A Course in Miracles and the Perennial Wisdom

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 for Part Two of the dialogue.

Jim MarionJim Marion is the founder and Director of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness in Washington, D.C. and one of the founding members of Ken Wilber's Institute for Integral Spirituality. Marion, the author of "Putting on the Mind of Christ, the Inner Work of Christian Spirituality," and "The Death of the Mythic God, the Rise of Evolutionary Spirituality," studied for the Catholic priesthood and later undertook divinity studies at the interdenominational Hartford Seminary. He also obtained a law degree from Boston University. From 1973 to 2004, Marion was a public policy lawyer in Washington, D.C., including service in the Carter Administration and as counsel to a committee of Congress. Since his first book was published in 2000, Marion has spoken about spirituality, mysticism and human consciousness development at many conferences, workshops and churches. Marion lives in Washington, D.C.

Robert Perry has been a teacher and interpreter of the modern spiritual classic A Course in Miracles since 1986. In 1993 he founded the Circle of Atonement in Sedona, Arizona, a nonprofit center that supports students of A Course in Miracles in their understanding and practice of this path. He has authored or co-authored nineteen book and booklets on the Course, as well as hundreds of articles, and has lectured throughout the U.S. and internationally. His goal has been to draw out of the Course a comprehensive understanding of the path that it lays down, to support students in walking that path, and to help establish an enduring spiritual tradition in which students walk the path together.

Jim Marion

Dear Robert,

Thank you very much for inviting me to join with you in a dialogue on spirituality. You are a foremost teacher and scholar of "A Course in Miracles" [the Course] whereas, as a Roman Catholic, my own mystical path followed that of St. John of the Cross. Nevertheless, we have many ideas in common.

You have studied the Course for about three decades. I have just read it for the first time (though I had read bits and pieces of it over the years). I have also just read your wonderful book, "Return to the Heart of God" in which you set forth a great many of the Course's teachings. Perhaps I can begin by giving some initial impressions.

Reading the Course reinforced my view that the Course is perhaps the greatest revealed Scripture of the 20th Century. That means I put it in the same class as the Bhagavadgita, the Koran and the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, a cut well above the usual work of those who channel Spirit. It is an astonishing work of great depth that challenges any reader including myself.

There are many wonderful teachings in the Course. For example, its description of, and indictment of, the insanity of the ego is perhaps the best ever written. As I had mentioned to you previously, the only area of the Course I find troublesome is its Creation cosmology. But I find it less troubling after reading the Course itself and your book. The Course asserts, as do you, that it is not to be understood as a theological, philosophical or scientific treatise. It is primarily intended as an injunction: DO THIS and THINK THIS WAY and FOLLOW THIS PATH and you will realize the vision of Christ. You will see the Kingdom of Heaven. I have no doubt that any student of the Course who wholeheartedly follows these injunctions will indeed realize the Kingdom. Therefore, I can accept the Creation story in the Course as being like the Creation story in Genesis, one the primary purpose of which is not to teach science or philosophy but to teach spiritual truth.

The uniqueness of the Course

There are many wonderful aspects of the Course's teachings, not the least of which is its original stance. By that I mean the Course, unlike any other teaching, consistently teaches from the viewpoint of timelessness, explaining what the world looks like from God's point of view rather than our own.

For example, the Course teaches that the separation between ourselves and God never happened, that sin or evil is nonexistent, that, regardless of what we have done, said, thought or omitted, we remain God's perfect Son, that this world is maya, a dream or an illusion, and that space and time do not exist except as a projection of Mind. All these things, from God's point of view, are absolutely true. I know that because, upon entrance into the Christ Consciousness and ever since, I have seen them to be true with the absolute conviction that comes from true revelation.

Nevertheless, as you noted in your book, in order to function in this world, even a person with Christ's vision must be able to "see" with a type of double-vision, what the American mystic Walter Starcke calls the double-thread. We have to be able to see things both as one (God's view) and as multiple (the view from earth). Physiologically, to use the upper right quadrant of Ken Wilber, we have to be able to see the world simultaneously by means of our right brains, which see the unity, and left brains, which see the multiplicity. This requires that we realize psychological wholeness, the complete union of the "male" and "female" parts of ourselves as Jesus teaches in the Gospel of Thomas, what Jung called individuation. Eventually, when we finally realize the consciousness of nonduality, which is a higher state that the Christ Consciousness, we see that form is emptiness (the one, God as Father) and equally that emptiness is form (the multiplicity, God as Son) and that neither viewpoint is superior or more correct—a point the Course never makes explicitly.

Who created this world?

The Course, which accepts the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, teaches that God the Son created this world, seemingly contrary to the historically dominant theological view that God the Father was the Creator. The author of the Course, like Jesus of Nazareth, is a master teacher and one of the things such a teacher does is to challenge our assumptions and preconceived notions. Millions of Christians, brought up and taught using the patriarchal theological model of the Father as Creator, are stuck in a spiritual rut, assuming they already understand the great mysteries because they have memorized the traditional formulae. The teacher of the Course, in this way among many, challenges people to re-examine their assumptions.

Even a traditional Christian, however, citing, for example, the prologue to John's Gospel which states that all Creation is manifested through the Son, or citing St. Paul's statement that Jesus was the "firstborn of Creation," could elaborate a theology in which God the Son is the Creator, as the Course indeed does. One could also, citing the fact that God, in Genesis, created this world by his breath (ruah), elaborate a theology in which the Holy Spirit is the Creator, the Breath of God. One cannot forget, however, that whatever the Son does the Spirit and Father do also, whatever the Spirit does the Father and Son do also, and whatever the Father does the Son and Spirit also do. There is, after all, only one God.

