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Walt Whitman -- enlightened, or "just" spiritual?

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Walt Whitman is acknowledged by many to be the father of American poetry. He wrote about many many things, including gender roles, sexuality, the unique way he experienced "self," and nature. He was one of the last transcendentalists, though he also showed a lot of realism. But, this isn't a poetry forum -- that probably isn't too interesting to many of you (or myself). The real question is:

Is there any reason to believe, based on his poetry, that he had some enlightenment experiences? It seems pretty clear that he's had at least experience with Mind and Body, but then again, what transcendentalist didn't have a few experiences of Mind and Body? At the same time, I have my doubts that he was an arahant -- I doubt he had any meditation practice, for one, and that's generally rather important for arahantship. So, what do you guys think? Am I wrong about one of the above? Does he seem to be somewhere in between one or two experiences of Mind and Body and Arahantship? Where? Did he ever have an A&P event? Did he enter the stream?

The evidence: Leaves of Grass. This ridiculously long page has a lot of wonderful quotes from his magnum opus. I don't expect anyone here to read all of them -- I certainly didn't! But by skimming and picking out some quotes that seem relevant, especially those in bold, you can get an idea of the way he thinks. If you only look at one section, which I wouldn't blame you for, make it Song of Myself (from Inscriptions). I still don't know what I think about his sense of self -- does it resemble an unenlightened view, or is his "self" more like the True Self teachings of the vajrayana and of Hinduism, which can actually reflect enlightenment sometimes? Or is he just some rambling horrid poet that people admire only because they're told to? Does the fact that I'm even asking this question reveal how little I know about enlightenment? I won't take offense to any answer you give, I just like stimulating discussion. I asked a question with no definite answer because those produce the most interesting discussions. Since we have no real way of knowing whether or not he had any amount of insight, we are free to guess and speculate without the bothersome need for real evidence. This is no research paper -- those are tedious. This is just personal reflection.

RE: Walt Whitman -- enlightened, or "just" spiritual?
Answer
10/14/09 4:17 AM as a reply to J Adam G.
Adam: You can wade through all this if you want. The concept of "cosmic consciousness" was constructed by Bucke who was very close to Whitman. These ideas pervade the orientalist views typical of the era also. Only when I read Gopi Krishna did I begin to make sense of all this. In Patanjali's Yoga Sutra it is made clear that there are a number of ways to experience such things. But the Buddha's Middle Way isn't obvious at all here - so take it for what it is worth.
p e a c e
h a n s e n

Results of searches on "Cosmic Conssciousness" an "Richard Maurice Bucke" from wikipedia:

Cosmic consciousness is the concept that the universe exists as an interconnected network of consciousness, with each conscious being linked to every other to form a collective consciousness which spans the cosmos.[1] Throughout history, there have been many renditions of universal unity, connectivity, and the spectrum of considered possibility of mankind. The idea bears similarity to the ancient Buddhist concept of Indra's net, Teilhard de Chardin's conception of the noosphere, James Lovelock's Gaia theory, to Hegel's Absolute idealism, and to Satori in Zen.[2] It is also reminiscent of Carl Jung's collective unconscious[3]. Many of those who have used psychedelics such as LSD and Psilocybin mushrooms have asserted that they have had direct experience of the cosmic consciousness,[4] although some have suggested that naturally occurring mystical experiences and those induced by psychedelics are of a different nature.[5] In the 19th century, Canadian born psychiatrist Richard M. Bucke had developed an evolutionary consciousness theory which claims that Cosmic Consciousness lies in a mystic state above and beyond Self-consciousness, the natural state of man's consciousness, just like animal consciousness lies below.[6] In the 20th century, Canadian born psychologist Nathaniel Branden, originator of Bio-Centric Psychology, stipulated that as life advances from simplicity to complexity, consciousness evolves from the vegetative through the animal to the natural human condition of self-consciousness.[7]

Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind is the title of a 1901 book by Richard Maurice Bucke.[8][9][10] In it, Bucke developed a theory involving three stages in the development of consciousness: the simple consciousness of animals; the self-consciousness of the mass of humanity (encompassing reason, imagination, etc.); and cosmic consciousness — an emerging faculty and the next stage of human development.[11] Bucke hypothesizes that next stage of human mental development, which he named "Cosmic Consciousness," is slowly beginning to appear but will eventually spread widely throughout all of humanity.

