A Course in Miracles and the Perennial Wisdom—Part 4

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 Three of the dialogue.

Jim's Response

Dear Robert, thank you for your thoughtful response. As always, I will try to answer you as best I can.

DIVINE CREATORSHIP

I want to begin this post by exploring common ground I believe we share or are close to sharing. The Course states that the manifest world, including the physical world, was created by Mind. I agree. It was created by Divine Mind. The Course says that creation in all its forms, visible and invisible, was created by the Divine Sonship (collective). The Christian creed, following the prologue to John's Gospel, says that all things were made by the Father but through the Son. Both formulations, which may be closer than we suppose, preserve God the Father/Mother/Source as utterly changeless, eternal, loving, formless, serene, etc., a point you seem very intent on making and with which I agree.

I also agreed earlier with the Course and Tolle that much of human thinking is deranged. Humans are, however, part of the divine body of the collective Christ and are what has been traditionally called co-creators with God of our reality. Therefore, human thinking, conscious and unconscious, is responsible for much that is evil/unbalanced/deranged (whatever word one wants to use) in this world (as well as for much sublime creativity).

Earlier I quoted Wilber as saying that only psychotics create their own reality. But it is also true that, as divine co-creators (to use traditional language), there are some ways that to some degree we do create our reality. In recent years there have been hundreds of books exploring this area: books on manifestation including the manifestation of prosperity, books on self-healing techniques such as visualization, and books on the "scientific" way to practice petitionary prayer. There have been books exploring how people and events in our lives "mirror" our own inner consciousness, and books on the magnetic power of emotions and how emotions, both positive and negative, will bring people into our lives who are on the same emotional wavelength or who will draw forth our suppressed emotions to be healed. There have been books on psychology that have shown the destructive effects of psychological projection, displacement, suppression, denial and other mental habits.

There have also been books exploring the laws of karma, how, as Jesus said, our every thought, word, deed and omission creates ramifications for the future. Lastly, there have been books, e.g. Rupert Sheldrake's, positing that collective human habits and choices throughout evolution, create morphogentic fields that thereafter largely determine the direction of human evolution. Moreover, all of these areas are in their infancy in terms of scientific elaboration. Yes, it does seem that the minds of human beings have a very powerful effect upon reality, even physical reality. We still have an enormous amount to learn about the powers of the mind and how those powers interact with the various spiritual laws.

Finally, I agree that the physical world, when seen from the vantage point of the higher planes of consciousness, could be characterized as a dream world. When we dream we enter the astral plane, a dream world for us. But the millions of souls who live on that plane see the physical plane as a dream world and the astral world as real. A soul living on the causal plane would see both the physical and astral worlds as dream worlds. I remember Yogananda saying during WWI that soldiers were dying in their dreambodies on the Western front. Books which have explored the after-death astral plane say that the people there seem to create the contents of that plane by their thoughts. Some say the same is true on the physical plane except that, the energies being much denser, it takes thoughts, both positive and negative, a lot longer to manifest here (during which time they are often cancelled out). So, the Course's characterization of the world as a dream is not as "far out" as some might suppose.

Footnote: To call something a dream is not necessarily to call it unreal. Dreams can be very real.

I believe we must keep all of the above things in mind in assessing the Course's assertion that creation is wholly the product of the Divine Sonship, including the minds of humans and, in your view, the minds of countless other sentient beings. In short, as I think is your intent in this dialogue, what the Course says must be given a respectful hearing.

NONDUALISM

In your last post, your first response was about nondualism. You state there are two kinds of such. In the perennial tradition, nondualism refers to the relationship between the formless (God as Source or Creator) and the world of form, God's manifestations or creations. It says these are "not two." In Hinduism the classic formulation is Braham is Atman and Atman is Brahman. In Buddhism there are two classic formulations, "Nirvana is Samsara and Samsara is Nirvana" and "Emptiness is Form and Form is Emptiness." In Christianity, with its mythological language, the formulation is "The Father and the Son are One," i.e, not two (this being the basis of the theology of the Trinity, three personas but only one God.) In all these traditions form is not negated but it is seen as an aspect of formlessness.

It is important to realize that this is not metaphysical, intellectual, philosophical speculation. That form and formlessness are "not two" is a truth derived primarily from the direct inner contemplative experience of the contemplatives of the great traditions. It is how one actually sees God and creation at the nondual level of consciousness. Now, admittedly, very few humans have ever realized nondual vision, particularly on a permanent basis. As Wilber says, it requires a complete uprooting of the self system, including a total dissolution of the distinction between subject and object. Of the 6.5 billion people on this planet, maybe a room full could be said to be permanently at the nondual level.

