Swedenborg the Mystic
by Paul Cressman
Emanuel Swedenborg may well exemplify the man of the future. A master scientist who had a longing to discover the soul, his philosophical delving into the spiritual world eventually led to him receiving the gift of a higher state of consciousness.
This state is thought by many to be the next step in mankind's evolution. Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke, a turn-of-the-century Canadian psychiatrist, talks of mankind evolving towards a state of "Cosmic Consciousness." Bucke catalogued the experiences of many famous people throughout history whom he believed had reached a state of illumination. He documented them in his classic investigation of the evolution of the mind in Cosmic Consciousness. More recently, a continued organic evolution of the brain has been thought responsible for states of genius and mystical experience. It is believed the great mystics and geniuses of the past were "sporadic manifestations" of a state that is mankind's natural heritage.
The characteristics of an experience of cosmic consciousness are so unique that they cannot be confused with those of any other state of mind. The event comes suddenly and without warning. In most cases there is a sense of being immersed in flames or brilliant light, and there is often the presence of internally perceived, incredibly beautiful, tones and music. A feeling of great joy and ecstasy is always present There is an expanded level of perception such that the recipient feels he has encountered an all-knowing Intelligence.
An absolute conviction of the immortality of the soul forever vanquishes the fear of death. In addition, there is an elevation of the moral character and an added charisma to the personality of one who has had such an experience.
Illumination comes more readily to one who has lived a life conducive to a healthy evolution of the brain. The attributes a person must have or cultivate are a sound heredity, good health, a life of service to mankind, and most importantly an upright moral nature – compassion, a respect for Truth and a love of the Divine.
Swedenborg possessed these traits as few others ever have. He was born in 1688 in Stockholm, Sweden, and grew up during the beginning of the "Age of Enlightenment," a time when reason was beginning to sweep away many of the traditional ways of thinking which had been established by the Church. The leading intellectuals of the time dissociated themselves with most things having to do with religion or mysticism, yet Swedenborg took an interest in these matters from an early age, and they formed the underlying motivation for the greater part of his works in later life.
His comprehension of spiritual matters went far beyond that of most adults of his day. In his later life he wrote:
From my fourth to my tenth year I was constantly engaged in thought upon God, salvation, and the spiritual experiences of men; and several times I revealed things at which my father and mother wondered, saying that angels must be speaking through me.
Swedenborg's keen interest and aptitude in the sciences prompted him to go to the Uppsala University. After graduation in 1709, he traveled to London to further his knowledge in mathematics and science. From there he toured the continent, staying with craftsmen and learning their trades. Not being one to rest content with theory, Swedenborg tried to remain as practical and as down to earth as possible. He became proficient at bookbinding, watch-making, engraving, manufacturing mathematical instruments, and glass grinding for making lenses. His scholastic accomplishments included a table giving dates of future eclipses of the sun and moon, a plan for a submersible ship, similar to the modern day submarine, and a plan for constructing canals and lift locks by which ships could be raised to any height.
After several years of touring Europe, he returned to Sweden in 1715 to continue his investigations of science. He published many works in chemistry, metallurgy, astronomy, and navigation. An interest in mining eventually led to his appointment as an Assessor in the Swedish College of Mines, a post he was to hold for 30 years. His varied interests not only led him to become one of Europe's most highly regarded scientists but later served as a valuable foundation for his spiritual works.
Throughout this period he stressed that he was interested in knowledge, not for his own sake, but for the use he could put it to in the service of his country. This was typical of Swedenborg's attitude and was in accordance with the rules of life he had laid out for himself:
First: Diligently to read and meditate upon the Word of God.
Second: To be content under dispensations of God's providence.
Third: To observe a propriety of behavior, and preserve the conscience pure.
Fourth: To obey what is commanded; to attend faithfully to one's office and other duties, and in addition to make oneself useful to society in general."
