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.
[Told in the 3rd person.]
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 Reynolds' "Faust," 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. A moderate sum of money from his dead mother enabled him to spend some years in study, and his mind, after lying so long fallow, absorbed ideas with extraordinary facility. He graduated with high honors four years after his return from the Pacific Coast. Outside of the collegiate course he read with avidity many speculative books, such as the "Origin of Species," Tyndall's "Heat" and "Essays," Buckle's "History," "Essays and Reviews," and much poetry, especially such as seemed to him free and fearless. In this species of literature he soon preferred Shelley, and of his poems, "Adonais" and "Prometheus" were his favorites. His life for some years was one passionate note of interrogation, an unappeasable hunger for enlightenment on the basic problems. Leaving college, he continued his search with the same ardor. Taught himself French that he might read Auguste Comte, Hugo and Renan, and German that he might read Goethe, especially "Faust." At the age of thirty he fell in with "Leaves of Grass," and at once saw that it contained, in greater measure than any book so far found, what he had so long been looking for. He read the "Leaves" eagerly, even passionately, but for several years derived little from them. At last light broke and there was revealed to him (as far perhaps as such things can be revealed) at least some of the meanings. Then occurred that to which the foregoing is preface.
Cosmic consciousness experience
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 influence 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 aftertaste of heaven. Among other things he did not come to believe, 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 than 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. There was no return, that night or at any other time, of the experience. He subsequently wrote a book [Man's Moral Nature, 1879] in which he sought to embody the teaching of the illumination. Some who read it thought very highly of it, but (as was to be expected for many reasons) it had little circulation.
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. Years afterwards he met C. P., of whom he had often heard as having extraordinary spiritual insight. He found that C. P. had entered the higher life of which he had had a glimpse and had had large experience of its phenomena. His conversation with C. P. threw a flood of light upon the true meaning of what he had himself experienced.
Looking round then upon the world of man, he saw the significance of the subjective light in the case of Paul and in that of Mohammed. The secret of Whitman's transcendent greatness was revealed to him. Certain conversations with J. H. J. and with J. B. helped him not a little. Personal intercourse with Edward Carpenter, T. S. R, C. M. C. and M. C. L. assisted greatly in the broadening and clearing up of his speculations, in the extension and co-ordination of his thought. But much time and labor were still required before the germinal concept could be satisfactorily elaborated and matured, the idea, namely, that there exists a family sprung from, living among, but scarcely forming a part of ordinary humanity, whose members are spread abroad throughout the advanced races of mankind and throughout the last forty centuries of the world's history.
The trait that distinguishes these people from other men is this: Their spiritual eyes have been opened and they have seen. The better known members of this group who, were they collected together, could be accommodated all at one time in a modern drawing-room, have created all the great modern religions, beginning with Taoism and Buddhism, and speaking generally, have created, through religion and literature, modern civilization. Not that they have contributed any large numerical proportion of the books which have been written, but that they have produced the few books which have inspired the larger number of all that have been written in modern times. These men dominate the last twenty-five, especially the last five, centuries as stars of the first magnitude dominate the midnight sky.
A man is identified as a member of this family by the fact that at a certain age he has passed through a new birth and risen to a higher spiritual plane. The reality of the new birth is demonstrated by the subjective light and other phenomena. The object of the present volume is to teach others what little the writer himself has been able to learn of the spiritual status of this new race.
[ Etc. ]