If I understand you correctly, your definition of nondualism is very different. It does not seem to deal at all with the relationship between the formless and form, between God as Source and God as Manifested (Son). It seems wholly concerned with the world of form, the relationship between the mind and mental forms on the one hand and matter and physical forms on the other hand. Per your interpretation of the Course, you say that mind and its forms exist, but the world of physical forms, being an illusion or dream, does not. Philosophically, this is nothing new. If the Course does teach this, it breaks no new ground. It is the philosophy of idealism, extreme idealism, which has been with us since the ancient Greeks and re-appears periodically, e.g., Bishop Berkeley and Mary Baker Eddy. What we end up with is a singularity, i.e., only mind exists (although apparently, in your view, that singularity contains many minds and mental forms such as ideas). We can agree to call this a kind of "nondualism" if we wish, but this nondualism is something very different from the nondualism of the perennial tradition.

SALVATION BY GRACE OR WORKS?

You write: "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?"

Essentially, you re-open the old argument between Protestants (Luther) and Catholics about whether salvation/justification is wrought by grace/faith or by good works/human effort. You prefer the Protestant position. Rather than re-hash 400 years of theological argument, I would refer the readers of our dialogue to the historic 1999 agreement between the Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches which, hopefully, resolved this issue for Christians. The agreement, which concedes the high ground to Luther, essentially comports with the Course's Introduction, "Free will does not establish the curriculum. It means only that you can elect what you want to take at a given time." Because we have free will, we can either cooperate with or resist the graces of the Holy Spirit at any given time.

Footnote: Just two weeks ago, the president of the American association of evangelical theologians, a Lutheran, resigned. He became a Roman Catholic. He stated that, since the argument over justification had been resolved, there was no further need for protestation.

A LOVING CREATOR OF A FLAWED WORLD?

This, it seems, is the difficult issue and the one you grapple with the most. It seems to be a core spiritual issue for you. According to Lord Vywamus (through another channeler) all of us have such issues and, in general, he says they stem from a resentment towards God for giving birth to us, and thus separating us from the Godhead in the first place. (My own issue, for the record, is confusion, belief that God was very unfair about expecting us to make sense of, and get meaning from, the bewilderingly complex world God birthed us into).

You write, "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." You go on to assert that, in your view, God could have created us enlightened. Indeed, you interpret the Course as saying God did so, but we ourselves sabotaged God's effort by creating the world of form/separation (though, for unknown reasons, you find only physical forms distasteful, mental forms apparently being okay even though they often cause as much pain or more).

As I wrote in my last post, I have no idea why the world is as it is. I offered a couple speculations on the issue but that's all they were, tentative speculations. Many spiritual teachers, me included, have suggested that this world of polarities, in which one gets "punished" if one goes too far in any extreme, is a crucible for refining us into loving beings. But that view, even though to some extent based on personal and pastoral experience, is also to some degree speculation. Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, in her book on centering prayer and Christian mysticism, suggests that even our "dark side" may be crucial to our growth in holiness (wholeness). Others, like the Anglo-American mystic Alan Watts, have suggested the same. One thinks of Jesus' parable of the weeds and wheat and how the weeds must not be uprooted before the harvest lest we also uproot the wheat.

Your view, as you admit, is also speculation for none of us know why things are as they are. Jesus himself, even now, may not know just as he deferred to the Father on many questions when he was here. The Hindus, nonjudgmentally, chalk it all off as God's lila, dance or play. But I can understand why many people, as with boxing and American football, think this play far too rough for their taste.

THE COURSE AND "THIS WORLD"

I agree with what I see as the central teaching of the Course, the false view of the world as seen by the ego vs. the true view of the world as seen by God and those who have put on the mind of Christ. In doing so I see the apparent separateness of the physical world as just that: only apparent, not real. With clear vision all is Spirit.

You write, "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)."

The New Testament too often speaks very pejoratively of the world and the flesh. Many early Christians, therefore, like the Gnostics I mentioned above, and like some Christians even today, took that literally, seeing matter, physicality, sexuality, etc. as evil. You seem to interpret the Course in a similar manner.

