Question #6: Can you please explain how and why the Course is unlike any other spiritual path? I have studied other non-dualistic teachings but seem to always come back to the Course.
Answer: First, let us say that by non-duality we mean that A Course in Miracles recognizes only one dimension of reality -- spirit and the state of perfect oneness, what the Course refers to as the realm of knowledge. Everything else -- the dualistic world of separation and perception, of form and matter, of thinking and concepts -- is illusion, and thus does not really exist.
This non-dualism is what you find in the higher teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism, but rarely in the West. What makes A Course in Miracles unique as a spiritual system -- ancient and contemporary -- is its integration of this non-dualistic metaphysics with a sophisticated psychology, heavily based on the insights of Freud and his followers. This means essentially that at the same time that the Course teaches that the world is an illusion and is nothing but a dream, outside the Mind of God, we are urged to practice our daily lessons of forgiveness, paying careful attention to our everyday experiences here. Key to this integration is the Course’s emphasis on purpose, the introduction of which idea sets A Course in Miracles apart from other spiritual paths. The Course teaches that not only is the world an illusion, but that it is a purposive illusion; the purpose being to make a world of bodies, thoroughly focused on solving the myriad number of physical and psychological problems that beset us daily, clamoring for attention and solution. In this way the mind, the true source of our problems, is kept hidden from awareness.
In addition, A Course in Miracles is unique among spiritualities in its insistence that we look at the ego -- the dark side -- as the way of moving beyond to the light. Its focus, therefore, is not on the truth, but on removing our ego’s thought system of guilt, fear, and attack, which allows the light of truth to shine. As Jesus teaches in one representative passage: "Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all of the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. It is not necessary to seek for what is true, but it is necessary to seek for what is false" (T.16.IV.6:1,2).
Question #85: In Eastern Advaita/non-dualism there is no room for relationships like Cause- Effect, Father-Son, Creator-Creation. Why then maintain that A Course in Miracles is "non-dualistic" in essence? Isn't that confusing?
Answer: The Course uses dualistic terms in its teaching only because Jesus knows that the language of separation or duality is all that we can understand right now. Jesus is very clear about his intentions with language in the Course, so to answer your question we are simply going to let the Course speak for itself by providing a few relevant references:
The clearest is the following statement:
"Since you believe that you are separate, Heaven presents itself to you as separate, too. Not that it is in truth, but that the link that has been given you to join the truth may reach to you through what you understand. Father and Son and Holy Spirit are as One, as all your brothers join as one in truth. Christ and His Father never have been separate, and Christ abides within your understanding, in the part of you that shares His Father's Will. The Holy Spirit links the other part–the tiny, mad desire to be separate, different and special–to the Christ, to make the oneness clear to what is really one. In this world this is not understood, but can be taught.…It is the Holy Spirit's function to teach you how this oneness is experienced, what you must do that it can be experienced, and where you should go to do it.
All this takes note of time and place as if they were discrete, for while you think that part of you is separate, the concept of a Oneness joined as One is meaningless. It is apparent that a mind so split could never be the Teacher of a Oneness which unites all things within Itself. And so What is within this mind, and does unite all things together, must be its Teacher. Yet must It use the language [dualistic] that this mind can understand, in the condition [separation] in which it thinks it is" (T.25.I.5; 6:4; 7:1,2,3,4; italics added).
There are many other places where Jesus makes it clear that the Course’s metaphysical foundation is non-dualistic, despite the dualistic nature of the language employed. For example, in speaking of the Father and the Son, words which suggest two separate Beings, he says, "What He [the Father] creates is not apart from Him, and nowhere does the Father end, the Son begin as something separate from Him" (W.pI.132.12:4).
And later in the Workbook he says, "Oneness is simply the idea God is. And in His Being, He encompasses all things. No mind holds anything but Him. We say ‘God is,’ and then we cease to speak, for in that knowledge words are meaningless. There are no lips to speak them, and no part of mind sufficiently distinct to feel that it is now aware of something not itself. It has united with its Source. And like its Source Itself, it merely is.
