[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
A Dialogue Between Jim Marion and Robert Perry
How does A Course in Miracles relate to wider streams of spirituality around the world, both ancient and modern? Is it restating the ancient truths in new form or is it heading off in its own unique directions—or perhaps some of both? Mystic and public policy lawyer Jim Marion, author of Putting on the Mind of Christ, graciously agreed to explore these issues with Course interpreter Robert Perry.
Jim Marion is the founder and Director of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness in Washington, D.C. and one of the founding members of Ken Wilber’s Institute for Integral Spirituality. Marion, the author of “Putting on the Mind of Christ, the Inner Work of Christian Spirituality,” and “The Death of the Mythic God, the Rise of Evolutionary Spirituality,” studied for the Catholic priesthood and later undertook divinity studies at the interdenominational Hartford Seminary. He also obtained a law degree from Boston University. From 1973 to 2004, Marion was a public policy lawyer in Washington, D.C., including service in the Carter Administration and as counsel to a committee of Congress. Since his first book was published in 2000, Marion has spoken about spirituality, mysticism and human consciousness development at many conferences, workshops and churches. Marion lives in Washington, D.C.
Robert Perry has been a teacher and interpreter of the modern spiritual classic A Course in Miracles since 1986. In 1993 he founded the Circle of Atonement in Sedona, Arizona, a nonprofit center that supports students of A Course in Miracles in their understanding and practice of this path. He has authored or co-authored nineteen book and booklets on the Course, as well as hundreds of articles, and has lectured throughout the U.S. and internationally. His goal has been to draw out of the Course a comprehensive understanding of the path that it lays down, to support students in walking that path, and to help establish an enduring spiritual tradition in which students walk the path together.
Thank you very much for inviting me to join with you in a dialogue on spirituality. You are a foremost teacher and scholar of “A Course in Miracles” [the Course] whereas, as a Roman Catholic, my own mystical path followed that of St. John of the Cross. Nevertheless, we have many ideas in common.
You have studied the Course for about three decades. I have just read it for the first time (though I had read bits and pieces of it over the years). I have also just read your wonderful book, “Return to the Heart of God” in which you set forth a great many of the Course’s teachings. Perhaps I can begin by giving some initial impressions.
Reading the Course reinforced my view that the Course is perhaps the greatest revealed Scripture of the 20th Century. That means I put it in the same class as the Bhagavadgita, the Koran and the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, a cut well above the usual work of those who channel Spirit. It is an astonishing work of great depth that challenges any reader including myself.
There are many wonderful teachings in the Course. For example, its description of, and indictment of, the insanity of the ego is perhaps the best ever written. As I had mentioned to you previously, the only area of the Course I find troublesome is its Creation cosmology. But I find it less troubling after reading the Course itself and your book. The Course asserts, as do you, that it is not to be understood as a theological, philosophical or scientific treatise. It is primarily intended as an injunction: DO THIS and THINK THIS WAY and FOLLOW THIS PATH and you will realize the vision of Christ. You will see the Kingdom of Heaven. I have no doubt that any student of the Course who wholeheartedly follows these injunctions will indeed realize the Kingdom. Therefore, I can accept the Creation story in the Course as being like the Creation story in Genesis, one the primary purpose of which is not to teach science or philosophy but to teach spiritual truth.
The uniqueness of the Course
There are many wonderful aspects of the Course’s teachings, not the least of which is its original stance. By that I mean the Course, unlike any other teaching, consistently teaches from the viewpoint of timelessness, explaining what the world looks like from God’s point of view rather than our own.
For example, the Course teaches that the separation between ourselves and God never happened, that sin or evil is nonexistent, that, regardless of what we have done, said, thought or omitted, we remain God’s perfect Son, that this world is maya, a dream or an illusion, and that space and time do not exist except as a projection of Mind. All these things, from God’s point of view, are absolutely true. I know that because, upon entrance into the Christ Consciousness and ever since, I have seen them to be true with the absolute conviction that comes from true revelation.
Nevertheless, as you noted in your book, in order to function in this world, even a person with Christ’s vision must be able to “see” with a type of double-vision, what the American mystic Walter Starcke calls the double-thread. We have to be able to see things both as one (God’s view) and as multiple (the view from earth). Physiologically, to use the upper right quadrant of Ken Wilber, we have to be able to see the world simultaneously by means of our right brains, which see the unity, and left brains, which see the multiplicity. This requires that we realize psychological wholeness, the complete union of the “male” and “female” parts of ourselves as Jesus teaches in the Gospel of Thomas, what Jung called individuation. Eventually, when we finally realize the consciousness of nonduality, which is a higher state that the Christ Consciousness, we see that form is emptiness (the one, God as Father) and equally that emptiness is form (the multiplicity, God as Son) and that neither viewpoint is superior or more correct—a point the Course never makes explicitly.
Who created this world?
The Course, which accepts the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, teaches that God the Son created this world, seemingly contrary to the historically dominant theological view that God the Father was the Creator. The author of the Course, like Jesus of Nazareth, is a master teacher and one of the things such a teacher does is to challenge our assumptions and preconceived notions. Millions of Christians, brought up and taught using the patriarchal theological model of the Father as Creator, are stuck in a spiritual rut, assuming they already understand the great mysteries because they have memorized the traditional formulae. The teacher of the Course, in this way among many, challenges people to re-examine their assumptions.
Even a traditional Christian, however, citing, for example, the prologue to John’s Gospel which states that all Creation is manifested through the Son, or citing St. Paul’s statement that Jesus was the “firstborn of Creation,” could elaborate a theology in which God the Son is the Creator, as the Course indeed does. One could also, citing the fact that God, in Genesis, created this world by his breath (ruah), elaborate a theology in which the Holy Spirit is the Creator, the Breath of God. One cannot forget, however, that whatever the Son does the Spirit and Father do also, whatever the Spirit does the Father and Son do also, and whatever the Father does the Son and Spirit also do. There is, after all, only one God.
The Course, therefore, presents a new theology, a new emphasis, not a new doctrine contrary to traditional Christianity. It does this, I believe, to wake Christians up to the mystery and the awesomeness of the mystery and to shake them out of their ossified assumptions.
I truly appreciate you being willing to engage in this dialogue. And I am quite struck by your generous appraisal of the Course as “perhaps the greatest revealed Scripture of the 20th Century.” To hear an appraisal like that from someone who is not a Course student is, I think, a sign of an open mind and a generous spirit. I also appreciate your honesty in talking about the area you find troublesome—the Course’s “Creation cosmology.” Given all of that, I think we are in for a fruitful and enjoyable exchange.
Let me, then, address the Course’s teaching on the origin and nature of the physical universe, since it seems to me that all three sections of your piece speak of that. To begin with, I think it is important to acknowledge that the Course does strike out in new directions. It will be talking about themes that anyone familiar with world spirituality will recognize, and then it will suddenly head off in some unfamiliar direction that seems nothing short of weird. Its teachings on the origin and nature of the physical world definitely fall under this category. I don’t know of any really good parallel for them in any spiritual system anywhere.
I think the Course really does mean those teachings as an actual account of (at least the broad strokes of) where the world came from and what it currently is. You very kindly try to let the Course off the hook by saying that its view “is not to be understood as a theological, philosophical or scientific treatise.” As much as part of me would like that to be true, I can’t say that it is true.
