Wednesday, April 15, 2009

BOOK TALK: Cosmic Consciousness


Here is one more "book talk" that didn't get published when phenomeNEWS closed its doors. Once again “Book Talk” is going to re-examine a discussion of a truly classic work, one previously published in phenomeNEWS (Feb. 2004). Since then our article has been included in “an online magazine for an intuitive community” called Intuitive-Connections. (See: This website is associated with The Edgar Cayce Institute for Intuitive Studies. You will also find our article (to be discussed below) in the “Book” section with many other book summaries and discussions. Henry Reed, Ph.D., is the editor and web designer of that website. Reed also has included our article in a newly published compendium of book discussions and summaries called Future Consciousness: A 2012 Omni Reader [with 84] Original summaries of writings on the Coming “Shift.” (Published Sept. 2008). If you enjoy our discussion below, you might also enjoy Reed’s book.

Now we turn to our discussion of a truly classic work, one related to New Thought and esoteric teachings. The work is a pioneering study of the evolution of the human mind: Cosmic Consciousness by Richard M. Bucke, M.D., (E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc.1969). First published in 1901, the original printing run of Cosmic Consciousness was for only 500 copies. That the book is still in print over 100 years later confirms its significance to readers. Currently, over one million books are published annually in the United States alone. Few make it to a second edition. To last a century, a book must make a unique contribution to its readers and the culture in general. In truth, this one does.

The author, Richard M. Bucke, M.D., (1837-1902) was not only a medical doctor, but was also an “alienist,” the former term for what today we call a psychiatrist. He was, for a number of years, the Medical Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in London, Ontario, Canada. In that capacity he had much opportunity to study the quirks of the human mind. He became well known for his advanced reforms in treating mental and nervous diseases. At the same time he was a devoted student of great literature, one who read all the great works, especially poetry. From the age of thirty, Bucke especially admired the work of Walt Whitman and devoted the rest of his life to studying Whitman’s work. “It is even said that he could repeat from memory the entire volume of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass--no mean feat.”

In the spring of 1872, at age 35, Bucke experienced what he called “Illumination.” He described it as: “All at once . . . he found himself wrapped around, as it were, by a flame-colored cloud. . . . The next (instant) he knew that the light was within himself. Directly after there came upon him a sense of exaltation, 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 ever since lightened his life.” As Bucke describes in his book, this Illumination led him, over the next 20 years, to “ponder more deeply the relation between man’s mind and his moral nature.” In 1894 he developed the idea of [Cosmic] Consciousness as a mental evolution of mankind, which as it became increasingly common, and eventually general, would lift the whole of human life to a higher plane.”

Hence, what we have in this work is a seminal discussion of mental and
spiritual evolution of human beings that goes far beyond the physical evolution theory of Darwin. Indeed, such an idea that humanity is evolving mentally and spiritually may not seem radical to contemporary readers. Many books today by spiritual teachers of all kinds carry that as an implied or underlying theory. For example, the books about Indigo and Crystal Children, discussed here in “Book Talk” (phenomeNEWS Nov. 2003), clearly suggest such an evolution.

Bucke’s work is unique. He was neither a mystic nor an esoteric teacher. He was a scientist, “a student of the human mind, a psychologist, and he treated Illumination from the standpoint of psychology.” Given the limitations of research at the time, Bucke poured through volumes of history and literature and concluded that there had been “at least 14 undeniable cases of complete and permanent Illumination” and many other cases of partial or temporary Illumination. He deduced, finally, that “very gradually . . . the human race is in the process of developing a new kind of consciousness.”

The book presents a clearly developed investigation into the topics of human consciousness and man’s mystic relation to the Infinite. An introduction by George M. Acklom, written for the 1946 edition, gives a comprehensive overview of the author and the book. Then in three highly readable parts totaling 82 pages, the author develops his theory of Cosmic Consciousness. In his “First Words” he explains and defines three levels or forms of consciousness experienced by humans: Simple Consciousness, a consciousness shared with the upper half of the animal kingdom, in which the being is conscious of the things about him; Self Consciousness, unique to humans, in which the being is “conscious of himself as a distinct entity apart from all the rest of the universe; and Cosmic Consciousness which involves “a consciousness of the cosmos . . . the life and order of the universe. With this last the person experiences “a sense of immortality, a consciousness of eternal life.”

The author’s thesis is that humanity’s consciousness has evolved over the ages. “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.” Without knowing it, Bucke’s theory matches many esoteric teachings.

