Weekly Questions and Answers, 03/24/2004

This week's questions/topics:

Q #420: Why does Jesus say we need to forgive him?
Q #421: Will my judgemental thoughts diminish as I become more aware of them?.
Q #422: Are the words "mind" and "thinking" interchangeable?.
Q #423: Is it normal to feel socially alienated by being a follower of the Course?.

Q #424: Why would Jesus be "silly" if he were active in the world today?
Q #425: How can compassion be important if suffering itself is an illusion ?

Chronological List of All Questions.

Interactive Index of all topics

Q #420: In A Course in Miracles Jesus says: "I have great need for lilies, for the Son of God has not forgiven me. And can I offer him forgiveness when he offers thorns to me? For he who offers thorns to anyone is against me still, and who is whole without him? Be you his friend for me, that I may be forgiven and you may look upon the Son of God as whole" (T.20.II.4;1,2,3,4). I am not entirely sure what Jesus needs us to forgive him for. What has he done? Is it not we who should be asking him to forgive us that in our insane wrong- mindedness we were and still are mistaken about his and our identity?

A: First, in the passage you quote, Jesus is teaching us again that the Sonship is one: we cannot attack another person without simultaneously attacking ourselves and him. Now with regard to forgiving Jesus... We will give a brief answer here and then suggest some references for an in- depth study of this important topic. There are two levels on which we need to forgive Jesus -- all based on what he tells us in the Course. The first level pertains to our projections onto him, the "bitter idols" he mentions in the clarification of terms at the end of the manual for teachers (C.5.5:7). On the one hand, we (the world) have made him into a figure of judgment and punishment who demands suffering and sacrifice. On the other hand, we have made him into a magical savior who will solve our problems, and reward us for our faith and our good deeds. These two images, of course, are prominent in the New Testament, and have been throughout the history of Christianity.

On this first level, then, we need to forgive Jesus for what he has never done and for what he has never been. This really is a defense against the more basic underlying level, which is our need to forgive Jesus for who he truly is, as he reveals himself in A Course in Miracles, thus correcting the distorted and mistaken descriptions given in most religions for the past two thousand years. If Jesus is indeed present within our minds as the reflection of God’s Love -- the pure expression of the Atonement principle -- then our entire identity as a separated physical and psychological being is undone. He is the living proof within our dream that we are wrong about everything, that our individual lives and the entire world are made up. He has not come to help us make our lives in the world better. When we allow ourselves to look honestly at who Jesus truly is and what he truly represents, we could not but react with fear and even hatred. So it is because of who he truly is that our forgiveness of him is needed. In this sense, we can all relate to the profound feelings expressed in Helen’s poem "Stranger on the Road," in which she portrays her fear of confronting the truth of Jesus’ reality.

There is much more to say about this aspect of our relationship with Jesus, but space limitations prevent us from doing so here, and so we refer you to some of our publications for further study:

Question #54 in The Most Commonly Asked Questions about A Course in Miracles; "Why Must We Forgive Jesus?" in Chapter 15 of Forgiveness and Jesus: The Meeting Place of A Course in Miracles and Christianity; The Afterword in the second edition of Christian Psychology in A Course in Miracles, and "Forgiving Jesus: Stranger on the Road," an audio tape album.

Q #421: I have been studying A Course in Miracles for some months now, and I learned that mistakes are undone by looking at them. To become aware of my mistakes, I try to be aware of phrases like "They shouldn't do it this way" or "You should behave like this". I believe that as I become aware of wanting to control others around me, these phrases will disappear. Is this technique helpful in suspending judgment, or do they themselves imply judgment?

A: Paying attention to the things you think and say is a very good way to practice the vigilance the Course teaches. It is a very important part of the mind training of the Course. What these thoughts and words reflect are the beliefs and judgments of the ego thought system which is based on the belief that the separation is real. This belief is the original mistake, which gives rise to all subsequent mistakes in judgment. Becoming aware of the specific form the thought of separation takes in all of our relationships is how we get in touch with the choice which has been made in the mind. In the example you give, wanting to control others reflects the desire to "control" ourselves by deciding who we are, rather than accepting the Identity given to us by God. Because we have dissociated ourselves from the power of choice in our minds, the only way for us to know what we have chosen is through its effects in our relationships and interactions in the dream. They show us whether we have chosen to believe the ego’s interpretation of our identity (separated and guilty bodies) or the Holy Spirit’s (God’s one innocent Son). This is why becoming aware of them is an important step in their undoing. However, it is not the end of the process: "In order to heal, it thus becomes essential for the teacher of God to let all his own mistakes be corrected. If he senses even the faintest hint of irritation in himself as he responds to anyone, let him instantly realize that he has made an interpretation that is not true. Then let him turn within to his eternal Guide, and let Him judge what the response should be" (M.18.4:1,2,3).

