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


The Case of C. Y. E., in Her Own Words.

I was born April 21, 1864. I was brought up a member of the Church of England, accepted its teaching and loved its services and liturgy. I believed in Christ as God Incarnate—the word made flesh. The doctrine of the atonement, taken in the sense of a sacrifice necessary to appease the anger of an avenging God, had long been rejected by me. I was married on January 1, 1891. My husband possessed an intense and earnest desire for truth. He was

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an agnostic. Our common ground was a firm conviction that God is Love, that He is also Light and that in Him is no darkness at all. Two years after our marriage my husband became an enthusiastic and ardent admirer of the writings of Walt Whitman, and here, to my sorrow, I was left behind. I tried to read "Leaves of Grass," but could not understand a word of it. I could hear the music of the verse, but the language in which it was written was to me an unknown tongue. I recognized that there was something, and perhaps something beyond the common, in this man's writing, but I was simply unable to see what it was.

In the autumn of 1893 we moved into the country and settled in a little village in Yorkshire. Soon afterwards my husband went to Bolton to meet the "Eagle College" men there. He returned home delighted with the new comrades he had found, with the hearty love and good fellowship with which he had been received, at the indisputable evidence of the powerful magnetism of the man Walt Whitman, who could draw together men of all sorts, diverse in country, calling, habits, station, indeed in everything but this wonderful sense of comradeship. I became still more mystified. Then in September, 1894, a remarkable young Philadelphian, named P. D., who was deeply imbued with Whitman's philosophy, visited us. On Monday and again on Tuesday evening P. D., my husband and myself had long talks about Whitman and his teaching. On the afternoon of Wednesday I went to see a friend, a farmer's wife, and we drove over the harvest fields to take some refreshment to her husband who was working with his men. When I was going away she gave me two very beautiful Maréchal Niel roses. I had always had a passionate love of flowers, but the scent of these and their exquisite form and color appealed to me with quite exceptional force and vividness. I left my friend and was walking slowly homeward, enjoying the calm beauty of the evening, when I became conscious of an unutterable stillness, and simultaneously every object about me became bathed in a soft light, clearer and more ethereal than I had ever before seen. Then a voice whispered in my soul: "God is all. He is not far away in the heaven; He is here. This grass under your feet is He; this bountiful harvest, that blue sky, those roses in your hand—you yourself are all one with Him. All is well for ever and ever, for there is no place or time where God is not." Then the earth and air and sky thrilled and vibrated to one song, and the burden of it was "Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, good will toward men."

On my return home both my husband and his sister remarked a change in my face. An infinite peace and joy filled my heart, worldly ambitions and cares died in the light of the glorious truth that was revealed to me—all anxiety and trouble about the future had utterly left me, and my life is one long song of love and peace. When I wake in the night or rise from my bed in the morning—nay, at all hours of the day and night—the song is ever with me, "Glory to God in the highest, on earth, peace, good will toward men."

Now I could read Walt Whitman. Read him! Indeed, it seemed more than reading, for my soul, eagerly drinking in his words, was thereby refreshed and invigorated.

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The effects of this experience on my daily life have been many, chiefly, I think, after the deep underlying joy and peace came a faith in the eternal rightness of all things; a ceasing to fret and worry over the problem of evil; a desire to live in the open air as much as possible and an ever-growing delight in the beauties of nature at all times and seasons of the year; a strong tendency towards simplicity of life and deepening sense of the equality and brotherhood of all men.

a. It will be noticed that the subjective light was well, though not strongly marked in the case.

b. That moral elevation was a prominent feature.

c. Intellectual illumination seems to have been present, though we have no conclusive evidence of it.

d. The sense of immortality was pronounced.

e. Fear of death was lost.

f. We are not told in so many words, but it seems plain that there could be no sense of sin in the mental condition which accompanied and followed the experience.

g. The change was sudden, instantaneous.

h. The previous character of the person's mind would mark her as a likely person to have such an experience as this.

i. She was of the right age—in her thirty-first year.

j. The present writer cannot speak of any added charm to the personality of Mrs. E., but it seems to him we must gather from what we are told that such occurred upon her illumination.

k. The phenomenon which in the great cases has been called transfiguration was present in moderate degree in this. It was noticed by both her husband and her sister.

