A Dialogue Between Jim Marion and Robert Perry
How does A Course in Miracles relate to wider streams of spirituality around the world, both ancient and modern? Is it restating the ancient truths in new form or is it heading off in its own unique directions—or perhaps some of both? Mystic and public policy lawyer Jim Marion, author of Putting on the Mind of Christ, graciously agreed to explore these issues with Course interpreter Robert Perry.
Click to read Part Two of the dialogue.
Thank you for your response. I found it profound, loving, and very challenging. I will respond as best I can.
1. I perhaps gave a wrong impression. I certainly don't think the Course, as a whole, is dualistic in the Zoroastrian, Gnostic or Manichaean sense. I think only those few passages concerning the origin of the world, the Course's creation story or cosmology, are such, and then, only if understood non-metaphorically.
2. I agree with you that God is the only power. It is not my view that "through our own actions, our fundamental nature goes from asleep to awake" any more than a fetus in the womb develops of its own action or effort. Jesus, as you know, ascribed all he did and all he was as pure gift from the Father. The same, of course, applies to us. In Christian teaching, it is the Holy Spirit (of the Father and Jesus) who awakens us to the extent we cooperate with, and do not resist, such Grace.
3. You end by saying, "What I am hoping for, in other words, is that you can ultimately grant, not that the Course's view of the world is true, but merely that it can be a useful tool on the way home. In the end, of course, all these concepts are just tools to get us to the place where we have thrown concepts away because we stand face to face with the truth."
I believe this is very much in keeping with my own view of religion as strictly a means to an end, the end being what the Course calls Atonement. As Jesus said, "Man was not made for the Sabbath. Rather, the Sabbath was made for man."
I think we have to be careful, however, about bracketing truth as if truthfulness does not matter, as if the only thing that matters is, as you put it, "an uplifting and liberating effect on the mind." In his new book, "Integral Spirituality," Wilber sharply criticizes this point of view in his chapter on "Boomeritis Buddhism." In the section entitled "Emptiness and View are Not-Two" Wilber quotes approvingly the contemporary Tibetan master Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche as saying, "Correct views have the ability to lead us to liberation, while incorrect views increase the delusions of our mind."
4. What is the Course's "view of the world?" Actually, it seems to me that the Course sets forth two very distinct views of the world, the world as seen by the ego (the false view), and the correct view of the world as seen by God (and by anyone who realizes Atonement, Christ Consciousness, the view of the world that Jesus saw). It seems to me that the constant contrasting of these two views is the central message, theme and teaching of the Course.
I am in complete and total agreement with the Course's position on this central teaching, namely that the ego's view of the world is false and God's view is true. The ego sees a world made up of billions of discrete beings. Historically, it has also seen God as another such being, a being separate and apart from us. It also sees evil as real, which, as I wrote in PMC, was the original sin, i.e., making the false distinction between good and evil as if they are natural polarities like day and night. They are not. Evil is a manufactured ego fiction. The ego's view is false.
God, on the other hand, sees the world as the expression of God's own life. There is only one reality, God, and that reality is perfect and true. There is no "other." Therefore, as Jesus taught, what you do to others you do to yourself and to God. There is only one Self, and that Self is loving, whole and complete, totally without sin or blemish, and eternal. And we, when we awaken in realization to who we really are, will see ourselves as that same Self. Evil is not real. As Augustine realized in converting from Manichaeism to Christianity, evil is not a thing or a being or a power separate from God but rather a lack or absence of love/truth. It is a fiction, a bad dream. I could not agree with you more that the Course's view is useful. It is more than useful. It is true.
In a real sense, it does not matter that much how the human race got into the present mess in which we find ourselves: Eckhart Tolle is quite correct that a race that murdered over 100 million members of its own kind in just the 20th Century is quite insane. Its thinking is deranged and continues to be deranged. The real question is how to get out of this insanity. As you say, all of the world's major spiritual traditions, like the Course, offer explanations for what created the present mess, and all offer a path out of it. Furthermore, all of the paths involve a radical "renewal of the mind" (St. Paul) so that we can really see the world differently, so we can really see, as Jesus did, that the Kingdom of Heaven is in front of our faces. And all of the traditions, like the Course, offer specific practices and injunctions to use to effect this radical shift in consciousness. It seems that the Course's principal practice/injunction is forgiveness, a teaching that the Course presents masterfully.
