Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 9/28/2005

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #807 What would A Course in Miracles say about Hurricane Katrina ?
Q #808 Where does A Course in Miracles fit in relation to Eastern religions?
Q #809 What mght a mind experience upon death?
Q #810 Why is A Course in Miracles so complex?

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Q #807: Three questions that have been received about the recent hurricane on the Gulf Coast will be answered together:

(i) What would A Course in Miracles say about the hurricane which has, and still is devastating New Orleans and the surrounding area? As a person living here in "the dream," I see race and class as big elephants in the room. I am also experiencing sadness and fear.

(ii) Can you give us some words of wisdom about responding to Hurricane Katrina, especially on the level of the world we believe is real?   Initially, I joined in the blame game but then it occurred to me no one seemed to be accepting any responsibility, personally or officially. And then I remembered there is nothing outside of my mind and everything I see in someone else, I projected onto him or her because I wanted to get rid of   it, so the other person would be guilty and I could be innocent. But everyone is doing the same thing --   the Katrina "victims," and all the officials from the bottom up. Perhaps the most loving thing we can do is to join with all our brothers and sisters in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast -- the victims and the victimizers, the rescued and the rescuers, government officials and private citizens -- in our right minds and embrace each other in unconditional love, remembering that we are all united in Christ.

(iii) With all the pain and suffering going on in the Gulf states hit by Katrina, how is it decided what "dream" or "illusion" we enter into. Some are born as kings and queens, others are living a life so horrible, such as those in Sudan, and now the hurricane victims. Is there an answer somewhere in the Course?

A: It can be very difficult to remember that there is another way of looking at the world, when we are so strongly self-identified as “person[s] living here in ‘the dream'” and when our body's eyes have been and will continue to be confronted in the days and weeks ahead with such powerful images of devastation and death -- in our newspapers and magazines, on our TV and computer screens and, for those of us who may live or have lived close to the area of impact, before our very eyes. And the ego's insistence that there is a hierarchy of destruction seems hard to argue with, as so many speak of the effects of this natural disaster as being of “biblical proportions” (the Course suggests a deeper meaning and source for that common expression to describe horrific cataclysmic events!). And so our collective reactions run the gamut from disbelief and horror to sadness and fear, as well as frustration and anger. That Jesus is fully aware of how we mislead ourselves, so long as our focus remains on the effects in the world without truly understanding their illusory cause in the mind, is apparent from his words: “It is not easy to perceive the jest when all around you do your eyes behold its heavy consequences, but without their trifling cause. Without the cause do its effects seem serious and sad indeed. Yet they but follow. And it is their cause that follows nothing and is but a jest” (T.27.VIII.8:4,5,6,7).

But the only way to learn that there is another way of looking at the world is first to acknowledge that we are seeing the world -- and this particular corner of the world along the Gulf Coast -- the way we do now because we want to see it this way. For the way we are seeing it serves a very important function in the ego's plan to maintain the separation. These events and all the afterimages and aftershocks, with their multitude of geographical, economic, medical, political and societal reverberations, continue to convince us that the separation is real, and very, very serious. And just how does the ego build its case? The events seem so clearly to demonstrate that pain and suffering come from causes beyond our control, outside ourselves. And, despite the fact that the event itself was an “act of nature” that produced victims, much to the glee of many, it appears that there are those who may be responsible for failure to respond in ways that could have ameliorated the destructive and deadly consequences of the hurricane and its aftermath. In other words, clearly there are poor, helpless, homeless victims and careless, unfeeling, insensitive and incompetent victimizers. Focusing on differences is the ego's lifeblood, so long as the differences make guilt real and assignment of blame a matter of utmost importance, whether it's because of differences in race or social class or political party, or whatever else works. And so we must begin by acknowledging that this is all very much what we want to see, for it serves not only the ego's purpose, but it serves our purpose. No doubt as more facts rise to the surface as the flood waters recede in the days and weeks ahead, the opportunity to project guilt and assign blame for all the apparent pain and loss and death will present itself over and over again.

And the only question we have to ask ourselves is, do we really like how we feel as we look through the eyes of judgment, fear and attack?   As the second questioner observes, we are all doing everything we can to demonstrate our innocence by pointing the finger of blame and guilt elsewhere. But if we could begin to recognize that deep sense of shame and guilt that we all collectively share for our unconscious beliefs about our betrayal of love, for deliberately choosing to see ourselves as homeless and bereft of our Father's Love, we would then be able to have a little more compassion for all the actors on the stage, each playing the part he or she has willingly chosen, no matter what role it may be in the unfolding tragedy.

