INTRODUCING A COURSE IN MIRACLES
“This is a course in miracles. It is a required course. Only the time you take it is voluntary. Free will does not mean that you can establish the curriculum. It means only that you can elect what you want to take at a given time. The course does not aim at teaching the meaning of love, for that is beyond what can be taught. It does aim, however, at removing the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence, which is your natural inheritance. The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite.”
This Course can therefore be summed up very simply in this way:
“Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God.”
Here is a beautiful “prayer” from the Course that I would like to share with you here at the outset, especially as it highlights my role as both a teacher AND student – and your roles as students AND teachers…
I am here only to be truly helpful.
I am here to represent Him who sent me.
I do not have to worry about what to say or what to do,
Because He Who sent me will direct me.
I am content to be wherever he Wishes,
Knowing He goes there with me.
I will be healed as I let him teach me to heal.
“Every good teacher hopes to give his students so much of his own learning that they will no longer need him.
This is the one true goal of the teacher.” (T 4.I. 5:1-2)
The intention behind this presentation is to provide a contemporary, up-to-date introduction to the phenomenon that is A Course in Miracles (aka “ACIM” and/or “the Course”), one that brings together the most helpful information about the Course from the Web and other resources. This is primarily intended for those who are new to ACIM, but it could also very well prove helpful to those who are already somewhat familiar with it or even “seasoned.” Keeping with the Course’s own emphasis on simplicity, every attempt will be made to keep this as simple and clear as possible, as well as fair and balanced. Because of this, feedback on this presentation is most certainly welcome.
So let’s begin…
FINDING ANOTHER WAY, A BETTER WAY
“Tolerance for pain may be high, but it is not without limit.
Eventually everyone begins to recognize, however dimly, that there must be a better way.
As this recognition becomes more firmly established, it becomes a turning point.
This ultimately reawakens spiritual vision, simultaneously weakening the investment in physical sight.
The alternating investment in the two levels of perception is usually experienced as conflict, which can become very acute.
But the outcome is as certain as God.”
The writing of the Course actually began with the decision of two people (Helen Schucman and William Thetford, research psychologists at Columbia University from the ‘50s onward) to find “another way” to communicate and be with each other harmoniously as opposed to their usual antagonistic encounters. Perhaps you are now coming to the Course because you, too, are seeking “another way” in your life. Well, you should know that although the Course was ostensibly a way to help Helen and Bill to find peace in their relationship with each other, it is really meant for all of us, as the Course teaches that at essence we all have a shared interest in peace, love and understanding, and in finding our true self (Self). To help to understand this point, here are some of the issues that might have led you to this point, see if one or more of these applies to your life:
~ A failed or troubled relationship, whether with a spouse or significant other, parent, sibling, or friend.
~ Achievement of worldly success, only to find that you are still not happy.
~ Or conversely, failure to achieve success in life, leaving you feeling hopeless.
~ A sense that there must be more to life than this.
~ Fear about dying, or anxiety/panic about the future, for you or someone close to you.
~ A sense of deep regret and/or guilt about your past actions.
~ Confusion about spirituality and religion and how to know what the truth is regarding them.
~ A falling out with your birth religion, or religion in general.
~ A deep sense of loneliness and despair.
~ An unshakeable feeling that you are a fraud, a phony and/or that you really don’t like yourself, or worse.
~ Putting your trust in someone or something, only to be betrayed.
~ A perfectionism that leaves you paralyzed.
~ Recognizing that nothing is bringing you the happiness (love, peace, etc.) you truly seek.
~ A spiritual experience that left you with questions as to its meaning, one that you cannot seem to find in the world of traditional religion.
And so on…
Now, if any of these applied to you, then the Course might just be for you. And in fact, the Course really is for every body, and isn’t it the case that everybody experiences one or more of those things that were just listed? The thing is that not everybody is ready yet for the Course because it either might not be the right spiritual path for them, or they might not be at the point where they are ready to seek its guidance.
This could be summed up in a very simple statement:
“The Course is for everybody,
but not everybody is for the Course.”
(Or: The Course is for everyone who thinks they’re a body – more on this soon…)
The Course itself says:
“‘Many are called but few are chosen’ should be,
‘All are called but few choose to listen.'”