But that interpretation has never been generally accepted by the Christian Church. Following Genesis, the Church has seen the world as "good." When Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world," he was neither condemning the physical plane nor talking about the afterlife. He was, as the Course does, emphasizing that this world, as seen by the ego with its ego consciousness, is a false delusion of separateness. As Jesus said, it is a lie created by the Father of Lies, Diabolus, the dualistic human ego (both diabolus, the devil, and dualism have their root in the Latin duo, two). The real world is one divine entity, a seamless garment. As Jesus taught, "What you do to the least of your brothers you do to me." I suggest that perhaps the Course's condemnation of the "world" should perhaps be interpreted in keeping with this 2,000 year Christian tradition rather than in the Gnostic sense that was rejected by the great mystical Fathers of the Church long ago.

Peace and love, Jim

Robert's Response

Jim,

As we close this dialogue, at least for now, I want to say how very grateful I am for your willingness to engage in it. You haven't held back in voicing your praise of the Course, or your disagreement with it, or in giving your time to this exchange. I can only hope that others will be as gracious in their willingness to dialogue about A Course in Miracles. I'll respond to your latest offering and then offer some final observations at the end.

Divine creatorship

I am grateful for your acknowledgment that the Course should be given a respectful hearing in its teaching that we, the Sonship, made the world. I appreciated all the ways you mentioned in which it has been shown that our thoughts do shape our world. I particularly liked the analogy of what has been said about the astral world, "that the people there seem to create the contents of that plane by their thoughts." I have read that, too, and it was one of the early things that gave me an understandable model for what the Course is saying about the physical world.

Nondualism

I should clarify more carefully the Course's version of nondualism. It doesn't use the term, but certainly uses the concept. The Course would sharply divide everything into two classes.

In one class is God, the Son (which is our own true Self), and the Holy Spirit, all of which are pure, bodiless, unbounded, changeless spirit, as well as perfectly loving, joyous, knowing, powerful, united, and peaceful.

In the other class is time, space, and form (a trio which obviously encompasses the entire phenomenal universe), along with the ego (both the human and the animal ego) and its attendant attributes of hate, fear, suffering, limitation, and separateness. (This class would include the "mental forms" of the separate self, just to clarify a point you made.)

These two classes seem to be irreconcilable opposites. Traditional nondualism would say that at least two of the opposites involved can be reconciled: spirit and form. I don't know what it would say about other opposites, such as love and hate, good and evil. I would be very interested to find out. The Course's nondualism would say that the classes in their entirety are genuine opposites, and as such they are mutually exclusive. One negates the other, and so both cannot be real, and in fact both aren't. Only the first class is real. We can see all of this captured in this paragraph from the Course:

Although you are one Self, you experience yourself as two; as both good and evil, loving and hating, mind and body. This sense of being split into opposites induces feelings of acute and constant conflict, and leads to frantic attempts to reconcile the contradictory aspects of this self-perception. You have sought many such solutions, and none of them has worked. The opposites you see in you will never be compatible. But one exists. (W-pI.96.1)

So here we see the same two classes. The first is "good," "loving," and "mind" (understood as our true mind, which is limitless and changeless). The second is "evil," "hating," and "body." Seemingly possessing both sides within ourselves causes a terrible sense of inner conflict, for we feel split down the middle into two opposing camps. We seek relief by trying to find ways to reconcile these camps. We try to see them as not so opposite, not so far apart. Maybe they are integrated. Maybe they are just different parts of the same wheel. But the real relief, this paragraph says, comes from realizing that the second camp does not exist.

Here we see a clear claim of nondualism on the part of the Course: There seem to be two, but there is really only one. The truth is "not-two." But it is not only different from a more traditional brand of nondualism, it also refutes that brand. It claims that trying to reconcile the two classes is futile. The paragraph that follows says that until you have accepted "that truth and illusion cannot be reconciled," "you will attempt an endless list of goals you cannot reach; a senseless series of expenditures of time and effort, hopelessness and doubt, each one as futile as before, and failing as the next one surely will" (W-pI.96.2:1-2)—simply because you are trying to hang onto the false by intermingling it with the true.

You say that the Course's view is an extreme idealism, and I would agree, as long as we acknowledge (against Bishop Berkeley) that the forms of this world are ideas in our minds, not God's Mind. I do want to point out, though, that such an idealism constitutes monism, which of course is not dualism.

