Why Don’t the Masters Have an Original Thought?

This article appeared in the September/October 2006 issue of Miracles magazine, published by Jon Mundy. The issue also included pieces by Greg Mackie (which was a shortened version of a longer piece appearing on this website) and by Jon himself. All three articles examine the reality of Gary Renard’s ascended masters and conclude that they are a literary fiction.

Update (April 2010): Please seeGary Renard’s Stolen Gospelby Bruce Fraser MacDonald, PhD. This article shows that what Renard presents as “Pursah’s Gospel of Thomas” (in Your Immortal Reality), a supposedly original version of Thomas straight from its author, is almost exactly the same as a contemporary translation of Thomas by Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer.

In all of the excitement about The Disappearance of the Universe, by Gary Renard, there has been an uncomfortable question loitering in the wings, virtually unnoticed: Is the story true? Did two ascended masters actually physically appear in Renard’s living room seventeen times over the course of nine years? Could the whole thing be a fraud? It seems “spiritually incorrect” to even ask such a question. After all, Renard claims it is true, and as good spiritual seekers, we endeavor to be trusting and non-judgmental. Moreover, the message has inspired so many, and isn’t it a bit shallow to be a stickler on factual truth when the far weightier matter of spiritual truth is at hand? Finally, why look a gift horse in the mouth? The book has brought so many thousands of people to the Course, as well as thousands of lapsed students back to the Course. For all these reasons, you can almost hear the groans when this question is raised. Why spoil this wonderful party with an unpleasant question like that?

Yet this is the question that must be asked. To appreciate just how central it is, all you need do is imagine answering it first one way, and then the other. So let’s do that. If the story really is true, if ascended masters really did arrange a series of lengthy, in-the-flesh discourses to reveal the hidden truth of A Course in Miracles, then this is no trivial occurrence. Every student of the Course—indeed, every person on earth—should sit up and take notice. Here is the real truth, the thing we are all looking for, delivered straight from the heavenly realm, and delivered in a manner that is so astounding as to be without parallel. The way in which the Course itself was given pales in comparison. Helen merely heard a voice in her head.

If the story is not true, however, the picture changes completely. Now, the story is simply made up by the author. Think about that for a moment. Imagine you yourself going through all the steps to plan such a deception, carry it off, and then maintain it in the face of criticism, as you ride its wave of ill-gotten fame. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? And yet it is done. People do concoct stories in which they are commissioned by a highly evolved being—with whom they alone are in contact—to be his special envoy to the world. Even though these stories are pure fiction, they have a rare power to grant their authors instant celebrity. A case in point is Marlo Morgan, who wrote Mutant Message Down Under about her supposed travels with a reclusive tribe of highly evolved Australian Aborigines, who chose her to carry their message to the world. When real Aborigines heavily protested, she tearfully admitted to a group of elders that the story was a fabrication. Yet even then, she kept riding the wave. She continued touring and even wrote a second book.

These two scenarios are so utterly, radically different that it’s safe to say that the single most important thing to know about “DU” is whether or not its story is true.

Most people I have talked to, however, would resist this stark either/or picture. They say that what matters is the message, or the fact that the book has brought so many to the Course. This makes me wonder if they have really pondered that second scenario. Are there any outcomes under which you are prepared to praise that scenario?

If Renard had said that the masters were simply a literary device, then I would join the crowd and say that it’s the message that counts, and I would also have some genuinely good things to say about that message. But once he claims the story is true—and he’s been adamant about that—then that claim becomes the issue in relation to the book.

Some, however, question the relevance of this issue due to the fact that we simply can’t know if the story is true or false. Ah, but have we tried? Maybe we can’t know in the absolute sense, but how many things can we know in that sense? Since such knowing is unattainable, all we usually require is a kind of personal version of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” My belief is that we can achieve that rather easily with DU. Indeed, I believe that we can go so far beyond a reasonable doubt that we can consider the matter completely closed.