I sense that your being here right now means that you have in some sense heard the “call” and are in a place to really listen to and consider what the Course says and has to offer you. Given this, let’s get waste no time to get into the thick of it…
GO TO THE SOURCE
First off, as the Course itself advises us in various ways, it’s generally a good idea to “consider the source” and start with the original source material (though on a deeper level, “consider the source” would mean the Source, aka God), and for that you might want to purchase the following comprehensive edition of the Course put out by the Foundation for A Course in Miracles, click HERE . To the best of my knowledge, this is the most complete edition of the Course available, and it’s also the “standard” edition in the sense that most people citing chapter and verse are referring to this edition.
The entire Course can also be read for free online HERE .
For a summary background on how the Course came to be written and what it says, I recommend starting with the following:
“A Course in Miracles is a complete self-study spiritual thought system. As a three-volume curriculum consisting of a Text, Workbook for Students, and Manual for Teachers, it teaches that the way to universal love and peace—or remembering God—is by undoing guilt through forgiving others. The Course thus focuses on the healing of relationships and making them holy. A Course in Miracles also emphasizes that it is but one version of the universal curriculum, of which there are “many thousands.” Consequently, even though the language of the Course is that of traditional Christianity, it expresses a non-sectarian, non-denominational spirituality. A Course in Miracles therefore is a universal spiritual teaching, not a religion.”
The Introduction to the Course by Jesus and Helen Schucman (“How It Came,” “What It Is,” and “What It Says” – found in the Foundation’s printed edition of the Course).
After you read these, I would also highly recommend watching at least the first part of the following film (free on Youtube) that goes into more detail about how the Course came into existence: The Story of A Course in Miracles . It’s a very beautiful film and had my eyes welling up the first time I watched it.
SECONDARY SOURCES – BOOKS ABOUT THE COURSE
Ironically, most people don’t get into the Course by actually reading it first, however, because it is initially so challenging to understand; rather, people generally get into it through secondary sources such as books that have been written about the Course. The potential pitfall and caution with secondary sources is that they are only as good as the author themselves understand the Course (every “translation” is an interpretation). So with that cautionary word to the wise, here are a few of the most popular of these books about ACIM, and please keep in mind there are many other very helpful ones, these are just a few of the bestsellers:
Love Is Letting Go of Fear, Gerald G. Jampolsky
A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson
The Disappearance of the Universe, Gary Renard
A Course in Miracles Made Easy, Alan Cohen
Of these, it appears that Gary Renard’s book has been the most helpful in serving as a kind of “primer” or preparation for the Course. Not only has the “D.U.” (as it’s been called) brought many new students to the Course, but it has also brought back many “lapsed” Course students and/or those who had difficulty understanding its message. So of the 3 books above, I am recommending that you read Renard’s book to help get started with ACIM, yet with the following caveat …
There has been one big issue with Renard’s book, and it is this: While it purports to be a dialogue between the author and two ascended masters (Arten and Pursah) who teach him all about the Course in a series of meetings over the course of a decade, some have cast doubt upon this claim. Renard’s detractors, some of whom are also long-time students of the Course and Renard’s peers, argue that D.U. draws heavily upon the teachings of Ken Wapnick, the first teacher of the Course and one of its earliest editors.
Without saying more about this controversy here, I would just like to acknowledge that if it weren’t for Renard’s book, many people, myself included, might never have gotten interested in the Course. So whether Renard’s book is based on a true story or not, it definitely served its purpose for me, and many others as well. This is why I do recommend it for those who would like to get a kind of overview of the Course before they actually dive into the Course itself.
KEN WAPNICK AS A PORTAL
That said, let’s entertain for a moment the possibility that Renard did draw primarily on the work on Ken Wapnick, in a sense popularizing Wapnick for the masses. Then it would be a question of: 1) Did Renard accurately represent Wapnick’s work; and 2) Is Wapnick’s own work true to the Course? These are very important questions to answer for oneself because it is VERY helpful, perhaps even essential, to have a guide for the Course, a kind of interpreter who can put the Course’s sometimes challenging language and concepts into layperson’s terms. After all, not a few people have put the Course down due to its seeming incomprehensibility.