We cannot speak nor write nor even think of this at all. It comes to every mind when total recognition that its will is God's has been completely given and received completely. It returns the mind into the endless present, where the past and future cannot be conceived. It lies beyond salvation; past all thought of time, forgiveness and the holy face of Christ [which are all dualistic concepts]. The Son of God has merely disappeared into his Father, as his Father has in him. The world has never been at all. Eternity remains a constant state" (W.pI.169.5, 6).
And in the context of Cause-Effect relationships, one of the dualistic sets of terms you mention, Jesus begins in seemingly dualistic terms, but then makes its true non-dualistic nature apparent:
"Father, I was created in Your Mind, a holy Thought that never left its home. I am forever Your Effect, and You forever and forever are my Cause. As You created me I have remained. Where You established me I still abide. And all Your attributes abide in me, because it is Your Will to have a Son so like his Cause that Cause and Its Effect are indistinguishable (W.pII.326.1:1,2,3,4,5; italics added).
And so while much of the Course’s teachings are presented in dualistic language, it must be understood that their purpose is to lead us past our belief in duality back to the oneness that is our only reality.
Question #105: What is the best method to study A Course in Miracles? In my experience, study groups bear little resemblance in content to what is expressed by the Foundation, so I do the work alone. Should the text be read first, before beginning the workbook, or hand in hand? If I begin the workbook and miss several days or weeks, do I need to begin again or pick up where I left off? Does it matter? I would prefer to work with other people, but most of them I've spoken to aren't even aware of the non-dualistic nature of the Course. I find when I try to explain that aspect, generally people are not willing to hear it and try to convince me that I have it wrong. Also I've heard people say they like the Course because they can combine it easily with their other spiritual practice - - I find it nearly impossible to do that and have moved away from spiritual teachings I used to hold dear. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm the one who is confused. Please advise.
Answer: (1) In keeping with the actual theory of the Course, there actually is no best method for studying it. It in essence is a curriculum undertaken by the student under the guidance of the Holy Spirit or Jesus. The "training is always highly individualized" (M.9.1:5). Jesus advises us to study the text very carefully and not proceed too quickly lest we plunge unnecessarily into overwhelming fear (T.I.VII.4,5), and he also explains that the "theoretical foundation.…the text provides is necessary as a framework to make the exercises in this workbook meaningful" (W.in.1:1), so he clearly expects his students to spend time with the text at some point in their process. But he does not say which should be done first. So if you are comfortable studying the text while you are doing the lessons, that is what you should do.
He also tells us not to do more than one workbook lesson a day (W.in.1:6). The middle of Lesson 95 might be helpful in answering your question about what to do if you miss several days or weeks in your practice of the lessons. The instruction there focuses on recognizing the ways in which the ego creeps into the process, and that we ought to respond to "our lapses in diligence, and our failures to follow the instructions for practicing the day’s idea" with forgiveness (W.pI.95.8:3). That is the key. Jesus does not keep track of how punctual we are in following he instructions for the day; his interest is only in helping us train our minds to think more and more in terms of forgiveness. It makes the most sense, though, to pick up where you left off, rather than begin all over again.
(2) The Course says nothing about groups. Some people find it helpful to study with others; some do not. It depends entirely on the preference of the individual. In our experience, it is more common than uncommon that people find the uncompromising nature of the Course’s non-dualism intolerable and fear provoking, which then causes them to dilute its message to make it say something that it does not, or to mix it with other systems, thereby doing justice to neither. One of the Course’s strengths is the manner in which it integrates a metaphysics of non-dualism with living in the world. This is quite a challenge, but the Course gives us all the support we need in our journey back to our home in Heaven, the state of perfect Oneness.
Question #923: How can one determine what should be taken literally while reading A Course in Miracles? I understand that words are symbols for things, and that "things" are symbols of thoughts in the dualistic mind, thus "twice removed from reality." When reading the Course, it is crucial to distinguish what is meant to be figurative from literal statements of fact. For example, the statement "God is," is a literal fact. But "the Father weeps" is obviously a figure of speech. What principle of interpretation determines this important distinction?