In the years to follow, Swedenborg became more and more interested in philosophical speculations about the nature and origin of things. The culmination of this portion of his life's work was published in 1734 as the Philosophical and Mineralogical Works, a three volume set of which the first was entitled The Principia. In this volume Swedenborg put forward his theories regarding cosmology (the study of the origin of the Universe), and the composition of matter. The former was known as the nebular hypothesis and explained the origin and motion of celestial bodies by means of hypothetical whirlpools, a notion similar to those developed in the twentieth century. His theories regarding the composition of matter were even more remarkable, for they anticipated modern science's beliefs that atoms are actually knots of energy or fields of activity. Swedenborg came to the conclusion that there was an activity in the roots of matter which caused discharges from particles. More than 150 years later, his theory was substantiated with the discovery of radioactivity. Swedenborg’s outstanding brilliance placed him almost two centuries ahead of his own time.
After the publishing of the final volume Philosophical and Mineralogical Works, Swedenborg's interest turned to the more philosophical spiritual aspects of life. The concept of the human soul mystified him, and he set out to try to identify the soul's location in the human body.
He wrote three major works dealing with this: Economy of the Animal Kingdom, The Animal Kingdom, and The Worship and Love of God. The translation of the original Latin from which "Animal Kingdom" is derived is really the Kingdom of the Anima – the soul. In The Animal Kingdom he states that he intended his study to encompass an examination of the entire anatomy of the body, both physically and philosophically.
There are many who feel Swedenborg's efforts lacked direction until he decided to investigate the soul. He passionately believed that discovering the essence of the soul would be the crowning glory of his studies. This motivated him to return to Europe to receive training in human anatomy. Between 1734 and 1743 he gathered large volumes of material for his works.
Swedenborg was well enough versed in the ways of science to realize that the methods he had used in his earlier investigations of the physical sciences would be of little use to him in his study of the soul. He writes:
In respect to the soul and its various faculties, I do not conceive it possible that they can be explained or comprehended by any of the known laws of motion; such indeed is our present state of ignorance, that we know not whether the motions by which the soul operates on the organs of the body be such as to be reducible to any rule or law.
During his anatomical studies, he gained a considerable amount of knowledge about the nerves and membranes, but the blood held the most fascination for him. He believed an "essential vital principle" was contained in the blood and he described it as a "spiritous fluid which is in immediate connection with the soul."
At this point in his study, he still thought the soul was organic. He perceived the brain as having a relationship with the "spirituous fluid" similar to that of the heart's relationship with the blood. He believed the pulsations and vibrations of the brain drove out the spirituous fluid into the nerves and fibers of the body. He eventually concluded that the center of the soul's activity was the brain, which he saw as "the boundary at which the ascent of the life of the body ceases, and the boundary from which that of the soul . . . . begins." He saw the soul's operation on the body as that of a provider of the more ennobling characteristics of human mentality.
Swedenborg's works enabled him to arrive at a better understanding of the problems involved in identifying the soul. The more deeply he investigated the problem, the more the soul seemed to evade him. He began to realize that without some kind of spiritual inspiration science might never understand the hidden mysteries of the soul.
His reason for wanting to learn about the soul was deep-rooted. He had a profoundly spiritual nature and deep faith in the Divine, and was appalled at the growing tide of materialistic thinking that characterized the Age of Enlightenment. Many believed God and the Soul were nothing more than abstract ideas carried over from the Middle Ages. Swedenborg remained one of the few intellectuals in this period who considered the existence of God "a necessary truth." He was determined to convince other people of this by scientifically proving the existence of the soul. He writes:
. . . these pages of mine are written with a view to those only who never believe anything but what they can receive with the intellect; consequently who boldly invalidate, and are fain to deny, the existence of all super-eminent things, sublimer than themselves, as the soul itself, and what follows therefrom – its life, immortality, heaven, etc. . . . For these persons only I am anxious; and, as I said before, for them I indite, and to them I dedicate my work. For when I shall have demonstrated truths themselves by the analytic method, I hope that those debasing shadows, or material clouds, which darken the sacred temple of the mind, will be dispersed, and that thus at last, under the favor of God who is the Sun of Wisdom, an access will be opened, and a way laid down, to faith.
Up to this point in Swedenborg's life, many of the characteristics Bucke describes as prerequisites for the achievement of cosmic consciousness were present – a healthy intellect, as witnessed by his performance as a highly respected scientist, a solid moral nature, as witnessed by the rules he lived his life by, and a love of and longing for the Divine, as witnessed by his search for the soul.