In this early chapter Bucke also describes his own personal experiences with illumination and also explains the psychological origin of Cosmic Consciousness, arguing step by step how the mind and understanding develop. His second chapter takes the discussion to the second step of mental evolution: self-consciousness, noting that “self consciousness would doubtless prove to be the primary and fundamental human attribute.” His arguments and data are often fascinating and range from the development of sensitivity to sound to the perception of colors.

I have always thought that his discussion of color perception is extraordinarily interesting. He points out, citing various classic sources, that “not more than 15 or 20,000 years ago, man was only conscious of, only perceived, one color.” Evidence for this prevails in studies of the Indo-European language history. Studies found “no names of colors in primitive Indo-European speech” and “no Sanskrit root . . . has any reference to color.” Gradually, color perception evolved. Early literature, such as the Rig Veda only refers to red, yellow, and black. Later, white and green joined the list. Even in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and the Bible, the sky is not identified as “blue.”

Physics students or esoteric students who have studied the vibrational measurements of color may note that the colors came to be perceived by humans in the order of the spectrum beginning with red, which has the slowest vibration. As a physician, Dr. Bucke notes that the existence of color-blindness in persons of all countries--what he calls an “atavism,” or a “relapse to a condition which was normal in the ancestry of the individual”--”shows that the color sense is a modern faculty.” Bucke also discusses the sense of fragrance and the evolution of the human moral nature.

In Part III, Dr. Bucke takes his argument from self to cosmic consciousness. Here he begins to discuss the difficulty of expressing the experience of this kind of consciousness into words. He identifies some of the individuals who he believes exemplify this Illumination and shows how they tried to explain it.

This entire first section of Bucke’s work has always been my favorite part of the book, the section from which I have always learned the most. I do, however, think I need to state a brief “caveat” or warning here for this book, or any book from the 19th century or before--in fact, any creative work from a period different from our current times, be it the Jerome Kern musical Showboat or a Mark Twain novel. We live a much different time, one in which certain words or attitudes are seen as insensitive or labeled as “politically incorrect.” Authors, even professional physicians like Dr. Bucke, used different terms for mentally handicapped persons, for example, than we do now. Readers might even assume some racial or gender insensitivities on rare occasions in the book, instances that I would attribute instead to the lack of adequate statistics and data in the 19th century, or just common customs. I would always urge readers to use common sense and tolerance when experiencing literature from earlier times.

The second edition of Richard Bucke’s work includes chapters on each of the fourteen historical personages he believes to have experienced “Illumination. or “Cosmic Consciousness.” These chapters are highly interesting, providing readers with excellent biographical information that supports Bucke’s theory, and often, numerous quotations, even somewhat lengthy citing from that individual's work. This section forms the longest segment of the book. Among the fourteen, Bucke includes, in chronological order, Gautama the Buddha, Jesus the Christ, Paul, Plotinus, Mohammed, Dante, St. John of the Cross, Francis Bacon, William Blake, Balzac, and Walt Whitman.

The chapters on Bacon, Blake, Balzac, and Whitman are, of course, especially insightful and interesting for anyone who loves great literature. Bucke was a proponent of the theory that Francis Bacon was the author of the sonnets and plays attributed to Shakespeare. Most students of Shakespeare’s works are probably familiar with the theory and Bucke’s discussion provides further enlightenment. Also, since Bucke was personally acquainted with Walt Whitman and was a great admirer of that great American poet, the chapter on Whitman is especially rich with insights.

The final major section of the book treats several dozen examples of people whom Bucke considers to be “lesser, imperfect, or doubtful instances” of their having Cosmic Consciousness experiences. Sometimes his doubt is simply the result of lack of data. Many of these examples are anonymous and identified only by initials. Some of the more well-known and thereby more interesting examples, again in chronological order, are: Moses, Isaiah, Lao-Tze, Socrates, Pascal, Spinoza, William Wordsworth, Pushkin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alfred Tennyson, and Henry David Thoreau. The preponderance of poets tends to reflect the author’s interest in literature, no doubt, more than anything else. This is not to criticize Bucke’s scholarship, which was immense. He lists 208 sources at the beginning of his book from which he quotes or refers to in this volume.

