Doesn’t the Course say that we should "forget this course"?

Question: I feel that many Course students cling to the Course and make a crutch out of it. But doesn't the Course tell us to "forget this course"? Rather than focusing so much on the raft, to use an image from Buddhism, shouldn't we just cross the river, put the raft down, and move on?

Answer: You're right—the Course does say "forget this course," in Lesson 189. On the face of it, that sounds like a general injunction: "forget this course—permanently." However, the context in which that statement occurs is crucial and tells us what the statement really means. In fact, the statement is part of the meditation instructions for that day's lesson. Let's look at the paragraph in which the statement occurs:

Simply do this: Be still, and lay aside all thoughts of what you are and what God is; all concepts you have learned about the world; all images you hold about yourself. Empty your mind of everything it thinks is either true or false, or good or bad, of every thought it judges worthy, and all the ideas of which it is ashamed. Hold onto nothing. Do not bring with you one thought the past has taught, nor one belief you ever learned before from anything. Forget this world, forget this course, and come with wholly empty hands unto your God. (W-pI.189.7:1-5)

How do we know that these are specific meditation instructions rather than general instructions to forget the Course—and the entire world—on permanent basis? There are at least four ways we know this. First, they sound that way. We are told to "do" a list of things, a list which amounts to emptying all the specific contents of our mind, so that we can come with an empty mind and experience God. That sounds like meditation to me.

Second, this paragraph sounds exactly like other meditation instructions in the Course. For example, here are two similar sets of practice instructions from elsewhere in the Workbook:

Nothing is required of you to reach this goal ["to reach the Son of God in you"] except to lay all idols and self images aside; go past the list of attributes, both good and bad, you have ascribed to yourself; and wait in silent expectancy for the truth. (W-pI.94.4:1)

No form of exercise is urged, except a deep relinquishment of everything that clutters up the mind, and makes it deaf to reason, sanity and simple truth.

…We merely close our eyes, and then forget all that we thought we knew and understood. (W-pI.rVI.3:8; 4:3)

Notice how similar these practice instructions are to the paragraph that says "forget this course." We can see their astonishing similarities—in both specific statement and overall pattern—in the following table:

Commonality Lesson 189 Lesson 94 Review VI
Do nothing except this: "Simply do this" "Nothing is required of you to reach this goal except…" "No form of exercise is urged, except…"
Lay aside all images of yourself "lay aside…all images you hold about yourself" "lay all…self images aside"
Empty your mind of an entire list of both "good" and "bad" items Empty your mind of everything it thinks is either…good or bad "go past the list of attributes, both good and bad"
Empty your mind of everything it believes "Empty your mind of everything it thinks is either true or false" "a deep relinquishment of everything that clutters up the mind…all that we thought we knew"
"Forget" everything you have known "Forget this world" "forget all that we thought we knew and understood"
And open yourself to an experience of truth/God "and come with wholly empty hands unto your God" "and wait in silent expectancy for the truth"

The passage that tells us to "forget this course," then, follows a pattern found elsewhere in the Workbook, a pattern in which, for our longer practice periods, we are instructed to simply lay aside all self-images and everything we think we know, and open our mind to an experience of God. This is what I have elsewhere called Open Mind Meditation.

The third way that we know that "forget this course" is part of a meditation instruction is that it comes at the place in the lesson where we are given our practice instructions for the day. The lessons in the Workbook have a typical structure. They usually begin with several paragraphs of teaching. This is followed by a brief description of "what we will attempt today"—the goal we hope to achieve with our practice. Then we are given the actual practice instructions, with the longer practice periods coming first.

This is the exact pattern we find in the lesson in question, Lesson 189. This lesson ("I feel the Love of God within me now") begins with five paragraphs of teaching. Then there is the "what we will attempt today" paragraph. It begins, "Today we pass illusions, as we seek to reach to what is true in us, and feel its all-embracing tenderness" (6:1). What comes next would typically be our instructions for what to do in our morning and evening practice, and sure enough, this is where we find that paragraph which begins, "Simply do this." This paragraph, as I said, looks every bit like practice instructions, containing a series of injunctions for what to do in our minds. The final injunctions to "forget this course, and come with wholly empty unto your God" are just the last two instructions for practice.

The fourth way in which we know that "forget this course" is not a general injunction is that it's not the last sentence of the Course! The lesson itself continues for three more paragraphs. Then the next day we are greeted with a new lesson, followed by another lesson the day after that, and so on for 170 more lessons, and finally followed by an additional volume, the Manual for Teachers. If Jesus really wanted us to permanently "forget this course," then why does he keep reminding us of it by giving us more and more it? Even if we assume that he did mean "forget this course permanently," he was clearly insincere if he then kept right on talking.

If "forget this course" is really an instruction for meditation, why is it there? What is its purpose? I think the answer to that is not too hard to discern. These meditation instructions involve emptying our mind of all the thoughts, self-images, beliefs, and memories that usually clutter it up and shut out the experience of God. The hands of our mind are supposed to become "wholly empty"—empty of all specific content and therefore open to receive God.

Now, most of us know from experience that this is not an easy state to achieve. If nature abhors a vacuum, the ego abhors one even more. It habitually seeks to fill that vacuum with anything it can. If we have taken a stand against the normal thoughts about our schedule and our body, it will find a sneakier way to clutter up our mind. It will say, "Why don't you mull over these thoughts about A Course in Miracles? Surely it is a holy thing to reflect on them." And while, in other contexts, it is a holy thing to reflect on them—think about how much of the Workbook involves repeating the words given us in the lessons—it is not a holy thing in this context. Here, in meditation, we need to leave the hands of our mind totally empty. Even the fingering of holy beads, so to speak, will close those hands. And yet only when they are perfectly open can they receive God. This is why, along with emptying our mind of all other thoughts, we need to empty our mind of thoughts about the Course. But again, this is only during our meditations. Outside of those, the Course wants us to be constantly dwelling on thoughts that we learned from it.

It has always seemed strange to me that so many Course students have latched onto those words "forget this course," and eagerly taken them as an all-encompassing injunction. It reminds me of a husband who loves frequently telling that joke, "Take my wife—please!" What does that say about how he feels about his wife? Likewise, if we are so happy that the Course says "forget this course," what does that say about how we feel about the Course? Instead of celebrating this line as enjoining a wholesale forgetting of the Course, let's take the line as the practical instruction it really is. Let's use it to deepen our meditations, so that by refusing to let in even thoughts about the Course, we attain a profound openness—so that we come with wholly empty hands unto our God.

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