The Course, incidentally, offers no explanation for why we have chosen the specific lives and roles we find ourselves experiencing, other than that we continue to want to make differences between ourselves and others, no matter what the form, and hence, separation and guilt, real. Sometimes that may involve playing the victim, other times the victimizer, but those are the only real choices in the ego's dream (T.27.VII.14:4) . To be concerned about why the differences exist in the world of form is to play right into the ego's game of making all those differences important and real. And the bigger mistake would be to believe that this apparent hierarchy at the level of form truly reflects differences in the degree of pain and guilt that each mind is experiencing. For everyone who believes this world is his home is in great pain, no matter what defenses he may employ to keep that recognition out of his awareness (W.pI.182.1,2,3) . For pain and guilt never come from the world -- the effect -- but only from our interpretation of the world, which is determined by which teacher we have chosen to listen to in our minds -- the ego or the Holy Spirit.. And nothing in the world can release us from the pain and guilt in the mind -- only forgiveness can do that.

The pain in the mind associated with the guilt over our betrayal and attack on love is beyond comprehension, and we are all struggling in our own inadequate and nonfunctional ways to deal with it, never questioning its reality. And choosing to see ourselves as a victim, regardless of the form it may take, is simply one of the ways we attempt to atone for that imaginary guilt. And so, before we can embrace everyone in unconditional love, we will need to be able to learn to look on everyone, beginning with ourselves, with compassion for continuing to make the wrong choice, for still wanting to believe that destruction and homelessness and death are real, for believing that our salvation depends on seeing something or someone else as responsible for all the pain and suffering -- that is, for needing to see the cause outside ourselves, outside our own minds.

And so in the face of such apparent suffering and loss and need, what should our response be? Jesus asks only that we learn to forgive and everything else that is needed will follow. Our responsibility is not to change the world, but only to change the teacher who guides our perception of what our eyes behold in the world (T.21.in:7,8,9,10,11,12) . There are of course many different ways in which we can express our support and concern for all those directly affected by the storm, whether they have lost family, their homes, their livelihood, their possessions. Jesus however is not concerned with the particular form of our response to the events we are witnessing, but the content with which we do whatever we may feel drawn to do in the world to offer help. What is essential to hold in mind is that, no matter what we do, if it comes from an ego perspective that continues in particular to see victims and, therefore, victimizing forces and folks, it will be an attack that keeps the thought of separation alive. But if we act from a right-minded perspective, whatever we think or say or do will have a healing effect, because we will have set aside our own need to be separate and special and “innocent.”.

Drawing on the beautiful imagery of the Course, it may be a helpful reminder of what our role is from Jesus' perspective, and where our safety lies, to close with some relevant lines from various sections of the book, holding in mind that our brother is everyone , and not only the apparent victims:

“Your home is built upon your brother's health, upon his happiness, his sinlessness, and everything his Father promised him. No secret promise you have made instead has shaken the Foundation of his home. The winds will blow upon it and the rain will beat against it, but with no effect. The world will wash away and yet this house will stand forever, for its strength lies not within itself alone. It is an ark of safety, resting on God's promise that His Son is safe forever in Himself.... I am in danger nowhere in the world. Your Son is safe wherever he may be, for You are there with him. He need but call upon Your Name, and he will recollect his safety and Your Love, for they are one. ... No storms can come into the hallowed haven of our home. In God we are secure. ... ‘I rest in God.' Completely undismayed, this thought will carry you through storms and strife, past misery and pain, past loss and death, and onward to the certainty of God. There is no suffering it cannot heal. There is no problem that it cannot solve. ..You rest in God, and while the world is torn by winds of hate your rest remains completely undisturbed. ...There will always be this place of rest to which you can return. And you will be more aware of this quiet center of the storm than all its raging activity. This quiet center, in which you do nothing, will remain with you, giving you rest in the midst of every busy doing on which you are sent” (T.28.VII.7:1,2,3,4,5; W.244.h; 1:1,2; 2:2,3; W.109.3:1,2,3,4; 4:2; T.18.VII.8:1,2,3).

Q #808: In answering Question # 566, you stated that the separation is presented in A Course in Miracles as mythology that is meaningful within a framework of Western philosophy and religion. What curriculum is available within a framework of Eastern philosophy and religion? In other words, is there a correction to the Koran , Torah , Bhagavad Gita , etc.?

A: To clarify, the Torah (from Judaism) and the Koran (from Islam) are also part of the dualistic Western religious tradition, with a theology that sees God as the Creator of the entire physical universe, and sin and guilt real. However, unlike Christianity, Jesus is either not a spiritual figure (Judaism) or not the central spiritual figure (Islam) in these two other Western religions. Despite this difference, persons raised within one of these other Western religious traditions certainly may find the Course helpful in addressing limitations they may experience with their own religious training. If they also have a background in Western philosophy (e.g., Plato and neo-Platonic thought) and/or psychology (e.g., psychodynamic theory and process), the Course's principles may have even greater appeal.