It’s important, I believe, to leave room for the Course being different, for it saying things that haven’t been said. And then having left that room, I think we need to allow for both possibilities that result: The Course may be simply weird and off-base in those areas or it may be way ahead of its time. Ken Wilber has emphasized that the insights of both modern depth psychology and evolutionary biology have no real counterpart in the world’s ancient wisdom traditions. What, then, if some mystic had started talking about both in, say, 200 B.C.? Some would have thought, “What is wrong with you? Was it something you ate?” Others would have thought, “Surely he is speaking metaphorically and what he’s saying really does harmonize with our traditions.” How many would have thought, “Maybe this guy is just a couple thousand years ahead of his time”?
Let me summarize what I see the Course as teaching about the world. God created a Son, an extension of His Own Self that possessed all of His characteristics. This Son was composed of an infinite number of parts, each being one with the whole, each containing the whole. These parts (or at least some of them) fell asleep. They had a psychotic break with reality and withdrew into their private bubbles. In their sleep, they collectively dreamt up a universe that was the outward picture of their inward insanity. It was a universe, therefore, that was anti-God. It was a place of tooth and claw, of collision, explosion, and death. It was the opposite of God’s Will of Love. However, being completely disconnected from God’s Will, it had no reality. It was a dream, an incredibly vast, long-lasting, stable, collective dream, but a dream nonetheless.
I honestly don’t see how we can square this with the traditional Christian account. Yes, in this account the world was made by the Son, but by insane aspects of the Son, working apart from and in opposition to God. Referring to this world, the Course says flatly, “God did not create it, for what He creates must be eternal as Himself” (C-4.1:2), and “The world was made as an attack on God” (W-pII.3.2:1).
This also, I believe, almost certainly yields a different viewpoint than the one you describe in which form is emptiness and emptiness is form, neither view being “superior or more correct.” However, before I speak to that, I would probably need to hear more from you about what all that means.
So I do think that the Course is setting out some new and different positions. For now, though, I want to leave aside the question of the actual truth of what the Course teaches about the world. I want to focus instead on its practical usefulness, something that you alluded to. The Course even presents a theory in which the truth of ideas is, in a sense, measured by their ability to lead us to the truth, to God. “In this sense, it can be said that their truth lies in their usefulness” (M-24.6:10).
I find the benefits of the Course’s view to be profound. If this world is real and created by God, then it (the world) defines who God is, who we are, who other people are, and what life is. And yet this world, quite simply, is an insane and brutal place. It’s crazy down here. This defines God, as the Creator of this place, as someone to be feared, or at least mistrusted. It defines others as hard-to-love sinners, who smile while they take advantage of us to meet their bottomless needs. It defines life, as Hobbes said, as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” And it defines us as the sad victims of God, others, and life, as well as the coldhearted victimizers of anything that we are stronger or smarter than.
These definitions of God, others, life, and ourselves are not incidental things. They are the bones and tissue of the basic emotional posture we carry as we walk through this world. And that points to the benefit of the Course’s view. For if this world is not real and was not created by God, then it has no power to define God, others, life, or ourselves. If we had a dream at night in which a cruel God secretly commanded all of our friends to betray us, and even caused fate and the weather to turn against us, would that have anything to say about anything real? Would it rightly define our view of God or our friends when we awoke? No more, according to the Course, does the dream of this world define what is real.
This view allows us to see God as pure Love, because the blood of this savage place is not on His hands. It allows us to see other people as beings of infinite worth and innocence, because they are perfect Sons of God who merely dream of being selfish human beings. It allows us to see life as apart from the facts and conditions of this stormy world, as an eternal condition that exists beyond time, space, and form. And it allows us to see our own nature as undamaged by all that’s been done to us and untainted by all that we’ve done to others.
The emotional state I am describing, of course, sounds remarkably like the peace of the saints, a peace unaffected by the turmoil of earthly events. And that’s my point. The Course lays out a conceptual system that directly contributes to the unshakable serenity and bliss that we associate with the apex of spirituality. In doing so, it takes some strange cognitive turns down some very unfamiliar roads. At this point, it is very hard to say if those roads are true, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that they lead us toward the truth.
Thank you for your explanation of the Course’s teaching on the origin and nature of the physical universe. I will try to reply:
Origin and Nature of the Physical Universe
Unfortunately, from my point of view, the Course does seem to teach what you say it does. The Course does say, “God did not create it [the world], for what He creates must be eternal as Himself” (C-4.1:2), and “The world was made as an attack on God” (W-pII.3.2:1). I agree with you that this view (the second sentence) is not compatible with Christianity. The first sentence, I think, is philosophically erroneous as I think the accomplished American philosopher and contemplative demonstrates in her wonderful book, “God’s Ecstasy, The Creation of a Self-Creating World.” Put simply, it attempts to limit what God can and can’t do. I will deal here, however, only with the second sentence.
You elaborate, “God created a Son, an extension of His Own Self that possessed all of His characteristics. This Son was composed of an infinite number of parts, each being one with the whole, each containing the whole. These parts (or at least some of them) fell asleep. They had a psychotic break with reality and withdrew into their private bubbles. In their sleep, they collectively dreamt up a universe that was the outward picture of their inward insanity. It was a universe, therefore, that was anti-God. It was a place of tooth and claw, of collision, explosion, and death.” You explain that “This view allows us to see God as pure Love, because the blood of this savage place is not on His hands.”
You suggest that perhaps, like depth psychology and evolutionary biology, what the Course teaches is the wave of the future, a perspective unknown to the ancients. I would argue, on the contrary, that the question of God’s relationship to the apparent evil of this world is, historically, the oldest and most fundamental question in monotheism. The question arose with the advent of monotheism itself.
Polytheism, the creation of magical consciousness, posited many gods, some benign and some malignant. The latter were the source of evil. With the arrival of mythic consciousness about 3,000 or more years ago, and consequently of monotheism, the problem immediately arose: how does one square an all-loving Creator with the world’s apparent evil? Zoroaster (1200 BCE?), the Persian founder of Zoroastrianism, the first great monotheistic religion, and the first religion with a revealed Scripture, solves the problem (the religion still exists today, the Parsis in India) by attributing the origin of evil to a lesser being. God, Ahura Mazda, remained all good and loving. The lesser spirit, Angra Mainyu, created the dark forces that battle the good. The war between the dualisms of good and evil involves all of creation. Good will eventually triumph.
Zoroastrianism’s various doctrines had a profound effect on the later Western monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Angra Mazda later morphed into Satan, Lucifer. Psychologically speaking, monotheism represented the rise of the human ego, the mind, the central organizing principle of the human psyche. The mythic God was the ego projected into the sky. Satan represented the projection of the psyche’s dark or shadow side.
Valentinus, a disciple of Theodas, himself a disciple of the Apostle Paul, was a very early Christian Gnostic mystic and theologian, at one point considered for bishop 100 years after Jesus. Valentinus, like many of the Christian Gnostics, believed this world was evil. He taught that God, who is all good, projected 30 heavenly archetypes. One was Sophia. Sophia’s weakness, errors and questioning of God led to the creation of the world and humans, both of which are flawed.
Finally, to give one last example, the Persian Zoroastrian mystic Mani (c. 217-277 CE), combined Zoroastrian doctrine with the Christian Gnostic notion of matter as evil (also adding a little Buddhism) to produce Manichaeism, the chief rival of Christianity in the later Roman empire (St. Augustine was a Manichaean before his celebrated conversion to Christianity with unfortunate consequences for the theology of sexuality for Augustine remained Manichaean enough to see all sexual pleasure as evil). Mani taught that good and evil originated separately, clashed in this world, and that good would eventually triumph. His religion was influential into the Middle Ages (and, via Augustine, even until today).