Bucke’s final chapter, called “Last Words,” provides him the opportunity both to recapitulate his points, but also to diverge just a bit to points he didn’t explore in the main chapters. He draws conclusions from his studies, which reiterate his point of the mental and spiritual evolution of the human species. He notes, moreover, that as each development of consciousness happens, it happens to more and more people as the years pass. He concludes that just as self consciousness has become “almost universal and appears at the average of about three years [of age]--so will Cosmic Consciousness become more and more universal . . . until the race at large will possess this faculty.”

[Note: this quotation explains why people who study current works about consciousness and the coming “shift of consciousness” that many believe to be tied to the Mayan Calendar find this classic book to be of great interest. Bucke’s prediction that the entire human race will evolve in consciousness is an idea that supports and relates to many current theories.]

Ultimately, Dr. Richard M. Bucke’s classic work, Cosmic Consciousness, is a highly valuable work, well worth any effort on the part of the reader. It is truly a work of great insight and hope for the human race.

Readers who want to explore the topic of consciousness further may enjoy the following books, briefly described.
1. Annie Besant. A Study in Consciousness. 1938. An esoteric discussion from a Theosophical perspective.
2. Rudolf Steiner. The Evolution of Consciousness. 1979. An esoteric discussion from Steiner’s lectures.
3. Julian Jaynes. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, 1976. A controversial, but fascinating psychological theory by a Princeton University professor.
4. Ken Wilbur. The Spectrum of Consciousness, 1977. Challenging, scholarly text by a contemporary philosopher.
5. Don Beck and Christopher Cowan. Spiral Dynamics, 1996. A theory that demonstrates the evolution of human psychologies, beliefs, and values.

BOOK TALK: Secrets of the Light: Lessons from Heaven

Secrets of the Light: Lessons from Hea

Many writers have written books and articles about what they learned from near-death experiences, but no one has become quite so well known about near death as Dannion Brinkley, who has experienced three such forays into the afterlife. His first was recorded in the book, and film, Saved by the Light. His recent book, Secrets of the Light: Lessons from Heaven (Harper One, 2008) updates his experiences. Brinkley intends this book to share the lessons he learned in the afterlife so that others can better understand their purpose in life as well as what to expect in the afterlife. These lessons are ones that can be helpful to us all.

Brinkley makes it clear that his near-death experiences changed him drastically from a self-centered individual into a compassionate person who learned that the most important thing in life was love and helping others. A surprising insight is that “the universe does not recognize the difference between light and dark or good and evil. Therefore, we must.” Through Brinkley and his experiences, we learn that “we will act as our own judge and jury” when we die, and “in the end, we alone will hold ourselves accountable for our every thought, word and deed.” This reminds us that “each choice we make in life creates a consequence we will eventually have to face.” Such reminders can help us recognize our own responsibility in what we think and do in our lives. It can help us get beyond the usual “blaming” that so many do throughout their existence.
Like many other teachers, Brinkley warns that it is time for humanity to evolve.
The Beings who taught him lessons and showed him possible future outcomes on Earth told him that we need to “return our collective consciousness to the reality of love.”

The author notes that in his life he had “relished holding on to my grudges.” But Brinkley learned from his “celestial teachers” that he needed to forgive himself and then he “needed to forgive everyone else.” On his day in Heaven, he understood that “we are on Earth for only one reason: to act as the living reflection and expression of divine love.” That is our very purpose for being.

In Brinkley’s third visit to the afterlife he was stunned with some of the revelations. One such revelation was that “we live in different dimensions, and . . . many realities exist beyond this one.” It was also impressed upon him “just how vitally important the work we do on Earth is in the greater scheme of things.” Key to this point, and one that is referenced by many current spiritual teachers, is “that the evolution of every one of us, along with humankind as a whole, has an unmistakable and mighty impact on the overall development of the entire universe.” Most people today are so involved with their own little (or big) personal problems that they can’t even imagine that they could be playing an important part in the Plan for the Universe. What was even more astonishing to Brinkley was to learn that we are “multidimensional beings” and that “aspects of us are doing this powerful work in several places at once.” The author found this information difficult to digest, but in his studies he has discovered that “the Greeks, Assyrians, Egyptians, Babylonians, and even the Mayans all wrote of the different levels existing between the here and Hereafter.”