Richard Maurice Bucke (18 March 1837 – 19 February 1902), often called Maurice Bucke, was an important Canadian progressive psychiatrist in the late nineteenth century. An adventurer in his youth, he went on to study medicine, practice psychiatry, and befriend several noted men of letters. In addition to writing and delivering professional papers, Bucke wrote three book-length studies: Man's Moral Nature, Walt Whitman, and – his best known work – Cosmic Consciousness, a classic in the modern study of mystical experience.

Biography
Bucke was born in 1837, in Methwold, England the son of Rev. Horatio Walpole Bucke and his wife Clarissa Andrews, who emigrated to Canada when he was only one year old, settling near London, Ontario. A sibling in a large family, he had a typical farm boyhood of that era. When he left home aged 16, he traveled south to the U.S. for new sights and adventure from Columbus, Ohio west to California, working manually at odd jobs along the way. He was part of a traveling party who had to fight for their lives under attack from the Shoshone, whose territory they traversed.
In the winter of 1857-58, he was nearly frozen in the mountains of California, where he was the sole survivor of a silver mining party.[1] He had to walk out over the mountains, suffering severe exposure (losing a foot and several toes) and a long recovery. He returned to Canada via the Isthmus of Panama in 1858.[2][3]
Bucke enrolled in McGill University's medical school in Montreal, where he delivered a distinguished thesis in 1862.[2]Though he practiced general medicine briefly as a ship's surgeon, in order to pay for his sea travel, Bucke went on to specialize in psychiatry. He did his internship in London, England (1862-3 at the University College Hospital), and while on the east shores of the Atlantic Ocean, visited France. Bucke was for a number of years an enthusiast for Auguste Comte's positivist philosophy. He also enjoyed reading poetry.
Bucke returned to Canada in 1864 and married Jessie Gurd in 1865. The couple had eight children.[2]
In January 1876, Bucke became Superintendent of the Asylum for the Insane in Hamilton; in 1877 he was appointed head of the provincial Asylum for the Insane in London, Ontario,[2] a post he held for nearly the remainder of his life. Bucke was a progressive for his day, believing in humane contact and normalization of routines in the institution. Bucke encouraged organized sports and what we would now call occupational therapy.
Bucke always had friends among the literati and lovers of literature (especially poetry). In 1869 he read, and was deeply impressed by, Leaves of Grass by American poet Walt Whitman. He met Whitman in 1877 in Camden [2] and the two developed a lasting friendship. Bucke eventually testified that he was "lifted to and set upon a higher plane of existence" thanks to Whitman.[2]. He published a biography of the poet in 1883.
Bucke developed a theory of human intellectual and emotional evolution, and, besides publishing and delivering professional papers, wrote a book on his theory titled Man's Moral Nature, published in 1879. In 1882 he was elected to the English Literature Section of the Royal Society of Canada.

Cosmic Consciousness Experience
In 1872, while in London, England, Bucke had the pivotal experience of his life, a fleeting mystical experience that he regarded as a few moments of "cosmic consciousness." Bucke described the characteristics and effects of this "faculty" as follows: sudden appearance; subjective experience of light (inner light); moral elevation; intellectual illumination; sense of immortality; loss of fear of death; loss of a sense of sin. However, the term "cosmic consciousness" more closely derives from yet another feature: the vivid sense of the universe as a living presence, rather than as basically lifeless, inert matter. This direct perception, which Bucke took great pains to try to explain, vivifies Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's theory of Nature.
Though well read in French and German, as well as English, and though much influenced by the writings of Whitman, Bucke disclosed that in his attempts to more fully understand his illumination experience of 1872, he was indebted to Caleb Pink ("C.P."), whom he met shortly thereafter. C.P. was a self-educated laboring man, regarded by many who knew him as one who had a Christ-like presence and lived an admirable and honest life.