Once again, I answer a definitive “Yes” to these questions. Yes, Renard’s book does fairly accurately represent Wapnick’s work (again, assuming for a moment that he was borrowing from it), and yes, Wapnick (who just passed in 2013) did have a very trustworthy understanding of ACIM, perhaps better than anyone has ever had. And well he should have, because after all, Wapnick was both the first teacher of the Course and also the original editor of it who worked closely with Helen and Bill from 1972 onward. He even was present with Helen for some of the scribing of the Course, when she was receiving dictation from Jesus. Apparently he even helped to explain some difficult passages to Helen herself(!) Wapnick oversaw the Course’s translation into many languages, etc.
Yes, one might ask, but perhaps Wapnick still misunderstood the Course, and what other evidence do I have to support my claim? How do I know that Wapnick is/was a very trustworthy interpreter of the Course, especially when not everyone (such as “The Circle of Atonement” group – more on them later) agrees? Yes, believe it or not, there have been those who sometimes radically disagree with Wapnick’s interpretation of the Course, which is one reason why I feel it important to bring all of this up here. Because as a new Course student, you will no doubt be exposed to many opinions about the Course, and depending on who you read first, you might be led to greater confusion about what the Course says than not.
My answer to all of this is that after reading the Course myself, I feel that Ken Wapnick had the most comprehensive and clear understanding of the Course’s essential message than anyone I have seen. And I do believe that he did his very best to be a true messenger for the radical message of the Course, without letting his ego unduly influence that message (to my mind, he did not unduly “mess” with nor massage the message!). Others apparently see it differently, and that is really all good, I just feel the need to weigh in with my own two cents and six sense here.
And in any case, I feel that it is important to, at the very least, start with Wapnick as a guide, or read Renard’s book as a primer for both Wapnick and the Course. Starting with D.U. is not a bad idea as Wapnick is a little less accessible than Renard, whose book could be seen, again, as an attempt to present ACIM to the layperson. (Note: Two other really useful books are D. Patrick Miller’s Understanding A Course in Miracles and Living with Miracles.)
So with all of that said, I definitely highly recommend you explore Wapnick’s work, starting with the very valuable information found on the Foundation for a Course in Miracles website (facim.org, and its sister website, acim.org), and Wapnick’s numerous Youtube videos, plus his books, CDs, etc. I think that anyone with an eye to see will understand that Wapnick was a master of the material and saw himself as simply there to assist us all in better understanding what is often a challenging message to grasp (let alone practice!). [Also, highly recommended is Wapnick’s biography of Helen Schucman, Absence of Felicity, which goes into great detail about how the Course came to be written.]
And YET, all other agendas aside, I do believe and strongly feel that the Holy Spirit will guide you to just the right way to get into the Course, including the books you read, websites, etc. Perhaps it was by leading you to this book…?
CONTENT OVER FORM
“Content Over Form” is a central theme of the Course and one that Ken Wapnick often highlighted. To help make this more understandable for us, I will use Ken himself as an example, and please do note the tongue-in-cheek nature of this!
So when you look at Ken and hear him talk (in the many videos on Youtube, or elsewhere), at least at first look he might give the impression of a skinny, nebishy guy with a thick Long Island accent and a kind of harsh quality to his voice that makes him sound maybe a bit too snobby at times, not to mention he had a speech impediment that made him stutter.
But when you go beyond that superficial appearance (that is, the “Form”), you begin to see both the depth of his understanding, and his commitment to the message of the Course and helping others to understand it (that is, the “Content”). So, too, the Course asks us to look beyond appearances to see the underlying sameness of all people, that at heart we are all just seeking but one thing, and we can call that thing Love, which is a word that it seems we can all agree upon! And we get to Love through the practice of forgiveness. So let’s talk about this core Course message, which beyond all of the verbiage is very simple: It’s all about love and forgiveness; or, the practice of forgiveness as a way to return to Love, our true nature.
[Note: For a really nice Ken Wapnick tribute video, please see Jon Mundy’s Youtube video, click HERE. I highly recommend this video for helping to understand Ken better, as well as for an introduction to Jon Mundy himself. Mundy is also one of the great teachers of the Course, and I also highly recommend his own introduction to the Course, which starts HERE. And for more about Ken Wapnick: http://www.miraclestudies.net/KenWapnick.html ]
SIMPLE, BUT NOT EASY
Okay, so thus far I’ve thrown a lot of words at you and you might be wondering why it took this long to get to this simple message of love and forgiveness? Well, look at the Course itself! It’s over 1200 pages of material with half a million words, most of it quite intimidating to the new reader (again, think in terms of Form & Content here). Everyone asks at some point or another this question: If it really is all just about love and forgiveness, why so many darn words, and why did it have to be written in such a convoluted, Christian/biblical, and male-chauvinistic way? The Course says it’s simple, but so why not just say: “Love thy neighbor as thyself… because at essence they are Thy Self!” and be done with it? Isn’t that the bottom line of all of this?
