Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 8/17/2005
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This week's questions/topics:
Q #782(i) Is pain real?
Q #782(ii) Should one listen to the lesson of the day while reading the text?
Q #783 Are there similarities between the Course and the writings of Joel Goldsmith?
Q #784 Is there one single clear guideline for studying and understanding the Course?
Q #785 I find the Course a little disorienting compared to my previous spirituality. What should I do?
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Q #782(i): Lesson 190 “I choose the joy of God instead of pain” states: “For pain proclaims God cruel. How could it be real in any form?” (W.pI.190.1:5,6) (1) If pain is caused by other human beings, could that be real? Jesus, in his Passion, tortured by other human beings, was in great pain before he died. Was his pain real or was that an illusion?
A: Sometimes in A Course in Miracles Jesus is speaking only about absolute truth, where he is contrasting truth and illusion. On that level (Level One), only God and the realm of Heaven is real; all else is illusory. That is the level Jesus is speaking on in the statements you refer to. Another example of Level One occurs in paragraph 3: “If God is real, there is no pain. If pain is real, there is no God” (W.pI.190.3:3,4) . So Jesus is saying that in no sense could pain be real. If it were real, then God could not be God.
Jesus also talks to us on another level (Level Two), because we think there is reality outside Heaven. We think we are real and that we exist in a real physical universe. Even though Jesus knows that existence outside Heaven is not real, he talks to us as though it were real, because that is all that we can understand. The lesson he wants to help us learn is that we could never experience pain unless we made a decision in our minds to feel victimized, and that would be only because we would be trying to project our guilt out of our minds onto something external. Thus, nothing in the world or the body is the way it appears to be. Everything is the effect of a cause, which is always a decision made in the mind.
With regard to the Passion, Jesus explains in the text that the biblical accounts of his crucifixion are not accurate: “Atonement without Sacrifice” in Chapter 3 (T.3.I); “The Message of the Crucifixion” in Chapter 6 (T.6.I) . He did not perceive himself as a sacrificial lamb or as persecuted. What is so radical about the Course is that it teaches us that everything happens in our minds. There was no guilt in his mind; therefore he could not experience pain, despite what appeared to be happening to his body. Likewise, he teaches us that the resurrection had nothing to do with his body. Resurrection refers to our awakening from the dream that we are separate from God and that we are guilty sinners deserving of punishment. In that sense, the resurrection took place before the crucifixion.
You may wish to read our book A Course in Miracles and Christianity: A Dialogue , co-authored by Kenneth Wapnick and a Catholic priest philosopher/theologian. This dialogue between two friends shows the important differences between traditional biblical Christianity and what the Course teaches. From beginning to end, the two systems are shown to be mutually exclusive thought systems. It is not as if you cannot practice both, but it would help to be aware of how the two systems differ.
Q #782(ii): I am a new student and I have started from Lesson 181, the lesson of the day when I received my book in the mail. I am a Catholic and my mother tongue is Chinese. Is there a specific way to learn A Course in Miracles ? I find listening to the lesson while I am looking at the text helps me to understand better. Is there a way to listen to other lessons besides the lesson of the day?
A: It also would be helpful for you to read the Introduction to the workbook and then begin with the first Lesson instead of continuing with the later ones. There is nothing wrong with starting where you did, but since the later lessons build on the earlier ones, your learning and practicing could be even more effective if you were to go back and start with Lesson 1. The numbering of the lessons does not correspond to the days of the calendar year, so it does not matter what day of the year you begin the lessons.
We are not sure of what you mean when you say you look at the text as you are listening to a lesson from the workbook. It is fine to read and study the text during one part of day, and during another part of the day listen to a lesson, if that is what you mean. In the very first paragraph of the Introduction to the workbook, Jesus points out that his teaching in the text make the exercises in the workbook meaningful, and also that the workbook's purpose is “to train your mind to think along the lines the text sets forth” (W.in.1) . You do not have to complete the lessons before you begin studying the text, nor do you have to finish reading the text before you begin the workbook lessons. Just don't put pressure on yourself as you proceed. The only thing Jesus emphasizes is that you not do more than one lesson per day. His main objective is that you grow in experiencing his love and trust: that is the message or the content of his course. The lessons are training exercises for our very undisciplined minds, but only so that we will be better able to recognize the message and then integrate it into the way we live our daily lives. So it would be a mistake to get too caught up in rituals or form.
We have many books and tapes that you might find helpful in your study and practice, along with material on our Web site, under “ACIM teaching materials.” In addition, some other questions on this Service discuss the language of the Course and the relationship between Christianity and the Course: Questions #709 and #710.
