Let’s look…once more…at forgiveness

I get so weary of reading blog after blog, Facebook post after Facebook post, droning on and on about forgiveness, all of which contain absolutely NO understanding whatsoever of what A Course in Miracles means by that word. And they usually promote the type of attack that is called forgiveness by the world.

Forgiveness is the most easily misunderstood word of all in A Course in Miracles and the key to understanding its message. Everyone, everywhere knows that forgiveness is a “good thing.” The problem is this — our common interpretation of this word is synonymous with pardon — an act by a “superior” human in not taking vengeance upon another for a hurtful act. Yet the Course is clear that this is not what it means,

“The unhealed cannot pardon. For they are the witnesses that pardon is unfair. They would retain the consequences of the guilt they overlook. Yet no one can forgive a sin that he believes is real. And what has consequences must be real, because what it has done is there to see. Forgiveness is not pity, which but seeks to pardon what it thinks to be the truth.” [T528/568]

One sure test to see if you have forgiven anything — if you can remember it at all, you haven’t! True forgiveness actually “sees” and experiences in this way,

“Forgiveness recognizes what you thought your brother did to you has not occurred. It does not pardon sins and make them real. It sees there was no sin.” [W391/401]

HAS NOT OCCURRED! NOTHING HAPPENED! This is some statement! Any other interpretation of forgiveness then is attack. Perhaps the most succinct illumination of forgiveness comes not in the Course itself, but in The Song of Prayer, which followed the transcription of the Course. It calls the “normal” type of pardon, “forgiveness-to-destroy.”

“No gift of Heaven has been more misunderstood than has forgiveness. It has, in fact, become a scourge; a curse where it was meant to bless, a cruel mockery of grace, a parody upon the holy peace of God. Yet those who have not yet chosen to begin the steps of prayer cannot but use it thus. Forgiveness’ kindness is obscure at first, because salvation is not understood, nor truly sought for. What was meant to heal is used to hurt because forgiveness is not wanted. Guilt becomes salvation, and the remedy appears to be a terrible alternative to life.

“Forgiveness-to-destroy will therefore suit the purpose of the world far better than its true objective, and the honest means by which this goal is reached. Forgiveness-to-destroy will overlook no sin, no crime, no guilt that it can seek and find and ‘love.’ Dear to its heart is error, and mistakes loom large and grow and swell within its sight. It carefully picks out all evil things, and overlooks the loving as a plague; a hateful thing of danger and of death. Forgiveness-to-destroy is death, and this it sees in all it looks upon and hates.” [SOP9]

It is so important that we see the truth of this. Forgiveness as it is usually thought of, pardon of something which really happened, is attack, pure and simple. It retains guilt in the mind rather than expressing outright vengeance on the body or the person. This is no improvement. Lily Tomlin, in Jane Wagner’s one-woman show “In Search of Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe”, playing one of the main characters who has married her “soulmate,” a very “spiritual” man, discovers that we all have mistaken passive-aggression for spirituality. This is indeed a profound and important discovery. It is just one more example of the activity of the perceptual mind, confusing form for content, behavior for truth. It seems that throughout Western history we have carried an idea of how a pious or “good” person should act. Yet A Course in Miracles tells us clearly,

“You must change your mind, not your behavior, and this is a matter of willingness. Correction belongs only at the level where change is possible. Change does not mean anything at the symptom [behavior] level, where it cannot work.” [T25/29]

It explains the reason for this,

“…you can behave as you think you should, but without entirely wanting to do so. This produces consistent behavior, but entails great strain. In both cases, the mind and the behavior are out of accord, resulting in a situation in which you are doing what you do not wholly want to do. This arouses a sense of coercion that usually produces rage….” [T26/29f]

Is it any wonder why, when pushed or threatened, many “religious” people become angry or depend upon an wrathful god to punish the “infidels”? It is the same reason why we as a society are so attracted to violent sports and entertainment. This is clearly projection, the unwillingness to own one’s deep feelings, particularly anger, and therefore to see them in and attribute them to an outside source. In the modern context, where “God is dead”, we have needed other angry ones — Hitler, the Communists, the Arabs, the blacks, etc., as scapegoats. It will be interesting to see where anger crops up with all of these “bad guys” gone.

This leads to one of the most powerful, but consistently ignored, sections of the Course,

“You may wonder why it is so crucial that you look upon your hatred and realize its full extent. You may also think that it would be easy enough for the Holy Spirit to show it to you, and to dispel it without the need for you to raise it to awareness yourself. Yet there is one more obstacle you have interposed between yourself and the Atonement. We have said that no one will countenance fear if he recognizes it. Yet in your disordered state of mind you are not afraid of fear. You do not like it, but it is not your desire to attack that really frightens you. You are not seriously disturbed by your hostility. You keep it hidden because you are more afraid of what it covers. You could look even upon the ego’s darkest cornerstone without fear if you did not believe that, without the ego, you would find within yourself something you fear even more. You are not really afraid of crucifixion. Your real terror is of redemption.” [T225/242]

Who has realized the full extent of his hatred? Who is willing to see that he is not seriously disturbed by his hostility? Who has actually encountered within himself the fear of redemption, of love, the fourth obstacle to Peace — the fear of God?

