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



Born 1265; Died 1321.

Balzac [9: 241 and 263] clearly intimates his conviction that Dante was a "Specialist," which is his name for a man who has

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[paragraph continues] Cosmic Consciousness. Balzac probably knew Dante very thoroughly, and could not be mistaken on this point, he being himself a "Specialist"; for as a musician knows of another man whether or not he is a musician, as a poet knows of another man whether or not he is a poet, as a painter knows of another man whether or not he is a painter, as a man with the sense of sight living in a country inhabited with men nearly all of whom are blind must know who among his acquaintances can see and who cannot, so to-day, and all days, a man who has the Cosmic Sense will know of any given man with whom he is acquainted, either personally or by his works, whether or not he also has it. We could therefore accept with confidence Balzac's word that Dante had the Cosmic Sense, but let us not do so—let us try to see for ourselves.


Dante's outward life and personality are as good as lost to us of the nineteenth century. It seems clear, however, and the character of his writings would indicate the same thing, that, as Boccaccio says [81:809], even as a young man he was:

Taken by the sweetness of knowing the truth of the things concealed in heaven, and finding no other pleasure dearer to him in life, he left all other worldly care and gave himself to this alone, and, that no part of philosophy might remain unseen by him, he plunged with acute intellect into the deepest recesses of theology, and so far succeeded in his design that, caring nothing for heat or cold, or watchings, or fastings, or any other bodily discomforts, by assiduous study he came to know of the divine essence and of the other separate intelligences all that the human intellect can comprehend.

And Leonardo Bruni says of him that:

By study of philosophy, of theology, astrology, arithmetic and geometry, by reading of history, by the turning over many curious books, watching and sweating in his studies, he acquired the science which he was to adorn and explain in his verses.

All which means that Dante was of a thoughtful, studious, earnest nature, and we may interpret this fact to mean either that

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in his case such a life led up to a high poetic genius within the limits of self consciousness, or that it led up (as claimed here) to Cosmic Consciousness. In any case, Dante's youth seems to have been such as we often find in men who attain illumination.


Now, as to the outward man, Boccaccio says [111: 200]:

Our poet was of middle height, and after reaching mature years he went somewhat stooping; his gait was grave and sedate; always clothed in the most becoming garments, his dress was suited to the ripeness of his years; his face was long, his nose aquiline, his eyes rather large than small, his jaw heavy and his under lip prominent; his complexion was dark, and his hair and beard thick, black and crisp, and his countenance was always sad and thoughtful. . . . His manners, whether in public or at home, were wonderfully composed and restrained, and in all his ways he was more courteous and civil than any one else.

Again Charles E. Norton [111: 204] says of an undoubtedly authentic death-mask of the poet:

The face is one of the most pathetic upon which human eyes ever looked, for it exhibits in its expression the conflict between the strong nature of the man and the hard dealings of fortune—between the idea of his life and its practical experience. Strength is the most striking attribute of the countenance, displayed alike in the broad forehead, the masculine nose, the firm lips, the heavy jaw and wide chin; and this strength, resulting from the main forms of the features, is enforced by the strength of the lines of expression. The look is grave and stern almost to grimness; there is a scornful lift to the eyebrows, and a contraction of the forehead as from painful thought; but obscured under this look, yet not lost, are the marks of tenderness, refinement and self-mastery, which, in combination with more obvious characteristics, give to the countenance of the dead poet an ineffable dignity and melancholy. There is neither weakness nor failure here. It is the image of the strong fortress, of a strong soul "buttressed on conscience and impregnable will," battered by the blows of enemies without and within, bearing upon its walls the dints of many a siege, but standing firm and unshaken against all attacks until the warfare was at an end.


As to the quality of Dante's mind and of his work, it will be well to quote here, briefly, perhaps as high an authority as has lived in recent times. He says:

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The Dantesque account of Hell, purgatory and Paradise is not an arbitrary or fantastic dream, but the vivid and substantial embodiment of a profound philosophy* [179: 104].

Meanwhile, leaving antiquarians to elucidate the pedigree of Dante's ideas, we may observe that from his earliest boyhood he was familiar with dreams and visions, and that he hints himself, at the end of the "Vita Nuova," that the vision of the "Comedy" came to him as a revelation, while he was pondering on the thought of death and upon the memory of Beatrice* [179: 109].

The object of the whole work (he writes to Can Grande) is to make those who live in this life leave their state of misery and to lead them to a state of happiness [179:110].

* This is of course necessarily true of every book that springs from, is dictated by, the Cosmic Sense.

* The writer, while knowing nothing about Cosmic Consciousness, adopts, as it were perforce, the same theory of Dante and his work as that propounded here.

The main object in life in the case of every (?) man having the Cosmic Sense is to bestow it upon the race, and each feels in himself some power to so bestow it.


