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A STUDY IN THE EVOLUTION OF THE HUMAN MIND
By RICHARD MAURICE BUCKE
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
WHAT is Cosmic Consciousness? The present volume is an attempt to answer this question; but notwithstanding it seems well to make a short prefatory statement in as plain language as possible so as to open the door, as it were, for the more elaborate exposition to be attempted in the body of the work. Cosmic Consciousness, then, is a higher form of consciousness than that possessed by the ordinary man. This last is called Self Consciousness and is that faculty upon which rests all of our life (both subjective and objective) which is not common to us and the higher animals, except that small part of it which is derived from the few individuals who have had the higher consciousness above named. To make the matter clear it must be understood that there are three forms or grades of consciousness. (1) Simple Consciousness, which is possessed by say the upper half of the animal kingdom. By means of this faculty a dog or a horse is just as conscious of the things about him as a man is; he is also conscious of his own limbs and body and he knows that these are a part of himself. (2) Over and above this Simple Consciousness, which is possessed by man as by animals, man has another which is called Self Consciousness. By virtue of this faculty man is not only conscious of trees, rocks, waters, his own limbs and body, but he becomes conscious of himself as a distinct entity apart from all the rest of the universe. It is as good as certain that no animal can realize himself in that way. Further, by means of self consciousness, man (who knows as the animal knows) becomes capable of treating his own mental states as objects of consciousness. The animal is, as it were, immersed in his consciousness as a fish in the sea; he cannot, even in imagination, get outside of it for one moment so as to realize it. But man by virtue of self consciousness can step aside, as it were, from himself and think: "Yes, that thought that I had about that matter is true; I know it is true and I know that I know it is true." The writer has been asked: "How do you know that animals cannot think in the same manner?" The answer is simple and conclusive—it is: There is no evidence that any animal can so think, but if they could we should soon know it. Between two creatures living together, as dogs or horses and men, and each self conscious, it would be the simplest matter in the world to open up communication. Even as it is, diverse as is our psychology, we do, by watching his acts, enter into the dog's mind pretty freely—we see what is going on there—we know that the dog sees and hears, smells and tastes—we know that he has intelligence—adapts means to ends—that he reasons. If he was self conscious we must have learned it long ago. We have not learned it and it is as good as certain that no dog, horse, elephant or ape ever was self conscious. Another thing: on man's self consciousness is built everything in and about us distinctively human. Language is the objective of which self consciousness is the subjective. Self consciousness and language (two in one, for they are two halves of the same thing) are the sine qua non of human social life, of manners, of institutions, of industries of all kinds, of all arts useful and fine. If any animal possessed self consciousness it seems certain that it would upon that master faculty build (as man has done) a superstructure of language; of reasoned out customs, industries, art. But no animal has done this, therefore we infer that no animal has self consciousness.
The possession of self consciousness and language (its other self) by man creates an enormous gap between him and the highest creature possessing simple consciousness merely.
Cosmic Consciousness is a third form which is as far above Self Consciousness as is that above Simple Consciousness. With this form, of course, both simple and self consciousness persist (as simple consciousness persists when self consciousness is acquired), but added to them is the new faculty so often named and to be named in this volume. The prime characteristic of cosmic consciousness is, as its name implies, a consciousness of the cosmos, that is, of the life and order of the universe. What these words mean cannot be touched upon here; it is the business of this volume to throw some light upon them. There are many elements belonging to the cosmic sense besides the central fact just alluded to. Of these a few may be mentioned. Along with the consciousness of the cosmos there occurs an intellectual enlightenment or illumination which alone would place the individual on a new plane of existence—would make him almost a member of a new species. To this is added a state of moral exaltation, an indescribable feeling of elevation, elation, and joyousness, and a quickening of the moral sense, which is fully as striking and more important both to the individual and to the race than is the enhanced intellectual power. With these come, what may be called a sense of immortality, a consciousness of eternal life, not a conviction that he shall have this, but the consciousness that he has it already.