I see the Course’s teaching (under the very guise of denying the reality of separation) as apparently another variation of the dualism between good and evil that has been with us since mythic level monotheism’s birth. The Course is apparently even more radically dualistic than the above described ancient religions because the Course apparently projects dualism right into the Godhead itself. According to the Course, the Son of God himself somehow becomes psychotic, entertaining the mad, crazy idea that we are separate from God. Where this idea comes from the Course does not say. From outside of God? From some ontological source of evil? From some flaw in God’s nature? I believe the Course’s view would be judged erroneous by all the world’s monotheistic spiritual traditions. The Course, for example, seems to flatly deny the assertions of the Christian Creed that the only-begotten Son of God is equal in being with the Father, light of light, true God of true God, through whom all things were made (all of Creation, as Genesis says, being “good”).
What does make sense to me is to say, like St. Jerome, that we have all been in God from all eternity, as potentially aware beings, but, as the Course says, asleep in God; that God, as the Course says, wants us to wake up, to wake us up to the conscious realization of our own divinity as God’s sons and daughters, as part of the Collective Sonship (what Catholics call the mystical body of Christ); that God created this world of polarities (male and female, light and darkness) precisely to wake us up, to teach us awareness; that dualism and separation, though they may be erroneous from God’s point of view, make perfect logical sense to a human consciousness sent to evolve on this planet; that dualism and separation are essential to the creation of the ego, the central organizing principle of human consciousness until such time as the ego is transcended. But, of course, this is an evolutionary and psychological understanding of the Course and perhaps reads into the Course nuances that perhaps are lacking in the text itself.
Two Final Thoughts
Many New Age baby boomers believe that we create our own reality. Wilber, who is very critical of many boomers’ narcissistic ego inflation (boomeritis), likes to quip in response: “It is psychotics who create their own reality.” The Course’s creation story, taken literally, could be seen as boomeritis to a megalomaniacal degree: not only do we create our own reality but we create the whole of reality including all the countless stars and planets as well as the realms between the physical plane and the Godhead, realms attested to by the mystics of every tradition and by the Christian Creed (whether one characterizes such realms as metaphysical “supernatural” realms or, per Wilber, Sheldrake and Bohm in recent years, as apparently rarified physical/energy ones). That we humans create all such realms by our dreaming is an astounding assertion.
You suggest that perhaps only parts of the Son of God became insane. I detected that caveat near the end of your book when you referenced the animals. After all, we do share this world with trees and grasses, sponges and worms, elephants and gorillas. Are all these sentient beings insane too? Or are they mere figments of the human creative dreaming imagination with no existence or independent God-spark of their own (the position of extreme idealism)? And, if they aren’t insane, what are they doing on this planet in the middle of our supposed psychotic dream? It seems to me that this is another serious problem with taking the Course’s creation story literally.
All in all, this is the one area of the Course that, if taken literally, I find extremely problematic and not credible.
What Then about Evil?
But I guess that is enough for now.
I am finding this to be a very useful exchange. I really do appreciate your willingness to engage in it, and even to say where you find the Course to be problematic and not credible. I agree that when it comes to the origin and nature of the world, the Course is way out there on a limb. And I think it’s important to just face that, explore it, and see what we make of it.
However, I don’t agree that the Course is dualistic, especially not in the Zoroastrian or Manichean sense. (What I mean by this will become clearer as I go.) It seems logical to try to plug the Course into familiar categories like that, but in my experience, such an attempt is always unsuccessful, simply because the Course doesn’t fit the categories. When I have tried to categorize it, the more that I honored what it actually said, the more I ended up conceding that it was in a category all by itself. Forming a category just for it does take time and effort, but in my experience it’s the only way to really honor the Course as it is.
What I want to do is argue for the benefits of the Course’s view. I am not going to try to argue for the truth of it (even though I believe it’s true), in part because we are dealing with ideas that are virtually impossible to verify. How exactly do we find out, fourteen billion years down the line, how or why the world began? I don’t think we can do that by just submitting our views to the judgment of Christianity or other religions. Not only is there no consensus among them, but all of them, so far as I can see, would disagree with both of us. They would obviously disagree with the Course, but I can’t see how they wouldn’t disagree with your view as well. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a major religion that affirms that we were asleep in God from eternity, and that God created the universe as an evolutionary classroom through which to wake us up.
Let me, then, restate the Course’s view and then look at its benefits. First, because God is Love and only Love, He created us already perfect. That means fully realized, fully awake. “God creates only mind awake. He does not sleep, and His creations cannot share what He gives not” (W-pI.167.8:1-2). Second, we the Sons of God (this includes Sons that show up now as humans and those that show up as animals or plants—to answer a question you raised) chose a sleep, and in this sleep, dreamt a world that was simply the outpicturing of the essential theme of our sleep: separation. Because this world was our dream, not God’s creation, two things result. One is that this world is not a statement about God’s character. Its savage ways are not a reflection on Him. Two is that, since the world is only a dream, it has no actual power over us. We are not subject to its harsh winds. We remain inherently awake and inherently free. We have merely dissociated from that fact and formed in our mind a tiny alcove of denial.
The benefits of this admittedly unorthodox view are enormous. One benefit is that at the summit of reality, in God, there is absolutely no duality. There is only one principle: love. There, at that summit, we are perfectly safe from duality. Another benefit is that since God is the Author of what is real, that safe and loving summit is the only thing that is truly real. Consequently, anything other than God’s Love is not real and has no power over us. This means that the unloving physical world has no power over us, no power to hurt us, belittle us, or scare us. A third benefit is that since our true nature is always inherently awake and free (not subject to the winds of the world), we can claim that inherent perfection right now—on a belief level, on an emotional level, and on a realization level. All three of these benefits—a perfectly loving God, a world that has no power over us, and a true nature that is the basis for ultimate self-esteem—are massive.
While there are many benefits to your view—benefits that I am very familiar with since I used to hold that view—these three are not among them, as far as I can see.
First, it doesn’t seem to me, in your view, that at the summit of reality, in God, there is no duality. Rather, it seems that this God has two faces. Think about it. Instead of God creating us fully realized, we start out asleep. Being asleep, we are required to go through a painful evolutionary obstacle course in order to wake up, an obstacle course created by God. Why didn’t He just create us awake in the first place and spare us the whole long, bloody ordeal? Is such a thing beyond His abilities? And if He’s not lacking the ability, must He not be lacking the goodwill?
Imagine, for instance, that you were creating a sentient robot, with awareness and feelings, and you had two options. Option I: You could create this robot already fully perfect. Option 2: You could create a robot that was potentially perfect and then announce to him as you turned on his switch, “I’m sorry, but I created you only potentially perfect. Therefore, I have also created an incredibly long and torturous obstacle course for you to navigate. Only through passing down its entire length, which will take you eons of struggle and pain, can you realize your potential.” If you really were free to take either option, but you elected the second one, what conclusions would we all draw about your character?
Second, it doesn’t seem to me that in your view we are not subject to the physical world. The whole idea, if I understand your perspective, is that the world becomes the irritant, so to speak, that causes us to form the pearl. Without it acting upon us, we don’t wake up. Its actions on us, then, are designed to have a real effect. And if something acts on us with real (and painful) effect, isn’t that the very definition of being subject to? My word processor’s dictionary defines “subject” as “likely to be affected by or with a tendency to be affected by a particular thing.” If you found yourself in a torture chamber, which of the following two messages would you rather hear: “This is designed to hurt, but that’s a good thing, because it will make you grow,” or “This torture chamber is just your dream. You can wake up and watch it vanish, or you can stay asleep, but either way it has no real power over you”?