In the "Divine Comedy" (a book strictly parallel to the "Comédie Humaine," or the "Leaves of Grass," in the sense that it is a picture of the world from the point of view of the writer), Dante tells, first, in the "Inferno," of human life as seen among ill-doers, the "sinful," the "wicked." Then, in the "Purgatorio"—"that second realm where the human spirit is purified and becomes worthy to ascend to heaven" [71: 1]—he speaks of human life as seen in those who are struggling towards the light—who are trying to lead good lives but are so far overburdened by hereditary flaws, faults committed, bad habits formed, unfortunate surroundings and other adverse circumstances. These are the better people—short of illumination. But in the "Paradiso" Dante treats of the new world of the Cosmic Sense—of the kingdom of God—Nirvâna.

Beatrice—"Making Happy"—is the Cosmic Sense (which, in fact, alone, makes happy). The name may have been suggested by a beautiful girl (so named). If so, the coincidence is curious.

That the meaning is as here said, seems clear from a hundred passages. Take one. Virgil says to Dante: "So much as reason seeth here can I tell thee; beyond that [beyond reason, the self

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conscious mind] awaits still for Beatrice" [71:114]. What is beyond reason—the self conscious mind—but Cosmic Consciousness?

Dante wanders through the self conscious world ("Inferno" and "Purgatorio") guided by Virgil (chosen as a splendid example and type of the self conscious mind, and also probably because he had really been one of Dante's principal guides before his illumination). But Virgil was not a case of Cosmic Consciousness, and of course he cannot enter into Paradise. Beatrice (the Cosmic Sense) leads Dante into that realm and is his guide there.

Dante's "Vita Nuova," written at the end of the thirteenth century, was first published in 1309, when he was forty-four years of age. At the very end of it he seems to speak of the oncoming of Cosmic Consciousness.

The "Divine Comedy" was finished in 1321, the time of the action being strictly confined to the end of March and the beginning of April, 1300 [81: 815] at which time Dante was thirty-five years old. It seems almost certain that this was the date of his illumination. It would be at the typical age and in the typical season, and there seems nothing against the supposition. It is a reasonable presumption that the earlier book, "Vita Nuova," was being written up to the early spring of 1300; that when illumination took place it was closed to give place to a greater work then to be begun; that the latter book, the "Divine Comedy," was actually begun at that date.


The "Vita Nuova" [68] closes as follows:

After this sonnet a wonderful vision appeared to me, in which I saw things which made me resolve to speak no more of this blessed one (Beatrice) until I could more worthily treat of her. And, to attain to this, I study to the utmost of my power, as she truly knows. So that, if it shall please Him through whom all things live, that my life be prolonged for some years, I hope to say of her what was never said of any woman.

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We will now follow Dante's experience as closely as possible in his own words, using always, as we have done above, the translation of Charles Elliot Norton. And we take first from the "Purgatorio" passages descriptive of Dante's approach to the divine land. When Dante is about to enter Cosmic Consciousness Virgil says of him:

Expect no more or word or sign from me.* Free, upright and sane in thine own free will, and it would be wrong not to act according to its pleasure; wherefore thee over thyself I crown and mitre [71: 176].

* There are two points here well worthy of being noted: (1) When the Cosmic Sense comes the rules and standards belonging to self consciousness are suspended. "Confronted, turned back, laid away" [193: 153], is Whitman's expression. No man with the Cosmic Sense will take direction (in the affairs of the soul) from any other man or any so-called God. In his own heart he holds the highest accessible standard, and to that he will and must adhere; that only can he obey. (2) The other is the duplication of the individual: "Thee over thyself." Compare with these words "The other I am," of Whitman: "’Tis thee (myself) that for myself I praise," of "Shakespeare" [176: 62]; "If any man is in Christ he is a new creature," of Paul; "Except a man be born anew," of Jesus. A new individual must be born within the old one, and, being so born, will live its own distinct life.

Virgil withdraws. The self conscious mind abdicates its sovereignty in presence of the greater authority. Dante comes into immediate relation with Beatrice—Cosmic Consciousness.

A lady appeared to me robed* with the color of living flame. I turned me to the left with the confidence with which the little child runs to his mother when he is frightened, or when he is troubled, to say to Virgil: "Less than a drachm of blood remains in me that does not tremble, I recognize the signals of the ancient flame;" but Virgil had left us deprived of himself [71:191].

And as my face stretched upward my eyes saw Beatrice.* Beneath her veil and beyond the stream she seemed to me more to surpass her ancient self than she surpassed the others here when she was here [71:198].

* The Cosmic Sense robed with the subjective light. At the threshold of the new sense Virgil (the type here of human faculty short of it) leaves Dante. Not that simple and self consciousness leave us when we enter Cosmic Consciousness, but they do cease to guide us—"the eyesight has another eyesight, the hearing another hearing, and the voice another voice" [193: 342].

