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Cosmic consciousness - First Words - IV
The purpose of these preliminary remarks is to throw as much light as possible on the subject of this volume, so as to increase the pleasure and profit of its perusal. A personal exposition of the writer's own introduction to the main fact treated of will perhaps do as much as anything else could to further this end. He will therefore frankly set down here a very brief outline of his early mental life and give a short account of his slight experience of what he calls cosmic consciousness. The reader will readily see there from whence came the ideas and convictions presented in the following pages.
He was born of good middleclass English stock and grew up almost without education on what was then a backwwods Canadianb farm. As a child he assisted in such labor as lay within his power: tended cattle, horse, sheep, pigs; brought the firewood, worked in the hay field, drove oxen and horses, ran errands. His pleasures were as sinmple as his labors. An occasional visit to a neighboring small town, a game of ball, bathing in the creek that ran through his father's farm, the making and sailing of mimick ships, the search for birds' eggs and flowers in the spring, and for wild fruits in the summer and fall, afforded him, with his skates and handsled in the winter, his homely, much loved recreations.
While still a young boy he read with keen appreciation Marryat's novels, Scott's poems and novels and other similar books dealing with outdoor nature and human life. He never, even as a child, accepted the docrines of the Christian Church; but as soon as old enough to dwell at all on such themnes, conceived that Jesus was a man-great and good no doubt, but a man. That no one would ever be condemmed to everlasting pain. That if a conscious God existed he was the supreme master and meant well in the end to all; but that, this visible life here being ended, it was doubtful, or more than doubtful, whether conscious identity would be preserved.
The boy (even the child)m dwelt on these and similar topics far more than anyone would suppose; but probably not more than may other introspective small fellow mortals. He was subject at times to a sort estacy of curiosity and hope. And on one special occasion when about ten years old he earnestly longed to die that the secrets of the beyond, if there was any beyond, might be revealed to him; also to agonies of anxiety and terror, as for instance, at about the same age he read Reyonld's "Faust," and being near its end one sunny afternoon, he laid it down utterly unable to continue its persual, and went out into the sunshine to recover from the horror (after more than fifty years he distinctly recalls it) which had seized him.
The boy's mother died when he was only a few years old, and his father shortly afterwards. The outward circumstances of his life in some respects became more unhappy than can really be told. At sixteen the boy left home to live or die as it might happen. For five years he wandered over North America from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Upper Ohio to San Franscisco. He worked on farms, on railways, on steamboats, and in the placer diggings of Western Nevada. Several times he nearly suffered shipwreck by sickness, starvation, freezing, and once on the banks of the Humboldt River, in Utah, fought for his life half a day with the Shoshone Indians.#
After five years' wandering, at the age of twenty-two, he returned to the country where his childhood had been passed. a moderate sum of money from his dead mother enabled him to spend some years in study, and his mind, after lying so long fallow, absorbed ideas with extraordinary facility. He graduated with high honors four years after his return from the Pacific Coast,.Outside of the collegiate course he read with avidity many speculative books, such as the "Origin of the Species," Tyndall's "Heat" and "Essays," Buckle's "History," "Essays and Reviews," and much poetry, espically such as seemed to him free and fearless. In this species of literature he soon preferred Shelly, and of his poems, "Adonais" and "Prometheus" were his favorites.
His life for many years was one passionate note of interrogation, an unappeasable hunger for enlightenment on the basic problems. Leaving college , he continued his search with the same ardour. Taught himself French that he might read Auguste Comte, Hugo and Renan, and German that he might read Goethe, espically "Faust". At the age of thirty he fell in with "Leaves of Grass," and at once saw that it contained, in greater measure than any other book so far found, what he had so long been looking for.
He read the "Leaves" eagerly, even passionately, but for several years derived little from them. At last light broke and there was revealed to him ( as far as such things can be revealed) at least some of the meanings. Then occurred that to which the foregoing is preface.It was in the early spring at the beginning of his thirty-sixth year. He and two friends had spent the evening reading Words-worth, Shelly, Keats, Browning, and especially Whitman. They parted at midnight, and he had a long drive in a hansom (it was in an English city). His mind, deeply under the influence of the ideas, images and emotions called up by the reading and talk of the evening, was calm and peaceful.
He was in a state of quite, almost passive enjoyment. All at once, without warning of any kind, he found himself wrapped around asit were by a flame colored cloud. For an instant he thought of fire, some sudden conflagration in the great city; the next, he knew that the light was within himself. Directly afterwards came upon him a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination quite impossible to describe. Into his brain streamed one momentary lightning-flash of the Brahmic Splendor which have ever since lightened his life; upon his heart fell
One drop of Brahmic Bliss, leaving thence-forward for always an aftertaste of Heaven. Among other things he did not come to believe, 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 any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all, that the foundation principle of the world is what we call love and that the happiness of every one is in the long run absolutely certain. He claims that he learned more within the few seconds during which the illumination lasted than in
Previous months or even years of study, and that he learned much that no study could ever be taught. The illumination itself continued not more than a few moments , but its affects proved ineffaceable; it was impossible for him ever to forget what he at that time saw and knew; neither did he, or could he, ever doubt the truth of what was then presented to his mind. There was no return, that night or at any other time, of the experience. He subsequently wrote a book (28a.) in which he sought to embody the teaching of illumination.
Some who read it thought very highly of it, but (as was expected for many reasons it had little circulation. The supreme occurrence of that night was his real and sole initiation to the new and higher order of ideas. But it was only an initiation. He saw the light but had no idea from whence it came and what it meant than had the first creature that saw the light of the sun. Years afterwards he met C.P., of whom he had often heard as having extraordinary spiritual insight. He found that C.P. had entered the higher life of which he had a glimpse and had large experience of its phenomena.
Reference: Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind: Richard Maurice Bucke