How, you may ask, can we find such surety? I believe there are many indicators to look to, all of which in my view point in the same unfortunate direction. (Greg Mackie discusses these in his article in this issue.) However, what I see as the chief indicator is on almost every page of the book. Throughout DU, the masters discuss A Course in Miracles. Given that they are ascended masters, who have appeared for the sole purpose of discussing A Course in Miracles, we would naturally expect their understanding to be far beyond the human. We would expect them to come out with stunningly original insights into the Course.

The problem, however, is that their understanding of the Course is extremely human. To understand why I say that with such confidence, you need to appreciate the immense gap that I personally experience between the Course itself and people’s representations of it. I have spent my adult life studying this document, and my overwhelming experience is that it is not the document we assume it is. Every paragraph is a minor symphony of themes, with little twists and turns of thought that are whole teachings in themselves. Most importantly, there are ideas on every page that I never hear Course students or teachers talk about. As a result, most of the Course’s hundreds (perhaps thousands) of themes, including many of its main themes, are simply not discussed. Much of what’s in there we just don’t see. Further, much of what we do see isn’t in there. A great deal of the accepted wisdom about the Course is simply not true.

To give you a small taste of what I mean, let’s look at something as basic as the miracle. We all know that a miracle is a shift in perception, right? Renard’s masters dutifully repeat this well-known fact (103; the page numbers in this article are from the original edition). Yet actually, the Course never says this, not once. While it does occasionally talk about miracles that are clearly internal, it almost always characterizes the miracle as an extension of healed perception from a giver (or “miracle worker”) to a receiver (or “miracle receiver”—see (T-1.VII.3:10 and 2.V.3:2). The very first section of the Course makes this repeatedly clear. It says that miracles “are performed by those who temporarily have more for those who temporarily have less” (T-1.I.8:1), that “they bring more love both to the giver and the receiver” (T-1.I.9:3), and that “they simultaneously increase the strength of the giver and supply strength to the receiver” (T-1.I.16:2). Yet how often have you heard students or teachers even use the term “miracle receiver”?

You probably haven’t, and this highlights the vast gulf between the Course itself and people’s representations of it. When people approach the Course, I see them do the same few things over and over again. First, they primarily see what they have been taught to see, by other students and teachers, as well as by the general spiritual smorgasbord out there. You can even tell which teachers and teachings they have been influenced by. Second, they are mostly blind to the things they haven’t been taught to see. Third, they latch on to a few simple concepts and see them everywhere. The overall result is that in place of the Course’s intricate symphony of ideas, they see a pretty simple formula, the elements of which are largely inherited from others, rather than from the Course.

I spend a huge amount of my time experiencing both sides of this coin. I have my nose in the Course for a good part of each day, taking in its complex symphony of largely unnoticed themes. And I regularly interact with students, hearing their formulaic distillations of the Course, each composed of a handful of inherited ideas. The difference between the two is truly night and day.

The simple fact is that DU is an absolutely clear and unmistakable case of the latter. It has all the expected characteristics with which I have grown so familiar. First, it is extremely formulaic. A small body of ideas is presented over and over and over again. I can’t tell you how unlike the Course this is. Second, it contains only those themes that are already circulating among Course students, strangely ignoring the hundreds of Course themes that aren’t. I literally cannot find a single original Course insight in it. Third, you can instantly tell which influential teacher its borrowed ideas come from.

I noticed this final item within minutes of picking up DU, and I was by no means the only one. I have heard people saying that it felt like Gary was “channeling Ken”—meaning, Ken Wapnick—or that DU is a transcript of a long conversation with Ken, or that Arten and Pursah are really Ken and Gloria. Much has been made of Renard’s rather startling admission that “much of this work is based” on Wapnick’s teaching (xv), or the masters saying that Wapnick will be viewed by history as “the greatest” teacher of the Course (95). In my mind, however, those comments do not speak nearly as loudly as the constant reliance on Wapnick’s work, the extent of which is truly astonishing.