The most disturbing lesson Brinkley describes is his experience in a kind of netherworld, one that seems to exist somewhere between Earth and the afterlife, where many souls linger in a kind of purgatory, “reliving their last days on Earth, over and over.” Some of these are people who have died violent deaths, or soldiers, or people who had died in senseless acts of military violence. Brinkley tries desperately “to understand the reason those people were held hostage to agony.” He finally discerns that what keeps people from the light is their own will or attitude. He sees that “one must have an open, loving, cheerful disposition toward life” and to “maintain a belief that life is a gift to be generously shared and vigorously celebrated.” Brinkley says to readers, “If there is just one lesson from Heaven you could commit to memory, let it be this: our thoughts create our attitudes, and together they create the quality of life we experience—both here and in the Hereafter.”

In one chapter, Brinkley discusses what he learned about 2012, the much discussed date of the end of the Mayan calendar. While on his third journey to Heaven, he was shown “Boxes of Knowledge.” He reports, “It is my conviction, based on the scenes from the Boxes of Knowledge, that by 2012 humanity will experience unprecedented mental and spiritual transformations, coinciding precisely with the Earth’s passage through great physical upheaval.” This time will involve a “dramatic shift in consciousness” in which “we will embrace an awareness of the companion spheres of life all around us.” He notes that during these transformative times, “Conscious cooperation with spiritual transformation is the best way I’ve found to proactively live a rewarding life in a manner that honors the eternal soul.”

To help humanity move in this positive direction, Dannion Brinkley presents a Fourfold Path to Power:
The Power in Love
The Power in Belief
The Power in Choice
The Power in Prayer

First, he learned that “love is the most powerful force in the universe.” This isn’t personal sentiment that he is talking about. He saw “first-hand that love is a divine, living energy of unparalleled might and magnificence.” He says, unequivocally, that “love is the unwavering path leading to . . . spiritual fulfillment.” As a result, “it behooves us to remain conscious of the thoughts we allow ourselves to contemplate. Love creates more love. Loving thoughts create a more loving world.” Brinkley recommends “deep, conscious breathing” as the “best way to center ourselves in the heart of love.” He recommends meditation, gratitude, and prayers of appreciation as part of our daily spiritual practices.

He calls “Life a matter of choice.” He says, “I learned in Heaven that we have a human responsibility to be spiritual in nature, and a spiritual responsibility to be human.” He admits that it isn’t easy to be cheerful and optimistic in today’s life and global situations. But he urges that “we must make the conscious choice not to get caught up in the hypnotic hype of hopelessness.” He begins to emphasize the importance of intention, noting that “the reason we do something is far more important than the act itself.” The intention motivating us to take action determines the spiritual effectiveness of that action. He says he was “shown that everything will continue to move at a much faster rate over the next four to six years. . . at an accelerated speed.” This will make our choices ever more difficult and challenging, and yet it becomes ever more important how we make those choices.

In regard to the Power of Belief, Brinkley says that “staunch belief in something greater than ourselves is an essential building block in the construction of a personal reality.” From his personal experiences, however, Brinkley has become “infused with a spiritual understanding of our eternal oneness with the infinite nature of divine love.” He points out that “What you do in this life, based on a belief in the love and perfection of eternal life, decides the quality of life awaiting you in the Hereafter.”

The Power of Prayer came to be acknowledged by the author following one of his near-death experiences. He experienced how it worked to save his life: “Once the prayers of the caring millions started going out into the ethers on my behalf, everything shifted.” Later, he researched the scientific studies of the effectiveness of prayers. He found that the term “willful, conscious intent” was highly appropriate to define prayer’s “far-reaching medical and spiritual applications. Once again, then, we find in this book, an emphasis on the importance of intention. The author emphasizes, “What we do in our lives is not as important as why we do it. . . . This is the true measure of a soul.”

The final section of the Dannion Brinkley’s book is called “The Seven Lessons from Heaven.” These chapters delineate the seven major truths he learned in the afterlife during his three near-death experiences. His discussions identify those truths and he explains how readers can use them to enhance their health, happiness, and prosperity.

The First Lesson tells us that “We are great, powerful, and mighty spiritual beings of light, living in a physical world with dignity, direction, and purpose.” That may be a difficult one for most people to accept, given all the difficulties and problems most of us struggle with each day. But Brinkley says we need to recognize that “everything is eternally interconnected in the oneness of Spirit.” He emphasizes that “Every single thing that one of us thinks, says, or does impacts all the rest of humanity on one level or another.” He urges us to stop and ponder that message.