Only one thing more remains to say. What may be called the mental suspension which seems to be a necessary preliminary to illumination was noticed and reported by Mrs. E. "I became conscious of an unutterable stillness," and "simultaneously" she was wrapped in the subjective light. It seems remarkable that this fact should have been noted by the old Hindoo seers, and it is not surprising that it was somewhat misinterpreted by them. It seems that they thought that this mental suspension was not only an inevitable accompaniment of illumination but an efficient cause of it. They therefore laid down the strictest rules for inducing

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the mental condition in question in the hope and expectation that, that being secured, illumination would follow. So we have such directions as these: "A devotee should constantly devote himself to abstraction, remaining in a secret place, alone, with his mind and self restrained, without expectation and without belongings" [154: 68]. And again: "That mental condition, in which the mind restrained by practice of abstraction, ceases to work" [154: 69]. This was supposed to be the mental state out of which Nirvâna must arise. It is the state out of which it arises, but it does not follow and does not appear that the state of mental suspension has any casual relation to the state of illumination or Nirvâna.

This is perhaps as good a place as any for a quotation from Gibbon, which will shed some light on the history of opinion on the above point, and will also show how a great student and great man may utterly fail to see facts, which, though brought immediately to his notice, are out of accord with his preconceptions. He says of the Emperor Cantacuzene [93: 193] that he "defended the divine light of Mount Tabor, a memorable question which consummates the religious follies of the Greeks. The fakirs of India, and the monks of the Oriental church were alike persuaded that in total abstraction of the faculties of the mind and body the purer spirit may ascend to the enjoyment and vision of the Deity. The opinion and practice of the monasteries of Mount Athos will be best represented in the words of an abbot who flourished in the eleventh century. 'When thou art alone in thy cell,' says the ascetic teacher, 'shut thy door, and seat thyself in a corner; raise thy mind above all things vain and transitory; recline thy beard and chin on thy breast; turn thy eyes and thy thoughts towards the middle of thy belly, the region of the navel, and search the place of the heart, the seat of the soul. At first all will be dark and comfortless, but if you persevere day and night you will feel an ineffable joy, and no sooner has the soul discovered the place of the heart than it is involved in a mystic and ethereal light.' This light, the production of a distempered fancy, the creature of

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an empty stomach and an empty brain, was adored by the Quietists as the pure and perfect essence of God himself."

Gibbon has correctly reported the recommendations of the Indian sages. The truth of the matter seems to be as follows: When, without forethought, knowledge or endeavor (as in all the Western cases as far as the writer knows) illumination comes spontaneously, it is preceded (for an instant at least) by what we may call mental suspension. That fact having been noted by the Eastern adepts, who sought to reduce Nirvâna to an art, it was supposed that, mental suspension being secured, illumination would follow—that the first was, in fact, in some way, the cause of the second. Now it seems to the writer certain that where you have a subject on the verge (as it were) of the Cosmic Sense it may be possible to induce this by following the directions given in, for instance, the Bhagavad Gita, when, nothing being done, illumination would not spontaneously supervene. But the Cosmic Sense (though in any case more valuable than all the riches of the earth) when self induced, as by such methods as referred to, is less valuable, probably much less valuable—less potent and masterful—less creative—than it is in cases in which it bursts forth (as it were) of its own strength—self delivered—triumphant.

It seems certain that the monks of Mount Athos really knew of the state here called "Cosmic Consciousness," otherwise how could they have specified, as they did, the subjective light? From whence would they have derived the knowledge of it and of the "ineffable joy" which accompanies it? Concerning the adoration of the Cosmic Sense as God, perhaps it is so.

Next: Chapter 36. Case of A. J. S.