Third, it doesn’t seem to me that in your view we are inherently awake and free, since we started out asleep and are now subject to the world. As I understand your view, we are becoming awake and free, and perhaps we can choose to get there quickly, I don’t know. But it seems to me that until the moment I realize my potential, I really can’t claim the cognitive strength and emotional security that come from the confidence that my nature is awake and free.
Let’s go back to the robot example and say you created two robots, one imperfect and the other perfect. Let’s say that the one you created imperfect is partway through the obstacle course and thus is still flawed and imperfect. And let’s say that the one you created perfect has, in a small corner of his mind, fallen into a dream in which he dreams of being imperfect, just as imperfect as the one in the obstacle course. In a sense, they look exactly the same, but which one, right at this moment, has the right to a greater sense of genuine self-esteem? Isn’t it the one who is already perfect?
Perhaps I have been unfair to your view, and if so, please let me know. From where I sit right now, though, it is a fair question to ask which view is the more dualistic. For the God that is responsible for the brutal drama of evolution is a God that appears to have two faces: loving and cruel. Given that this duality appears to be an inherent part of God’s nature, can it ever be escaped? I’m not sure I want to spend eternity with the God who sent me into a torture chamber for billions of years because He didn’t feel like creating me awake.
The Course, on the other hand, says that there are opposites: love and hate, life and death, spirit and matter. But then it says that the second side of each pair of opposites is utterly unreal. This means that reality has only one side, because God has only one face. This running theme is found right in the Course’s introduction: “The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite.”
These are two very different kinds of nondualism. One says that the two apparently opposite principles aren’t really opposite because they are ultimately reconciled in a greater oneness. The other says that, yes, there really are two genuinely opposite principles, but one of them is completely unreal, which leaves only one that exists. Very different ways of getting to not-two. In the end, which one we consider more nondual, and for that matter, more affirming, is probably a matter of taste. Do we want a reality in which everything, even hate and limitation and violence, is ennobled by being ultimately part of a greater oneness? Or do we want a reality that is itself ennobled by being free of hate and limitation and violence?
We might also ask (a la Ken Wilber’s concept of boomeritis, which I am in substantial agreement with) which view gives our separate selves more grandiose power over reality. In your view, yes, we do live in a universe created by Somebody else, but while we live in this universe, we seem to be making ourselves as we go. It seems to me that through our own actions, our fundamental nature goes from asleep to awake. This grants us power over a key feature of reality: our own being.
In the Course’s view, though, we have no such power. God is the Author of reality (which is only spirit), and apart from Him we do nothing real. Yes, we can dream up an apparent universe, and also dream up an apparent separate self, but we don’t have the power to make these things real, because we are doing them apart from God. Indeed, we are doing them precisely as a rejection of God’s Authority. The Course says, in fact, that our authority problem with God is the problem behind all problems. “This is ‘the root of all evil'” (T-3.VI.7:3). Of course, the core of boomeritis is also an authority problem: “Nobody tells me what to do!” So I find the Course, in its own unique way, to be profoundly free of the disease of boomeritis.
In saying all this, I am not trying to convert you to the Course’s view. What I am really hoping for is that, for a moment, you can take off your usual hat and try the Course’s hat on for size, and just for that moment, see that its view of the world, whether true or not, has an uplifting and liberating effect on the mind. That effect includes a God that is only love, a world that has no power to hurt us, and a self-esteem that rests on an already realized nature. What I am hoping for, in other words, is that you can ultimately grant, not that the Course’s view of the world is true, but merely that it can be a useful tool on the way home. In the end, of course, all these concepts are just tools to get us to the place where we have thrown concepts away because we stand face to face with the truth.
Thank you for your response. I found it profound, loving, and very challenging. I will respond as best I can.
- I perhaps gave a wrong impression. I certainly don’t think the Course, as a whole, is dualistic in the Zoroastrian, Gnostic or Manichaean sense. I think only those few passages concerning the origin of the world, the Course’s creation story or cosmology, are such, and then, only if understood non-metaphorically.
- I agree with you that God is the only power. It is not my view that “through our own actions, our fundamental nature goes from asleep to awake” any more than a fetus in the womb develops of its own action or effort. Jesus, as you know, ascribed all he did and all he was as pure gift from the Father. The same, of course, applies to us. In Christian teaching, it is the Holy Spirit (of the Father and Jesus) who awakens us to the extent we cooperate with, and do not resist, such Grace.
- You end by saying, “What I am hoping for, in other words, is that you can ultimately grant, not that the Course’s view of the world is true, but merely that it can be a useful tool on the way home. In the end, of course, all these concepts are just tools to get us to the place where we have thrown concepts away because we stand face to face with the truth.”
I believe this is very much in keeping with my own view of religion as strictly a means to an end, the end being what the Course calls Atonement. As Jesus said, “Man was not made for the Sabbath. Rather, the Sabbath was made for man.”
I think we have to be careful, however, about bracketing truth as if truthfulness does not matter, as if the only thing that matters is, as you put it, “an uplifting and liberating effect on the mind.” In his new book, “Integral Spirituality,” Wilber sharply criticizes this point of view in his chapter on “Boomeritis Buddhism.” In the section entitled “Emptiness and View are Not-Two” Wilber quotes approvingly the contemporary Tibetan master Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche as saying, “Correct views have the ability to lead us to liberation, while incorrect views increase the delusions of our mind.”
- What is the Course’s “view of the world?” Actually, it seems to me that the Course sets forth two very distinct views of the world, the world as seen by the ego (the false view), and the correct view of the world as seen by God (and by anyone who realizes Atonement, Christ Consciousness, the view of the world that Jesus saw). It seems to me that the constant contrasting of these two views is the central message, theme and teaching of the Course.
I am in complete and total agreement with the Course’s position on this central teaching, namely that the ego’s view of the world is false and God’s view is true. The ego sees a world made up of billions of discrete beings. Historically, it has also seen God as another such being, a being separate and apart from us. It also sees evil as real, which, as I wrote in PMC, was the original sin, i.e., making the false distinction between good and evil as if they are natural polarities like day and night. They are not. Evil is a manufactured ego fiction. The ego’s view is false.
God, on the other hand, sees the world as the expression of God’s own life. There is only one reality, God, and that reality is perfect and true. There is no “other.” Therefore, as Jesus taught, what you do to others you do to yourself and to God. There is only one Self, and that Self is loving, whole and complete, totally without sin or blemish, and eternal. And we, when we awaken in realization to who we really are, will see ourselves as that same Self. Evil is not real. As Augustine realized in converting from Manichaeism to Christianity, evil is not a thing or a being or a power separate from God but rather a lack or absence of love/truth. It is a fiction, a bad dream. I could not agree with you more that the Course’s view is useful. It is more than useful. It is true.
In a real sense, it does not matter that much how the human race got into the present mess in which we find ourselves: Eckhart Tolle is quite correct that a race that murdered over 100 million members of its own kind in just the 20th Century is quite insane. Its thinking is deranged and continues to be deranged. The real question is how to get out of this insanity. As you say, all of the world’s major spiritual traditions, like the Course, offer explanations for what created the present mess, and all offer a path out of it. Furthermore, all of the paths involve a radical “renewal of the mind” (St. Paul) so that we can really see the world differently, so we can really see, as Jesus did, that the Kingdom of Heaven is in front of our faces. And all of the traditions, like the Course, offer specific practices and injunctions to use to effect this radical shift in consciousness. It seems that the Course’s principal practice/injunction is forgiveness, a teaching that the Course presents masterfully.
