Difficult Passages: Think Not You Made the World?

There is a very puzzling statement in Workbook Lesson 184, so puzzling that I have been asked about it several times:

Think not you made the world. Illusions, yes! But what is true in earth and Heaven is beyond your naming. (W-184.8:1-3)

The apparent problem with this passage is obvious: The Course tells us many times that we made the world, yet here it says with great emphasis that we should not think we made the world. What’s more, it suggests that there are “true” things in the world, the very world we have been repeatedly told is an illusion!

How can we harmonize this passage with the rest of the Course? It’s too easy just to ignore it, to pass it off as Helen having a bad day, a glitch in taking down the Course, or that the Course is just inconsistent. I think such a passage calls for a serious attempt to reconcile what is said with the rest of the Course.

Our first impulse when facing this kind of issue is often to draw upon our overall understanding of the Course. We ask ourselves: Based on the Course’s overall thought system, how can I explain this passage? Many readers, no doubt, have already asked themselves this question in the course of reading this article.

I think there is a far better way. The answer to this kind of question almost always lies in immediate context, in the material immediately before and after the puzzling passage. Read that material very carefully, looking for words and ideas that also occur in your puzzling passage. So let’s do that with the passage we are looking at here. You might even want to go to Lesson 184 and read it from the start through Paragraph 8, where our passage occurs.

If you read the lesson from the beginning, you notice a central topic which also occurs in our passage: the topic of naming (“naming” being the last word of our passage). The beginning paragraphs of the lesson talk about our process of giving names to everything around us. We are told that assigning something a special name appears to “carve it out of unity” (1:4), making it seem to be “a separate entity” (1:3) with its own “special attributes” (1:5). In the wake of this naming project, we end up with a “reality” composed of distinct entities separated by the unnamed space between them. The naming process is thus really a making process, whereby we become (at least in part) the author of what we name—which is why there is so much pride in inventing a name that sticks. This discussion of naming concludes by saying, “This is the way reality is made by partial vision, purposefully set against the given truth” (4:1).

Do you notice anything important about this sentence? Here we have another idea found in our passage: the idea of us making our own reality. This lesson appears to be talking about a somewhat different concept of making the world. Usually, the Course seems to be referring to us making the world through an unconscious process of dreaming time and space into “existence.” Here, the Course is talking about a process closer to the surface: using names to separate our perceptual field into distinct and separate entities.

Let’s now go on to the lines immediately following the passage we are trying to explain:

When you call upon a brother, it is to his body that you make appeal. His true identity is hidden from you by what you believe he really is. His body makes response to what you call him, for his mind consents to take the name you give him as his own. And thus his unity is twice denied, for you perceive him separate from you, and he accepts this separate name as his. (8:4-7)

To explain our puzzling passage, we need to answer a specific question: What are the illusions we made and what are the true things we didn’t make? The answer to this question is right there in the lines just quoted. They contain a clear contrast between two things, one illusory and one real. Can you spot these two things? The illusory thing is the body, which merely seems to be what our brother is. The real thing is our brother’s “true Identity,” who he really is, which (as we know from elsewhere in the Course) is the Christ, a bodiless, boundless spiritual Self.

So, very simply, the illusions we made are bodies, the forms of this world, the visible aspect of this world. Yet behind each illusion is a brother, who is an invisible, spiritual mind, and who ultimately is the Christ Himself. This brother is real. He was not made by us but created by God. He is not even really in this world. His true location is Heaven. He seems to be here, however, trapped inside this body. That, I believe, is why our confusing passage speaks of “what is true in earth and Heaven.” The true things in this earth are not really in the earth at all; they are part of Heaven.

The confusion in our passage is really explained by now. But before pulling together what we have discovered, I would like to uncover a little more, just to show how much meaning there is here. Notice, in the lines quoted above, how the process of naming is carried further than before. A whole process is sketched, which goes something like this: You have in front of you a human body. You believe that this body is who your brother is. You express this belief by calling your brother by the name the world has given him. This name does not designate his true Identity, Which is one with all things and so could not have a special name. This name stands for a particular separate entity moving through space and time. It stands for a physical body. Thus, simply by calling him this name, you affirm that he is a separate body. Then, upon hearing your call, he accepts this name as his own. His mind thinks, “Yes, that is me. I am the body with that particular name.” As a result, his body responds to you, standing in for his actual identity and playing its role. This is how “his unity is twice denied.” By calling him a unique name, you have denied his true state of oneness with all reality. When he accepts this name as actually referring to him, he too has denied his oneness.

Now we are in a position to understand our initially puzzling passage with complete clarity. All we need to do is pull together all the things we have discovered through inspecting its immediate context. Here again is the passage:

Think not you made the world. Illusions, yes! But what is true in earth and Heaven is beyond your naming. (W-184.8:1-3)

And here is what we have discovered that it means:

First, you made a world of separate bodies in order to hide the unified field of minds which lay behind those bodies. Then, you named each body, further cementing the idea that this separate body—rather than the mind behind it—was the true person. Through this double process (of making forms then naming the forms) you made the world you see. But you think you made much more than this. Through this process, you think you made your brother (one of those unified minds) into the creature you see before you. You think you carved him out of unity; changed him from a boundless, unified spirit into a separate physical creature, designated by a special name. What an arrogant thought! For you only made the illusions of the world. Your brother was not made by you and so cannot properly be named by you, nor shaped and molded by your naming. He is far beyond all that. His reality may seem to be encased in a body, may seem to be part of this world, but in truth he abides in Heaven, where God placed him.

If we look carefully at the immediate context of any passage in the Course, we not only gain clarity, we also gain a much fuller meaning than we saw before.