

The senses of fragrance and the musical sense are two other senses which the race in like manner has only recently acquired. Bucke argued that these new senses must have begun as sporadic, isolated instances of new awareness in a few individuals, and that they spread gradually with the passing of the generations  until nearly all civilized races now possess them, though by no means with the same completeness or the same degree. Even today the Bushmen of Africa and the Aborigines of Australia are entirely without them.

The new, fourth stage of consciousness, which enables man to realize the oneness of the the Universe, to sense the presence  in it through-out it of the Creator, to be free of all fears of evil,or disaster or death, to comprehend that Love is the rule and the basis of the  Cosmos-this is the Cosmic Consciousness, which, Bucke prophesied  will appear more and more often until it becomes a regular attribute of adult humanity. Bucke knew very definitely what he was talking about when he described the experience of illumination, and it had enriched and enlarged his whole life thereafter in all its aspects. So his descriptions of the conditions of the mind  which prepare for illumination, and of its effects on the senses and person of the individual are no mere dry, objective, scientific descriptions. They are glowing with the light of personal experience and warm with emotion of personal feeling.

Through out the fifty instances of illumination which he lists and describes, this personal knowledge of  he phenomenon and of its effects on the percipient lifts what would have been merely interesting psychological detail into the realm of inspired exposition. Probably no one who reads Cosmic Consciousness will agree with its author on all points, for his enthusiasm and his mental energy were such that even in his heresies he was heretical. Yet Ouspensky, the celebrated Russian mathematician and philosopher, who disagreed completely with Bucke on at least one important  detail of belief, valued  the book sufficiently to devote nearly a whole chapter of his great work Tertium Organum to Cosmic Consciousness, quoting whole pages of it in his text.

Professor William James read Cosmic Consciousness soon after it first appeared, and wrote to the author:

" I believe that you have brought this kind of consciousness "home" to the attention of students  of human nature in a way so definite and unescapeable that it will be impossible  hence forward to overlook  it or ignore it.....But my total reaction on your book, my dear Sir, is that it is an addition to psychology of the first rate importance,and that you are a benefactor of us all".

This last half-sentence seems to me even more important than Professor Jame`s verdict as a philosopher and psychologist. It explains the continuing life and usefulness of Cosmic Consciousness, for I firmly believe that no understanding mind can form a real aquaintence with this book without experiencing a tremendous uplift and stimulation.  It is a book of encouragement and promise; it opens a new door in the dark walls of materialism by which we are surrounded to give us a vista of strange possibilities, and to admit the sound of lovely harmonies-not far away and elusive, but implicit in ourselves and our race-and to give us back the hope and the wonder which most of us have laid aside, but which we need so desperately for the doubtful days which lie ahead. ( New York City, February 25, 1946 )

Reference: Richard Maurice Bucke: Cosmic Consciousness: 

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