The simple answer to this question is that the Course is so seemingly long and complicated because we ourselves are so complicated with so many “complexes”! We’re not ready for the simple truth, because it’s TOO simple. We feel, for one thing, that the spiritual quest somehow requires some great sacrifice and achievement to be won. And we’re not ready to let go of all of our conditioned beliefs and attitudes (our “story”) that quickly, we really have to warm to that idea. As the saying goes:
“The truth is simple, but it ain’t easy!”
But when it comes down to it, it is as simple as seeing everyone and everything as yourself, with the recognition that as you treat anything that seems to be outside of you is how you treat yourself, and vice versa. So when we judge, blame or condemn others, it is only because we have already done that to ourselves. And when we see others as who they truly are, which is totally blameless, without any sin or needing any judgment or condemnation, then we also simultaneously remember who we truly are, which is totally innocent. And this is all as simple as a change of mind, just a little shift of perception! But to do this requires that we first truly take the Course seriously, and so that’s the next idea/theme we will turn to…
When you meet anyone,
Remember it is a holy encounter.
As you see him you will see yourself.
As you treat him you will treat yourself.
As you think of him you will think of yourself.
Never forget this, for in him you find yourself or lose yourself.
SEEING IT THROUGH
“Think this through with me
Let me know your mind
Oh Oh what I want to know is…
Are you kind?”
~ Robert Hunter/The Grateful Dead
First, let me say that this is not just about taking the Course seriously, but about taking any true spiritual path seriously in the sense of following it all the way through to the end. Who does that, right? Do you? No, we all seem to take little bits and pieces from here and there and cobble together a spirituality that works for us. While there’s nothing wrong with that in theory, it doesn’t generally work over the long haul because almost inevitably the ego gets in the way. As the Course says in so many words (so many! — and I paraphrase), we end up bringing the Truth to the illusion, rather than our illusions to the Truth. In other words, we end up making our illusory self and world real, making spirituality just another thing we do to feel better about ourself (small “self”) and our life in the world (making a “happy dream” as the Course puts it), and find it hard to go beyond that. And if anyone (like the Course) suggests we do consider the flimsiness of the world and our own self-concept, we heavily, and sometimes very heavily, resist it.
[Resistance, by the way, is a Freudian psychoanalytic concept that the Course uses (reinterprets) to explain how the ego attempts to distract us from the process of awakening to who we truly are. It’s very helpful to think about how resistance might be at work in our approach to the Course and what we find problematic in it.]
“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
~ Alice in Wonderland
So the point I want to make here is this: If you really want to understand the Course, please give it your full attention and read it on its own terms as best as you can. Here’s my suggestion (and do keep in mind that we all have our own pace to get to the peace, so this is a very general statement!): Go through the Text, the Workbook, and the Manual sequentially for a full year, doing just a section and a lesson a day. It will make a world of difference in helping to understand the Course. Believe me, if you have trouble with the language, such as the King Jamesian-ness of it all, or all the masculine pronouns, or even the term God or Holy Spirit, by the end of a year all of that will (in theory, at least!) drop away because you will have understood the underlying CONTENT (that is, intention, message) and overlooked the FORM. And that’s exactly what the Course is asking us to do about everything! Go beyond the appearance to the underlying essence, and then you shall truly see!
Jesus is asking us to accept his terms and meet his conditions, but there is no punishment involved here at all. We will only be delaying our own homecoming if we don’t follow the deepest urging of spirit. Jesus is therefore only a symbol for that deepest urging within all of us.
GOD IS IN THE DETAILS…OR IS IT THE DEVIL?
One other little point I would like to make here is that even though the Course does basically say the same damn thing over and over and over again throughout its 1200+ pages (Jesus is Johnny One Note), it’s not that there aren’t a lot of nuances and subtleties that we are asked to take note of. The Course has been likened to a symphony in which a certain theme or motif is introduced, then dropped, only to return again later to be further expanded with variations. Numerous examples of this could be noted, but just dig in and read it and you’ll see how that works. I will just add that this is why a close reading of the Course will make a difference in your understanding and practice, simply because of those nuances and new perspectives on the same one thing. This very well reflects the saying that “God is in the details.”