Answer: At the top of the list is this principle adapted from a passage in the manual for teachers: Teacher of God, your one assignment could be stated thus: Accept no compromise in which duality plays a part (M.27.7:1) . Similarly, in the text we find this succinct principle: “Yet the truth is you and your brother were both created by a loving Father, Who created you together and as one. See what ‘proves' otherwise, and you deny your whole reality” (T.21.II.13:1,2) . The only statements that should be understood as true and therefore taken literally are those that reflect the unified reality of Heaven and God and Christ. We can thus say that anything that relates to a body or bodily activity is within the realm of duality, and therefore can express either the ego's thought system of separation or the Holy Spirit's thought system of forgiveness. Moreover, the Course's unique approach to forgiveness and the holy relationship will inevitably be misconstrued if its non-dualistic metaphysical basis is not recognized.
A full analysis and discussion of this topic may be found in chapters 2 and 3 of our book, Few Choose to Listen -- Volume Two of The Message of “A Course in Miracles.” Another comprehensive discussion is contained in our tape album, “Duality as Metaphor in A Course in Miracles”; and, finally, brief summaries may be found in Questions #6, #85, and #105 on this Service.
Question #1096 (iv): Are "we" really "we" the Son of God, or just one? Did the Son of God splinter into billions of parts in this illusion? These questions represent a basic problem I am having trying to understand the Course. Metaphysical explanations, metaphors, and plain logic get all mixed up in my mind. I read the course and take something literally, get confused, and then find out that it wasn't what was really meant.
Answer: According to A Course in Miracles, reality is non-dualistic, which means there can be no legitimate sense of “we.” The Son of God is one, and this Son is not separate in any way from His Father: “What He creates is not apart from Him, and nowhere does the Father end, the Son begin as something separate from Him” (W.pI.132.12:4) . All sense of separation -- one being is not another being -- is illusory; words are meaningless on that level of oneness (W.pI.169.5:4) .
Most students experience the same difficulty you do with the Course's language. Many questions similar to yours have been submitted; see our answers to #72 and #566, for example. What will help, as we mentioned in our answer to your first question, is to distinguish between the content of Jesus' message and the form in which it is expressed. If you are clear about the content, the form in which it comes will diminish as a problem. He discusses this in, among other places, his introduction to the clarification of terms at the end of the manual for teachers: “This course remains within the ego framework, where it is needed. It is not concerned with what is beyond all error [non-duality] because it is planned only to set the direction towards it. Therefore it uses words, which are symbolic, and cannot express what lies beyond symbols. . . . The course is simple . It has one function and one goal. Only in that does it remain wholly consistent because only that can be consistent” (C.in.3:1,8,9,10) .
It takes time to develop this clarity about the Course's simple content, but that is because of our fear of its implications. That's why, at the beginning of The Song of Prayer , Jesus talks about our spiritual journey as a ladder with many rungs. We will understand his teachings one way on the bottom rungs, and quite differently on the upper rungs. That is our problem not his, because it was our decision to shield ourselves from the truth, having concluded it was a threat to our very existence as individuals. We thus replaced the truth with our own substitute, which made duality reality, and sent us to the bottom of the ladder. Therefore, we will climb back up that ladder slowly and tentatively, until we realize we have been totally wrong about everything we have perceived about ourselves and the world, and are thankful we have been wrong.
Kenneth has devoted some 60 pages to this subject in Chapters 2 and 3 of All Are Called , Volume 2 of The Message of A Course in Miracles. He also presented a workshop on it, which is now one of our audio publications: “Duality As Metaphor in A Course in Miracles.”
Question #1118: I've heard Ken Wapnick often say that God doesn't know we are here. How then can the quotes below be explained?
