Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 11/02/2005

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #827 What is the attraction of guilt and suffering?
Q #828 What is meant by the mistake that brought truth to illusion?
Q #829 Does cause-and-effect exist only in this world ?
Q #830 Is practising the Course compatible with practising TM ?

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Q #827: A Course in Miracles refers to our “attraction” to guilt and suffering as being responsible for our difficulties in this world of perception. At first hearing, this would appear to be the opposite to what we experience. To be attracted to suffering of any kind sounds undesirable with nothing to recommend it at all. However we do seem to be attracted to hearing news of disasters happening to others, but not to ourselves. I guess if there are really no “others” and only me, then that is the hidden attraction, to prove to myself that there are others around separate from me. The downside to that is that if they suffer, then I am a candidate for the same. I think I've just answered my question. If all is one in the real world, no separation or suffering, as promised in the Course, that sounds okay to me. What I like about the Course is that it insists that we/I really have no real choice other than to be joyful, in spite of appearances and feelings of despair. Please comment on this tricky bit of detective work.

A: Your observations are valid, as far as they go. What limits them is your perspective, which all of us who believe we are here in the world share, that begins from the premise that we know who we are, and that our identity has something to do with being a body in the world. For seeing ourselves this way, we believe a reasonable goal is to attempt to maximize our body's pleasure and minimize its pain as we make all of our careful plans and adjustments to the world. We don't seem to know that we are minds that have chosen to see ourselves as bodies, just so we don't remember that we are minds! And so the Course's teachings on guilt and suffering are hard to grasp when we operate out of our mistaken bodily identity (T.27.VI.1:1,2,3,4;2:1,2) .

Yes, as you point out, we all seem to be fascinated by disasters in the world, but not simply because they demonstrate that others exist outside of us. More importantly, they seem to validate one of the ego's central tenets, that victimization is real (more on this shortly). And most people relish the opportunity to recount the catastrophic events they've personally lived through, never tiring of sharing all the excruciating details that demonstrate their specialness through their good luck or bad luck, survivor skills, etc. And the media, demonstrating the principle that ego minds are joined, seem increasingly committed to broadcasting these very dramatic tales of loss and triumphs against overwhelming odds. But beneath these more obvious examples of our attraction to guilt and suffering at the level of the world is a sinister motivation that few of us allow ourselves to be in touch with. But as we begin to grasp the purpose our false identity as bodies serves, these hidden layers become more visible.

The lie behind our conscious belief that we don't want to suffer and see guilt is easily recognized, once we are willing to accept the Course's premise that our identity is mind, not body. If we really did not want to suffer and experience guilt, we would give up the charade that we are bodies at the mercy of forces outside ourselves that we cannot control. The desire for most of us may be unconscious, but we all want to seem to suffer as bodies to prove that guilt and attack thoughts reside anywhere but in our own mind. If your body can cause my body to suffer, either directly or indirectly, clearly the guilt and responsibility for my pain is yours and not mine. I am the victim and you are the victimizer, the ego loudly proclaims. We don't want to get rid of guilt, for guilt says the separation and attack on God are real. And we want the separation to be real (T.13.III.2:4,5) because we want our individuality, which comes from the belief in separation, to be real. We each just want to see the guilt in someone else. And in order to see it in someone else, we must suffer at someone else's hands ( e.g., T.26.X.3,4; T.27.I.3,4) . And to suffer at another's hands, we must believe that we are all separate, individual bodies, and not simply related aspects of one mind.

The suffering and pain, although they seem to be experienced in the body, are only experienced in the mind (T.19.IV.C.5:2,3,4,5; T.28.VI.2:1,2,3,4) . It is part of the ego's ruse to keep us mindless that convinces us that it is our bodies that suffer. It is the mind that thinks it can limit itself that suffers, and not the body (T.25.in.3:1,2) , which is nothing more than the ego's symbol for limitation (T.15.IX.2:3,4; T.26.VII.8:7,8,9,10; T.28.VI.3:10) . And so your opening observation, that the Course teaches that our attraction to guilt and suffering is responsible for our difficulties in the world of perception is true, but not in the way that you are thinking. Our attraction to guilt is responsible for our decision to believe that we have difficulties and suffer in the world so that we never look to where the suffering is really occurring, in the mind, where we could do something about it (W.pI.76.5) . We have fooled ourselves into believing that we have difficulties in the world so that we don't have to look at our attraction to guilt and suffering -- the ego's only offerings -- in our mind.

