Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 05/10/2006
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This week's questions/topics:
Q #932 How are we certain that it was Jesus that Helen heard ?
Q #933 Can the teachings of the Advaita Vedanta be reconciled with the Course?
Q #934 How do I form a personal relationship with Jesus?
Q #935 How do we choose or end up with the life we appear to lead?
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Q #932: How are we certain that it was Jesus that was the inner voice that Helen was hearing? What if she heard a voice but it wasn't Jesus? I'm not saying it wasn't, for I highly believe in A Course in Miracles and all its aspects. But shouldn't one know how the Course began? There are many possibilities of how the voice Helen heard was not Jesus. I find it hard to understand why she would think it is Jesus. Could you kindly explain to me how it is the great savior who she was hearing?
A: Helen knew this for certain. There was never any question in her mind about the identity of the voice she heard, as is chronicled in Kenneth's book Absence from Felicity, which presents a wealth of information about Helen and her scribing of the Course. There probably are very few people who have not wondered about the same thing, but many have found that it ceases to be an issue for them as they continue to practice the lessons and see the results in their lives. In the end, however, certainty about this must come only from within you. Our answers to Questions #110, #156 and#922 address this same subject.
Q #933: I know that students are discouraged from mixing approaches, so I hope you will bear with me and see the sincerity of my question. It is this: Advaita Vedanta, also a nondualistic view, seems to insist that I have no choices; what will happen will happen at its appointed time, and in its appointed way. The "goal" of this view is the ultimate realization of choicelessness: seeing that there is no one to exercise choice. A Course in Miracles also seems to work towards this point, but it has as its chief practice the repeated exercising of the choice for forgiveness until we realize this choice was illusory, but by then it has done its job and delivered us to the gates of heaven, where, presumably, choicelessness is the rule. Is there a way these two views can be reconciled? Might it suggest that forgiveness is not within my power, and will happen when it happens? If so, then what are the implications for the Course student? Are we possibly merely witnesses to awakening, rather than doers of any kind?
A: The Course is written on two levels, as has been discussed elsewhere in these questions (e.g., Questions #3, #291, #612, #710, #782i): the level of nondualistic truth, where only Love is true and nothing else is real, and a second dualistic level, where the perception of the Holy Spirit, while illusory, is true (a reflection of truth), and the perception of the ego, based on belief in sin, guilt and fear, is false. This makes the Course unique among the world's spiritual paths for, while coming from the highest level, like the Advaita teachings, it nevertheless acknowledges what we mistakenly believe to be true and provides a framework for using the ego's symbols of sin and attack and guilt -- illusory but nevertheless very real in our experience -- for a different purpose ( e.g., T.14.VII.5 ; T.24.IV.3) . This allows us to lessen our experience of sin, guilt and fear while we still remain identified with the dualistic thought system of the ego -- making the Course a very compassionate teaching indeed. For while all of our suffering is illusory, the fact is to us it still seems very real. And so a teaching that can help us to minimize the pain while we continue to believe that we have some choice over our experience -- at the same time pointing us to something beyond these false beliefs -- can be much more helpful than simply insisting to ourselves that it is not real.
A possible danger for many students of a practice such as the Advaita Vedanta -- and this is an error made by many students of the Course as well, who fail to make the distinction between the two levels of the Course -- is that it can lead to denial of what we are experiencing because it is not real, pushing our conscious feelings and beliefs out of awareness and simply prolonging in time -- unreal as time ultimately may be -- our experience of duality (T.26.V.2) . Now in the end, we will recognize that the power of choice must be meaningless ( e.g., T.5.II.6:4 ; T.27.III.7) , if the options are Everything and nothing. And the outcome is inevitable, so that if we were to deny the reality of any choice and simply witness all the events we have “chosen” on another level to experience, the time will come when time will cease (T.29.VI) .
But even simply witnessing events represents a choice from our current level of experience. And accepting the role of the unbiased witness who observes without judging is in fact what the Course means by forgiveness -- for there is nothing to be done, only undone -- we are not doers in the forgiveness process, which happens in the mind outside of time and space. In Jesus' words, “Forgiveness...is still, and quietly does nothing. It offends no aspect of reality, nor seeks to twist it to appearances it likes. It merely looks, and waits, and judges not” (W.pII.1:4:1,2,3). The only meaningful choice while we believe choice is possible is how to view the events we are witnessing -- either with or without judgment. Judgment always reflects a dualistic perspective, where there is both a good and a bad outcome, or a desirable and an undesirable one. Simply observing without judgment reflects nondualistic reality. And so the choice to forgive that the Course is holding out to us is none other than the choice to see ourselves as the witness -- the mind -- rather than as the doer -- the body in the world. In that sense, despite using different words which seem to point to different practices, the Course and Advaita are really saying the same thing.
Q #934: To learn A Course in Miracles, a student needs to form a relationship in his mind with Jesus or the Holy Spirit. The Course tells us this repeatedly. But it offers hardly any practical advice about how to contact them. Helen Schucman, the scribe of the Course, clearly had a personal relationship with Jesus. She knew how to commune with him. But what do the rest of us do?
A: Undoubtedly, many students of A Course in Miracles have at some point envied Helen's experience of hearing Jesus' voice. It is easy to feel that Jesus must have had a special love for Helen that he is withholding from the rest of us. This is exactly what the ego would like us to think because it justifies its claim that we did not abandon God's Love; God's Love abandoned us. But believing that Helen had something we do not because we cannot literally hear a voice misses the Course's entire point.
