Cosmic Consciousness, by Richard Maurice Bucke, , at sacred-texts.com
Born at Amsterdam, November 24th, 1632, the son of a Portuguese Jew and a Jew himself until the age of twenty-four, when he was "solemnly cut off from the Commonwealth of Israel" [87b: 400]. He was an accomplished Latinist and an enthusiastic disciple of Descartes, though he ceased to be his follower by the end of the five years of concentrated thought and study that followed his excommunication. This is not the place to insist on the greatness of Spinoza, which indeed should be known to all who read serious books.
Few moderns indeed have been so endorsed by the discipleship of great men as he—by that of Goethe, for instance, and Coleridge, of Novalis, Hegel, Lessing, Herder, Schelling, Scheiermacher and many others. So true is this that "it is admitted that Spinoza was the founder of modern philosophy" [133: 372].
It will not be possible to show that Spinoza was a case of Cosmic
[paragraph continues] Consciousness in the same sense that it can be shown, for instance, that John Yepes was a case; we have not the necessary details of his illumination. All that can be done is to set down such facts as we have and let the reader judge for himself. We shall consider first the nature of his philosophic teaching and then the facts of his actual life. We shall find that both point almost inevitably to the same conclusion. Spinoza (for instance) "cannot allow that sin and evil have any positive reality, much less that anything happens contrary to God's will. Nay, it is only an inexact and human fashion of speech to say that man can sin against or offend God" [133: 47]. Again: "The Universe is governed by divine laws, which, unlike those of man's making, are immutable, inviolable and an end to themselves, not instruments for the attainment of particular objects. The love of God is man's only true good. From other passions we can free ourselves, but not from love, because for the weakness of our nature we could not subsist without the enjoyment of something that may strengthen us by our union with it. Only the knowledge of God will enable us to subdue the hurtful passions. This, as the source of all knowledge, is the most perfect of all; and inasmuch as all knowledge is derived from the knowledge of God, we may know God better than we know ourselves. This knowledge in time leads to the love of God, which is the soul's union with Him. The union of the soul with God is its second birth, and therein consists man's immortality and freedom" [1.33: 86]. The last clause of the above sentence, italicized by the present editor, if taken absolutely, settles the question—for the union of the soul with God is illumination, is the second birth, and in it is immortality and freedom. Again he says: "Love toward a thing eternal and infinite feeds the mind with pure joy, and is wholly free from sorrow; this is to be greatly desired and strenuously sought for" [133:116]. This is the Brahmic Bliss—the joy that Whitman, Carpenter, Yepes and the rest never tire of celebrating. Then farther on he tells us that the chief good is to be endowed with a certain character. "What that character is we shall show in its proper place—namely, that it consists in knowledge of the union which the mind
has with the whole of nature" [133:118]. But such knowledge does not exist apart from illumination, while on the other hand all those who have entered Cosmic Consciousness possess it. So Spinoza, instead of seeking in the usual way an artificial explanation for the correspondence of two such (apparently) different things as body and mind pronounces boldly that "they are the same thing and differ only as aspects" [133: 180]. So Whitman (and all the rest in varying language): "Was somebody asking to see the soul? See your own shape and countenance, etc." [193: 25]. So, again, Spinoza more than once classifies the kinds of our knowledge in such manner as to necessitate the inclusion of what is called in this book intuition, which is that form which belongs to the Cosmic Conscious mind and to that mind only. He says, for instance: "We may learn things (1) by hearsay or on authority; (2) by the mere suggestion of experience; (3) by reasoning; (4) by immediate and complete perception" [133:119 and 188]. And he says further that this last mode of knowing "proceeds from an adequate idea of the absolute nature of some attribute of God to an adequate knowledge of the nature of things." That is to say, the man enters into conscious relation with God (in the act of illumination), and through that contact—as far as it goes—he has an "adequate knowledge of things." It is doubtful whether any merely self conscious man could have used this language, for to such a man nothing seems more absurd than a claim to knowledge by simple intuition, and yet nothing is more certain than that such a knowledge is thus acquired. The following is equally characteristic: "To know God—in other words, to know the order of nature and regard the universe as orderly—is the highest function of the mind; and knowledge, as the perfect form of the mind's normal activity, is good for its own sake and not as a means" [133: 241]. If Spinoza means here (as it seems likely he does) the same as Balzac meant when he said of specialism that it "alone can explain God," then Spinoza was a specialist. So when he says that "clear and distinct knowledge of the intuitive kind engenders love towards an immutable and eternal being, truly within our reach" 1133: 268], he implies in
himself the possession of Cosmic Consciousness and teaches that this is within reach of all. Equally characteristic is the following: "In all exact knowledge the mind knows itself under the form of eternity; that is to say, in every such act it is eternal and knows itself as eternal. This eternity is not a persistence in time after the dissolution of the body, no more than a pre-existence in time, for it is not commensurable with time at all. And there is associated with it a state or quality of perfection called the intellectual love of God" [133:269]. Spinoza, as Whitman, taught that "there is in fact no evil" [193:22]; he says: "The perfection of things is to be reckoned only from their own nature and power; and things are not therein more or less perfect that they delight or offend the sense of men, or that they are convenient for the nature of man or repugnant thereto. If any ask why God hath not so created all men that they should be governed only by reason? I give them no answer but this: Because he lacked not matter for creating all things, even from the highest degree of perfection into the lowest. Or more exactly thus: Because the laws of his own nature were so vast as to suffice for producing all things which can be conceived by an infinite understanding" [133:327]. As Pollock remarks, this is "a hypothetical infinite mind, which must be distinguished from the infinite intellect, which we have met with as one of the things immediately produced by God" [133: 328].