Beginning in 1743, while working on The Animal Kingdom, Swedenborg began to have very unusual experiences. These were indications of the changes which were about to alter his life. Because the sensations and experiences were totally unlike anything he had ever encountered, Swedenborg did his best to study himself as a scientific observer, detached as much as possible from his imagination. He recorded his dreams and observations throughout his two-year transformation in a personal diary, The Journal of Dreams. His accounts detailed many of the symptoms Bucke believes are characteristic of cosmic consciousness: the intense joy, the subjective light and sounds, the expanded perception, and the moral elevation.
In April 1744, his first mystical experience occurred. He dreamed one night of conquering a temptation and afterwards experienced a feeling of incredible bliss:
I had in my mind and body the feeling of an indescribable delight, so that had it been in any higher degree the whole body would have been, as it were, dissolved in pure joy.3 In a word, I was in heaven and heard speech which no human tongue can utter, with the life that is there, with the glory and inmost delight that flow from it . . . .
The next night he had one of the most profound spiritual experiences of his life. After having dozed off to sleep he heard:
. . . a roaring noise as of many winds rushing together, and was immediately seized with a powerful trembling from head to foot, and he felt the presence of something "indescribably holy" which shook him and threw him upon his face.
The words of a prayer were placed on his lips. Later:
I then prayed for grace and love, since the work is . . . not my own . . . Every now and then I burst into tears, not of sorrow but of inmost joy, that Our Lord has been willing to show such great grace to so unworthy a sinner.
From then on, Swedenborg experienced incredible dreams and visions and "extraordinary lights seen and voices heard." Most of his visions came during the night, often accompanied by physical sensations—violent tremors and sweating. During these visions he slept for incredibly long hours, sometimes ten to thirteen hours per night. Yet throughout much of this time Swedenborg states that "no one could in the least perceive any change in me."
He noticed an increase in his perception at times, and in one of his more lucid states:
I was elevated into that light interiorly by degrees, and in proportion as I was elevated, my understanding was enlightened, till I was at length enabled to perceive things which I did not perceive before, and, finally, such things as I could not even comprehend by thought from natural light.
As these experiences continued, he had a growing feeling that many temptations and negative thoughts permeated his consciousness. He began to feel he was "only evil." He writes:
I found that I was more unworthy than others and the greatest sinner, for this reason, that our Lord has granted me to penetrate by thought into certain things more deeply than many others; and the very source of sin lies in the thoughts I am carrying out; so that my sins have on that account a deeper foundation than those of many others; and in this I found my unworthiness and my sins greater than those of other men.
Many times he felt that evil spirits had taken over his mind and were tempting him to join the forces of evil. He often prayed for4 help to deliver him. He received courage and guidance and began to see that discipline would see him through his turmoils. As he had little understanding of what many of his visions meant, he occasionally doubted his sanity. He writes:
God grant that I do not mistake in this; I believe I do not.
and after one particularly bad night of troubled dreams:
I begin thinking whether all this was not mere phantasy: . . .
He persisted in his belief he was experiencing a spiritual awakening. He began to understand that becoming more humble would help him through the occasional bad experience:
This have I learned, that the only thing in this state – and I do not know any other – is, in all humility to thank God for His grace, and to pray for it, and to recognize our own unworthiness.
I experienced so much of the Lord's grace when I resolved to keep my thoughts in a state of purity, as to feel an inmost joy. . . . I was not allowed to mention the large measure of grace which had fallen to my lot . . . it would not be productive of any use, if the glorification of God's grace served to encourage my own self-love.
The best comparison I could make of myself was with a peasant elevated to power as a prince or king, so that he could have whatever his heart desired; and yet there was something in him which desired to teach him that he himself knew nothing. By this comparison, however, it is seen that it is Thy hand [O God] which causes this great joy.
Nevertheless, he still went through periods of depression alternating with periods of sheer ecstasy. He knew he was resisting the forces which were reshaping his life but he wanted to choose his own course. He found it difficult to give up his study of science and philosophy, for these brought him much fame and recognition. Yet, he came to see that this was required of him if he was to cast aside his preconceived ideas and allow the "spiritual sensations which were knocking at his consciousness" to enter and do what they would with him.