If DU merely adopted a general Wapnick orientation, we could say that both Wapnick and the masters are looking at the Course independently and simply seeing the same truths. But the correspondences are too specific and extend too far into Wapnick’s own distinctive opinions. For instance, DU repeats highly idiosyncratic Wapnick teachings that simply cannot be verified in the Course (see table below). It is filled with Wapnick attitudes about the Course’s total incompatibility with Christianity and the Bible, its superiority over all other teachings, as well as the Course’s mistreatment at the hands of ego-filled students and teachers, none of which is in the Course. It frequently uses favorite Wapnick words and phrases, found very rarely or never in the Course, such as “non-duality,” “mindless,” “script,” “unconscious guilt,” “taken seriously,” “the level of the mind,” and “there is no one (or nobody) out there.” It includes Wapnick’s pantheon of key historical figures: Plato, Plotinus, Valentinus, Shakespeare, Freud. It has a penchant for using favorite Wapnick Course quotes (I’ll cite a couple below). The list could go on and on.

Let me provide an extremely brief sample of what I’m talking about. The following table, if space permitted, could fill dozens of pages:

Disappearance of the UniverseKen WapnickMy comments
“The holy instant actually takes place outside of time and space….The holy instant is simply that instant when you choose the Holy Spirit as your Teacher instead of the ego” (221).“The holy instant is the Course’s term for the instant—outside time and space—when we choose the Holy Spirit as our Teacher instead of the ego.”The Course characterizes the holy instant not as a moment of choice, but of experience “What happens in the holy instant [is] the lifting of the barriers of time and space, the sudden experience of peace and joy, and, above all, the lack of awareness of the body” (T-18.VI.13:6).
Renard makes the point that the Course is not about changing the physical, but about a shift in perception in the mind. Pursah then says, “Yes. Very good. Then you’re dealing with the cause. As the Course says, ‘This is a course in cause and not effect.’ and, “Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world’” (115).“Thus, the Course focuses on our thoughts, not their external manifestations, which are really projections of these thoughts. As it says, “This is a course in cause and not effect” (T-21.VII.7:8). We are urged not to seek to change the world (effect), but to change our mind (cause) about the world (T-21.In.1:7).”Actually, there is an even bigger problem than the detailed similarity between these two passages. The Course quote about cause and effect has nothing to do with the mind vs. the world. In its original context, the cause is “the choice” to let your brother “be revealed to you through vision” (T-21.VII.7:5). And the effect is actually receiving that vision from the Holy Spirit. It is quite telling that the masters just happen to misunderstand the quote in the same way Wapnick did.
Pursah: “You romanticize the South American rainforest by thinking it’s one of the holiest spots on earth. If you could observe in accelerated motion what goes on underneath the ground there, you would see that the roots of trees actually compete with each other for the water” (28).“We admire the beauties and wondrous delicacies of nature. Yet within this same world we perceive competition and destructiveness….Trees’ roots strangle neighboring roots seeking their rightful soil.”I spoke to Ken about the tree roots image, which I had never heard apart from his teachings and DU. It has an interesting history. He has never read about this image. Rather, as a boy, he watched a TV show called Omnibus, hosted by Alistair Cooke, which actually showed (presumably using time-lapse photography) the root systems of different trees battling each other underground. The image had a lasting impact on him. Decades later, when teaching the Course, he began using it in writing and in workshops to illustrate the idea that nature is not the wondrous place it seems to be.
“His [the Holy Spirit’s] Voice…is your memory of God” (85). “…the memory of your true home with God, symbolized in the Course by the Holy Spirit” (132).“We can better understand the Holy Spirit to be the memory of God’s perfect Love that ‘came’ with the Son when he fell asleep.”The Course never calls the Holy Spirit the memory of God. The “memory of God” is a Course term for what happens in the instant of our final awakening out of the dream. It is not a memory we take with us into the dream.
“The Holy Spirit doesn’t do anything in the world.” (224)“The Holy Spirit does not really do anything.” “The Holy Spirit or Jesus do nothing in the world.”The Course not only doesn’t say this, it speaks of the Holy Spirit giving us guidance, healing, vision, holy instants, revelation, and even physical things in this world.
Speaking about “the ‘tiny, mad idea…’ of separation” (124), Arten says, “Because your idea is not of God, He does not respond to it. To respond to it would be to give it reality. If God Himself were to acknowledge anything except the idea of perfect oneness, then there would no longer be perfect oneness” (123).“This God does not even know about the separation…and thus does not and cannot respond to it.” “If God knew about the ‘tiny, mad idea,’ it would have to be real.”The Course plainly states that God was aware of the separation (See T-6.V.1:5-8) and responded to it by creating the Holy Spirit (C-6.1:2). It also implies that without this response, which established a “remaining Communication Link between God and His separated Sons” (C-6.3:1), the separation would have been forever real (W-pI.43.1:4).