“His Word assures us that He loves the world. God's Word has promised that peace is possible here, and what He promises can hardly be impossible. But it is true that the world must be looked at differently, if His promises are to be accepted. What the world is, is but a fact. You cannot choose what this should be. But you can choose how you would see it. ...Yet has God's Judgment on this distorted world redeemed it and made it fit to welcome peace” (M.11.1:6,7,8,9,10,11;4:6).
“God turns to you for help to save the world” (M.29.8:2).
“You have projected outward what is antagonistic to what is inward, and therefore you would have to perceive it this way. That is why you must realize that your hatred is in your mind and not outside it before you can get rid of it; and why you must get rid of it before you can perceive the world as it really is” (T.12.III.7:9,10).
“The world as you perceive it cannot have been created by the Father, for the world is not as you see it” (T.11.VII.1:1).
“Now is the question different. It is no longer, ‘Can peace be possible in this world?' but instead, ‘Is it not impossible that peace be absent here?'” (M.11.4:11,12).
“To perceive anew is merely to perceive again, implying that before, or in the interval between, you were not perceiving at all. What, then, is the world that awaits your perception when you see it?” (T.11.VII.1:5,6).
“The world the holy see is beautiful because they see their innocence in it” (T.20.III.6:3).
“This loveliness is not a fantasy. It is the real world, bright and clean and new, with everything sparkling under the open sun” (T.17.II.2:1,2).
“The altar of God where Christ abideth is there. You have defiled the altar, but not the world. ...Bring your perceptions of the world to this altar, for it is the altar to truth. There you will see your vision changed, and there you will learn to see truly. From this place, where God and His Son dwell in peace and where you are welcome, you will look out in peace and behold the world truly” (T.12.III.10:3,4,6,7,8).
Answer: Although there is certainly much in A Course in Miracles that would seem to say otherwise, the Course's foundational metaphysical principles, if truly understood, make it very clear that God is abstract and not personal. For example, early in the text, in a discussion about how the ego arose, Jesus makes the following observation about knowledge, which is a term the Course uses to refer to our perfectly unified reality in God, or Heaven, in contrast to the realm of perception, which is the ego's invention: “Abstract thought applies to knowledge because knowledge is completely impersonal , and examples [ i.e., specifics ] are irrelevant to its understanding. Perception, however, is always specific, and therefore quite concrete” (T.4.II.1:4,5, italics added ).
The personal -- and interpersonal -- can only arise out of a thought of separation, where there can seem to be a specific self and a separate specific other -- an observer and an observed . “Ego illusions are quite specific, although the mind is naturally abstract . Part of the mind becomes concrete, however, when it splits. The concrete part believes in the ego, because the ego depends on the concrete. The ego is the part of the mind that believes your existence is defined by separation” (T.4.VII.1:2,3,4,5 , italics added ). The Course identifies both consciousness and perception as the result of the thought of separation. “Consciousness, the level of perception, was the first split introduced into the mind after the separation, making the mind a perceiver rather than a creator. Consciousness is correctly identified as the domain of the ego” (T.3.IV.2:1,2). Clearly then, consciousness and perception cannot be states or abilities of the true God as the Course characterizes God.
The oneness that is our reality, as the Course repeats in many different ways across many, many passages, simply cannot recognize separation nor the resulting illusory specifics and differences. Nor can the mind that has made separation real remember and understand its true, nonspecific, unified nature. “Complete abstraction is the natural condition of the mind. But part of it is now unnatural. It does not look on everything as one. It sees instead but fragments of the whole, for only thus could it invent the partial world you see. ....One brother is all brothers. Every mind contains all minds, for every mind is one. Such is the truth. Yet do these thoughts make clear the meaning of creation? Do these words bring perfect clarity with them to you? What can they seem to be but empty sounds; pretty, perhaps, correct in sentiment, yet fundamentally not understood nor understandable. The mind that taught itself to think specifically can no longer grasp abstraction in the sense that it is all- encompassing (W.161.2:1,2,3,4; 4:1,2,3,4,5,6,7).