He began to accept this. His heart's desire became to do God's work and he saw himself as an instrument of the Divine.
In October, 1744, Swedenborg had the culminating experience of his life which was to shape his future years. He writes that God appeared to him in a vision and said:
I am God the Lord, the Creator and Redeemer of the world. I have chosen thee to unfold the spiritual sense of the Holy Scriptures. I will myself dictate to thee what thou shalt write.
Swedenborg later states:
From that day I gave up the study of all worldly science, and labored in spiritual things, according as the Lord had commanded me to write. Afterwards the Lord opened, daily very often, the eyes of my spirit, so that, in the middle of the day, I could see into the other world, and in a state of perfect wakefulness converse with angels and spirits.
He meant these words to such an extent that he never completed the scientific work he had invested so much of his life in.
Some may feel that Swedenborg's experiences were characteristic of emotional imbalance, yet at no time did he ever exhibit any sign of mental illness. His mental faculties remained strong during this entire transformation. Works published in that time period are still highly regarded in the twentieth century. He continued to write outstanding material for the following thirty years and remained an accomplished, respected scientist. As well, he did not withdraw from the world and none around him suspected any mental disorder, even though they occasionally made light of his "conversations with angels and spirits."
After 1745, Swedenborg's disturbing dreams subsided and with a tranquil mind he proceeded to study the Bible in detail. He believed he was the instrument by which the hidden spiritual mysteries of the Scriptures would be revealed, mysteries dealing with obtaining the "Kingdom of God."
His first work of this period was The Word Explained. Swedenborg relates that much of the knowledge contained in this work came to him through inspiration, in the form of automatic writing. As this book went against the grain of popular thinking, Swedenborg anticipated criticism from the leading intellects of the day:
They will become indignant, when their sciences are disproved. Crying they will cry with a loud voice both with their lips and in their writings. . . If such men were merely to hear that there is in man a way opening to heaven, other than through their senses . . . they would reject it as fables . . . It is granted [me] to hear and speak with those who are in heaven. . . The speech is exactly like speech with one's associates on earth, but it comes from heaven, from above . . . internally, and it is so plain that it is heard in the same way as speech of the lips but in such manner that none of the bystanders hears or perceives anything of it. . .
While Swedenborg's final major work, Arcana Colestia (Heavenly Secrets) was philosophical in nature it was radically different from his earlier work. It concentrated on the hidden spiritual meanings of the Bible dealing with the regeneration of the mind of man. Reportedly, the first volume of the work was inspired and deals with the spiritual sense of the book of Genesis. He believed Genesis had to do with the development of the "Lord's Kingdom" in individual minds.
So profound and inspiring were Swedenborg's works that an entirely new Christian faith, "The Church of the New Jerusalem," was founded by people wishing to follow his teachings.
Of Swedenborg's personality during his later years, Bucke tells us he was a man who won the respect, confidence and love of all who came in contact with him. Many felt strongly attracted toward him. His eyes had a magnetic property, a gentle, innocent and joyful look which awed and virtually imposed silence in everyone who gazed into them.
He never married, not because he was indifferent to women, for he enjoyed their company very much, but his studies took precedence and he preferred to be alone where he could work in silence.
He was robust and healthy in his later years, and very productive. The efficient use of his time allowed him to publish over thirty volumes, and it is estimated that he produced an equivalent amount of material which was never released.
The man was a standard of moral excellence. Even his critics described him as free from vehemence, anger, and hatred, never sarcastic, contemptful or envious. He upheld the truth in all he did and would not betray it for any reason. This love of the truth is best brought out in his own words:
The most despicable and the lowest of all mortals is he who fears nothing for the truth, for sacred things, for heaven and the Deity, but only for himself . . . Souls that are sublime and elevated above mortal things do not fear to undergo death for the truth, especially for heavenly and divine truth, because they are fearful for the truth and dread its extinction.
The testimonies of many who were associated with Swedenborg leave no doubt that the man's morals had been elevated beyond that of his former self and that of his peers. This is a common characteristic of the group of select individuals who have experienced Cosmic Consciousness.