The Course may be seen by some as radically new, and even incompatible with Christianity, because, I think, the original Christian message has been terribly distorted — by that same human ego — over the last 2,000 years. Most Christians, including those the popular press calls "spiritual leaders" simply because they hold positions of religious authority, have not put on the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5) but have followed the views of the ego. They see God, including Jesus, as perfect, sinless, eternal, etc. but they see humans in general as separate, sinful, lesser beings in need of salvation and redemption. The Course strives mightily and magnificently to correct this error of interpretation — just as Jesus himself tried mightily to do. The problem, however, is that hardly anyone can see as Jesus did and as the Course teaches we should see. We are talking about what has been, historically at least, an extremely difficult path to awakening.
I believe that the Course is an important new revelation, a new Scripture, not because it makes us feel better about ourselves (though it does that) but precisely because, in its central teachings, it does present the Truth, a truth we all recognize in the depths of our beings. It may also represent a new and better technology of spirit, a faster way of moving great numbers of people to the realization of Atonement. Let us hope that will prove to be the case for such a technology is sorely needed. As I said earlier, I think that anyone who wholeheartedly (with all one's heart and soul and mind and strength) follows the Course's teachings and injunctions will surely discover their own innate and sinless divinity and will bring to this world a badly needed dose of sanity.
5. Now the "very challenging" part. You ask, in essence, how an ever-loving God can submit his Sons and Daughters to such a painful and bloody and excruciating evolution when, at least theoretically you suppose, God could have created us "awake" from the beginning? It is a tough question and one I have thought about often. Generally, I have focused on the practical solution, that is, that, since we really don't know the answer to this question, we must accept what is and surrender to an Intelligence vastly superior to our own.
In our dialogue of 2004, I suggested that, perhaps, there are archetypal limitations of some sort which prevent God from creating us "awake" in the same sense that such limitations apparently prevent God from making 2 plus 2 equal 5 or making a square circle. But a better answer might be that creating us "awake" might defeat the point of evolution. One could similarly ask, "Wouldn't it be more loving if human parents gave birth to adults, "children" not only fully grown but also with all the skills, knowledge, abilities, talents and experience of adults?," thus sparing their offspring much suffering?
Your question and the one I just posed seem to assume that becoming awake (or "adult") is the only purpose of life on earth. I can see that much of the spiritual literature, including the Course, my own books, and Wilber's, might give this impression, but what if the purpose is much broader and grander than that? Some Western esoterics believe that we ourselves are gods in training. Maybe Jesus too hinted at this in quoting the psalm's question, "Know ye not that ye are gods?" Perhaps, as I think Theosophists suggest, we are ourselves becoming creators and may someday give birth to whole planets of beings. Wouldn't it defeat this purpose if God simply gave us our adulthood? And would such "awakeness" even be enough? Might there not be an infinite number of levels to grow through after "awakening" before we could become such beings? Along a similar line, there is a lot of spiritual literature, especially that concerning "past lives," which suggests we are here to grow along many lines of development and through a vast range of experiences, all designed to deepen the soul's knowledge and skills, not just to rush along the cognitive line to enlightenment. The Tibetan Master Djwal Khul likes to quip, "Spirituality is not merely a race off the planet."
Finally, I have to ask if your question isn't equating "love" with lack of pain and suffering. Isn't that the question of a "sensitive green male" (Spiral Dynamics), a question that hints that a green level God would have created a better world than the one we have, a world without the pain of childbirth or the agony of adolescence, a world without volcanoes, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, a world without the negative emotions of fear, anger, grief and despair, a world without disease, old age and death, a world without violence, conflict and war? Isn't that the daydream of today's green level people who simply cannot abide violence, pain, risk, or even unpleasantness or discomfort of any kind? A green heaven? But who would want to live there? Is this not the very type of safe, risk-adverse, politically correct sterility that drives many of our children to drugs and promiscuity? Would not such a "heaven" be so boring that we'd all take to drink or suicide? And how free were the channelers of the Course from similar cultural value biases? For now I will leave you with these questions.