The Course, therefore, presents a new theology, a new emphasis, not a new doctrine contrary to traditional Christianity. It does this, I believe, to wake Christians up to the mystery and the awesomeness of the mystery and to shake them out of their ossified assumptions.

Robert's Response

Dear Jim,

I truly appreciate you being willing to engage in this dialogue. And I am quite struck by your generous appraisal of the Course as "perhaps the greatest revealed Scripture of the 20th Century." To hear an appraisal like that from someone who is not a Course student is, I think, a sign of an open mind and a generous spirit. I also appreciate your honesty in talking about the area you find troublesome—the Course's "Creation cosmology." Given all of that, I think we are in for a fruitful and enjoyable exchange.

Let me, then, address the Course's teaching on the origin and nature of the physical universe, since it seems to me that all three sections of your piece speak of that. To begin with, I think it is important to acknowledge that the Course does strike out in new directions. It will be talking about themes that anyone familiar with world spirituality will recognize, and then it will suddenly head off in some unfamiliar direction that seems nothing short of weird. Its teachings on the origin and nature of the physical world definitely fall under this category. I don't know of any really good parallel for them in any spiritual system anywhere.

I think the Course really does mean those teachings as an actual account of (at least the broad strokes of) where the world came from and what it currently is. You very kindly try to let the Course off the hook by saying that its view "is not to be understood as a theological, philosophical or scientific treatise." As much as part of me would like that to be true, I can't say that it is true.

It's important, I believe, to leave room for the Course being different, for it saying things that haven't been said. And then having left that room, I think we need to allow for both possibilities that result: The Course may be simply weird and off-base in those areas or it may be way ahead of its time. Ken Wilber has emphasized that the insights of both modern depth psychology and evolutionary biology have no real counterpart in the world's ancient wisdom traditions. What, then, if some mystic had started talking about both in, say, 200 B.C.? Some would have thought, "What is wrong with you? Was it something you ate?" Others would have thought, "Surely he is speaking metaphorically and what he's saying really does harmonize with our traditions." How many would have thought, "Maybe this guy is just a couple thousand years ahead of his time"?

Let me summarize what I see the Course as teaching about the world. God created a Son, an extension of His Own Self that possessed all of His characteristics. This Son was composed of an infinite number of parts, each being one with the whole, each containing the whole. These parts (or at least some of them) fell asleep. They had a psychotic break with reality and withdrew into their private bubbles. In their sleep, they collectively dreamt up a universe that was the outward picture of their inward insanity. It was a universe, therefore, that was anti-God. It was a place of tooth and claw, of collision, explosion, and death. It was the opposite of God's Will of Love. However, being completely disconnected from God's Will, it had no reality. It was a dream, an incredibly vast, long-lasting, stable, collective dream, but a dream nonetheless.

I honestly don't see how we can square this with the traditional Christian account. Yes, in this account the world was made by the Son, but by insane aspects of the Son, working apart from and in opposition to God. Referring to this world, the Course says flatly, "God did not create it, for what He creates must be eternal as Himself" (C-4.1:2), and "The world was made as an attack on God" (W-pII.3.2:1).

This also, I believe, almost certainly yields a different viewpoint than the one you describe in which form is emptiness and emptiness is form, neither view being "superior or more correct." However, before I speak to that, I would probably need to hear more from you about what all that means.

So I do think that the Course is setting out some new and different positions. For now, though, I want to leave aside the question of the actual truth of what the Course teaches about the world. I want to focus instead on its practical usefulness, something that you alluded to. The Course even presents a theory in which the truth of ideas is, in a sense, measured by their ability to lead us to the truth, to God. "In this sense, it can be said that their truth lies in their usefulness" (M-24.6:10).

I find the benefits of the Course's view to be profound. If this world is real and created by God, then it (the world) defines who God is, who we are, who other people are, and what life is. And yet this world, quite simply, is an insane and brutal place. It's crazy down here. This defines God, as the Creator of this place, as someone to be feared, or at least mistrusted. It defines others as hard-to-love sinners, who smile while they take advantage of us to meet their bottomless needs. It defines life, as Hobbes said, as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." And it defines us as the sad victims of God, others, and life, as well as the coldhearted victimizers of anything that we are stronger or smarter than.

These definitions of God, others, life, and ourselves are not incidental things. They are the bones and tissue of the basic emotional posture we carry as we walk through this world. And that points to the benefit of the Course's view. For if this world is not real and was not created by God, then it has no power to define God, others, life, or ourselves. If we had a dream at night in which a cruel God secretly commanded all of our friends to betray us, and even caused fate and the weather to turn against us, would that have anything to say about anything real? Would it rightly define our view of God or our friends when we awoke? No more, according to the Course, does the dream of this world define what is real.

This view allows us to see God as pure Love, because the blood of this savage place is not on His hands. It allows us to see other people as beings of infinite worth and innocence, because they are perfect Sons of God who merely dream of being selfish human beings. It allows us to see life as apart from the facts and conditions of this stormy world, as an eternal condition that exists beyond time, space, and form. And it allows us to see our own nature as undamaged by all that's been done to us and untainted by all that we've done to others.

The emotional state I am describing, of course, sounds remarkably like the peace of the saints, a peace unaffected by the turmoil of earthly events. And that's my point. The Course lays out a conceptual system that directly contributes to the unshakable serenity and bliss that we associate with the apex of spirituality. In doing so, it takes some strange cognitive turns down some very unfamiliar roads. At this point, it is very hard to say if those roads are true, but I think it's pretty safe to say that they lead us toward the truth.

Click for Part Two of the dialogue.

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