Lesson Two says we chose to come here! Not only did we choose to come here to Earth and to live at this time, but we came “in order to make changes for the betterment of humanity. . . . Each of us has designed our life with as many obstacles and challenges as we could create along with a variety of options and possibilities to overcome those same challenges.” This idea, too, may not set well with readers who love to put the blame on everybody else for their difficulties. Brinkley notes that “very few answers to our spiritual inquiries can be found externally.” It is important to try to discover what our mission is. But when we do so, it puts us in the position of responsibility for what we do. Brinkley says he was shown in Heaven “that only the best and the brightest souls have chosen to come into the physical realm at this point in history.” So we need to accept that “we are the bravest of the brave.” Brinkley says that “collectively, we have come to save the world from the destructive ramifications of humanity’s inferior nature of greed, violence, and the need to conquer.”

Lesson Three is that “we were chosen to come here.” It may seem strange, even contradictory, to say that we “chose” and “were chosen,” but this is what Brinkley was taught during his ND experiences. He says, “The truth is we have actually been entrusted with the fate of the world.” Again, this may be difficult to accept. It is quite obvious that “the way we are living now isn’t working. If we are to endure, a change in the way we think is necessary.” Those of us here on the Earth at this time have this great divine mission—to save the world from ourselves! This is ironic and certainly challenging. What can we do?
Brinkley says, “The small acts of spontaneous love and compassion are most highly treasured in the eyes of Spirit.” And it is most important to “Judge not.”

Lesson Four has to do with talents. Every person born on Earth is here for a reason and comes in with talents to share. “One vital aspect of living this life is discovering and developing the wisest use of these talents in order to produce the greatest potential for good.” Now that is something to ponder. So often we use our talents just for ourselves—to gain fame, to get money, recognition, or even personal enlightenment. But in this lesson we are getting the message that those talents are intended to help the world in some way. One wise message from the author is that “True joy in life comes from living in the moment while learning to bloom where you are planted, even if you think you’re not where you should be.”

Lesson Five involves living in the present moment. The author suggests that we “Do not strive; simply accept your divine destiny.” He points out that quantum science is proving that time and space are nonexistent. He says that “in Heaven, what we perceive to be the past, present, and future all exist simultaneously.” Another thing we need to work on is to “balance polarity.” He says, “What holds us back is our belief in duality. . . Contrary to what we have been told, the light does not need the dark to exist.” We do not need darkness in ourselves. “Our personal renunciation of fear, doubt, and negativity in our thoughts, words, and actions will in turn cause darkness in the world to diminish.”

Lesson Six confirms that we existed before we came into this world. “Every lesson necessary for our soul’s growth [was] scrupulously planned in [that] divine realm.” Brinkley repeats again that “we enter the physical realm to actively participate in the execution of the divine plan for spiritual evolution.”
Lesson Seven continues this idea: “There is a world that exists after this one. In fact, it is the same world we left to come here.” When we return to that world we go to the area (level) that is appropriate for our development. Brinkley says, “According to divine protocol, all souls entering Heaven from the physical realm . . . are classified and categorized according to their level of consciousness and final destination.” The good news for all of us is that “Everything is going to turn out just the way Spirit has planned it. . . unfolding universal perfection is an absolute given.”

Dannion Brinkley’s concluding chapter describes what he calls the “Panoramic Life Review.” He explains that when we die and pass over to the Hereafter, we have a panoramic life review in which we literally relive our life in a 360-degree panorama, “experiencing everything that has ever happened.” He explains that he experienced this each time he had his near-death. He says that “What matters are not the mistakes you made; what matters to Spirit is how often you were willing to help others through your love, kindness, and compassion.” Once again we are told that “making a difference in the lives of others is the spiritual foundation of our human existence.” Moreover, “the greater the number of spontaneous loving moments we perpetuate here, the higher the levels of consciousness we will inhabit when we reach the Hereafter.” In order to best prepare for this end of life review, Brinkley suggests steps each reader can use to do a daily life review. One important part of this daily life review is to “count your blessings.”

Finally, Brinkley encourages us to see every obstacle in life as an
”opportunity for spiritual evolution.” He asks us to remember that “nothing we do in life is done [or should be done] for self-gratification.” He also reminds us that “Your every thought, word, and action has an effect on, and is affected by, the thoughts, words, and actions of everyone else. . . . Unity consciousness is the ultimate goal of this era in human history. . . . It only takes the conscious efforts of a compassionate heart to make the world a better place—one living act at a time. Spirit expands as we do.”

This is a book that can remind us all why we are here and what we need to do about it.