Q #783: I notice many similarities between A Course in Miracles and The Infinite Way teachings of Joel S. Goldsmith. Would you please comment on this?
A: Because all authentic spiritual teachings are leading in the same direction -- towards an experience of oneness which transcends the false self, the finite ego -- it is very likely that similarities and parallels in content can often be identified between paths. Certainly that can be said for the teachings of Joel S. Goldsmith and A Course in Miracles . Both, for example speak of our real existence as spirit, that the material world is an illusion and the body is merely an idea that expresses what is in the mind, that error or sickness is in the mind and not in the body, and that healing is the result of correcting a false belief in the mind.
And yet there are differences. For example, Joel Goldsmith speaks of God as Consciousness expressing itself. The Course, in contrast, speaks of consciousness as “the first split introduced into the mind after the separation” (T.3.IV.2:1) . The Holy Spirit, the Voice for God in the dream according to the Course, is more nearly equivalent to the concept of Consciousness that Goldsmith refers to in his teachings. In addition, Goldsmith speaks of God as the life, mind, body, and substance of individual being, and of the body as existing as the idea of God. And therefore, we will never be without conscious awareness of the body, nor without the body. The Course, in contrast, views the body as the embodiment of the ego's wish that the separation be real (W.pI.72.2:1,2,3) , and teaches that the body nevertheless can be give a different purpose, that of healing and forgiveness, under the Holy Spirit's guidance. The body then will simply disappear from the mind once its usefulness to the Holy Spirit for healing is complete. And the emphasis of the Course, therefore, on looking at the ego and its thoughts of hatred and attack and guilt, is simply not reflected in Goldsmith's approach.
This is not to say that one is right and the other is wrong -- they are merely different. For as Jesus reminds us near the end of the Course, “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” (C.in.2:5,6) . To the extent that both teachings lead us to release all of our preconceptions about how things should be, what our physical and emotional lives should be like, and any effort to control the external to achieve our personal goals, they are both fostering a nonjudgmental acceptance, which is what the Course means by forgiveness. And so both would be leading us toward the same universal experience.
Although addressed to the issue of different teachings on the Course itself, Question #48 provides a helpful perspective on thinking about the relationship of the Course to other spiritual paths, such as Goldsmith's.
Q #784: I am struggling with getting my head around the simplicity of A Course in Miracles , as every time I read a piece of the text or other material, I am hearing different instructions on how I should 'do it' and assist my journey home. Would there be one single definitive line or instruction that I could post around my daily environments (work/home/car) which I could stick to and which would ensure that I am 'doing the right thing' by the Course? I am desperate for some clarity.
A) First, the most helpful thing you can do for yourself is to stop worrying about “doing it right.” If there is one thing that stands out in the Course it is that Jesus is interested only in the content in our minds, not in what we do or how perfectly we carry out his instructions. It is only our willingness to do what he says that has a bearing on our spiritual progress -- that we would want to do what he says. Thus, he says “ trust implicitly your willingness, whatever else may enter. Concentrate only on this, and be not disturbed that shadows surround it. That is why you came. If you could come without them you would not need the holy instant” (T.18.IV.2:3,4,5,6) . The “shadows” would be our resistance and all the concern, confusion, and complexity in our minds; and because of these shadows in our minds Jesus must say the same thing in many different ways. But, as he teaches us in Lessons 79 and 80, there is only one problem -- separation -- and it has been solved (W.pI.79, 80) . Concern and confusion arise only because we have not yet accepted this. Thus Jesus counsels us: “Only be certain you do not forget that all problems are the same. Their many forms will not deceive you while you remember this. One problem, one solution. Accept the peace this simple statement brings” (W.pI.80.3:3,4,5,6) . What would help you therefore is to learn to see the common content behind the different forms of the instructions in the Course.
Second, it is important to realize that by trying so hard and being so intent on “doing it right,” you are making the error real, and in that sense, working against your desire to return home. Although it is a paradox to us, we must recall that we are really undoing something that never happened. That is what the journey home is about: simply realizing that we never did anything that we need to undo; we just think we did. So whenever you feel pressure about this journey, you have dropped Jesus' hand and are allowing the ego to accompany you instead. Granted, we must learn which is which, but one thing is for sure, Jesus is very gentle and very patient, and he would never pressure us to “get it right.”
In view of all this, your one definitive line could be something like: Remember to smile when you find yourself trying really hard to be serious.