His Most Popular Book
The magnum opus of Bucke's career was a book that he researched and wrote over many years titled Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind. It was published the year before his death in 1901, and has been continuously republished ever since. In it, Bucke described his own experience, that of contemporaries (most notably Whitman, but also unknown figures like "C.P."), and the experiences and outlook of historical figures including Buddha, Jesus, Paul, Plotinus, Muhammad, Dante, Francis Bacon, and William Blake.
Bucke developed a theory involving three stages in the development of consciousness: the simple consciousness of animals; the self-consciousness of the mass of humanity (encompassing reason, imagination, etc.); and cosmic consciousness — an emerging faculty and the next stage of human development. Among the effects of this progression, he believed he detected a lengthy historical trend in which religious conceptions and theologies had become less and less fearful.
Surprisingly, to Bucke it seemed this progression is as much evolutionary as spiritual (the work of Charles Darwin probably dominated most educated discourse in the late nineteenth century). In Cosmic Consciousness (starting with Part II, Chapter 2, Section IV) he explains how animals developed the hearing sense (noise detection) in order to survive. Noise detection evolves by including frequency measurements which we experience as tones. Further development in this area culminates in the ability to experience and enjoy music. Likewise, animals developed the sense of light detection which then progressed to black-and-white vision. Some animals (including humans) progressed further by including frequency measurements which we experience as colors, but only mankind extended this into the appreciation of visual beauty, including art. Bucke states that initially, only a small number of humans would have been able to experience music or see colors, but eventually these new traits would race through human society until only a very small number of people would not be able to hear music or experience colors.
Starting in the book's Part III, Section III, Bucke hypothesizes that next stage of human mental development, which he named "Cosmic Consciousness," is slowly beginning to appear but will eventually spread widely throughout all of humanity.
Bucke’s vision of things was profoundly optimistic. He wrote in Part I (“First Words”) “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.”

Death
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 gaining consciousness
He was deeply mourned by a large circle of friends, who loved him for his sturdy honesty, his warm heart, his intellectual force, but most of all for his noble qualities as a man.[3]

Legacy
Bucke was part of the progressive movement concerned with the treatment of society's mentally disturbed individuals. Also, his concept of cosmic consciousness took on a life of its own (though not always well understood) and influenced the thought and writings of many other people.
Along with classics like William James's Varieties of Religious Experience (which itself cites Bucke), and some more recently published volumes, Bucke's study has become part of the foundation of transpersonal psychology.
One of the founders of the University of Western Ontario's medical school, his papers are held at the university's Weldon Library.

RE: Walt Whitman -- enlightened, or "just" spiritual?
Answer
10/14/09 5:16 AM as a reply to J Adam G.
In the spirit of your post, some reactions:
  • Walt Whitman is dead. What difference does it make if he was enlightened?
  • His poetry is still around, though. Reading his poetry, I experience moments of recognition:
    Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin
    of all poems,You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions
    of suns left,)You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look
    through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in
    books,You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
    You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

  • I have written poetic stuff, only to have other people read it in unexpected ways. The ambiguity of "spiritual" language tends to get amplified in the hollow resonance chamber of poetic form. Whoops, got carried away there.
  • Whitman's "self": I can't see my own eyes. It's enough that they can see images, I don't have to see my eyes to be able to see. Someone looking me in the face can see my eyes, of course. By writing about his experience, of course he was writing about his experience, and we can see it's about his experience. There's a lot of interconnectedness and causality and moment-to-moment experience in his writing to have me nod in recognition. Since he's dead, I have no way of digging deeper and discussing this stuff with him.
Nice subject for contemplation. Curious about more reactions.

Cheers,
Florian

RE: Walt Whitman -- enlightened, or "just" spiritual?
Answer
10/14/09 1:33 PM as a reply to J Adam G.
J Adam G:
I have my doubts that he was an arahant -- I doubt he had any meditation practice, for one, and that's generally rather important for arahantship. So, what do you guys think?


Interesting questions. Though this is a bit of a tangent, one direction that interests me is: What constitutes meditation?

For example: In one sutta Buddha teaches paying close attention to sensations as they come and go. In another he teaches that we should practice loving kindness, directing this toward all beings. Both practices he says will lead to awakening. Why do they both work? People from all spiritual traditions and no spiritual traditions seem to experience awakening. So what is it? What is the essential?

I have a favorite quote from the book 'Invisible Cities' by Italo Calvino: The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.

People that have awakened teach from the stand point of what worked for them, or at least what they found essential in their practice. So, if Whitman was awakened, then the essence of his practice is to be found in his writing.