The Course may be seen by some as radically new, and even incompatible with Christianity, because, I think, the original Christian message has been terribly distorted — by that same human ego — over the last 2,000 years. Most Christians, including those the popular press calls “spiritual leaders” simply because they hold positions of religious authority, have not put on the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5) but have followed the views of the ego. They see God, including Jesus, as perfect, sinless, eternal, etc. but they see humans in general as separate, sinful, lesser beings in need of salvation and redemption. The Course strives mightily and magnificently to correct this error of interpretation — just as Jesus himself tried mightily to do. The problem, however, is that hardly anyone can see as Jesus did and as the Course teaches we should see. We are talking about what has been, historically at least, an extremely difficult path to awakening.
I believe that the Course is an important new revelation, a new Scripture, not because it makes us feel better about ourselves (though it does that) but precisely because, in its central teachings, it does present the Truth, a truth we all recognize in the depths of our beings. It may also represent a new and better technology of spirit, a faster way of moving great numbers of people to the realization of Atonement. Let us hope that will prove to be the case for such a technology is sorely needed. As I said earlier, I think that anyone who wholeheartedly (with all one’s heart and soul and mind and strength) follows the Course’s teachings and injunctions will surely discover their own innate and sinless divinity and will bring to this world a badly needed dose of sanity.
- Now the “very challenging” part. You ask, in essence, how an ever-loving God can submit his Sons and Daughters to such a painful and bloody and excruciating evolution when, at least theoretically you suppose, God could have created us “awake” from the beginning? It is a tough question and one I have thought about often. Generally, I have focused on the practical solution, that is, that, since we really don’t know the answer to this question, we must accept what is and surrender to an Intelligence vastly superior to our own.
In our dialogue of 2004, I suggested that, perhaps, there are archetypal limitations of some sort which prevent God from creating us “awake” in the same sense that such limitations apparently prevent God from making 2 plus 2 equal 5 or making a square circle. But a better answer might be that creating us “awake” might defeat the point of evolution. One could similarly ask, “Wouldn’t it be more loving if human parents gave birth to adults, “children” not only fully grown but also with all the skills, knowledge, abilities, talents and experience of adults?,” thus sparing their offspring much suffering?
Your question and the one I just posed seem to assume that becoming awake (or “adult”) is the only purpose of life on earth. I can see that much of the spiritual literature, including the Course, my own books, and Wilber’s, might give this impression, but what if the purpose is much broader and grander than that? Some Western esoterics believe that we ourselves are gods in training. Maybe Jesus too hinted at this in quoting the psalm’s question, “Know ye not that ye are gods?” Perhaps, as I think Theosophists suggest, we are ourselves becoming creators and may someday give birth to whole planets of beings. Wouldn’t it defeat this purpose if God simply gaveus our adulthood? And would such “awakeness” even be enough? Might there not be an infinite number of levels to grow through after “awakening” before we could become such beings? Along a similar line, there is a lot of spiritual literature, especially that concerning “past lives,” which suggests we are here to grow along many lines of development and through a vast range of experiences, all designed to deepen the soul’s knowledge and skills, not just to rush along the cognitive line to enlightenment. The Tibetan Master Djwal Khul likes to quip, “Spirituality is not merely a race off the planet.”
Finally, I have to ask if your question isn’t equating “love” with lack of pain and suffering. Isn’t that the question of a “sensitive green male” (Spiral Dynamics), a question that hints that a green level God would have created a better world than the one we have, a world without the pain of childbirth or the agony of adolescence, a world without volcanoes, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, a world without the negative emotions of fear, anger, grief and despair, a world without disease, old age and death, a world without violence, conflict and war? Isn’t that the daydream of today’s green level people who simply cannot abide violence, pain, risk, or even unpleasantness or discomfort of any kind? A green heaven? But who would want to live there? Is this not the very type of safe, risk-adverse, politically correct sterility that drives many of our children to drugs and promiscuity? Would not such a “heaven” be so boring that we’d all take to drink or suicide? And how free were the channelers of the Course from similar cultural value biases? For now I will leave you with these questions.
Very sincerely and appreciatively, Jim
As before, I truly appreciate your willingness to extol the Course even in the midst of the differences you have with it, and also your willingness to honestly admit to the challenging nature of the some of the ideas that have come up. I’ll respond to your five points in order.
- I appreciate your clarification that only those passages in the Course that speak of the origin of the world are dualistic in your eyes. Yet this overlooks my point that there are two kinds of nondualism (and that there is a legitimate question about which is more nondualistic). If you see two apples in front of you, yet friends and photographs convince you that one of them is merely a hallucination, then you have only one apple there, not two. That’s the Course’s brand of nondualism, and it is nondual in that there are not two.
- I’m also glad that you see God as the only power, so that our efforts don’t change our fundamental nature from asleep to awake. However, your examples sent mixed messages, I felt. It’s true that a fetus doesn’t grow by its own effort. But then you mention that we awaken “to the extent we cooperate with, and do not resist, such Grace.” Yet aren’t there now two powers necessary to the process—God’s Grace and our cooperation?
- I think you misunderstood my comment about the Course’s view being a useful tool. I wasn’t at all trying to convey that truth doesn’t matter. That is the last thing I would ever say. As a Course teacher, I am constantly trying to correct the attitude that says that truth doesn’t matter, that only good feelings matter. My standpoint was simply that a) you and I aren’t going to agree about the truth here, and further b) in a matter like this, truth is virtually impossible to ascertain, and therefore c) let’s settle for agreeing on the usefulness of each other’s views.
- I am really glad that you feel that the Course’s view of the world is true, and that the Course is at least potentially “a faster way of moving great numbers of people to the realization of Atonement.” However, as much as I’d like to leave it at that, I want to make sure we are understanding its teaching about the world in the same way.
In talking about the world, the Course would make a sharp division between two classes of things: the forms of the world and the minds of the world. The Course sees those two classes extremely differently. The minds, it says, are innately divine and infinitely worthy, even if for the moment they are filled with delusion. If by “world” we are referring to those minds (which are not just associated with human bodies, but also with animal bodies, and even with forms normally considered inanimate), then the Course would call that world divine, a real expression of God (since He created all those minds). It even says that God loves that world (M-11.1:6).
However, if by “world” we are talking instead about the physical forms, the Course sees that world as an illusion, a dream that merely pictures the delusion in the minds. It calls that world a “slaughter house” (M-13.4:4), in which “devouring is nature’s ‘law of life'” (M-27.3:7). According to the Course, to accuse God of making a world like that one is to label Him insane:
What can He know of the ephemeral, the sinful and the guilty, the afraid, the suffering and lonely, and the mind that lives within a body that must die? You but accuse Him of insanity, to think He made a world where such things seem to have reality. He is not mad. Yet only madness makes a world like this. (W-pI.152.6:4-7)
So the Course would see the world-as-global-collection-of-minds to be an expression of God’s life (even if those minds don’t appear very God-like right now), but it would not see the world-as-physical-forms to be an expression of God’s life.
- I have the most to say about your final point. You say that for God to create us awake might be logically impossible, like “making 2 plus 2 equal 5.” You go on to say that maybe there is a larger purpose than just getting us awake. Maybe we are gods in training who will ultimately become creators.
My first reaction is that I just don’t see the logical impossibility of creating us already awake. I’m not sure what that logical impossibility would be. Further, the idea of creating something that is already perfect out of the gate, not needing to undergo further development, is a basic goal of any creator. Surely the guys who are designing cars in Detroit are aiming for that (though one has to wonder at times). My point is that the concept of creating something already perfect doesn’t tend to strike us as self-contradictory. It doesn’t strike us in the same way that a square circle does.
