Richard Maurice Bucke (1837-1902) was a Canadian psychiatrist. He is best known for his 1901 book Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind, in which he explored higher forms of consciousness as they have been expressed throughout human history.
In 1872 Bucke had a mystical experience of his own, which he later recorded:
I had spent the evening in a great city, with two friends, reading and discussing poetry and philosophy. We parted at midnight. I had a long drive in a hansom to my lodging. My mind, deeply under the influence of the ideas, images, and emotions called up by the reading and talk, was calm and peaceful.
I was in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment, not actually thinking, but letting ideas, images, and emotions flow of themselves, as it were, through my mind. All at once, without warning of any kind, I found myself wrapped in a flame-colored cloud. For an instant I thought of fire, an immense conflagration somewhere close by in that great city. The next, I knew that the fire was within myself.
Directly afterward there came upon me a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe. Among other things, I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living Presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life. It was not a conviction that I would have eternal life, but a consciousness that I possessed eternal life then.
I saw that all men are immortal; that the cosmic order is such that without any peradventure, all things work together for the good of each and all; that the foundation principle of the world, of all the worlds, is what we call love, and that the happiness of each and all is in the long run absolutely certain.
The vision lasted a few seconds and was gone; but the memory of it and the sense of the reality of what it taught has remained during the quarter of a century which has since elapsed. I knew that what the vision showed was true. I had attained to a point of view from which I saw that it must be true. That view, that conviction, I may say that consciousness, has never, even during periods of the deepest depression, been lost.
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(Source: William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, New American Library, 1958, pp. 306-307)
Bucke considered this the most important event of his life, which changed him forever after.
Some similarities to Joseph Smith’s First Vision seem to include:
- He had been reading and pondering deep ideas
- He was alone
- The vision came on suddenly
- He felt wrapped by something like fire
- This fire also seemed to fill him within himself
- There was tremendous joy, rejoicing
- He felt intellectually enlightened, receiving great knowledge
- It was indescribable, ineffable
- He felt he saw a divine and living Presence
- He knew eternal life
- He knew love
- The vision was temporary and passed
- He had a deep conviction of the vision’s truthfulness
- The vision changed his life