Many people talk of “seeing the light” as a temporary, intense affair where all the world’s knowledge and understanding is unveiled to an individual in a brief moment outside of time.
He carefully researched and compiled all the illuminated individuals he could find. As a trained M.D. and psychiatrist working in a mental institution, he was in a unique position
Bucke provides three dozen very consistent examples of ‘cosmic consciousness.’ Some of these were contemporary case-histories which he collected. Bucke proposed that these enlightened figures are evolutionary jumps, the precedecessor of a more advanced species. Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Dante, William Blake, Shakespeare and others were included.
According to Wikipedia, Burke’s experience started in 1872, while in London, Bucke had the most important experience of his life — a fleeting mystical experience that he said consisted of a few moments of cosmic consciousness. He later described the characteristics and effects of the faculty of experiencing this type of consciousness as:
- its sudden appearance
- a subjective experience of light (“inner light”)
- moral elevation
- intellectual illumination
- a sense of immortality
- loss of a fear of death
- loss of a sense of sin
Bucke’s personal experience of the inner state had yet another attribute, mentioned separately by the author: the vivid sense of the universe as a living presence, rather than as basically lifeless, inert matter.
Describing this scene in his book: “The supreme occurrence of that night was his real and sole initiation to the new and higher order of ideas. But it was only an initiation. He saw the light but had no more idea whence it came and what it meant than had the first creature that saw the light of the sun.”
Bucke did not immediately record the details and interpretation of his experience. This was not done until years later, and only after he had researched much of the world’s literature on mysticism and enlightenment and had corresponded with many others about this subject.
His 1901 final work was the masterpiece of an eclectic genius, whose life encompassed medical science and mystical transcendence, and posits a higher form of sentience that only a few humans have ever achieved.
This is an edited introduction to Bucke’s original work.
About the Author
Canadian mystic and doctor RICHARD MAURICE BUCKE (1837-1902) was a pioneer in the medical treatment of mental illness; his famous friendship with Walt Whitman was the subject of the 1992 movie Beautiful Dreamers. He also wrote Man’s Moral Nature (1879) and an 1883 authorized biography of Whitman.
He was for several years an enthusiast for Auguste Comte’s positivist philosophy. Huston Smith said of Comte’s philosophy: “Auguste Comte had laid down the line: religion belonged to the childhood of the human race…. All genuine knowledge is contained within the boundaries of science.” Comte’s belief that religion, if by that is meant spirituality, had been outmoded by science contrasts with Bucke’s later belief concerning the nature of reality.
In January 1876, Bucke became the superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in Hamilton, Ontario. In 1877, he was appointed head of the provincial Asylum for the Insane in London, Ontario, a post he held for nearly the remainder of his life. In his work with asylum inmates, he was a who encouraged organized sports and what is now called occupational therapy.
In 1882, he was elected to the English Literature Section of the Royal Society of Canada.
On February 19, 1902, Bucke slipped on a patch of ice in front of his home and struck his head. He died a few hours later without regaining consciousness. (from Wikipedia)
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