I think I see an indirect affirmation of this in your own statements. You say that it’s not our own efforts that awaken us, but rather that it’s God’s Grace, expressed through the Holy Spirit, that does the work. So if God is in fact doing it all, what’s keeping Him from doing it quickly and painlessly, rather than dragged out over eons of toil and struggle? If He’s doing the operation, why make it last so long and why (oh why) do it without anesthesia? Either way, the end result would still be the same and the one performing the operation would be the same. The only difference would be how much suffering the patient had to endure.
Given these reflections, let’s just engage in a little flight of imagination. Let’s imagine that it is logically possible for God to create beings that are, at the moment of creation, already fully awake. So let’s say that He does just that. And let’s go further, and say that He creates us fully developed in every way, so that we are, in essence, gods, right out of the gate, and so that we also possess the power to create. Given that we are perfectly developed in every way at the moment of our creation, we do two things. First, we exult in our perfection and overflow with gratitude towards the loving God who would create us like this. And second, we join Him in the act of creation. We take our place at His side in furthering the glorious process of creation. If this scenario were logically possible (and I don’t see any impediments to that), then wouldn’t it also be truly ideal?
This, as it turns out, is precisely the Course’s view of things. The only clarification needed is that, in the Course’s view, what we create is not physical form, but transcendental spirit. Just as God created our transcendental spirit, so we join with Him in creating other transcendental spirits. And in this function, we find perfect fulfillment. This could hardly be called boring (to address another point you raised). Creation is the opposite of boredom, and this is unlimited creation.
Finally, yes, I am definitely equating love with causing a lack of pain and suffering. I think everyone does. I think that is simply part of the definition of being loving. I presume that you, too, are defining love that way. Isn’t your view that through the evolutionary process, which does entail suffering, we become more than we could in any other way, that we ultimately transcend all suffering and enter into eternal happiness? It seems to me, in other words, that you are seeing suffering as not a positive end in itself, but simply as a necessary part of reaching an end that is the opposite of suffering, that is immeasurably happy. If I am right, then your God is deemed as loving for the same reason that mine is: both work toward the goal of our perfect happiness.
I think this becomes clear if you imagine the end differently. Let’s imagine a different scenario in which God does everything exactly the same right up until the end. He creates you partially awake and partially developed. He then sends you through an evolutionary process that, though filled with suffering, causes you to awaken and develop. But then, right as you reach the final state, he feeds you to these all-powerful demons who rip you limb from limb and devour you, body and soul. It turns out that these demons really love the taste of Christed beings, and the entire evolutionary process has been one in which God was merely fattening you up for the demons. Is there anyone alive (besides the demons who would call such a God loving?
For the same reason, I don’t think there is anyone alive who would call God perfectly loving if He could have spared us the painful evolutionary process (while still getting us to the same end-state), but chose to put us through it anyway. Returning to an earlier analogy of mine, imagine a doctor who refuses to operate with anesthesia. How would we feel if we were actually one of his post-op patients, and when we asked him to explain this horrific procedure, he merely said, “Oh, would you just give up the daydream of the sensitive green male?”
This whole issue, I believe, goes to the heart of what we are discussing. The Course has done something that no other teaching that I know of has done. It has made its foundational premise the idea of a perfectly loving, absolutely ethical God. And then from that single standpoint, it has revisioned everything—creation, the physical world, the evolutionary process—in light of that one premise. This leads to a radical reframing of everything in the world. It means that the cruel world is unreal, and is our doing, not God’s. It means that people, in spite of appearances, were created as perfectly developed Sons of God, and even creators, and are simply asleep to this great fact. It means that the evolutionary process is going on, but that we are merely evolving back to the state we were created in and never really left. I don’t see the Course as wiping out any of the data that we are faced with in this world or on the spiritual journey. It simply puts all that data into a larger framework that reflects God’s nature as perfectly loving and ethical. To accomplish this, the Course makes some daring and highly unusual moves. But in the end, it leaves us with a vision of God that, in my opinion, is uniquely beautiful. This is such a precious goal that I think it should purchase for the Course careful and generous consideration for some of the unusual moves it makes on the way to this goal.
I am looking forward to your response.
Dear Robert, thank you for your thoughtful response. As always, I will try to answer you as best I can.
I want to begin this post by exploring common ground I believe we share or are close to sharing. The Course states that the manifest world, including the physical world, was created by Mind. I agree. It was created by Divine Mind. The Course says that creation in all its forms, visible and invisible, was created by the Divine Sonship (collective). The Christian creed, following the prologue to John’s Gospel, says that all things were made by the Father but through the Son. Both formulations, which may be closer than we suppose, preserve God the Father/Mother/Source as utterly changeless, eternal, loving, formless, serene, etc., a point you seem very intent on making and with which I agree.
I also agreed earlier with the Course and Tolle that much of human thinking is deranged. Humans are, however, part of the divine body of the collective Christ and are what has been traditionally called co-creators with God of our reality. Therefore, human thinking, conscious and unconscious, is responsible for much that is evil/unbalanced/deranged (whatever word one wants to use) in this world (as well as for much sublime creativity).
Earlier I quoted Wilber as saying that only psychotics create their own reality. But it is also true that, as divine co-creators (to use traditional language), there are some ways that to some degree we do create our reality. In recent years there have been hundreds of books exploring this area: books on manifestation including the manifestation of prosperity, books on self-healing techniques such as visualization, and books on the “scientific” way to practice petitionary prayer. There have been books exploring how people and events in our lives “mirror” our own inner consciousness, and books on the magnetic power of emotions and how emotions, both positive and negative, will bring people into our lives who are on the same emotional wavelength or who will draw forth our suppressed emotions to be healed. There have been books on psychology that have shown the destructive effects of psychological projection, displacement, suppression, denial and other mental habits.
There have also been books exploring the laws of karma, how, as Jesus said, our every thought, word, deed and omission creates ramifications for the future. Lastly, there have been books, e.g. Rupert Sheldrake’s, positing that collective human habits and choices throughout evolution, create morphogentic fields that thereafter largely determine the direction of human evolution. Moreover, all of these areas are in their infancy in terms of scientific elaboration. Yes, it does seem that the minds of human beings have a very powerful effect upon reality, even physical reality. We still have an enormous amount to learn about the powers of the mind and how those powers interact with the various spiritual laws.
Finally, I agree that the physical world, when seen from the vantage point of the higher planes of consciousness, could be characterized as a dream world. When we dream we enter the astral plane, a dream world for us. But the millions of souls who live on that plane see the physical plane as a dream world and the astral world as real. A soul living on the causal plane would see both the physical and astral worlds as dream worlds. I remember Yogananda saying during WWI that soldiers were dying in their dreambodies on the Western front. Books which have explored the after-death astral plane say that the people there seem to create the contents of that plane by their thoughts. Some say the same is true on the physical plane except that, the energies being much denser, it takes thoughts, both positive and negative, a lot longer to manifest here (during which time they are often cancelled out). So, the Course’s characterization of the world as a dream is not as “far out” as some might suppose.
Footnote: To call something a dream is not necessarily to call it unreal. Dreams can be very real.
I believe we must keep all of the above things in mind in assessing the Course’s assertion that creation is wholly the product of the Divine Sonship, including the minds of humans and, in your view, the minds of countless other sentient beings. In short, as I think is your intent in this dialogue, what the Course says must be given a respectful hearing.