Finally Spinoza sums up in the following noble passage: "I have finished everything I wished to explain concerning the power of the mind over the emotions and concerning its liberty. From what has been said we see what is the strength of the wise man and how much he surpasses the ignorant who is driven by blind desire. For the ignorant man [the self conscious mind—compare Balzac—supra and [5:144] where he classifies the human mind as Spinoza does here] is not only agitated by external causes in many ways, and never enjoys true peace of soul, but lives also ignorant, as it were, both of God and of things, and as soon as he ceases to suffer ceases also to be. On the other hand, the wise man [the Cosmic Conscious man], in so far as he is considered as such, is scarcely ever moved in his mind, but, being conscious by a certain
eternal necessity of himself, of God, and of things, never ceases to be and always enjoys true peace of soul. If the way which, as I have shown, leads hither [i.e., to Cosmic Consciousness] seems very difficult, it can nevertheless be found. It must indeed be difficult, since it is so seldom discovered; for if salvation lay ready to hand and could be discovered without great labor, how could it be possible that it should be neglected almost by everybody 's But all noble things are as difficult as they are rare" [170a: 283].
A few words now as to the personal characteristics of the man. John Colerus, minister of the Lutheran church, at that city, during Spinoza's residence at The Hague, knew him well, and what follows will be taken largely from his narrative, which is included in Sir Frederick Pollock's volume. Colerus says: "Spinoza was of middle size, had good features, complexion dark, black curly hair, long black eyebrows, so that one might easily know by his looks that he was descended from Portuguese Jews. As for his clothes, he was very careless of them; they were not better than those of the meanest citizen" [133: 394].
Spinoza was in fact very poor. Like Thoreau, Whitman, Carpenter, Buddha, Jesus and many other men of his class, he seemed to prefer poverty. He made a very plain living by grinding glasses for telescopes. He was several times offered money by well-off persons who knew and liked him, but always refused until a friend, de Vries, from whom he had refused during his life to accept money, dying, charged his brother, who was his heir, to pay to Spinoza out of his estate a suitable maintenance. The brother wanted to pay Spinoza five hundred florins a year, but Spinoza would only accept three hundred—about one hundred and fifty dollars [87b: 401]. Spinoza lived in the plainest possible way; he was never married; most of his life he lived with others, paying his board; the rest of the time he lived alone in lodgings, buying what he needed and keeping very retired. "It is scarcely credible how sober and frugal he was all the time. Not that he was reduced to so great a poverty as not to be able to spend more if he had been willing. He had friends enough who offered him their purses and all manner of assistance. But he was naturally very sober and
could be satisfied with little, and he did not care that people should think that he had lived, even but once, at the expense of other men. What I say about his sobriety and good husbandry may be proved by several small reckonings which have been found among his papers after his death. It appears by them that he lived a whole day upon a milk soup done with butter, which amounted to threepence, and upon a pot of beer of three halfpence. Another day he ate nothing but gruel done with raisins and butter, and that dish cost him four-pence halfpenny. There are but two half-pints of wine at most for one month to be found among these reckonings, and though he was often invited to eat with his friends he chose rather to live upon what he had at home, though it were ever so little, than to sit down at a good table at the expense of another man" [133: 393]. "His conversation was very sweet and easy. He knew admirably well how to be master of his passions, and was never seen very melancholy nor very merry. He was very courteous and obliging, and would often discourse with his landlady and the people of the house when they happened to be sick or afflicted—never failing to comfort them. He would put the children often in mind of going to church and taught them to be obedient and dutiful to their parents. One day his landlady asked him whether he believed she could be saved in the religion she professed? He answered: 'Your religion is a good one; you need not look for another, nor doubt that you may be saved in it provided while you apply yourself to piety you live at the same time a peaceable and quiet life.' When he stayed at home he was troublesome to nobody; he spent the greater part of his time quietly in his own chamber. When he happened to be tired by having applied himself too much to his philosophical meditations he went downstairs to refresh himself and discoursed with the people of the house about anything that might afford matter for an ordinary conversation and even about trifles. He also took pleasure in smoking a pipe of tobacco" [133: 395].
Spinoza was never a robust man. "Consumption had been making its insidious inroads upon him for many years, and early in 1677 he must have been conscious that he was seriously ill. On
[paragraph continues] Saturday, 20th of February, he sent to Amsterdam for his friend, Dr. Meyer. On the following day the people of the family with whom he lived, having no thought of immediate danger, went to afternoon service. When they came back Spinoza was no more; he had died about three in the afternoon, with Meyer for the only witness of his last moments" [87b: 403]. At the time of his death Spinoza was forty-four years and three months old.
All that remains is to show that, as in his life and teachings, so in his reception by the world, is Spinoza closely allied to the class of men with whom it is here sought to associate him. "The first effect of his writings in Holland was to raise a storm of controversial indignation" [133: 349]. And the man whom Novalis truly described as "God intoxicated," was pronounced "blasphemous, atheistic, deceitful," while his books were described as the "soul-destroying works of Spinoza" [ib.]. For a hundred years after his death he was little read, but since then more and more, and he now takes rank where he belongs, as one of the great spiritual leaders of the race.