Only a personal experience of it, or a prolonged study of men who have passed into the new life, will enable us to realize what this actually is; but it has seemed to the present writer that to pass in review, even briefly and imperfectly, instances in which the condition in question has existed would be worth while. He expects his work to be useful in two ways: First, in broadening the general view of human life by comprehending in our mental vision this important phase of it, and by enabling us to realize, in some measure, the true status of certain men who, down to the present, are either exalted, by the average self conscious individual, to the rank of gods, or, adopting the other extreme, are adjudged insane. And in the second place he hopes to furnish aid to his fellow men in a far more practical and important sense. The view he takes is that our descendants will sooner or later reach, as a race, the condition of cosmic consciousness, just as, long ago, our ancestors passed from simple to self consciousness. He believes that this step in evolution is even now being made, since it is clear to him both that men with the faculty in question are becoming more and more common and also that as a race we are approaching nearer and nearer to that stage of the self conscious mind from which the transition to the cosmic conscious is effected. He realizes that, granted the necessary heredity, any individual not already beyond the age may enter cosmic consciousness. He knows that intelligent contact with cosmic conscious minds assists self conscious individuals in the ascent to the higher plane. He therefore hopes, by bringing about, or at least facilitating this contact, to aid men and women in making the almost infinitely important step in question.
The immediate future of our race, the writer thinks, is indescribably hopeful. There are at the present moment impending over us three revolutions, the least of which would dwarf the ordinary historic upheaval called by that name into absolute insignificance. They are: (1) The material, economic and social revolution which will depend upon and result from the establishment of aerial navigation. (2) The economic and social revolution which will abolish individual ownership and rid the earth at once of two immense evils—riches and poverty. And (3) The psychical revolution of which there is here question.
Either of the first two would (and will) radically change the conditions of, and greatly uplift, human life; but the third will do more for humanity than both of the former, were their importance multiplied by hundreds or even thousands.
The three operating (as they will) together will literally create a new heaven and a new earth. Old things will be done away and all will become new.
Before aerial navigation national boundaries, tariffs, and perhaps distinctions of language will fade out. Great cities will no longer have reason for being and will melt away. The men who now dwell in cities will inhabit in summer the mountains and the sea shores; building often in airy and beautiful spots, now almost or quite inaccessible, commanding the most extensive and magnificent views. In the winter they will probably dwell in communities of moderate size. As the herding together, as now, in great cities, so the isolation of the worker of the soil will become a thing of the past. Space will be practically annihilated, there will be no crowding together and no enforced solitude.
Before Socialism crushing toil, cruel anxiety, insulting and demoralizing riches, poverty and its ills will become subjects for historical novels.
In contact with the flux of cosmic consciousness all religions known and named to-day will be melted down. The human soul will be revolutionized. Religion will absolutely dominate the race. It will not depend on tradition. It will not be believed and disbelieved. It will not be a part of life, belonging to certain hours, times, occasions. It will not be in sacred books nor in the mouths of priests. It will not dwell in churches and meetings and forms and days. Its life will not be in prayers, hymns nor discourses. It will not depend on special revelations, on the words of gods who came down to teach, nor on any bible or bibles. It will have no mission to save men from their sins or to secure them entrance to heaven. It will not teach a future immortality nor future glories, for immortality and all glory will exist in the here and now. The evidence of immortality will live in every heart as sight in every eye. Doubt of God and of eternal life will be as impossible as is now doubt of existence; the evidence of each will be the same. Religion will govern every minute of every day of all life. Churches, priests, forms, creeds, prayers, all agents, all intermediaries between the individual man and God will be permanently replaced by direct unmistakable intercourse. Sin will no longer exist nor will salvation be desired. Men will not worry about death or a future, about the kingdom of heaven, about what may come with and after the cessation of the life of the present body. Each soul will feel and know itself to be immortal, will feel and know that the entire universe with all its good and with all its beauty is for it and belongs to it forever. The world peopled by men possessing cosmic consciousness will be as far removed from the world of to-day as this is from the world as it was before the advent of self consciousness.
There is a tradition, probably very old, to the effect that the first man was innocent and happy until he ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That having eaten thereof he became aware that he was naked and was ashamed. Further, that then sin was born into the world, the miserable sense whereof replaced man's former feeling of innocency. That then and not till then man began to labor and to cover his body. Stranger than all (so it seems to us), the story runs, that along with this change or immediately following upon it there came into man's mind the remarkable conviction which has never since left it but which has been kept alive by its own inherent vitality and by the teaching of all true seers, prophets and poets that this accursed thing which has bitten man's heel (laming him, hindering his progress and especially making this halting and painful) should eventually be crushed and subjugated by man himself—by the rising up within him of a Saviour—the Christ.