In your last post, your first response was about nondualism. You state there are two kinds of such. In the perennial tradition, nondualism refers to the relationship between the formless (God as Source or Creator) and the world of form, God’s manifestations or creations. It says these are “not two.” In Hinduism the classic formulation is Braham is Atman and Atman is Brahman. In Buddhism there are two classic formulations, “Nirvana is Samsara and Samsara is Nirvana” and “Emptiness is Form and Form is Emptiness.” In Christianity, with its mythological language, the formulation is “The Father and the Son are One,” i.e, not two (this being the basis of the theology of the Trinity, three personas but only one God.) In all these traditions form is not negated but it is seen as an aspect of formlessness.
It is important to realize that this is not metaphysical, intellectual, philosophical speculation. That form and formlessness are “not two” is a truth derived primarily from the direct inner contemplative experience of the contemplatives of the great traditions. It is how one actually sees God and creation at the nondual level of consciousness. Now, admittedly, very few humans have ever realized nondual vision, particularly on a permanent basis. As Wilber says, it requires a complete uprooting of the self system, including a total dissolution of the distinction between subject and object. Of the 6.5 billion people on this planet, maybe a room full could be said to be permanently at the nondual level.
If I understand you correctly, your definition of nondualism is very different. It does not seem to deal at all with the relationship between the formless and form, between God as Source and God as Manifested (Son). It seems wholly concerned with the world of form, the relationship between the mind and mental forms on the one hand and matter and physical forms on the other hand. Per your interpretation of the Course, you say that mind and its forms exist, but the world of physical forms, being an illusion or dream, does not. Philosophically, this is nothing new. If the Course does teach this, it breaks no new ground. It is the philosophy of idealism, extreme idealism, which has been with us since the ancient Greeks and re-appears periodically, e.g., Bishop Berkeley and Mary Baker Eddy. What we end up with is a singularity, i.e., only mind exists (although apparently, in your view, that singularity contains many minds and mental forms such as ideas). We can agree to call this a kind of “nondualism” if we wish, but this nondualism is something very different from the nondualism of the perennial tradition.
SALVATION BY GRACE OR WORKS?
You write: “I’m also glad that you see God as the only power, so that our efforts don’t change our fundamental nature from asleep to awake. However, your examples sent mixed messages, I felt. It’s true that a fetus doesn’t grow by its own effort. But then you mention that we awaken “to the extent we cooperate with, and do not resist, such Grace.” Yet aren’t there now two powers necessary to the process—God’s Grace and our cooperation?”
Essentially, you re-open the old argument between Protestants (Luther) and Catholics about whether salvation/justification is wrought by grace/faith or by good works/human effort. You prefer the Protestant position. Rather than re-hash 400 years of theological argument, I would refer the readers of our dialogue to the historic 1999 agreement between the Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches which, hopefully, resolved this issue for Christians. The agreement, which concedes the high ground to Luther, essentially comports with the Course’s Introduction, “Free will does not establish the curriculum. It means only that you can elect what you want to take at a given time.” Because we have free will, we can either cooperate with or resist the graces of the Holy Spirit at any given time.
Footnote: Just two weeks ago, the president of the American association of evangelical theologians, a Lutheran, resigned. He became a Roman Catholic. He stated that, since the argument over justification had been resolved, there was no further need for protestation.
A LOVING CREATOR OF A FLAWED WORLD?
This, it seems, is the difficult issue and the one you grapple with the most. It seems to be a core spiritual issue for you. According to Lord Vywamus (through another channeler) all of us have such issues and, in general, he says they stem from a resentment towards God for giving birth to us, and thus separating us from the Godhead in the first place. (My own issue, for the record, is confusion, belief that God was very unfair about expecting us to make sense of, and get meaning from, the bewilderingly complex world God birthed us into).
You write, “I don’t think there is anyone alive who would call God perfectly loving if He could have spared us the painful evolutionary process (while still getting us to the same end-state), but chose to put us through it anyway.” You go on to assert that, in your view, God could have created us enlightened. Indeed, you interpret the Course as saying God did so, but we ourselves sabotaged God’s effort by creating the world of form/separation (though, for unknown reasons, you find only physical forms distasteful, mental forms apparently being okay even though they often cause as much pain or more).
As I wrote in my last post, I have no idea why the world is as it is. I offered a couple speculations on the issue but that’s all they were, tentative speculations. Many spiritual teachers, me included, have suggested that this world of polarities, in which one gets “punished” if one goes too far in any extreme, is a crucible for refining us into loving beings. But that view, even though to some extent based on personal and pastoral experience, is also to some degree speculation. Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, in her book on centering prayer and Christian mysticism, suggests that even our “dark side” may be crucial to our growth in holiness (wholeness). Others, like the Anglo-American mystic Alan Watts, have suggested the same. One thinks of Jesus’ parable of the weeds and wheat and how the weeds must not be uprooted before the harvest lest we also uproot the wheat.
Your view, as you admit, is also speculation for none of us know why things are as they are. Jesus himself, even now, may not know just as he deferred to the Father on many questions when he was here. The Hindus, nonjudgmentally, chalk it all off as God’s lila, dance or play. But I can understand why many people, as with boxing and American football, think this play far too rough for their taste.
THE COURSE AND “THIS WORLD”
I agree with what I see as the central teaching of the Course, the false view of the world as seen by the ego vs. the true view of the world as seen by God and those who have put on the mind of Christ. In doing so I see the apparent separateness of the physical world as just that: only apparent, not real. With clear vision all is Spirit.
You write, “However, if by ‘world’ we are talking instead about the physical forms, the Course sees that world as an illusion, a dream that merely pictures the delusion in the minds. It calls that world a ‘slaughter house’ (M-13.4:4), in which ‘devouring is nature’s ‘law of life’ (M-27.3:7).”
The New Testament too often speaks very pejoratively of the world and the flesh. Many early Christians, therefore, like the Gnostics I mentioned above, and like some Christians even today, took that literally, seeing matter, physicality, sexuality, etc. as evil. You seem to interpret the Course in a similar manner.
But that interpretation has never been generally accepted by the Christian Church. Following Genesis, the Church has seen the world as “good.” When Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” he was neither condemning the physical plane nor talking about the afterlife. He was, as the Course does, emphasizing that this world, as seen by the ego with its ego consciousness, is a false delusion of separateness. As Jesus said, it is a lie created by the Father of Lies, Diabolus, the dualistic human ego (both diabolus, the devil, and dualism have their root in the Latin duo, two). The real world is one divine entity, a seamless garment. As Jesus taught, “What you do to the least of your brothers you do to me.” I suggest that perhaps the Course’s condemnation of the “world” should perhaps be interpreted in keeping with this 2,000 year Christian tradition rather than in the Gnostic sense that was rejected by the great mystical Fathers of the Church long ago.
Peace and love, Jim
As we close this dialogue, at least for now, I want to say how very grateful I am for your willingness to engage in it. You haven’t held back in voicing your praise of the Course, or your disagreement with it, or in giving your time to this exchange. I can only hope that others will be as gracious in their willingness to dialogue about A Course in Miracles. I’ll respond to your latest offering and then offer some final observations at the end.
I am grateful for your acknowledgment that the Course should be given a respectful hearing in its teaching that we, the Sonship, made the world. I appreciated all the ways you mentioned in which it has been shown that our thoughts do shape our world. I particularly liked the analogy of what has been said about the astral world, “that the people there seem to create the contents of that plane by their thoughts.” I have read that, too, and it was one of the early things that gave me an understandable model for what the Course is saying about the physical world.