And yet there is also the converse idea that “the devil is in the details,” and you will also recall Shakespeare’s famous quote that even the devil can quote scripture. This is a caution to not get so caught up in the details that you miss the forest for the trees and get bogged down in sectarian theological disputes, something that the Course itself cautions again in several places.
“A universal theology is impossible, but a universal experience is not only possible but necessary.
It is this experience toward which the course is directed”
On that note, there is a great story that shows the humor and wisdom of Helen Schucman’s co-scribe and colleague, Bill Thetford…
One day two Course students were heatedly arguing about the meaning of a passage in the Course. Bill came in and they asked him which one of them was right? Without missing a beat, Bill said to them: “Oh, just tear that page out.”
Do you get it? There are actually a number of places in the Course where Jesus says that it’s not about the Course – “the notes are nothing,” he says, and “forget this Course” — cautioning us not to get too caught up in the words (again, the FORM), but do understand the spirit of it all (the CONTENT) which is to get in touch with the perfect love that resides in your heart. Like a musician, learn your notes and scales by going through the Course carefully, but once you’ve done that, do not be afraid to tap into your own intuitive, improvisational brilliance, ever guided by Spirit, of course. All rules are ultimately mean to be broken, after all.
THE LITTLE PROBLEM OF FAITH
Okay, so we’ve gotten a little ahead of ourselves here and we might want to go back to one of the most fundamental problems with understanding the Course, and again it does have to do with resistance, but it also is a simple matter of faith, as well as reason. And the essential question is: WHY should we take the Course seriously? I mean, what proof do we have that this is all really the “Word” of Jesus? Maybe Helen made it all up? Maybe she did channel the words, but they were given to her by a discarnate entity that had some secret agenda of its own to delude humanity? (I heard this argument from a seasoned yogi whose opinion I respect.) Or maybe Satan himself is once again orchestrated all of this in his mass plan to lead us like lambs to the slaughter? Or how about this one: It’s all a CIA-hatched plot to control the minds of the many – A Course in Miracles as the opiate of the masses! (See further on for my take on this.)
Obviously you must know my answer to these questions, because otherwise I wouldn’t be here enthusiastically introducing the Course if I had such grave doubts about it (and you wouldn’t be here to keenly listen if you weren’t at least a little open to all of this). But the truth is that, yes, even I have some lingering doubts about all of this because of one simple fact: I just don’t know, and how could I? How can anybody? And this is a key point that the Course makes: Only the ego asks questions and doubts, and so to the extent that we are still identified with the ego (and nearly everyone here is), we will be confused about all of this. But the Course does not ask for or require perfect certainty, only, as it says, a “little willingness” to look at the contents of our mind in the light of perfect love and forgiveness. So perfect faith is not required, nor even better-than-average faith!
Another way of saying this is: Have you experienced the miracle of unconditional love in your life? Well, if yes, then it doesn’t matter where the Course came from, because its purpose is to help us to return that perfect, unconditional love that we have already experienced, if only fleetingly.
That said, I will still, briefly, attempt to answer some of those initial concerns that I mentioned…
So firstly, how do we know the Course really expresses the thoughts of Jesus? Well, we don’t know, but many who have engaged with it, including myself, feel that it is the most loving, beautiful, wise and true expression of spirituality they have ever encountered. So if Jesus is perfect love (and as the Course says, he does symbolize that) then we can say that yes, these are the words of Jesus. And interestingly, the Course does not insist that you use the term “Jesus,” because all those who have attained the state of perfect love are ONE, and so call IT by any name you choose, because a rose is a rose is a rose. Love by any other name is still Love.
Ok! So I realize that answer will not be satisfying for a lot of people; namely, the response that it doesn’t matter Who dictated the Course to Helen, because it’s freakin’ brilliant and it seems to be helping a lot of people, so who cares? Well, YOU might care. And don’t look at me, but I still care about this question.