These correspondences get quite esoteric. For instance, the masters reproduce, split for split, Ken Wapnick’s arcane metaphysical drama of the four splits (131-146). They also reproduce in detail his teaching of the two scripts, in which we are watching a movie of the ego’s script (the events of our lives), but we can switch over to watching the Holy Spirit’s script (His interpretation of those events). They also reproduce his teaching on the “decision maker,” a mind that is outside space and time, wrote the “script” of our lives, and decides between the ego and the Holy Spirit. They also reproduce his view of the two levels on which the Course was written, saying, “The parts of the Course that express non-duality should be taken literally, but the parts of it that seem to express duality should be taken as metaphor” (92). (Compare with Wapnick’s own description: “Only those statements [in the Course] that reflect the unified reality of Heaven…should be taken literally.” 9 )

This would all be understandable, if the Course itself were quite vocal on these topics. Yet in fact it is completely silent. I honestly cannot find the support for these teachings in the Course. I challenge anyone to find it. These teachings appear to be Wapnick’s own very original inventions. Yet the masters parrot them as if they were gospel.

The correspondences are so extensive, so detailed, and fall so far outside what can be verified in the Course, that we simply cannot explain this as the masters seeing the same truths in the Course that Wapnick has. The conclusion is inescapable: “The masters” are relying directly and heavily on the writings and audio recordings of Ken Wapnick.

Yet, of course, why would ascended masters need to do that? Why would beings from beyond time and space have to rely on a human interpreter? Why wouldn’t they have an ounce of originality in them? Why would they look exactly like the vast majority of Course students I meet, repeating their simple formulas, which immediately reveal the teacher they borrowed them from, and which leave out all those Course themes that no one told them about?

This is not about my differences with the teachings of Ken Wapnick. If DU had heavily relied on my work instead, the only difference would be that I would have written an article like this much sooner, in order to disassociate myself from the book. This is also not about me being jealous of Gary Renard’s success, as he suggested in an open letter sent to various Course centers and teachers. There are larger issues here than career. This is about the truth. A massive, fantastic claim has been made. People are giving their trust to it and granting it ultimate authority. A Course in Miracles is being identified with it in the minds of thousands. We are accustomed to any claim that affects a large number of people being subjected to verification. If a new diet book comes out, we automatically expect that its claims will be put to the test. How much more should we expect this of a claim that appears to be one of the greatest spiritual stories ever told, yet could turn out to be just another hoax? DU’s claim must be held up to scrutiny. And when it is, it simply falls apart.

1 The Most Commonly Asked Questions About ‘A Course in Miracles‘ (1995), p. 76. All of the works cited below are published by the Foundation for A Course in Miracles, located in Temecula, California. All were written by Wapnick; one work, The Most Commonly Asked Questions about ‘A Course in Miracles,’ was co-written with his wife Gloria.

2 Glossary-Index for ‘A Course in Miracles,’ 4th ed. (1st ed. 1982; 6th ed. 1993), pp. 8-9.

3 Forgiveness and Jesus: The Meeting Place of ‘A Course in Miracles’ and Christianity, 6th ed. (1st ed. 1983; 6th ed. 1998), p. 22.

4 The Message of ‘A Course in Miracles,’ Volume One: All Are Called (1997), p. 33.

5 Ibid, p. 339.

6 Commonly Asked Questions, p. 86.

7 Ibid, p. 4

8 Ibid, p. 101.

9 The Message of ‘A Course in Miracles,’ Volume Two: Few Choose to Listen (1997), p. 95.

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]