And so, while everything of the ego, including all its projections into the world of form, is illusory, until we look at what we have chosen to make real in our own mind, we will continue to believe that joylessness and despair are our only lot. Jesus knows that the only real choice is for joy, but we stubbornly refuse to accept his word and continue to believe that we can choose guilt and suffering. If we are first honest about the pain that we are each in and are willing to accept complete responsibility for our own suffering (T.11.III.1:4) , we can then make a different choice (T.28.II.12) . And we make a different choice by inviting a different Teacher to look with us at the foolish choice we have been making, so we can recognize that we don't need to continue to suffer.

Q #828: “The Substitute Reality” in Chapter 18 states, “That one error, which brought truth to illusion, and infinity to time, and life to death, was all you ever made” (T.18.I.4:4). This seems backwards to me. I don't understand.

A: Jesus is describing for us in this section what we have accepted in place of reality as God created it. Truth, infinity, and life are all characteristics of Heaven; but when, as one Son, we decided to leave that state of Oneness in Heaven, we came up with a substitute world of our own, which we then believed was reality and truth. This world that consists of billions of individual entities is an illusory world, of course, because separating from Infinity and Totality is impossible -- that is what the Atonement principle states.

So in the sentence you quote, Jesus is saying that by believing we live in a world that is not Heaven, we have made illusion, time, and death the truth, instead of what is “truly” true. By identifying with the ego, we brought truth to the illusion. A Course in Miracles corrects that error by bringing the illusion to the truth, where it is undone.

What seems so real to us is not real at all -- it is an illusion that we sustain in our minds by denying the truth and believing in what we have made up instead. The way we undo this illusion is to bring it back to the truth, which is also in our minds, just as darkness disappears when you turn the light on.

Q #829: There is a passage in the text (T.2.VI.4; VII.1) of A Course in Miracles where Jesus tells us that we are making a mistake when we ask him to release us from our fear. The correction of fear is our responsibility, he states; he cannot take it away, as that would be “tampering with a basic law of cause and effect, the most fundamental law there is. I would hardly help you if I depreciated the power of your own thinking. This would be in direct opposition to the purpose of this course.” Is it correct to say that the law of cause and effect exists only within this world, as part of a dualistic world and belief in separation? Our only responsibility to accept the correction for the error, the Atonement, and forgive, and that once we accept the only cause, God, as causing us, we will recognize that everything else is an unreal effect of an unreal cause, the ego. Are we bound by cause and effect only to the degree that we fail to accept, or defend against, the Atonement, and to the degree we think sin and guilt are real? One particular workbook lesson comes to mind: “God's Will for me is perfect happiness. There is no sin, it has no consequence” (W.pI.101.6:6,7). This seems to break the cause and effect connection, saying that if we forgive in this moment and accept that we are inflicting the perceived pain on ourselves and accept God's happiness again, we are free of the illusory effect because we gave up the illusory cause, the ego. Does Jesus mean there is cause and effect in that we willingly have to participate in forgiving the illusory cause, ego and accept the only Cause again?

A: You are definitely heading in the right direction. We have devoted an entire tape album to this topic because of its centrality in the Course's thought system, and to do justice to your question we would have to say far more than we have space for here. But we will try to cover the key points.

First, the principle applies to Heaven as well as to this world. In Heaven God is the First Cause and the Effect is His Son, beautifully rendered in the Lesson “I am forever an Effect of God” (W.pII.326) . The text also describes this cause-effect principle in a poetic way: “The cause a cause is made by its effects; the Father is a Father by His Son” (T.28.II.1:2) . In the world the cause-effect principle is commonly defined as “every action will have a reaction.” The essence of it is that for a cause to be a cause, it must have effects; if there are no effects, then it cannot be said to be a cause. An effect requires a cause, and if there is no cause, then it cannot be said to be an effect.

The relevance of this to our personal work with the Course -- to state it in the briefest way possible -- is that our belief that we separated from God (our “sin”) is the cause of our being here in the world and of all our problems here as well; therefore, if we can show that that cause has had no effects, then the cause will have been nullified as a cause. In other words, we will have “undone” the separation (our “sin”), and then the awareness of love's presence will have been restored to our minds. The world and our individual selves would have disappeared back into the nothingness from which they came. We would once again be our true Self, Christ, God's one Son. Thus, “I am forever an Effect of God” (W.pII.326) .