Remember I mentioned that someone close to me, a veteran yogi whose opinion I respect, gave me a very forceful argument of why the Course is potentially dangerous if its source is a discarnate spirit seeking to delude humanity (or at the very least ACIM students!)? While I did and do take this kind of issue with the Course very seriously, I also would posit that this is the very kind of controversial issue that the Course is wanting to tell us we will never truly be able to answer. And thus it becomes a “delaying maneuver” on the part of the ego to keep us from actually practicing its teachings on forgiveness and watching the ego be “undone.” (Oh yes, by the way, I forgot to mention that the Course’s practice of forgiveness does this: It undoes the ego, it dissolves it. It’s actually a gradual, gentle process for most of us that requires quite a bit of patience and forgiveness… mainly for our own lack of patience and forgiveness!)
And yes, I realize that this, too, might not be the convincing argument to do the Course. It seems to smack a little bit of cultish reasoning: Don’t ask questions because they can’t be answered, just do what we tell you to do and no one gets hurt! Some people have actually called the Course a form of brainwashing, yet you can see from the very introduction that is says that while this is a required Course (namely, the return to Spirit will happen for all of us at some point), the time you take it is voluntary. Not too many cults with brainwashing agendas will say that! And the Course points out that any attempt at coercion of any kind will not work, that all spiritual work must be voluntary to really bear fruit. So in other words: No one’s telling you to do anything, you’re here in this now moment considering all of this because you are truly seeking “another/better way” and are open to hearing how the Course might be of help to you. Verdad?
So at this point, let me talk about my own experience a bit more, because I feel it might help…
MY YOKE/YOGA IS EASY
“When you are tempted by the wrong voice, call on me to remind you how to heal by sharing my decision and making it stronger. As we share this goal, we increase its power to attract the whole Sonship, and to bring it back into the oneness in which it was created. Remember that ‘yoke’ means ‘join together’ and ‘burden’ means ‘message’. Let us restate ‘My yoke is easy and my burden light’ in this way; ‘Let us join together, for my message is light.” (ACIM T:5:II:11)
Wait, this section is perhaps better titled: “OF COURSE!” Which is also the name of this whole presentation. Because all of that heady stuff aside, what the Course did for me (and many of us, it seems) was appeal to the truth that I have always known. It was like what happened when I discovered yoga (or/and it discovered me), my thought was: “EUREKA! This is what I’ve been looking for all these years, it really exists!”
“This world you seem to live in is not home to you.
And somewhere in your mind you know that this is true.”
And in fact, my current understanding is that we’re all doing the Course, we just don’t know it yet, and we might even consciously resist it. So it doesn’t matter who its author was, whether Jesus or not, whoever it was is/was freaking brilliant.
I had this experience when I was 19 years old that I consider perhaps the most important one of my whole life: One night laying in bed I felt an energy surge up my body up to my heart, and suddenly, I was in bliss. The next morning, it (the bliss) was still there. Like many teens, I had had a very hard time coming of age and was dealing with a very heavy load of guilt, anger, and self-judgment to the point of extreme self-loathing. And in one night, with one fell stroke, it was all gone! Imagine that! And please note that it didn’t require accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior to happen! This exprience lasted for months, long enough to really make me realize that yes, it was really happening, and that THIS, not my old neurotic self, was my true nature, this state of unconditional love, joy, peace. And then it was gone, and thus began my search to bring it back… and so it is for so many spiritual seekers, yes? You, too?
And so I looked everywhere for the Beloved, and finally found “Her” again… in the yoga tradition. (Mind you, this is making a very long story very short!) And then I got into plant medicine, particularly ayahuasca, which ultimately led me to the Course, because there were things that were being revealed to me by the plants that were truly shocking… you know, little things like ego-death and tours of various hellish realms, strange meetings with demons of varying shapes and surprises. And the Course helped me make sense of those experiences, to see them in a more universal, less personal way. For example, with its help, I could begin to finally accept that there’s really nothing special about me, neither the abject misery that I’ve experienced, nor the transcendent bliss, neither the agony nor the ecstasy, the self-loathing or the delusions of grandeur. All of that is part of the one mind that we all share, it’s nothing personal, really. I am not, as I formerly thought (when I was clinging to my “specialness”) the “only lonely one” out there… no, there are, in the words of that old Police song, “a hundred million [other] castaways looking for a home.” Or 7+ billion, but who’s counting?
In other words, we’re all in the same boat; or, as the Course would put it: We’re all equal and integral parts of the one “Sonship.”