I should clarify more carefully the Course’s version of nondualism. It doesn’t use the term, but certainly uses the concept. The Course would sharply divide everything into two classes.
In one class is God, the Son (which is our own true Self), and the Holy Spirit, all of which are pure, bodiless, unbounded, changeless spirit, as well as perfectly loving, joyous, knowing, powerful, united, and peaceful.
In the other class is time, space, and form (a trio which obviously encompasses the entire phenomenal universe), along with the ego (both the human and the animal ego) and its attendant attributes of hate, fear, suffering, limitation, and separateness. (This class would include the “mental forms” of the separate self, just to clarify a point you made.)
These two classes seem to be irreconcilable opposites. Traditional nondualism would say that at least two of the opposites involved can be reconciled: spirit and form. I don’t know what it would say about other opposites, such as love and hate, good and evil. I would be very interested to find out. The Course’s nondualism would say that the classes in their entirety are genuine opposites, and as such they are mutually exclusive. One negates the other, and so both cannot be real, and in fact both aren’t. Only the first class is real. We can see all of this captured in this paragraph from the Course:
Although you are one Self, you experience yourself as two; as both good and evil, loving and hating, mind and body. This sense of being split into opposites induces feelings of acute and constant conflict, and leads to frantic attempts to reconcile the contradictory aspects of this self-perception. You have sought many such solutions, and none of them has worked. The opposites you see in you will never be compatible. But one exists. (W-pI.96.1)
So here we see the same two classes. The first is “good,” “loving,” and “mind” (understood as our true mind, which is limitless and changeless). The second is “evil,” “hating,” and “body.” Seemingly possessing both sides within ourselves causes a terrible sense of inner conflict, for we feel split down the middle into two opposing camps. We seek relief by trying to find ways to reconcile these camps. We try to see them as not so opposite, not so far apart. Maybe they are integrated. Maybe they are just different parts of the same wheel. But the real relief, this paragraph says, comes from realizing that the second camp does not exist.
Here we see a clear claim of nondualism on the part of the Course: There seem to be two, but there is really only one. The truth is “not-two.” But it is not only different from a more traditional brand of nondualism, it also refutes that brand. It claims that trying to reconcile the two classes is futile. The paragraph that follows says that until you have accepted “that truth and illusion cannot be reconciled,” “you will attempt an endless list of goals you cannot reach; a senseless series of expenditures of time and effort, hopelessness and doubt, each one as futile as before, and failing as the next one surely will” (W-pI.96.2:1-2)—simply because you are trying to hang onto the false by intermingling it with the true.
You say that the Course’s view is an extreme idealism, and I would agree, as long as we acknowledge (against Bishop Berkeley) that the forms of this world are ideas in our minds, not God’s Mind. I do want to point out, though, that such an idealism constitutes monism, which of course is not dualism.
You say that the truth that form is merely “an aspect of formlessness” is not just an intellectual claim but is drawn primarily from contemplative experience. Yet I would claim that it is drawn from the interpretation of contemplative experience. The Course says that the mind that sees with vision will basically have the same experience that contemplatives have. It will see God in everything, even in such forms as a “table” (W-pI.28.5:1), “the smallest leaf,” or “a blade of grass” (T-17.II.6:3). Yet the Course interprets such an experience very differently. It does not say that the form really is an aspect of God, or even originates from God. It says that God is “in” that form in the sense that God has assigned His purpose to that form (just as we assign our purposes to objects in our environment). Those with eyes to see, then, will see that table as lit up with God’s purpose. It is not hard to see how they could interpret this as the table itself being ultimately divine. So I don’t think the Course is denying the experience of contemplatives. It’s just offering a different interpretation of that experience.
Salvation by grace or works?
Just a quick clarification. I don’t think the Course is opting for either the Protestant or the Catholic version, though there are significant points of contact with both. The Course portrays salvation as a process that is catalyzed by our own efforts. These efforts call down help from the Holy Spirit and this help actually does the majority of the work in the salvation process. So there you have both grace and works. Finally, however, the Course goes beyond both in saying that our efforts and the Holy Spirit’s aid merely serve to awaken us to our true Identity, an Identity that is entirely an accomplishment of God. It predates our efforts to find it and even predates the Holy Spirit Himself. In this sense, salvation—the saving of our soul—is not actually real, since our soul never fell.
A loving creator of a flawed world?
I’ll let your words serve as the closing of this discussion, which we have explored at length. I’ll just say that I’m glad that we both admit that we are not really in a position to know the truth with certainty. This leaves room to explore different perspectives and try them on for size.
The Course and “this world”
If I understand you correctly, you are arguing for interpreting the Course’s teachings on the world in keeping with the Christian Church’s view of the world as good. You then seem to go one step further than the Church and say that the world is “one divine entity, a seamless garment,” in which the apparent separation is “only apparent, not real.”
You seem to suggest that I, on the other hand, am interpreting the Course using the frame of the ancient Gnostics, which yields a view of physicality as evil. (I say “seem” because I am reading a bit between the lines here. Maybe that’s not what you meant.)
From my standpoint, it is crucial that we interpret the Course without imposing any outside authority on it. The Course itself needs to be the frame in which we interpret it. We certainly can’t interpret it using the frame of Christianity, given that the Course is so clearly intent on overturning many basic Christian tenets (such as Jesus dying for our sins—see T-6.I). I personally have no allegiance to Gnosticism, and have never actually felt any attraction to it. I am just trying to honor the Course’s views on the world, which are stated repeatedly in its pages. I can present you with a long series of passages in which the Course expresses the very views of the world that I have been espousing. They aren’t the views I started out with when I began studying the Course. They are the views I was dragged to (with much reluctance) by what I studied.
This is really the first extended dialogue that we at the Circle have engaged in with someone from outside the Course. I think it has taught me a number of things about such dialogues, which is good because we want to engage in many more of them in the future.
First, we really want dialogue partners who have the breadth of mind to be willing to engage with us about a path that is not their own, one that is new and has not as yet achieved much prominence in the world. Yet we also want them to have the honesty to express their disagreement openly and clearly, and at the same time to have the tolerance to make the dialogue a kind and respectful one. Thankfully, we found this unusual combination of traits in our first dialogue partner.
I find myself reinforced in the conviction that such dialogues really can be kind and respectful. The easiest thing in the world is for discussions of differences, especially ones about matters of ultimate concern, to quickly degenerate into ad hominem attacks. Yet this is the last thing that I, and the rest of us at the Circle, want to take part in. Given the nature of our path, we have no interest in a knock-down-drag-out. There is no reason why differences cannot be discussed both openly and within a larger spirit of cooperation, which is exactly what happened here.
I think much of the challenge in such dialogues will be the twofold challenge of, first, getting the Course’s position acknowledged as it is, rather than too quickly put in a category that may not entirely fit; and then, second, getting the Course’s position an open-minded hearing, rather than a quick dismissal. With that open-minded hearing, my hope is that a dialogue partner can see at least some of the logic, reason, and benefit in the Course’s position, even if that person doesn’t adopt that position as his or her own.
I think the rewards of such dialogues are many. How can good not come when two people come together in search of understanding each other and exploring ultimate truth? One benefit I experienced in this dialogue (though it is somewhat of a selfish one) is that your remarks gave me an excuse to express ideas that I’ve been mulling over for years, but which I’ve never put in print, for the simple reason that I usually write for people who are students of the Course!
Thank you again, Jim, for taking part. You have kindly offered to continue this at another time, exploring topics that we didn’t discuss here, and I think we should do exactly that.