Once we are aware of our mistaken beliefs and judgments, they do not automatically disappear. We have an important choice to make: we either keep them, or exchange them for the Holy Spirit’s correction. The first choice reinforces the ego’s thought system, which is the source of all the pain experienced in the world of illusion. The second leads to the undoing of the ego’s belief in separation by weakening our investment in it. As we begin to realize the tremendous cost of maintaining our mistaken belief in the separation (pain and conflict), we become more willing to choose the Holy Spirit’s correction: "Heaven is chosen consciously. The choice cannot be made until alternatives are accurately seen and understood. All that is veiled in shadows must be raised to understanding, to be judged again, this time with Heaven's help. And all mistakes in judgment that the mind had made before are open to correction, as the truth dismisses them as causeless. Now are they without effects. They cannot be concealed, because their nothingness is recognized"(W.pI.139.9:1,2,3,4,5).

Q #422: Reading the text of A Course in Miracles (T.7.VI.2), I am getting the impression that the words mind and thinking (the thing that thinks) are interchangeable. Right or wrong?

A: Yes, the mind can be thought of as the thing that thinks. It is outside time and space, as distinguished from the brain, which is an organ in the body. The mind’s thinking affirms, through its decision-making power, either the ego’s thought system or the Holy Spirit’s. And it must always be remembered that this kind of thinking is a function only of the mind of the separated Son, and therefore is illusory, because the Son never truly separated. We therefore could say that the Mind of Christ, in Heaven, has nothing to think about! There is no counterpart in our human experience to the perfect oneness of reality, as some mystics have observed.

Q #423: Does anyone feel some sense of alienation in everyday life from studying A Course in Miracles? I thought all of my relationships would be strengthened by following this path. Instead I've had more turmoil in that area than I ever have had in my life. It hurts when you are not invited to the party because you have chosen to "see things differently."

A: Choosing the Holy Spirit’s perception instead of the ego’s should result in your feeling more peaceful, and that is all that should be "noticeable" to others. As Jesus states in Lesson 155: "There is a way of living in the world that is not here, although it seems to be. You do not change appearance, though you smile more frequently. Your forehead is serene; your eyes are quiet. And the ones who walk the world as you do recognize their own. Yet those who have not yet perceived the way will recognize you also, and believe that you are like them, as you were before" (W.pI.155.1). Smiling more frequently and being more peaceful should not result in a feeling of alienation. However, if all that you and your friends did together was criticize and judge others, and you have chosen not to do that any more, then the form of the relationship might change as well, if you are being guided to leave the relationship. This should not result in a feeling of alienation, though.

On the other hand, the politics and judgment that are inherent in almost all relationships in this world do not necessarily mean that you cannot be friends with these people any longer or that you need to move on. You can be silent and not indulge in the attacks and still be very much present to your friends. The content in your mind can change, without the form of the relationship necessarily changing. You could approach a get-together, for example, as a classroom in which you are going to learn that you and your friends share the same interests on a deeper level. So when the judging starts, you can say within your mind: "That is what egos do. They judge. I may not be engaging in the judging right now, but I have the same ego and am expressing it in other ways. That makes us all the same. And they and I share the same right mind, too, along with the power to choose. All of us attacked God or we would not be here, and we all want to return home, but are afraid to." By seeing that as the constant purpose of your being with your friends, you would learn how to be with them without supporting their egos, without feeling superior to them (an attack), and without feeling alienated. It is your laboratory, you might say, for applying what you have learned.

Q #424: You say that if Jesus were active in the world today he would be as silly as we are. Now, surely he wasn’t silly 2,000 years ago when he was very active in this world. So why can’t we assume that he is as active today for us as he was then, except with the huge advantage that today he can be so everywhere, simultaneously. Or is my assumption wrong that Jesus was active in the world 2,000 years ago? Was it only our faith in him that brought about all the miracles, practically without his interference? But he says that he raised the dead, so he must have been active on the level of form to some extent. In other words, would he be as active for us today as he was then, if we had the same faith in him today, as we had then? Please help me in this confusion because I do feel that he is active in this world today and that is contrary to what you are saying.

A: Your confusion is understandable, because the Bible and A Course in Miracles have completely different views of the nature of the world and of Jesus, and you seem to be combining them. From the point of view of A Course in Miracles, Jesus could not be active in the world, because he himself emphatically states, "There is no world! This the central thought the course attempts to teach" (W.pI.132.6:2,3). His theory and his training of us through the lessons help us move toward acceptance of that truth by focusing on the world as but a projection of a thought of guilt in our minds, and as such it has no reality of itself. That is the significance of these principles: ideas leave not their source and "the world is the outside picture of an inward condition" (T.21.in.1:5). We therefore are deluded when we take anything of the world or the body seriously. In fact, many times Jesus uses the term insane in reference to us, because we are always reacting to something that is not there. So if Jesus were active in a world he says does not exist, he would be as silly as we are.

Even as a presence in our minds he is not active. We may experience him as active -- as doing things -- but that is only because of our limitations and our need to make love more manageable by us, as Jesus gently chided Helen Schucman for doing. The Course teaches us that Jesus is in our minds only as a reflection of the presence of Love that we rejected when we decided that we wanted to be on our own, rather than be part of the pure Oneness of God’s Being. His love is present in our minds for us to accept back or to continue to reject, but it will always be there, regardless of our choosing against it. So Jesus does nothing except love us unconditionally. How we experience that love depends on our own inner dynamics. As our fear lessens and we allow ourselves to identify with that love more and more, we will realize it is but our own Self, not a separate person with the name "Jesus." Love is one. God’s Son is one. And miracles pertain only to our minds -- the choice we make in our minds to reverse our decision to make separation our reality.