And here’s another thing to note here, and this also goes back to the “Of Course!” theme I’ve been playing on: The Golden Rule. Why is the Golden Rule what it is? Why should we, as the Hebrew Bible (Torah) commands, love our neighbor as ourselves? Deep down, we all know why, right? It’s because at our core essence we are part of the same One Self. And so to even think for a moment otherwise is to deny the truth of what we are. So imagine what it would feel to walk this earth and literally not have a second thought other than pure appreciation, compassion and forgiveness for everybody and everything? Imagine that? Well, that’s the “mind training” that the Course is leading us to, and though it might never be “perfect,” it will be far sight/cry better than what we’ve got going on right now!
THE COURSE AS A “Christian Vedanta”
Bill Thetford was Helen Schucman’s partner in crime in all of this, and far from being just Helen’s scribal helper, Bill also had a deep understanding of the message of the Course. At one point, Bill referred to the Course as a “Christian Vedanta,” and this is something that has since been repeated often enough for me to bother repeating it here.
Bill was pretty accurate in his assessment, though what he says does require some clarification.
Let’s take the “Christian” part first: The Course is not actually Christian in the sense of following Church orthodoxy and dogma, but rather it is Christian in that it is Christ-centered. In fact, in the Course Jesus says that as he foretold, his disciples did not fully understand what he was saying 2000 years ago, so the Course is a way of correcting the errors of Christianity by revealing the deeper, inner meaning of the gospel accounts.
Did you know there is actually a gospel that was never included in the New Testament canon, but which some scholars believe actually predated Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John? It’s called the Gospel of Thomas and it really just a collection of sayings of Jesus without any storyline except for brief contextual clues. The reason some scholars believe that the Gospel of Thomas (GOT) is older than the canonical gospels is because the gospel writers used sayings from the GOT in their accounts and pick up those little contextual clues in the GOT and create a story around them.
Now, if this is true, it’s quite ground-breaking to say the least – “earth-shattering” might be a better descriptive. Because what Jesus says in the GOT is considerably more mystical than what we find in the canonical gospels. Consider the following saying from the GOT:
“When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so the male will not be male and the female will not be female…then you will enter the Kingdom.”
And also this one:
The disciples said to him, “When will the Kingdom come?” He said, “It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Behold here,’ or ‘Behold there.’ Rather, the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it.”
[Click HERE for the translation of the Gospel of Thomas that I would recommend.]
What I am getting at by bringing in the Gospel of Thomas and these passages is that Jesus appeared to have been teaching about “oneness,” or “non-duality,” something that is not so clearly evident in the canonical gospel accounts. These are the teachings that, in reality, there is only One reality, and we can call it God, or Source, or Spirit, or Love, or IT, or you name it, but it’s something pointing beyond the world of opposites and multiplicity that we currently seem to inhabit. Now the word “non-duality” is an exact translation of the Sanskrit word “advaita” (literally “not two”), and this word generally goes hand-in-hand with another Sanskrit word: Vedanta. Vedanta is actually one of 6 philosophical systems found in the Hindu tradition, and it essentially the essential teachings of the Vedas (literally, it translates as “the end of the Vedas”), and primarily is based in the teachings of the Upanishads.
Advaita Vedanta, the ancient Hindu philosophy of non-dualism, is actually becoming more and more well-known these days, partly due to teachers like Gangaji, Mooji, Ekhart Tolle, and Adyashanti who have been in a sense popularizing/translating this for a Western audience (they are sometimes called “neo-advaitins”). This is actually the world that I inhabited for years before getting into the Course, and it was the Advaita philosophy that always seemed the highest and most profound for me. So when I discovered the Course, to go back to the issue of doubt and skepticism about its message, I can’t tell you what a confirmation it was to see how very similar the Course is to Advaita Vedanta. I mean, it’s uncanny. It’s like, c’mon, how could this possibly be?
Now, even though these two traditions are so similar, and even though I was so grounded in the Advaita Vedanta tradition, currently the Course speaks to me more and it has helped me as much as Advaita has, if not more. It might well be that this is so just because it’s all so new to me, but it could also be that I’ve finally found the one thing to lead me home, which is what it feels like. I also sense that the Course will be easier for westerners to grasp, plus it’s all in one book, so I’ve found it useful to use it as an aid in the teaching of yoga, and nonduality in particular.