There is additional evidence of this having occurred in Swedenborg. There was the suddenness and unexpectedness of his first experience, the indescribable feelings of joy and ecstasy which caused him to weep, the intellectual illumination which revealed to him a source of infinite knowledge, the overpowering realization that the individual was nothing without God, and his unbending conviction in the reality of the experience.7 All of these characteristics have been shared by many, St. Paul, Dante, Francis Bacon, William Blake, to name a few, who are all believed to have witnessed Cosmic Consciousness.
Swedenborg in many ways represents the human being of the future, a member of a race toward which we are all slowly evolving. Bucke states it best when he says:
The simple truth is, that there has lived on the earth, 'appearing at intervals,' for thousands of years among ordinary men, the first faint beginnings of another race; walking the earth and breathing the air with us, but at the same time walking another earth and breathing another air of which we know little or nothing, but which is, all the same, our spiritual life, as its absence would be our spiritual death. This new race is in act of being born from us, and in the near future, it will occupy and possess the earth.
Note From the Institute for Consciousness Research 2016
We are pleased to be able to present this essay 36 years after it was originally published. Paul’s examination of the life of Emanuel Swedenborg aligns with our goal of uncovering evidence of kundalini in notable lives from the past.
R. M. Bucke’s thesis in Cosmic Consciousness received new recognition in the second half of the twentieth century when Pandit Gopi Krishna wrote of his experience of kundalini and later encouraged research into the lives of geniuses, mystics and saints to corroborate what he was writing of. Gopi Krishna’s framework for examining the lives of these exceptional individuals applies well in the case of Emanuel Swedenborg: Intellectual elevation/genius/mystical perception, inner light, psychic gifts, moral elevation/compassion, expanded consciousness/perception, religious/spiritual impulse, a gift to humanity, and more.
A brief excerpt from Gopi Krishna’s The Secret of Yoga (1972, page 130) is an appropriate note on which to complete our look at “ the man of the future”:
We are, therefore, face to face with a mighty problem when we try to find an explanation for the mental condition of the religious teachers of the highest order. We have to account for the existence of not one but four outstanding attributes of the front rank mystic minds. They are Ecstasy, Moral Elevation, Psychic Powers and Genius. This remarkable combination is confined to this class and this class alone. Otherwise we find these attributes distributed singly and in too few cases. The combination of even two out of them in one individual is extremely rare. The man of genius may not have moral elevation, ecstatic vision or psychic gifts, a medium may not have moral stature, vision or genius, and one prone to visionary states may not have the moral armor, psychic powers, or the genius of the true mystic. In judging the prophet, the mystic and the real saint we have to take the startling fact into consideration that he is in possession of all four rare and lofty attributes, each of which, even when singly present, confer distinction on one possessing it. There is no difference except one of degree between a genuine prophet, mystic, accomplished yogi, seer and sage, and whoever out of them emerged with all these four gems glittering in his crown.
Paul Cressman is a professional engineer and resides in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario, Canada. He holds a Bachelor of Applied Science degree from the University of Waterloo. Paul has had an interest in the awe-inspiring writings of Gopi Krishna since 1976 and hopes that the coming scientific verification of Kundalini will soon lay the ground work for a new path forward for humanity.
- ^Bucke, Richard Maurice, M.D., Cosmic Consciousness, E. P. Dutton and Company Inc., New York, 1901.
- ^Trobridge, George, Swedenborg, Life and Teaching, Pillar Books, New York, 1976, pp.12-13.
- ^Kuphal, Gordon, Ed., A Life of Swedenborg, Seminar Books, London, 1974, p.13.
- ^ Trobridge, op. cit., p.56.
- ^ Ibid, pp. 64-65.
- ^ Sigstedt, Cyriel O., The Swedenborg Epic, Bookman Associates, New York, 1952, p. 184.
- ^ Ibid, p.185.
- ^ Ibid, p.186.
- ^ Trobridge, op. Cit., p.86.
- ^ Ibid, p.88.
- ^ Ibid, p.94.
- ^ Ibid, p.94.
- ^ Ibid, p.92.
- ^ Ibid, pp.91-92.
- ^ Bucke, op. cit., p.284.
- ^ Trobridge, op. cit., p.97.
- ^ Sigstedt, op. cit., pp.212-213.
- ^ Ibid, p.223.
- ^ Bucke, op. cit., pp.383-384.