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“From Self to Cosmic Consciousness” by Richard M. Bucke


I . . . If we are right in [the] assumption [that human evolution has not ceased] new faculties will from time to time arise in the mind as, in the past, new faculties have arisen.

This being granted, let us assume that what in this book is called Cosmic Consciousness is such a nascent . . . faculty.

Richard M. Bucke

And now let us see what we know about this new sense, state, faculty, or whatever it may be called. And, first, it may be noted that the new sense does not appear by chance in this man or that. It is necessary for its appearance that an exalted human personality should exist and supply the pre-conditions for its birth. In the great cases especially is there an exceptional development of some or all of the ordinary human faculties. Note particularly, since that case is unmistakably known to us, the singular perfection of the intellectual and moral faculties and of the special senses in Walt Whitman.

It is probable that an approximation to this evolutionary excellence is necessary in all cases. Then certainly in some, probably in all, cases the person has an exceptional physique —exceptional beauty of build and carriage, exceptionally handsome features, exceptional health, exceptional sweetness of temper, exceptional magnetism.


The faculty itself has many names, but they have not been understood or recognized. It will be well to give some of them here. They will be better understood as we advance. Either Gautama himself, or some one of his early disciples, called it “Nirvana” because of the “extinction” of certain lower mental faculties (such as the sense of sin, fear of death, desire of wealth, etc., etc.) which is directly incident upon its birth.

This subjugation of the old personality along with the birth of the new is, in fact, almost equivalent to the annihilation of the old and the creation of a new self. The word Nirvana is defined as “the state to which the Buddhist saint is to aspire as the highest aim and highest good.” Jesus called the new condition “the Kingdom of God” or the “Kingdom of Heaven,” because of the peace and happiness which belong to it and which are perhaps its most characteristic features.

Paul called it “Christ.” He speaks of himself as “a man in Christ,” of “them that are in Christ.” He also calls it “the Spirit” and “the Spirit of God.” After Paul had entered Cosmic Consciousness he knew that Jesus had possessed the Cosmic Sense and that he was living (as it were) the life of Jesus —that another individuality, another self, lived in him. This second self he called Christ (the divinely sent deliverer), identifying it not so much with the man Jesus, as with the deliverer which was to be sent and which had been sent in his person, who was both Jesus (the ordinary Self Conscious man) and Messiah (the herald and exemplar of the new, higher race). The duplex personality of men having Cosmic Consciousness will appear many times as we proceed and will be seen to be a constant and prominent phenomenon.

Mohammed called the Cosmic Sense “Gabriel,” and seems to have looked upon it as a distinctly separate person who lived in him and spoke to him. Dante called it “Beatrice” (“Making Happy”), a name almost or quite equivalent to “Kingdom of Heaven.” Balzac called the new man a “specialist” and the new condition “Specialism.” Whitman called Cosmic Consciousness “My Soul,” but spoke of it as if it were another person; for instance:

O soul repressless, I with thee and thou with me. . . .
We too take ship O soul. . . .
With laugh and many a kiss . . .
O soul thou pleasest me, I thee.

Bacon (in the Sonnets) has treated the cosmic sense so emphatically as a distinct person that the world for three hundred years has taken him at his word and has agreed that the “person” in question (whatever his name may have been) was a young friend of the poet’s! . . .


It has already been incidentally mentioned that a race entering upon the possession of a new faculty, especially if this be in the line of the direct ascent of the race, as is certainly the case with Cosmic Consciousness, the new faculty will necessarily be acquired at first not only by the best specimens of the race but also when these are at their best—that is, at full maturity and before the decline incident to age has set in.

What, now, are the facts in this regard as to the coming of the Cosmic Sense? They may be summarized in a few words as follows: Of thirty-four cases, in which illumination was instantaneous and the period at which it occurred was with some degree of certainty known, the age at which the person passed into Cosmic Consciousness was in one instance twenty-four years; in three, thirty years; in two, thirty-one years; in two, thirty-one and a half years; in three, thirty-two years; in one, thirty-three years; in two, thirty-four years; in eight, thirty-five years; in two, thirty-six years; in two, thirty-seven years; in two, thirty-eight years; in three, thirty-nine years; in one, forty years; in one, forty-nine years, and, in one, fifty-four years. . . .


Cosmic Consciousness, then, appears in individuals mostly of the male sex, who are otherwise highly developed—men of good intellect, of high moral qualities, of superior physique.

It appears at about that time of life when the organism is at its high-water mark of efficiency, at the age of thirty to forty years. It must have been that the immediate precursor of Cosmic Consciousness—Self Consciousness—also appeared at first in mid-life, here and there, in isolated cases, in the most advanced specimens of the race, becoming more and more nearly universal (as the race grew up to it), manifesting itself at an earlier and earlier age, until (as we see) it declares itself now in every fairly constituted individual, at about the age of three years.

Analogy, then, would lead us to believe that the step in promotion . . . also awaits the whole race—that a time will come when to be without the faculty in question will be a mark of inferiority parallel to the absence at present of the moral nature.

The presumption seems to be that the new sense will become more and more common and show itself earlier in life, until after many generations it will appear in each normal individual at the age of puberty or even earlier; then go on becoming still more universal, and appearing at a still earlier age, until, after many thousands of generations, it shows itself immediately after infancy in nearly every member of the race.