It is not the words Jesus gave Helen that we need in our own mind; it is the love that inspired them. It is not Jesus as an historical, human figure, nor the Holy Spirit as an Entity whom we need; it is the abstract love they represent.
The Course tells us that the body is but a figure in a dream (T.27.VIII.4:3) . That means every body -- including Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and ourselves as the individuals we think we are. Anything we perceive as having an individual identity and physical existence is but a symbol in our dream.
But because we are so completely convinced of the reality of our symbols, a book that only spoke of abstract love without personalizing it would not be of much help to us. We have no way to grasp abstract love on the level of human thought. So, when that abstract love that comes from outside of this dream entered Helen's mind, she experienced it as the voice of Jesus -- a potent symbol for her. Fortunately, Jesus is a potent symbol for most of the rest of us in the Western world too. So, the happy result is a book that gives us a way within the dream of conceptualizing the love that comes from outside it.
As students of the Course, we should note that we have probably never told ourselves that we cannot follow the dictates of the ego because we do not hear its voice. On one level, we know that the ego is just a symbol. Yet, when the Course talks of the ego's "senseless shrieks" (T.25.V.3:5) we do not protest that we have never heard them. Rather, we feel an at times painful sense of recognition. And so we accept the ego as a useful symbol, both real and unreal.
However, when the Course tells us the Holy Spirit is "a still small Voice" (T.21.V.1:6) , we think we need to literally hear a voice. And there is a reason we instantly decide that. On a level we are not aware of, we do know that this Voice of Love is really a thought of love that still remains within our mind. We also know (again, unconsciously) that we could turn to it at any time and that terrifies us. So, in the blink of an eye, the part of our mind that is afraid (symbolized by the ego) finds this clever setup that will once again allow us to seek but never find.
Because we are so skilled at keeping ourselves firmly rooted in this dynamic and in this dream, it is very helpful to have the image of an older, wiser, gentle, and loving brother as our guide. But again, it is only in our mind that we need him. He is not coming to us. Rather, we are symbolically coming to him by making a choice for a different thought system.
Furthermore, we do not even need to look for this thought system. As the Course says, "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" (T.16.IV.6:1). And so, all we have to do is watch our unloving thoughts and actions without justifying or judging them. Ultimately, this will teach us that our pain is self-inflicted and that we would be much happier if we made a different choice. This is what it means to reach for Jesus' hand to transcend the ego (T.8.V.6:8) . To do this requires no special attributes or abilities -- only a little willingness (T.18.V.2:5) .
For related discussions about listening to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, please see Questions #11, and #401a.
A: A Course in Miracles does a brilliant job explaining why we ended up with the experience we seem to be having. But it really does not provide an intellectually satisfying answer as to how this happened. This is because there is no intellectually satisfying answer to that question.
The Course tells us that our entire physical existence is an illusion -- a dream. So, it is helpful to think about how we would work with an upsetting nighttime dream. We would not ask how it happened. Instead, we would examine the content of the dream and ask ourselves why it would be in our mind and what we might learn from it.
This is exactly the process the Course asks us to undertake with our entire life. Though we obviously do not yet believe life is merely a dream (and certainly should not pretend that we do), we must work with it as if it were. Fortunately, the Course makes doing this relatively easy by letting us know that all of us wrote the scripts of our lives to serve one simple purpose: to maintain our individuality but get rid of our guilt . Every aspect of ourselves, every experience we have, and every person, creature, or object we encounter, is a symbol we made up to validate our declaration that "I am here but it is not my fault!"
Jesus tells us in the Course that all this began with the tiny, mad idea that we could be separate from God (T.27.VII.6:2) . Up to that point, we were one with our Creator. But this thought filled us with both glee and guilt. The ego told us we could keep the glee and lose the guilt if we would just listen to it and forget everything else. We took the ego up on its offer, which led us to fall asleep, seem to shatter into a billion fragments, and wind up in this world of form.
Course students invariably ask, "But how could that happen?" And again, there is no intellectually satisfying answer because it did not really happen. The very fact that we think there is a me who needs to understand something is the barrier that makes understanding impossible. This is why Jesus makes statements like, "This course will lead to knowledge, but knowledge itself is still beyond the scope of our curriculum. Nor is there any need for us to try to speak of what must forever lie beyond words" (T.18.IX.11:1,2).
So, clearly, we cannot know how we chose the scripts that make up our individual lives. From our limited perspective, we cannot understand what determined our specific choices for families, genders, and so forth. But what we can know essentially makes such concerns irrelevant. We can be sure that while the forms in our scripts differ, the content for all of us is the same -- again, to prove that we exist as individuals but that it is someone else's fault.
Returning to the image of fragmenting into a billion pieces, we can think of ourselves as fragments of a mirror. Each of us is capable of reflecting either the ego or the Holy Spirit (in other words, God's Love). We are used to reflecting the ego and letting our lives serve its goal of separation. But we could instead reflect the Holy Spirit, Who will turn our lives into classrooms for remembering that we all share the same need -- the need to know that God is not angry with us and that it is safe to awaken and be at peace at last.
In every moment, we make a choice between these two options. We are always holding either the ego's hand or the Holy Spirit's. Within this dream, which hand we choose determines what our lives will be like. Therefore, this is the only choice we need to understand how to make now.
And so Jesus tells us , "The emphasis of this course always remains the same; it is at this moment that complete salvation is offered you, and it is at this moment that you can accept it. This is still your one responsibility. Atonement might be equated with total escape from the past and total lack of interest in the future. Heaven is here. There is nowhere else. Heaven is now. There is no other time" (M.24.6:1,2,3,4,5,6,7).