The Bible’s accounts of Jesus’ life and activities have been studied by scholars for quite some time, and one conclusion widely accepted is that these accounts should not be taken literally. Of course there are many Christians who believe the opposite. But as one Catholic scholar put it: "I would swear that Jesus performed miracles, but I would not swear that he performed any of the miracles described in the gospels." In the Course, Jesus alludes to some of his "activities" when he was on earth, but he also says:

"The name of Jesus is the name of one who was a man but saw the face of Christ in all his brothers and remembered God. So he became identified with Christ, a man no longer, but at one with God. The man was an illusion, for he seemed to be a separate being, walking by himself, within a body that appeared to hold his self from Self, as all illusions do. Yet who can save unless he sees illusions and then identifies them as what they are? Jesus remains a Savior because he saw the false without accepting it as true. And Christ needed his form that He might appear to men and save them from their own illusions" (C.5.2).

Now you don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, as the saying goes. Jesus himself urges us to relate to him as a dear and loving brother, who wants to help us. And he can help us because he is wiser than we are, and motivated only by love. He speaks of walking with us and taking our hand as we journey along the path of forgiveness with him. "Walking with him is just as natural as walking with a brother whom you knew since you were born, for such indeed he is" (C.5.5:6). And as long as we think we are individuals living in the world, then we ought to relate to him that way. But he does not want us to remain on that level, because we would be limiting ourselves to only a very small portion of the gifts he offers us. He wants to help us let go of our identity with a false self that has led us into an alien world filled with immense suffering, conflict, and hatred, along with temporary moments of happiness and pleasure. He wants to take us Home, and the way we will get there is by learning how to see everything the way he does. Seeing him only as a kind and caring person who will fix our lives and the world—though that is not a bad place to start one’s spiritual journey—is to severely limit the joy and peace that is our inheritance as God’s Son, and that is immeasurably beyond any joy and peace we might experience in the world.

Your question touches on the very purpose of A Course in Miracles, and we recommend further study of what we have briefly outlined here. See Questions #93, #97, #184, #241, #420; Absence from Felicity, Chapter 17; and The Message of A Course in Miracles, Chapter 4.

Q #425: My question is about compassion. According to Buddhism, compassion is the most divine feature and one of the means leading to enlightenment. But according to A Course in Miracles, suffering and pain are illusions. So from that point of view compassion seems to play on the ego’s side, enforcing the illusion. But what would our world be without compassion?

A: First, as a clarification, the Course’s teachings come on two levels. On the level of absolute truth, suffering and compassion are both illusory, because God alone is real in the perfect Oneness of His infinite Love, extended in Christ, His creation, and in the creations of Christ, forever within the unity of God’s Being. All but this eternally extending Love is illusory.

Succinctly stated, the second level of the Course’s teachings addresses us as minds erroneously thinking that reality is defined by existence separate from and outside the Being of God: separate, autonomous beings with separate interests. The purpose of these teachings, thus, is to help us undo these mistaken, delusional beliefs that we are separate from one another and have conflicting interests and goals. On this level, the Course would agree with Buddhism in its high regard for compassion. The terminology would be a little different, but learning to be compassionate is a vital part of any student’s work with A Course in Miracles. In fact, a workshop given at the Foundation in 2001 was called "The Compassion of the Miracle," and our newsletter, The Lighthouse, has featured several articles on compassion and kindness (see Teaching Materials on our Web site). Compassion, when extended to all people and circumstances without exception, is spiritually healing because it reverses the separation we perceive among us. It reinforces the illusion when it is offered only to those deemed worthy of it, and is withheld from those judged as undeserving of our love and kindness.

The compassion in our world today all too often is laced with unkindness because it is exclusionary. Not uncommonly, the very people who would spend considerable time, energy, and money helping one group, would turn a cold shoulder to another group suffering the same plight, only because this second group espouses a different political or religious view or a different life style. Our compassion pours out to the suffering, but rarely extends to those who have inflicted that suffering. From the Course’s point of view, if we were to get beyond the behavior (form) to the content in people’s minds, we would find that we are all identical. Even those responsible for the most hideous of crimes share the very same thought system as those who devote their lives to helping the victims, which of course does not make hideous behavior acceptable. What appear to be separate, autonomous beings are but fragments of the one thought of separation, along with the guilt and fear inherent in that thought. All cruelty, brutality, and savagery are ultimately traceable to the dynamics resulting from this belief. We all share in that thought system; but we all -- without exception -- share in the correction of that insanity as well. Both thought systems -- with the power to choose between them -- define the mind of every single seemingly individual being. Undoing our belief in separation thus involves a growing perception that there is only one Son of God, and therefore if we condemn one person or group, we are really condemning ourselves. That is the basis of the Course’s view of compassion. Finally, if we keep form and content distinct, we will avoid the simplistic conclusion that the Course’s teachings on compassion invalidate judicial systems and accountability for behavioral activities.