Very sincerely and appreciatively, Jim
As before, I truly appreciate your willingness to extol the Course even in the midst of the differences you have with it, and also your willingness to honestly admit to the challenging nature of the some of the ideas that have come up. I'll respond to your five points in order.
1. I appreciate your clarification that only those passages in the Course that speak of the origin of the world are dualistic in your eyes. Yet this overlooks my point that there are two kinds of nondualism (and that there is a legitimate question about which is more nondualistic). If you see two apples in front of you, yet friends and photographs convince you that one of them is merely a hallucination, then you have only one apple there, not two. That's the Course's brand of nondualism, and it is nondual in that there are not two.
2. I'm also glad that you see God as the only power, so that our efforts don't change our fundamental nature from asleep to awake. However, your examples sent mixed messages, I felt. It's true that a fetus doesn't grow by its own effort. But then you mention that we awaken "to the extent we cooperate with, and do not resist, such Grace." Yet aren't there now two powers necessary to the process—God's Grace and our cooperation?
3. I think you misunderstood my comment about the Course's view being a useful tool. I wasn't at all trying to convey that truth doesn't matter. That is the last thing I would ever say. As a Course teacher, I am constantly trying to correct the attitude that says that truth doesn't matter, that only good feelings matter. My standpoint was simply that a) you and I aren't going to agree about the truth here, and further b) in a matter like this, truth is virtually impossible to ascertain, and therefore c) let's settle for agreeing on the usefulness of each other's views.
4. I am really glad that you feel that the Course's view of the world is true, and that the Course is at least potentially "a faster way of moving great numbers of people to the realization of Atonement." However, as much as I'd like to leave it at that, I want to make sure we are understanding its teaching about the world in the same way.
In talking about the world, the Course would make a sharp division between two classes of things: the forms of the world and the minds of the world. The Course sees those two classes extremely differently. The minds, it says, are innately divine and infinitely worthy, even if for the moment they are filled with delusion. If by "world" we are referring to those minds (which are not just associated with human bodies, but also with animal bodies, and even with forms normally considered inanimate), then the Course would call that world divine, a real expression of God (since He created all those minds). It even says that God loves that world (M-11.1:6).
However, if by "world" we are talking instead about the physical forms, the Course sees that world as an illusion, a dream that merely pictures the delusion in the minds. It calls that world a "slaughter house" (M-13.4:4), in which "devouring is nature's 'law of life'" (M-27.3:7). According to the Course, to accuse God of making a world like that one is to label Him insane:
What can He know of the ephemeral, the sinful and the guilty, the afraid, the suffering and lonely, and the mind that lives within a body that must die? You but accuse Him of insanity, to think He made a world where such things seem to have reality. He is not mad. Yet only madness makes a world like this. (W-pI.152.6:4-7)
So the Course would see the world-as-global-collection-of-minds to be an expression of God's life (even if those minds don't appear very God-like right now), but it would not see the world-as-physical-forms to be an expression of God's life.
5. I have the most to say about your final point. You say that for God to create us awake might be logically impossible, like "making 2 plus 2 equal 5." You go on to say that maybe there is a larger purpose than just getting us awake. Maybe we are gods in training who will ultimately become creators.
My first reaction is that I just don't see the logical impossibility of creating us already awake. I'm not sure what that logical impossibility would be. Further, the idea of creating something that is already perfect out of the gate, not needing to undergo further development, is a basic goal of any creator. Surely the guys who are designing cars in Detroit are aiming for that (though one has to wonder at times). My point is that the concept of creating something already perfect doesn't tend to strike us as self-contradictory. It doesn't strike us in the same way that a square circle does.
