Repetition in the Course

Question: Why can't it be simpler/shorter/edited?

Short answer: I believe the Course as it stands is an unparalleled literary masterpiece, and that the author had good reasons for writing it the way he did. Thus, though I believe short summaries and clarifications of the Course's ideas and spiritual program can be very useful for learning purposes, they would only be a pale shadow of the Course itself. Rather than trying to edit or abridge the Course, I think the wiser course of action is to learn how to read the Course in a way that is in harmony with its unique style of writing.


What is the Course's unique style of writing, and why is it written that way? We have a summary of the Course's style and some ideas about the author's reasons for writing it the way he did on our FAQ page, under the question I find the Course very difficult to read and study. How can I make sense of its impenetrable language?. This material was written by Robert Perry. For the sake of brevity, I won't repeat that material here, but I recommend that you read it first, as my comments below are based on it. To read it, just click on the underlined question above to go to its answer. When you are done reading that answer, use the "Back" button on your browser to return here and continue reading this answer.

Below, I will apply Robert's material to your specific questions, and add some thoughts of my own.

Why is the Course so repetitive?

I think that on the most basic level, the Course's author repeats himself for the same reason that all good teachers repeat lessons: Because frequent repetition is the only way those lessons will get learned. "Teachers must be patient and repeat their lessons until they are learned" (T-4.I.7:4). As Course students, we can be very stubborn, resistant learners, and so we need to have the same lessons repeated again and again.

But I think that the Course's repetition is more than just a way to get through to thick-headed students; given the Course's symphonic, holographic style, this repetition is also an integral part of its method of mind change. The Course doesn't just repeat themes—it also combines them with other themes and explores the interrelationships between those themes. As more and more connections between the Course's ideas are made, each individual idea gains in depth and power as it draws meaning from the other ideas it is connected to. Slowly but surely, the cohesiveness and consistency of the Course's entire thought system—its grand symphony—is revealed to us. The Course's author really wants us to see how the Course's ideas fit together into a cohesive, consistent whole, as this quote from the Introduction to Review I of the Workbook (which covers the first fifty lessons) indicates:

We are now emphasizing the relationships among the first fifty of the ideas we have covered, and the cohesiveness of the thought system to which they are leading you (W-pI.rI.In.6:4).

The frequent repetition and interconnection of the Course's ideas allows those ideas to sink deeper and deeper into our minds, leading eventually to a deep, transformative experience of new vision.

Why can't it be simpler?

One effect of the Course's symphonic, holographic style is definitely a loss of simple clarity of meaning. The Course is just not as immediately accessible as the more simple, linear, one-train-of-thought-at-a-time kind of writing that we are used to. The Course can be very confusing at first; it takes time and effort to learn how to read it. But what the Course lacks in immediate clarity, it makes up for in depth. And it is the Course's depth, I believe, that is truly transformative.

Yet oddly enough, that same symphonic, holographic style that gives the Course such depth leads eventually to great clarity as well. That is because the same web of connections that leads to greater depth of meaning is also a tightly-woven web of references that you can consult if you want to gain insight into the meaning of, say, a particular sentence. If you examine enough of the references connected with your sentence, its meaning becomes crystal clear. It is like assembling the interlocking pieces of a jigsaw puzzle: if you fit them all together properly, with no pieces missing and no pieces left over, a beautifully clear and complete picture is revealed. Many people ask, "Why doesn't the Course's author just say things clearly?" My answer is that he does say things clearly. But this clarity is not immediate clarity—it is only revealed as one puts the pieces of the puzzle together. Only when one assembles these pieces is the underlying simplicity that the Course so often claims for itself revealed.

Thus, based on my own experience, I can honestly say that the Course is both the deepest thing I have ever read, and the clearest thing I have ever read. That it can be both at the same time is just one reason I consider it a literary masterpiece, a truly great work of art.

Why can't it be shorter/edited?

I have come to believe that the author had a good reason for every word in his book. He certainly seems to think so. He says in the Workbook that "you are studying a unified thought system in which nothing is lacking that is needed, and nothing is included that is contradictory or irrelevant" (W-pI.42.7:2). He also said to his scribe, Helen Schucman, at one point, "As long as you take accurate notes, every word is meaningful" (quoted in Absence from Felicity, by Ken Wapnick, p. 234). All of this makes it clear in my mind that the author doesn't consider any part of his work to be superfluous.

I also think we need to keep in mind that the Course is not just a collection of lofty ideas, but a full-fledged spiritual program aimed at making those ideas a part of us so that our lives can be transformed. When I hear people talk about simplifying or abridging the Course, they usually seem to mean a shorter, simpler version of the Course's teaching, or ideas. But the Course is more than just a teaching: it also has a Workbook with practical exercises for applying that teaching, and a Manual for teachers who have the function of extending the Course's teaching to others. The fact that the Course has three different volumes with three different purposes is one more reason that ideas are repeated. A particular idea may be discussed in fairly abstract terms in the Text, then applied as a practical exercise in the Workbook, and then discussed in the specific context of a teaching-learning situation in the Manual. All three volumes play a necessary role in the Course as a whole; again, I don't think the author considers any part of his work to be superfluous.

For these reasons, I think that an edited or abridged version of the Course would be a big mistake. Now, I think summaries, condensations, and commentaries on the Course written by Course teachers can be extremely helpful—after all, that is a lot of what we do at the Circle. Such things can be a great way to clarify difficult passages, illuminate key ideas, and make some sense of this initially difficult-to-read work. But they are merely study aids, not substitutes for the Course itself. Using such study aids in place of the Course would be like reading the "Cliff's Notes" version of Shakespeare's Hamlet instead of seeing the actual play, or reading the synopsis of the plot of Bizet's Carmen instead of attending a performance of the opera. Any edited or abridged version of the Course would be, in my opinion, a pale imitation of the real thing. It would fall far short of the depth of wisdom, comprehensive practical instruction, and magnificent artistry contained in the Course, and so I don't think that it could even honestly be called a "version" of the Course. So much that makes the Course what it is would be lacking.

So, I think we are best off working with the Course in its entirety, with the aid of the condensations, summaries, commentaries, etc. that Course teachers can provide.

How can I learn to read the Course in a way that is in harmony with its unique style of writing?

Though normally I'd like to keep plugging of the Circle's products in this Q and A forum to a minimum, in this case, I simply can't resist. Robert Perry and Allen Watson have written a book that presents their answer to this very question. It is an in-depth, how-to manual on Course study techniques, entitled Bringing the Course to Life: How to Unlock the Meaning of A Course in Miracles for Yourself. You can order it from this website by clicking on this link.’); I can't recommend this book highly enough. The study techniques Robert and Allen have developed, techniques that are designed to be in harmony with the Course's style of writing, do just what the title of their book says: they bring the Course to life. These study techniques changed my entire relationship with the Course; the opportunity to learn them was one of the main reasons I moved to Sedona to study with the Circle. If you're really interested in deepening your Course study, having this book by your side would really make a difference.

For more on the Course as a work of art, see my two-part series of articles entitled "Appreciating the Masterpiece," Part 1 and Part 2.

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