Within the highest teachings of Eastern spiritual and philosophical traditions (e.g., Advaita within Hinduism), there already exist many of the concepts and principles that the Course offers as an alternative, and a correction, to traditional Christianity's dualistic emphasis on sin and guilt and a punishing God. The idea that the world is a dream is a common Eastern theme. The observation that the realm of perception, with the dichotomy between perceiver and perceived (or subject and object), is illusory, and that reality is One, is also well-represented within Eastern traditions. In other words, although the most common practices of these religions by the majority of their adherents may represent an emphasis on form and ritual, and supplication and sacrifice (basic tenets of the ego's universal “religion,” according to the Course), their scriptures also contain a deeper and more profound perspective on the nature of reality for the genuine seeker. And teachers have arisen from within their communities (e.g., Shankara in Hinduism) across the centuries to provide corrections that have brought dedicated followers back to the deepest spiritual roots of their traditions.

The wisdom of these traditions, like that of the Course itself, is ageless. But from the perspective of illusory, ego-based, linear time, the Western world is in the infancy of its awakening in comparison to the Eastern religions and philosophies. And yet the Course comes in a context that is especially suited to the needs of the Western world, which also allows it to offer some fresh new spiritual insights, building on its particularly Western intellectual tradition, that are not contained in any other of the world's spiritual teachings -- such as an explanation of the mind's motivation to make up a world and continue dreaming, despite all the suffering and pain that seem to result.

In the end, the good news is that we need not be concerned with anyone's spiritual path but our own, for there are thousands of genuine paths (M.1.4:1,2) , as the Course points out, but we need only the one that will serve us best (T.18.VII.6:5) . And if the Course is our path, it only makes sense to dedicate ourselves to understanding its principles of forgiveness and putting them into practice.

Q #809: From the perspective of A Course in Miracles , what might a “separated” mind experience upon finally fulfilling the ego's promise -- the “death of the body”?     Since the mind is always active, always choosing, what does the ego then say to continue the illusion of its own reality? It can't really say, “Oops, sorry buddy, guess we were wrong.” Most of us, who to some degree must still think we are here, are not prepared for what the transition of “not being here” would present us with. And since those still believing in the illusion of guilt and separation will still be in the dream, how does the ego get itself out of that one, not to mention eventually persuading this mind that it would indeed be a great idea to go “corporeal” again?

Also, does the separated mind still have the option to choose for the Holy Spirit during this supposed time between “lives”? And would learning, choosing the Holy Spirit and undoing the effects of the ego still progress during this time for students with willingness?

A: What allows the ego to continue to maintain its smoke-and-mirrors illusions is the defense of repression or denial ( e.g., T.11.II.3) . Being the master of confusion and forgetfulness, the ego never lets us maintain any awareness of all its deceptions, so long as we still don't want to see through them . The ego, after all, is only a name for our own decision for self-deception and Self- denial. So long as we want to continue to fool ourselves about who we are, each seeming bodily death will have no more effect on our self-identity and our awareness of our ego machinations than any of the seeming events of the “life” of that body.

For “between” lives is not an interval of time when we are non-corporeal, since we are never in bodies. It is simply a brief instant when our mind is no longer consciously identifying with one particular ego identity and script, and is shifting our conscious identification to an already existing alternative victim script. There is really nothing linear about this process, although while we remain identified with time and space, we speak of it as if it were. All possible lives are simultaneous and in fact have already happened in that single unholy instant when we, as one Son, took the tiny mad idea of separation seriously.

Since learning happens only in the mind, and has nothing to do with bodies, you are right, the possibility of choosing the Holy Spirit as our Teacher is always available to us, regardless of what aspect of the ego's myriad deceptions we happen to be identifying with in any one instant.

For more on the nature of time, our seeming lives, and the choices available to us, A Vast Illusion: Time According to A Course in Miracles , would be helpful. You may also wish to review the answers to Questions #68, #187, #494 and #604 for further discussion of issues related to your question.

Q #810: Why are the concepts in A Course in Miracles so complex, and the answers so elaborate?

A: The Course has to meet us where we are, and where we are is in a world that is very complex. But this is because our world has come from a very complex thought system, the thought system that dominates our minds. Therefore, if Jesus is going to be able to help us, the context of his teaching has to be this immense complexity of both our outer and inner worlds. That is what he means when he says, “This course remains within the ego framework, where it is needed” (C.in.3:1) . Complexity is the name of the ego's game, he tells us in the text (T-15.IV.6:2) . His teachings must address this complexity in order to undo it.

Thus, when we start out with the Course, it can indeed appear to be hopelessly complex, but, again, that is because it is meeting us where we are. Its purpose, though, is to lead us out of that complexity to the “simplicity of salvation” (T.31.I) , when we will all finally realize that “what is false is false, and what is true has never changed” (W.pII.10.1:1) . That is the simple truth, hidden behind the vast complexity of both the ego thought system in our minds and the world that has come from it.

Question #40 discusses the high intellectual level of the Course, and also that even though it is on a high level, everyone can find something in it that will help them become less guilty and fearful, and more kind and peaceful.