Man's progenitor was a creature (an animal) walking erect but with simple consciousness merely. He was (as are to-day the animals) incapable of sin or of the feeling of sin and equally incapable of shame (at least in the human sense). He had no feeling or knowledge of good and evil. He as yet knew nothing of what we call work and had never labored. From this state he fell (or rose) into self consciousness, his eyes were opened, he knew that he was naked, he felt shame, acquired the sense of sin (became in fact what is called a sinner), and learned to do certain things in order to encompass certain ends—that is, he learned to labor.
For weary eons this condition has lasted—the sense of sin still haunts his pathway—by the sweat of his brow he still eats bread—he is still ashamed. Where is the deliverer, the Saviour? Who or what?
The Saviour of man is Cosmic Consciousness—in Paul's language—the Christ. The cosmic sense (in whatever mind it appears) crushes the serpent's head—destroys sin, shame, the sense of good and evil as contrasted one with the other, and will annihilate labor, though not human activity.
The fact that there came to man along with or immediately after his acquisition of self consciousness the inchoate premonition of another and higher consciousness which was yet, at that time, many millenniums in the future is surely most noteworthy though not necessarily surprising. We have in biology many analogous facts such as premonition of, and preparation for, by the individual of states and circumstances of which he has had no experience and we see the same thing in the maternal instinct in the very young girl.
The universal scheme is woven in one piece and is permeable to consciousness or (and especially) to sub-consciousness throughout and in every direction. The universe is a vast, grandiose, terrible, multiform yet uniform evolution. The section which especially concerns us is that which extends from brute to man, from man to demigod, and constitutes the imposing drama of humanity—its scene the surface of the planet—its time a million years.
The purpose of these preliminary remarks is to throw as much light as possible on the subject of this volume, so as to increase the pleasure and profit of its perusal. A personal exposition of the writer's own introduction to the main fact treated of will perhaps do as much as anything else could to further this end. He will therefore frankly set down here a very brief outline of his early mental life and give a short account of his slight experience of what he calls cosmic consciousness. The reader will readily see therefrom whence came the ideas and convictions presented in the following pages.
He was born of good middle class English stock and grew up almost without education on what was then a backwoods Canadian farm. As a child he assisted in such labor as lay within his power: tended cattle, horses, sheep, pigs; brought in firewood, worked in the hay field, drove oxen and horses, ran errands. His pleasures were as simple as his labors. An occasional visit to a neighboring small town, a game of ball, bathing in the creek that ran through his father's farm, the making and sailing of mimic ships, the search for birds' eggs and flowers in the spring, and for wild fruits in the summer and fall, afforded him, with his skates and handsled in the winter, his homely, much loved recreations. While still a young boy he read with keen appreciation Marryat's novels, Scott's poems and novels, and other similar books dealing with outdoor nature and human life. He never, even as a child, accepted the doctrines of the Christian church; but, as soon as old enough to dwell at all on such themes, conceived that Jesus was a man—great and good no doubt, but a man. That no one would ever be condemned to everlasting pain. That if a conscious God existed he was the supreme master and meant well in the end to all; but that, this visible life here being ended, it was doubtful, or more than doubtful, whether conscious identity would be preserved. The boy (even the child) dwelt on these and similar topics far more than anyone would suppose; but probably not more than many other introspective small fellow mortals. He was subject at times to a sort of ecstasy of curiosity and hope. As on one special occasion when about ten years old he earnestly longed to die that the secrets of the beyond, if there was any beyond, might be revealed to him; also to agonies of anxiety and terror, as for instance, at about the same age he read Reynold's "fault," and, being near its end one sunny afternoon, he laid it down utterly unable to continue its perusal, and went out into the sunshine to recover from the horror (after more than fifty years he distinctly recalls it) which had seized him. The boy's mother died when he was only a few years old, and his father shortly afterwards. The outward circumstances of his life in some respects became more unhappy than can readily be told. At sixteen the boy left home to live or die as might happen. For five years he wandered over North America from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Upper Ohio to San Francisco. He worked on farms, on railways, on steamboats, and in the placer diggings of Western Nevada. Several times he nearly suffered shipwreck by sickness, starvation, freezing, and once on the banks of the Humboldt River, in Utah, fought for his life half a day with the Shoshone Indians. After five years' wandering, at the age of twenty-one, he returned to the country where his childhood had been passed.
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