Abbreviating, again, what would take many pages to unfold, forgiveness is the way we learn that sin has had no effect. And that, of course, is what the entire Course is about. So you are correct in saying that our only responsibility is to accept the Atonement for ourselves, and that forgiveness is the means of our doing that.

In the passages you referred to, the main point Jesus is making is that we are decision-making minds -- very powerful minds -- and that he will never interfere with that power, for if we do not recognize and respect the power of our minds to choose the ego, we will not be able to call upon that same power to correct that mistake. The entire Course rests on this -- its whole purpose is to get us to respect the power of our thinking, not to depreciate it. Thus, when we ask the Holy Spirit things like getting us a parking space, or to heal cancer, bring about world peace, or to do anything in this world, we are asking Him to tamper with the law of cause and effect and thus to depreciate and deny the power of our minds. He will not do that.

“This is a course in cause and not in effect,” Jesus reminds us (T.21.VII.7:8) . And the cause he always brings us back to is that we believe we live as individuals in a world outside God and Heaven -- the “tiny, mad idea” he describes in the text (T.27.VIII.6:2) . In one paragraph in the section called “The ‘Hero' of the Dream,” (T.27.VIII) , Jesus essentially presents us with a model of the gentle process of forgiveness as it is meant to be. We do not deny how terrible we feel; we just bring these terrible effects to him or the Holy Spirit, where we will look together at them, and then beyond them to their cause. And when we realize the cause is just a silly thought not deserving of our belief any longer, we will simply smile and then be at peace:

“In gentle laughter does the Holy Spirit perceive the cause, and looks not to effects. How else could He correct your error, who have overlooked the cause entirely? He bids you bring each terrible effect to Him that you may look together on its foolish cause and laugh with Him a while. You judge effects, but He has judge their cause. And by His judgment are effects removed. Perhaps you come in tears. But hear Him say, ‘My brother, holy Son of God, behold your idle dream, in which this could occur.' And you will leave the holy instant with your laughter and your brother's joined with His” (T.27.VIII.9).

Q #830: I would like to know if you think A Course in Miracles and Transcendental Meditation are compatible spiritual disciplines? I am studying the Course but enjoy the centeredness from my meditation time. I am asking about TM in particular and not meditation in general.

A: If you find Transcendental Meditation useful as a technique for helping you relax and become more peaceful and centered, by all means, continue to use it in your life. But if you want to use it as a spiritual discipline, integrating it with the practice of the Course, you may be introducing some confusion and potential conflict into your life. Now there is some disagreement as to whether Transcendental Meditation is simply a meditation technique or an actual spiritual discipline. Its proponents generally present TM in a non-spiritual framework in an effort to make it accessible to people of all ages, cultures, and religious backgrounds. But it has been developed by the movement's founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, from principles of the ancient Hindu Vedic tradition of India.

The expressed purpose of the practice of TM is to achieve a state of consciousness called transcendental consciousness, which through repeated practice leads one towards what Maharishi calls enlightenment. However, enlightenment as defined within TM circles would not be considered a spiritual state from the perspective of the Course. For example, in a 1998 interview, Maharishi is quoted as saying: “‘Enlightenment' means lack of darkness, absence of darkness. And ‘absence of darkness' means no mistake, no weakness, no shortcoming—success everywhere, fulfillment of desire everywhere—that is enlightenment . One is living in full accord with Natural Law” (italics added).

While the Course does provide a kind of mind training that leads to higher levels of consciousness ( e.g., C.1.7:4,5,6) , its purpose is to lead us ultimately beyond any perceptual-based consciousness and beyond any concern with the quality of our lives here within the world. In other words, from the Course's perspective, enlightenment involves a process of gradually awakening from the dream and not simply making the dream better. So the two paths, to the degree that there is an intended spiritual direction implicit in TM, have very different purposes. From the Course's perspective, TM would be like any technique or practice that provides some relief from the tensions and anxieties of seeming life in the body. The Course teaches that only the practice of forgiveness leads to the undoing of the guilt over separation buried deep in the mind that is the real cause of all tension and anxiety ( e.g., W.pI.41.1:2,3; W.pI.194.2:1) .