It must be clearly understood that all cases of Cosmic Consciousness are not on the same plane. Or, if we speak of Simple Consciousness, Self Consciousness and Cosmic Consciousness as each occupying a plane, then, as the range of Self Consciousness on its plane (where one man may be an Aristotle, a Caesar, a Newton, or a Comte, while his neighbor on the next street may be intellectually and morally, to all appearance, little if at all above the animal in his stable) is far greater than the range of Simple Consciousness in any given species on its plane, so we must suppose that the range of Cosmic Consciousness (given millions of cases, as on the other planes) is greater than that of Self Consciousness, and it probably is in fact very much greater both in kind and degree: that is to say, given a world peopled with men having Cosmic Consciousness, they would vary both in the way of greater and less intellectual ability, and greater and less moral and spiritual elevation, and also in the way of variety of character, more than would the inhabitants of a planet on the plane of Self Consciousness.

Within the plane of Cosmic Consciousness one man shall be a god while another shall not be, to casual observation, lifted so very much above ordinary humanity, however much his inward life may be exalted, strengthened and purified by the new sense. But, as the Self Conscious man (however degraded) is in fact almost infinitely above the animal with merely Simple Consciousness, so any man permanently endowed with the Cosmic Sense would be almost infinitely higher and nobler than any man who is Self Conscious merely. And not only so, but the man who has had the Cosmic Sense for even a few moments only will probably never again descend to the spiritual level of the merely Self Conscious man, but twenty, thirty or forty years afterwards he will still feel within him the purifying, strengthening and exalting effect of that divine illumination, and many of those about him will recognize that his spiritual stature is above that of the average man.


The hypothesis adopted by the present writer requires that cases of Cosmic Consciousness should become more numerous from age to age, and not only so but that they should become more perfect, more pronounced. What are the facts? Putting aside minor cases, such as must have appeared and been forgotten by hundreds in the last few millenniums, of those given above at least thirteen are so great that they can never fade from human memory—namely: Gautama, Jesus, Paul, Plotinus, Mohammed, Dante, Las Casas, John Yepes, Francis Bacon, Jacob Behmen, William Blake, Balzac, Walt Whitman.

From Gautama to Dante we count eighteen hundred years, within which period we have five cases. Again from Dante to the present day we count six hundred years, in which we have eight cases. That is to say, while in the earlier period there was one case to every three hundred and sixty years, in the later there was a case to each seventy-five years. In other words, Cosmic Consciousness has been 4.8 times more frequent during the latter period than it was during the former.

And before the time of Gautama? There were probably no, or few and imperfectly developed, cases.

We know that at present there are many of what may be called lesser cases, but the number of these cannot be compared with the number of similar cases in the past, for the reason that the latter are lost. It must also be remembered that the thirteen “great cases” given above are only perhaps a small fraction of cases just as great which have occurred since the time of Gautama, for probably only a small proportion of the “great cases” undertake and carry through work which ensures them remembrance. How easily might the memory even of Jesus have been obliterated from the minds of his contemporaries and followers almost before it was born. Many today think that, all else granted, if he had not been immediately followed by Paul, his work and name would have expired together almost with the generation that heard him speak. . . .


It seems that in every, or nearly every, man who enters into Cosmic Consciousness apprehension is at first more or less excited, the person doubting whether the new sense may not be a symptom or form of insanity. Mohammed was greatly alarmed. I think it is clear that Paul was, and others to be mentioned further on were similarly affected.

The first thing each person asks himself upon experiencing the new sense is: Does what I see and feel represent reality or am I suffering from a delusion? The fact that the new experience seems even more real than the old teachings of simple and Self Consciousness does not at first fully reassure him, because he probably knows that delusions, when present, possess the mind just as firmly as do actual facts.

True or not true, each person who has the experience in question eventually, perforce, believes in its teachings, accepting them as absolutely as any other teachings whatsoever. This, however, would not prove them true, since the same might be said of the delusions of the insane.

How, then, shall we know that this is a new sense, revealing fact, and not a form of insanity, plunging its subject into delusion? In the first place, the tendencies of the condition in question are entirely unlike, even opposite to, those of mental alienation, these last being distinctly amoral or even immoral, while the former are moral in a very high degree. In the second place, while in all forms of insanity self-restraint —inhibition—is greatly reduced, sometimes even abolished, in Cosmic Consciousness it is enormously increased. The absolute proof of this last statement can be found in the lives of the men here cited as examples. In the third place (whatever the scoffers of religion may say) it is certain that modern civilization (speaking broadly) rests (as already said) very largely on the teachings of the new sense. The masters are taught by it and the rest of the world by them through their books, followers and disciples, so that if what is here called Cosmic Consciousness is a form of insanity, we are confronted by the terrible fact (were it not an absurdity) that our civilization, including all our highest religions, rests on delusion. But (in the fourth place), far from granting, or for a moment entertaining, such an awful alternative, it can be maintained that we have the same evidence of the objective reality which corresponds to this faculty that we have of the reality which tallies any other sense or faculty whatever.

Sight, for instance: You know that the tree standing there, across the field, half a mile away, is real and not an hallucination, because all other persons having the sense of sight to whom you have spoken about it also see it, while if it were an hallucination it would be visible to no one but yourself. By the same method of reasoning do we establish the reality of the objective universe tallying Cosmic Consciousness. Each person who has the faculty is made aware by it of essentially the same fact or facts. If three men looked at the tree and were asked half an hour afterwards to draw or describe it the three drafts or descriptions would not tally in detail, but in general outline would correspond. Just in the same way do the reports of those who have had Cosmic Consciousness correspond in all essentials, though in detail they doubtless more or less diverge (but these divergences are fully as much in our misunderstanding of the reports as in the reports themselves). So there is no instance of a person who has been illumined denying or disputing the teaching of another who has passed through the same experience. . . .

“From Self to Cosmic Consciousness” is an extract from Cosmic Consciousness by Richard M. Bucke, published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.

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