You say that the truth that form is merely "an aspect of formlessness" is not just an intellectual claim but is drawn primarily from contemplative experience. Yet I would claim that it is drawn from the interpretation of contemplative experience. The Course says that the mind that sees with vision will basically have the same experience that contemplatives have. It will see God in everything, even in such forms as a "table" (W-pI.28.5:1), "the smallest leaf," or "a blade of grass" (T-17.II.6:3). Yet the Course interprets such an experience very differently. It does not say that the form really is an aspect of God, or even originates from God. It says that God is "in" that form in the sense that God has assigned His purpose to that form (just as we assign our purposes to objects in our environment). Those with eyes to see, then, will see that table as lit up with God's purpose. It is not hard to see how they could interpret this as the table itself being ultimately divine. So I don't think the Course is denying the experience of contemplatives. It's just offering a different interpretation of that experience.

Salvation by grace or works?

Just a quick clarification. I don't think the Course is opting for either the Protestant or the Catholic version, though there are significant points of contact with both. The Course portrays salvation as a process that is catalyzed by our own efforts. These efforts call down help from the Holy Spirit and this help actually does the majority of the work in the salvation process. So there you have both grace and works. Finally, however, the Course goes beyond both in saying that our efforts and the Holy Spirit's aid merely serve to awaken us to our true Identity, an Identity that is entirely an accomplishment of God. It predates our efforts to find it and even predates the Holy Spirit Himself. In this sense, salvation—the saving of our soul—is not actually real, since our soul never fell.

A loving creator of a flawed world?

I'll let your words serve as the closing of this discussion, which we have explored at length. I'll just say that I'm glad that we both admit that we are not really in a position to know the truth with certainty. This leaves room to explore different perspectives and try them on for size.

The Course and "this world"

If I understand you correctly, you are arguing for interpreting the Course's teachings on the world in keeping with the Christian Church's view of the world as good. You then seem to go one step further than the Church and say that the world is "one divine entity, a seamless garment," in which the apparent separation is "only apparent, not real."

You seem to suggest that I, on the other hand, am interpreting the Course using the frame of the ancient Gnostics, which yields a view of physicality as evil. (I say "seem" because I am reading a bit between the lines here. Maybe that's not what you meant.)

From my standpoint, it is crucial that we interpret the Course without imposing any outside authority on it. The Course itself needs to be the frame in which we interpret it. We certainly can't interpret it using the frame of Christianity, given that the Course is so clearly intent on overturning many basic Christian tenets (such as Jesus dying for our sins—see T-6.I). I personally have no allegiance to Gnosticism, and have never actually felt any attraction to it. I am just trying to honor the Course's views on the world, which are stated repeatedly in its pages. I can present you with a long series of passages in which the Course expresses the very views of the world that I have been espousing. They aren't the views I started out with when I began studying the Course. They are the views I was dragged to (with much reluctance) by what I studied.

Final observations

This is really the first extended dialogue that we at the Circle have engaged in with someone from outside the Course. I think it has taught me a number of things about such dialogues, which is good because we want to engage in many more of them in the future.

First, we really want dialogue partners who have the breadth of mind to be willing to engage with us about a path that is not their own, one that is new and has not as yet achieved much prominence in the world. Yet we also want them to have the honesty to express their disagreement openly and clearly, and at the same time to have the tolerance to make the dialogue a kind and respectful one. Thankfully, we found this unusual combination of traits in our first dialogue partner.

I find myself reinforced in the conviction that such dialogues really can be kind and respectful. The easiest thing in the world is for discussions of differences, especially ones about matters of ultimate concern, to quickly degenerate into ad hominem attacks. Yet this is the last thing that I, and the rest of us at the Circle, want to take part in. Given the nature of our path, we have no interest in a knock-down-drag-out. There is no reason why differences cannot be discussed both openly and within a larger spirit of cooperation, which is exactly what happened here.

I think much of the challenge in such dialogues will be the twofold challenge of, first, getting the Course's position acknowledged as it is, rather than too quickly put in a category that may not entirely fit; and then, second, getting the Course's position an open-minded hearing, rather than a quick dismissal. With that open-minded hearing, my hope is that a dialogue partner can see at least some of the logic, reason, and benefit in the Course's position, even if that person doesn't adopt that position as his or her own.

I think the rewards of such dialogues are many. How can good not come when two people come together in search of understanding each other and exploring ultimate truth? One benefit I experienced in this dialogue (though it is somewhat of a selfish one) is that your remarks gave me an excuse to express ideas that I've been mulling over for years, but which I've never put in print, for the simple reason that I usually write for people who are students of the Course!

Thank you again, Jim, for taking part. You have kindly offered to continue this at another time, exploring topics that we didn't discuss here, and I think we should do exactly that.

In peace,

Robert

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