So God does not know we are here, that is, He does not perceive that we are here, because the knowledge inherent in God as perfect Oneness is impersonal, nonspecific, and non-perceptual. If there could be any sense in which God knew that we are here, He would have to be a separate, personal God, capable of perceiving us as separate from Him, and we would in fact have to be separate from Him -- all contradictions of the Course's basic teachings on the nature of God and reality. So, as a matter of clarification, even referring to God as He or Him, as the Course does throughout, confers a Personhood upon Him that can only be a fiction.
If all of this is true, the question remains, why is so much of the Course, such as the passages you cite, written in a way that seems to suggest that the separation is real, that God exists apart from us, as a Person Who perceives His children as existing independent of Him in a world that can be perceived outside Him and that He seems to care about? Why is the Course presented this way, if the words contradict what the Course is saying about the nature of our reality and God's -- perfect oneness?
This question has been addressed both briefly and in depth across a number of answers on this service (e.g., Questions #27, #42, #72, #85, #156, #157, #228, #506, #550, #681, #754, #761, #773, #890, #921, #958, #967). But let us examine it once again, perhaps pulling everything together in a little bit different way. Invested as we are in believing that we are creatures of separation, we only understand duality. Everything in our experience reinforces our belief in separation and so simply to be told it is all illusion -- that the world, and the selves we believe we are, are not real, so get over it! -- would not be particularly helpful. Rather we need a teaching that addresses us where we believe we are, for with our self-imposed, finite split minds, we cannot comprehend infinite oneness. And in fact, if the infinite, impersonal Oneness that the Course refers to as God had been the Course's primary emphasis, it would most likely arouse more fear and anxiety in our minds than it already does now, as we begin to grasp, when we are ready, its deeper implications.
We first need to be taught that our experience of separation and duality is based on belief and not fact so that we can begin to question the validity of all our interpretations of our experience and allow our investment in them to be undone. In particular, all of our interpretations that lead us to conclude that we or others are victims of persons and events outside our control need to be reconsidered. The Course's approach to teaching this is a powerful demonstration of one of the Course's major emphases -- that what needs to change is not the dualistic form of the illusion we believe in but the purpose we give it. For duality is not the problem in itself. The problem is our belief in it and, in particular, the purpose for which we have been using it - to keep ourselves believing we are sinful and guilty and consequently beyond gentle correction and genuine healing. So the first step is not to deny or negate duality, but to give it a different purpose -- to begin to use the symbols of separation to undo our belief in separation. And that is what the Course does.
This approach is brilliantly demonstrated in the Course's use of Christian terms and symbolism for a different purpose from that given to them by traditional Christianity. To understand the Course's correction, we first must understand what we have chosen to believe about this made-up dualistic God and our relationship with Him. For accepting the separation as real, we have also accepted an incredible dualistic myth about God as Someone separate from us Who wants to punish us because of our sin against Him in choosing to turn against His Love and reject the paradise He has made for us. All of us who believe we are here in the world must believe we have really accomplished the separation, thereby victimizing this otherwise all-powerful God. And so He must seek revenge, beginning by banishing us from the paradise He conditionally gave us. Incorporated into this myth of separation and sin are overwhelming feelings of guilt and fear, which keep us from seeing clearly what we have foolishly chosen to believe.
Christianity represents a vivid demonstration of the ego's separation-based religion that accepts sin and victimhood as real and presents the only resolution, called God's plan, as requiring the brutal murder of His only Son. Specifically, God's plan calls for His pure and innocent Son to take on a body so that he can be tortured and killed as a sacrifice, in order to compensate or atone for our evil, victimizing thoughts and deeds against God, and appease His otherwise boundless wrath. Why God can only be satisfied by a sacrificial death is never explained but simply accepted as the truth. Over and over again, traditional Christianity emphasizes that our sins have been washed away by the Son's redeeming blood. Bizarre as it may sound when presented without any additional context, there is little doubt that Christianity's basic tenets continue to hold sway over many minds in the Western world. Its far-reaching appeal lies in the fact that it reinforces the underlying ego thought system, upon which our personal identities and the existence of the world depend. And it has the added appeal of saying that God is a separate Individual Who acknowledges and reacts to separation and sin, conferring a sacred legitimacy on the entire ego enterprise.