RE: Walt Whitman -- enlightened, or "just" spiritual?
Answer
10/14/09 5:03 PM as a reply to Chuck Kasmire.
Chuck Kasmire:


I have a favorite quote from the book 'Invisible Cities' by Italo Calvino: The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.


what a great quote! i would rephrase the first method though, to: 'accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see yourself.'

haha

re whitman, i second florian. poetic language evokes spiritual feelings easily, and you do find what your mind is busy looking for already anyway. i've written poems myself that ive re-read later and derived new meanings from i hadn't intended to begin with.

RE: Walt Whitman -- enlightened, or "just" spiritual?
Answer
10/14/09 6:18 PM as a reply to Eric Alan Hansen.
One of the topics historian Donald Lopez lectures on is how ideas about what Buddhism is, created in the west in the nineteenth century has so influenced what Buddhism has come to be taught as not only in the west but also in the east, that often when a question arises like, "was Whitman enlightened" we forget that the way we construct and model "enlightenment" is as much indebted to Bucke as it is to anyone else. But much of what Bucke suggests may not be particularly relevant. Lopez cites a few examples of how a rational western model of Buddhism was exported to the East and how now it is being reimported in the book Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed, The University of Chicago Press, 2008.

So Adam let me ask this: what do you call enlightenment?

p e a c e

h a n s e n

RE: Walt Whitman -- enlightened, or "just" spiritual?
Answer
10/18/09 1:48 AM as a reply to Eric Alan Hansen.
While Monkeymind is right, that your own practice is key and who cares about a bunch of dead dudes, on the other hand, if you like speculating about the enlightenment of various key figures, consider the Four Quartets, e.g the poem Little Gidding, by TS Elliott, Rilke, Tolstoy's experience while reaping hay, and the likes of Einstein.

RE: Walt Whitman -- enlightened, or "just" spiritual?
Answer
10/18/09 11:02 PM as a reply to Eric Alan Hansen.
Hmm, that's a very interesting question. I suppose that my explicit definition of enlightenment is basically from MCTB since I don't have personal experience with it. Something like "having a direct awareness of the three characteristics in all moments and thus experiencing a natural cessation of the dukkha related to clinging and self-making." Though I now question that definition -- it's so specifically Buddhist. The Buddhists, as mentioned here, don't have a monopoly on enlightenment. So, I wonder, do enlightened people with no experience of Buddhism have something closely resembling a direct appreciation of the 3C, or do they not experience it like that at all? Do the Hindu experiences of "living with the sat-chit-ananda of God at all times in everyday life" reflect enlightenment, or are they really describing jhana states? What about enlightened Sufis, Christian, and Jewish people? I wonder how much of my concept of enlightenment is too specifically Buddhist. Though perhaps it doesn't matter so much because I'll experience it from a Buddhist framework anyway.

My implicit definition of enlightenment goes more like, "The sum of direct knowledge and mind training that leads to greater consciousness and conscious control of mental processes, which naturally leads to the cessation of mind-made suffering (whether or not voluntary control is needed to do so)," Enough to make someone who says that Nibbana cannot be described at all go crazy, and quite possibly with good reason.

The worth of wondering whether or not old dead people is enlightened is not at all that I hope to gain any understanding of enlightenment myself. If I want that, I'll log off of the forum and do vipassana. I do enough reading and talking about enlightenment, that more reading or discussion is unlikely to help until I actually have new experiences to integrate from meditating. I just think it's a fun discussion, which is why it's posted in Miscellaneous rather than in the Insight section. I'm sure meditating on old poetry could be a part of an enlightenment practice (look at koans), but whether or not the author of said poetry was enlightened would probably not have much to do with the effectiveness of a practice. I would assume that to be dependent upon the strength of the enlightenment factors of the meditator. I don't think that the Yahwist or Elohist were enlightened, but it certainly seems that Jewish and Christian mystics have becomed enlightened with bible/talmud practices being a part of their experience.
So, a great question to ask would be, "What is the common thread to enlightenment and to enlightenment-related experiences regardless of tradition?" There clearly seems to be something involving duality/nonduality/monism and the like, and a reduction of suffering or not being bothered by suffering so much. It also seems to be common to view this life as transitory/not real/not the highest reality. Do these things seem similar to the themes of anatta, dukkha, and anicca? Certainly I'm seeing what I want to see (which is that something like the MCTB/Buddhist view of enlightenment is present in all enlightenment), but regardless of whether or not I have confirmation bias in favor of believing my own view, is the view accurate or not? Maybe I can ask some of my friends who are Religious Studies majors about the common themes of mysticism.