* The new world is still veiled and far off, but even so its glory far transcends anything in the old world of mere self consciousness.

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When I was near the blessed shore the beautiful lady [nature?]* opened her arms, clasped my head and plunged me in where it behooved that I should swallow the water [71:199].

Oh, splendor of living light eternal!* who hath become so pallid under the shadow of Parnassus, or hath so drunk at its cistern that he would not seem to have his mind encumbered, trying to represent thee as thou didst appear there, where in harmony the heaven overshadows thee when in thn open air thou didst thyself disclose [71:201]?

* "The drinking of the waters of Lethe, which obliterate the memory of sin."—Norton's note. There is no sense of sin in Cosmic Consciousness.

* The best prepared poet (on the level of self consciousness) by study and practice could not portray the new world, when it freely (in the open air) discloses itself. "No shuttered room or school can commune with me," says the Cosmic Sense by the tongue of Whitman [193:75].

Beatrice (the Cosmic Sense) says to Dante:

Thou shalt be with me* without end a citizen of that Rome whereof Christ is a Roman [71:206].

* Dante enters into equality with Jesus. Compare Whitman's "To him who was crucified" [193:298].

Again Beatrice says to him:

* From fear and from shame I wish that thou henceforth divest thyself [71:211].

* Compare Balzac's "Jesus was a Specialist," and Paul's "Heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ." Neither fear nor shame can exist along with the Cosmic Sense.


So much for the approach to the Cosmic Sense. Let us see next what Dante says of it after having entered into it.

The glory of Him* who moves everything penetrates through the universe and shines in one part more and in another less. In the heaven that receives most of its light I have been, and have seen things which he who descends from there above neither knows how nor is able to recount [72:1].

On a sudden day* seemed to be added to day as if he who is able had adorned the heaven with another sun [72:4].

* So Paul heard "unspeakable words," and Whitman when he "tried to tell the best" of that which he had seen became dumb.

* "As in a swoon, one instant, another sun, ineffable, full dazzles me" [192: 207].

This is, of course, the subjective light seen by Mohammed, Paul and others at the moment of entrance into the Cosmic Sense.

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Beatrice was standing with her eyes wholly fixed on the eternal wheels, and on her I fixed my eyes from there above removed. Looking at her, I inwardly became such as Glaucus* became on tasting of the herb which made him consort in the sea of the other gods. Transhumanizing cannot be signified in words; therefore, let the example suffice for him to whom grace reserves experience. If I were only what of me thou didst last create, O love that governest the heavens, thou knowest, who with thy light didst lift me.

When the revolution which thou, being desired, makest eternal § made me attent unto itself with the harmony which thou attunest and modulatest, so much of the heaven then seemed to me enkindled by the flame of the sun, that rain or river never made so broad a lake [72:4].

* Glaucus—the steersman of the ship Argo—who was changed into a god.

Of Glaucus.

If I continued to be a mere man.

§ The desire for God leads a man from self to Cosmic Consciousness, and that revolution, when effected, is eternal.

When Dante awoke into the Cosmic Sense, into the new Cosmos, the first thing to strike him (as it is and must be the first thing to strike every one who so awakes) was the vision of the ''Eternal Wheels"—the "Chain of Causation"—the universal order—a vision infinitely beyond expression by human words. His new self—Beatrice—had its eyes fixed on this, the Cosmic unfolding. Gazing thereupon the Cosmic vision and the Cosmic rapture transhumanized him into a god. It is this vision of the universal order coming instantaneously, lighting the world as lightning illumines the landscape, but, unlike lightning, remaining, that has led the present writer to adopt the name "Cosmic Consciousness"—a Consciousness of the Cosmos. Compare with Dante's Gautama's experience as given in the Maha Vegga [163: 208]: "During the first watch of the night he fixed his mind upon the chain of causation; during the second watch he did the same; during the third he did the same." And, as already shown, this is among the very earliest and most reliable accounts of the illumination of the Buddha.

After illumination Dante wrote the "Divine Comedy." In it (as a whole) must be sought the expression, such as Dante could give, of the Cosmic vision. It is, therefore, a parallel statement with the Qur’an, the Upanishads, Suttas, the Pauline Epistles, the words of Jesus, the "Comédie Humaine," the "Leaves of Grass," the "Shakespeare" drama and "Sonnets," the works of Behmen, and "Towards Democracy."

To sum up, we have in this case:

a. The characteristic suddenness that belongs to the oncoming of the Cosmic Sense.

b. Illumination occurs at the typical age and time of year.

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c. The subjective light is a strongly marked feature.

d. Intellectual illumination.

e. Moral elevation.

f. The sense of immortality.

g. The extinction of the sense of sin and of shame and of fear of death.

Next: Chapter 7. Bartolomé Las Casas