The Course comes as a correction for these strange beliefs, using the same dualistic forms, speaking symbolically of God as a separate individual Person -- our Father -- while addressing our belief that we have attacked Him through our desire for separation. The correction remains within a dualistic framework while our fear of oneness and the loss of self is too powerful, assuring us that our Father only loves us, that we can only seem to attack God, ourselves and each other in our feverish imagination, and that the world we have made is simply an outpicturing of our own foolishly misguided and mistaken thoughts of separation and sin and guilt.
If we allow His Holy Spirit to correct our misperceptions, we will begin to experience the world in a completely different light, while we continue to believe the world is separate from us and real. And we will begin to recognize that all of our experiences represent a choice we have made in our own minds about how we want to feel. In the end, when all of our ego perceptions of attack and blame will have been corrected, we will know that the external world, as well as the self we have believed we are, is not real. This healed perception is what the Course calls the real world, a state of mind in which all sin and guilt have been undone. It is the transitional state, still within the ego-derived perceptual realm, that precedes the return to knowledge/God/Heaven. There are many passages that make it clear that the real world is still an illusion and therefore not real, despite its name. We will conclude with a number of passages that should offer a correction for any strictly dualistic interpretation of the passages that you have cited, and should also make it abundantly clear that the Course's dualistic language is only metaphorical and is not to be taken literally.
“He [ the Son ] always perceives this world as outside himself, for this is crucial to his adjustment. He does not realize that he makes this world, for there is no world outside of him. If only the loving thoughts of God's Son are the world's reality, the real world must be in his mind” (T.12.III.6:6,7; 7:1).
“The real world is the second part of the hallucination time and death are real, and have existence that can be perceived” (T.26.V.12:3).
“The real world still is but a dream. Except the figures have been changed. They are not seen as idols which betray (T.29.IX.7:1,2,3).
“The real world is the state of mind in which the only purpose of the world is seen to be forgiveness” (T.30.V.1:1).
“ Wrong-mindedness listens to the ego and makes illusions; perceiving sin and justifying anger, and seeing guilt, disease and death as real. Both this world and the real world are illusions because right-mindedness merely overlooks, or forgives, what never happened. Therefore it is not the One-mindedness of the Christ Mind, Whose Will is One with God's” (C.1.6).
“There is a borderland of thought that stands between this world and Heaven. It is not a place, and when you reach it is apart from time. ...We have referred to it as the real world. And yet there is a contradiction here, in that the words imply a limited reality, a partial truth, a segment of the universe made true. This is because knowledge makes no attack upon perception. They are brought together, and only one continues past the gate where oneness is (T.26.III.2:1,2; 3:2,3,4,5).
“Perception will be meaningless when it has been perfected, for everything that has been used for learning will have no function. Nothing will ever change; no shifts nor shadings, no differences, no variations that made perception possible will still occur. The perception of the real world will be so short that you will barely have time to thank God for it. For God will take the last step swiftly, when you have reached the real world and have been made ready for Him. The real world is attained simply by the complete forgiveness of the old, the world you see without forgiveness” (T.17.II.4:2,3,4,5;5:1).
“This course will lead to knowledge, but knowledge itself is still beyond the scope of our curriculum. ... We need remember only that whoever attains the real world, beyond which learning cannot go, will go beyond it, but in a different way” (T.18.IX.11:1,3).
“For as Heaven and earth become one, even the real world will vanish from your sight. The end of the world is not its destruction, but its translation into Heaven. The reinterpretation of the world is the transfer of all perception to knowledge” (T.11.VIII.1:7,8,9).
* The above is reproduced from the Foundation for A Course in Miracles' Question and Answer Service with the kind permission of Dr. Kenneth Wapnick and the Foundation for A Course in Miracles.