I think I see an indirect affirmation of this in your own statements. You say that it's not our own efforts that awaken us, but rather that it's God's Grace, expressed through the Holy Spirit, that does the work. So if God is in fact doing it all, what's keeping Him from doing it quickly and painlessly, rather than dragged out over eons of toil and struggle? If He's doing the operation, why make it last so long and why (oh why) do it without anesthesia? Either way, the end result would still be the same and the one performing the operation would be the same. The only difference would be how much suffering the patient had to endure.
Given these reflections, let's just engage in a little flight of imagination. Let's imagine that it is logically possible for God to create beings that are, at the moment of creation, already fully awake. So let's say that He does just that. And let's go further, and say that He creates us fully developed in every way, so that we are, in essence, gods, right out of the gate, and so that we also possess the power to create. Given that we are perfectly developed in every way at the moment of our creation, we do two things. First, we exult in our perfection and overflow with gratitude towards the loving God who would create us like this. And second, we join Him in the act of creation. We take our place at His side in furthering the glorious process of creation. If this scenario were logically possible (and I don't see any impediments to that), then wouldn't it also be truly ideal?
This, as it turns out, is precisely the Course's view of things. The only clarification needed is that, in the Course's view, what we create is not physical form, but transcendental spirit. Just as God created our transcendental spirit, so we join with Him in creating other transcendental spirits. And in this function, we find perfect fulfillment. This could hardly be called boring (to address another point you raised). Creation is the opposite of boredom, and this is unlimited creation.
Finally, yes, I am definitely equating love with causing a lack of pain and suffering. I think everyone does. I think that is simply part of the definition of being loving. I presume that you, too, are defining love that way. Isn't your view that through the evolutionary process, which does entail suffering, we become more than we could in any other way, that we ultimately transcend all suffering and enter into eternal happiness? It seems to me, in other words, that you are seeing suffering as not a positive end in itself, but simply as a necessary part of reaching an end that is the opposite of suffering, that is immeasurably happy. If I am right, then your God is deemed as loving for the same reason that mine is: both work toward the goal of our perfect happiness.
I think this becomes clear if you imagine the end differently. Let's imagine a different scenario in which God does everything exactly the same right up until the end. He creates you partially awake and partially developed. He then sends you through an evolutionary process that, though filled with suffering, causes you to awaken and develop. But then, right as you reach the final state, he feeds you to these all-powerful demons who rip you limb from limb and devour you, body and soul. It turns out that these demons really love the taste of Christed beings, and the entire evolutionary process has been one in which God was merely fattening you up for the demons. Is there anyone alive (besides the demons who would call such a God loving?
For the same reason, I don't think there is anyone alive who would call God perfectly loving if He could have spared us the painful evolutionary process (while still getting us to the same end-state), but chose to put us through it anyway. Returning to an earlier analogy of mine, imagine a doctor who refuses to operate with anesthesia. How would we feel if we were actually one of his post-op patients, and when we asked him to explain this horrific procedure, he merely said, "Oh, would you just give up the daydream of the sensitive green male?"
This whole issue, I believe, goes to the heart of what we are discussing. The Course has done something that no other teaching that I know of has done. It has made its foundational premise the idea of a perfectly loving, absolutely ethical God. And then from that single standpoint, it has revisioned everything—creation, the physical world, the evolutionary process—in light of that one premise. This leads to a radical reframing of everything in the world. It means that the cruel world is unreal, and is our doing, not God's. It means that people, in spite of appearances, were created as perfectly developed Sons of God, and even creators, and are simply asleep to this great fact. It means that the evolutionary process is going on, but that we are merely evolving back to the state we were created in and never really left. I don't see the Course as wiping out any of the data that we are faced with in this world or on the spiritual journey. It simply puts all that data into a larger framework that reflects God's nature as perfectly loving and ethical. To accomplish this, the Course makes some daring and highly unusual moves. But in the end, it leaves us with a vision of God that, in my opinion, is uniquely beautiful. This is such a precious goal that I think it should purchase for the Course careful and generous consideration for some of the unusual moves it makes on the way to this goal.
I am looking forward to your response.
Click for Part Four of the dialogue.