The thing about the Course is that there’s a bit of a learning curve involved, and it has to do with its language – again, the FORM in which its author chose to present the material. Essentially, to use another term from the yoga tradition, the Course is presenting us with a form of Jnana Yoga. What is Jnana Yoga? Jnana Yoga is actually one of 7-8 major paths to God found in the yoga tradition. Some of the other paths are: Karma Yoga (the path of selfless action), Raja Yoga (the meditative path), Bhakti Yoga (the devotional path), Tantra Yoga (the path of sacred ritual), and Hatha Yoga (the path of transcendence through the body). Today in the West, it is really Hatha Yoga that has really caught on with the general population, but the other paths of yoga have also taken root, though to a far lesser extent, as well. For example, the Hare Krishna movement has brought more of the Bhakti element to the fore, Bhakti being the devotional path. And Transcendental Meditation (TM) has brought more of the Raja Yoga path, Raja being the meditative path. Krishnamurti introduced many to the path of Jnana Yoga, etc.
So Jnana Yoga is often called the path for the thinkers, those who are more philosophically oriented. After scribing the Course, Helen apparently said something to the effect, “Finally, there’s something for the thinkers!” Yes, Helen was proud of the Course and even somewhat protective of it, even though she herself chose not to practice it and even apparently renounced it toward the end of her life. Another interesting thing she said at one point was: “I know it’s all true, I just don’t believe it!” I feel Ken Wapnick was correct in saying that Helen didn’t need to practice the Course, it wasn’t necessary for her to do so. She had fulfilled her purpose in her lifetime by being a pure channel for the Course’s message, and that was enough.
Helen also apparently didn’t feel the Course was for everyone, just really for a small group of people who were truly ready for it. This may very well be the case, yet it is true that as I said before, the Course is also for every body, and everyone can be helped by its message, even if they don’t accept all of its terms and conditions and go all the way with it. My understanding is that the Course is saying that we all wake up to what the Course is saying on our own eventually anyway, with or without the help of the Course – in fact, it’s already happened, we just missed the memo and are currently in the process of remembering that accomplished fact.
Just to give you an idea of how we are all in this process, willy nilly (whether we know it or not), even my dad has been doing the Course. One thing dad has started to say in recent years (he’s in his mid-80s now) is “you can make yourself happy, or you can make yourself sad.” Well, that’s the Course’s essential message right there – it’s all our choice, suffering is optional. And my dad’s also started to say: “Would you rather be right or happy?” Which is one of the Course’s brilliant lines that has really caught on. My dad must have heard that somewhere because he doesn’t even know what A Course in Miracles is, nor do I think he would care much for it if he did. But my point is that we either come to these things on our own (and then if we do pick up the Course, its like: “Of Course!”), or we learn them from the Course itself, or from the many spin-offs on the Course that are out there these days.
In any case, it’s the Jnana Yogis who I feel can appreciate the Course the most, because the Course is a completely worked-out and consistent “thought system,” a whole philosophy. It’s very logical and it also points out the extent to which we can go with intellectual reasoning. I personally was drawn to the Course because of this element, but not just that — it has an authority about it that I still have not found any way to dismiss. I want to add that my early training was in philosophy and psychology, and Plato/ Socrates were my greatest inspirations early on.
Jnana Yoga is also the path of discerning between the real and unreal in each and every moment. Simply put for our purposes, this means making choices out of Love, not out of fear. The ego and all that spawns from its thought system is “unreal” according to the Course, and God, who is also Love, is the one and only reality. So our return to God must be through a process of searching our mind and separating out our incorrect and misguided thinking, choosing to think only as God thinks (so to speak), aligning our will with God’s Will. Again, though, in this process we are not adding anything, only removing what is not true.
Besides Jnana Yoga, the Course does contain elements of the other yogas, too, particularly Bhakti Yoga. In Bhakti Yoga we find the elements of trust, surrender, humility, faith and devotion. Essentially, the Course is asking that we surrender to its message, and follow it to a “t” (get it?) But everything is voluntary, there is no coercion here, no fear of punishment. Jesus, the symbol of the Perfect Love within all of us, is saying to us: You will have to do this sooner or later, my dear, so why not now? So the Bhakti element here would be the extent to which we can let go and accept its perfect message of love and forgiveness. May we all have Godspeed with this!
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