Q #785: I am fairly new to A Course in Miracles and presently find myself in an uncomfortable “no-man's land” spiritually. My previous approach to God and Jesus led to a major spiritual awakening, that resulted in a seeming limitless upward spiral into peace, joy and a profound shift away from fear, worry, resentment, judgment and depression, for three years.
Recently I stumbled upon the Course, and found it not only intriguing, but resonant. However, in the process of moving the furniture around in my head, it “pulled the carpet out” from underneath my previous model of relating to my dear, sweet, ineffably beautiful Teacher. To confront the fact that there is no interaction in this life; indeed no Jesus or Holy Spirit in “reality,” has left me bereft and more than a little confused. Was my peace and certainty somehow a sham, a forgery, an hysterical foray into false spirituality? I am still committed solely to grasping what is Truth, not some magic words or a formula to restore my previous “bliss.” I'm just a little disrupted and uncoordinated in my efforts get through these next steps.
A: The Course tells us: “…teaching [which, is the same as learning] is a constant process” (M.in.1:6). The helpful word here is process. Awakening from the nightmare of separation is a process taking place in the mind, where a decision is made not to choose the ego. This decision takes place in stages described in the manual in the section “Development of Trust,” and is expressed and experienced in different forms made up of symbols, until at the very end of the process the mind decides to choose only the truth. Your experience is described in the fourth stage Meanwhile, because belief in the body is maintained we have need of symbols, which change along the way: “…we need a many-faceted curriculum, not because of content differences, but because symbols must shift and change to suit the need” (M.23.7:5). Thus, a symbol or form that was helpful at one stage of the journey may no longer be needed or suitable at another time. Religious beliefs and practices, figures such as Jesus and the Holy Spirit, words, A Course in Miracles , are all symbols. When a symbol changes, it does not mean that it was false, it simply means that it has changed.Your experience, therefore, was not a forgery; it was an important step in the process. The choice made in your mind remains with you as you come to the Course. Nothing is lost, as Jesus assures us in the text: “I have saved all your kindnesses and every loving thought you ever had. I have purified them of the errors that hid their light, and kept them for you in their own perfect radiance” (T.5.IV.8:3,4) . He also tells us in the manual that on the journey there are periods of rest and reasonable peace for the teacher of God. Yet there are further steps to take, and “.…when he is ready to go on, he goes with mighty companions beside him”(M.4.I.A.6:11) .
When the mind makes a decision against the ego, the specific religious context in which it is made is irrelevant, in fact, a religious context is not even necessary. The effect of the experience is the lessening of fear. As layers of fear are removed, light enters and is again experienced in some form in an upward spiral toward the truth, each step facilitating the next. This is the gentle process of awakening that makes use of symbols to lead us beyond them. Although the symbols are not real, while we are asleep, “dreaming of exile” (T.10.I.2:1), they are useful when given to the Holy Spirit for the purpose of healing. In this regard, the Course simplifies the process by teaching that everything is helpful. There is nothing that the ego made to support belief in the separation that cannot be used by the Holy Spirit to undo it.
Intellectually we may understand that spirit is formless and nothing outside of Heaven exists, but as Jesus tells us in the text, “Everything you recognize you identify with externals, something outside itself. You cannot even think of God without a body, or in some form you think you recognize” (T.18.VIII.1:6,7). Therefore, as long as the choice for a separate self is maintained, there is need for a figure, perceived as separate from the self, to represent the Self that has been denied. A relationship with such a figure is very helpful. So although the Course teaches that ultimately nothing in the illusion is real, Jesus invites us to have a relationship with him. He uses the loving image of himself as an older brother (T.1.II.4) who meets us where we believe we are, and leads us gently to where he is: Let my relationship to you be real to you... Be not separate from me, and let not the holy purpose of Atonement be lost to you in dreams of vengeance… Let me enter in the Name of God and bring you peace, that you may offer peace to me” (T.17.III.10:2,6,8). There is no need, therefore, to feel bereft of a loving teacher. Through the words of the Course and in every step of the practice of forgiveness, Jesus is with us representing the part of the mind that remembers God's Love: “Jesus has come to answer [your need] . In him you find God's Answer. Do you, then, teach with him, for he is with you; he is always here” (M.23.7:6,7,8). When we finally learn from our experience (not intellectual understanding) that we are the Self that he symbolizes, we will no longer perceive ourselves as separate from him or anyone else. Only then will formlessness replace all symbol. Until then, we may be grateful that we do have a brother, a teacher, and a Course to guide us to the happy dream that precedes full awakening: “Helpers are given you in many forms, although upon the altar they are one. Beyond each one there is a Thought of God, and this will never change…Thank God for them for they will lead you home”(C.5.1:3,4,9).