This past week I spent a lot of time reading “Cosmic Consciousness,” by Richard Maurice Bucke. Bucke was an M.D. who had the mystical experience when he was 36 years old. The experience never repeated itself, but Bucke was so moved by the experience that he decided to research the mystical experience and write a book about others who have had it. His book was published in 1901.
Bucke wrote of both famous and ordinary people who have had a mystical experience, or as he put it, attained “cosmic consciousness.” He includes in his study people like Walt Whitman, Plotinus, Socrates, Balzac and others. Some of these people wrote better descriptions of the experience than others. I plan to post some of them here. The best place to start, no doubt, is with Dr. Bucke’s own personal mystical experience. He writes (describing his experience in the third person):
It was in the early spring at the beginning of his thirty-sixth year. He and two friends had spent the evening reading Wordsworth, Shelley, 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 influences 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 quiet, almost passive enjoyment. All at once, without warning of any kind, he found himself wrapped around as it 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 has ever since lightened his life; upon his heart fell one drop of Brahmic Bliss, leaving thenceforward for always an after taste of heaven. Among other things…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 that in previous months or even years of study, and that he learned much that no study could ever have taught.
The illumination itself continued not more than a few moments, but its effects 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.
Robert Ringer, in his book “Action,” also talks about the mystical experience and cites one described by Harold W. Percival, who in his book “Thinking and Destiny” wrote:
From November of 1892 I passed through astonishing and crucial experiences, following which, in the spring of 1893, there occured the most extraordinary event of my life. I had crossed 14th Avenue, in New York City. Cars and people were hurrying by. While stepping up to the northeast corner curbstone, Light, greater than that of myriads of suns opened in the center of my head. In that instant or point, eternities were apprehended. There was no time. Distance and dimensions were not in evidence….I was conscious of Consciousness as the Ultimate and Absolute Reality….It would be futile to attempt description of the sublime grandeur and power and order and relation in poise of what I was then consicous. Twice during the next fourteen years, for a long time on each occasion, I was conscious of Consciousness. But during that time I was conscious of no more than I had been conscious of it in that first moment.