So, what is forgiveness? Here, as with most other concepts, the Course begins by describing what it IS NOT. True forgiveness is so foreign to our habitual way of thinking, so antithetical to everything we, as separate human individuals, believe, that it cannot be “understood” by the linear intellect. Yet it is so simple. The Song of Prayer says it in 9 words,

“Do not see error. Do not make it real.” [SOP9]

That’s it! But what would make this possible? Certainly not a mere intellectual assertion of the words. Certainly not hiding one’s head in the sand, refusing to look.

“You cannot lay aside the obstacles to real vision without looking upon them….” [T204/220]

The only thing that makes true forgiveness possible is a profound and radical shift in perception. The word shift here is carefully chosen by the Course to imply a quantum leap, a definite break with established patterns. This new way of “seeing” is not something which comes gradually, but more like light when the switch is turned on. In fact forgiveness is the shift in perception. It is not an activity of thought, of the separated self thinking about some thing or event differently. It is not something one does for another. It is not forgiveness for anything, but an entirely different way of perceiving that sees nothing to forgive — no error, no attack, no harm at all. Forgiveness is that radically different perception to which A Course in Miracles is pointing — a totally new WAY of seeing. In this fundamentally changed perception one actually “sees” and concretely experiences,

“The world you see does nothing. It has no effects at all.” [W351/362]

In the Manual for Teachers, the Course gives a further clue,

“Forgiveness, salvation, Atonement, true perception, all are one.” [M81/85]

Without Atonement, which means undoing; without salvation, which is true healing; without true perception, which sees this world as without real power or effects; forgiveness is not possible. As long as one believes he is a separated body/personality/mind, forgiveness is a fiction, a complete “unreality.” When one finally “sees” and directly experiences that it is the body/personality/mind which is actually unreal, then forgiveness is automatic and miracles are natural.

9 Responses to “Let’s look…once more…at forgiveness”

  1. anne-marie says:

    Thank you for this post!

  2. sally says:

    Nearing my completion of 3 years of ACIM study, mostly alone with my Inner Voice, I now THINK as a result of this reading, that I see myself, as NOT understanding and doubt that I will ever get to the point where I can ONLY SINCERELY think/Be Daily living with the metaphysical BELIEF of this ACIM. I’m feeling like, my mind sees soooooo much conflict in the words AND WORST OF ALL, it takes my mind so painfully-long to really integrate these many understandings. It FEELS so difficult to do the mental-gymnastics required by my mind, to constantly jump from ACIM thinking to UNREAL dream thinking…….and just when I think I’m beginning to “get it”, I find I’ve still got it all mixed up! Maybe I should really try, just dropping out of ACIM for awhile and see how I do with only ME Actually a few times, I”ve had a thought that this confusion over long periods probably CAN trigger demetia 🙁 I’ve read to ‘ask Jesus” and also DON’T ASK Jesus, because he is only a symbol and does not exist etc ………thank you for reading. sn

  3. kokopelli says:

    I understand, probably much more than you can imagine. I would say ACIM IS working in your life. You see, ACIM is not trying to teach us anything, but rather is leading us to the actual realization that we know nothing…at all. Late in the text , the Course says that there is nothing more fearful to the ego than to say, “I do not know the thing I am or where I am or how to look upon the world or on myself. Yet in this LEARNING is salvation born.” (please forgive if the quote is not exact). This divine agnozia is precisely the first real step toward awakening. You might look on my website – http://www.miracles.org.nz – at the book chapter entitled “Spirit Need Not Be Taught”

    Relax, ACIM is really about radical relaxation. Thank you for sharing.

  4. esther says:

    I have read you article “on seeking” hundreds of time since year 2000.
    and right now I feel as if I am experiencing radical discontent with no hope of answer.

  5. kokopelli says:

    Please see previous reply to a similar post. This is exactly where the you you think you are needs to be. There is nothing “you” can do except relax and surrender. All efforts are really efforts to avoid the inevitable transformation and disappearance of “you.” There is no hope for “you.” The awakening will happen despite, not because of, your efforts.

  6. esther says:

    thank you. Thing is my discontent is accompanied by fear, despair and anxiety. But my situation is becoming more and more hopeless everyday. I am thankful, because I did wish for this hopelessness so i could surrender.

    The fear, despair and anxiety are blocking my surrender.

    I wrote to you 13 years ago concerning this same article “On seeking”.
    I think it holds the key to “I need do nothing”. I am at the point now where I could surrender. Pray for me that I will do so before some illusion come to offer me “hope” where there really is none.

    Thank you Daan Dehn for the article. It holds the key to the state of effortlessness and peace.

  7. kokopelli says:

    Hi, esther-
    I can truly empathize. Please realize that the fear, despair and anxiety are all that is left of your false self-identity, who you think you are. You are facing death, not of who and what you are but a false and limited idea of yourself. You might wish to read The Obstacles to Peace once more and carefully consider each obstacle in light of your current circumstance. You are still seeing through little eyes. It is more than “I need do nothing,” it is “I can do nothing.” The only form of surrender which is possible is to accept and allow each moment exactly as it is with no need or desire to change it. Go into the fear, anxiety and despair and find out what they actually are. Your labelling of these feelings and thinking you understand them because you have named them is actually interfering with the discovery of their real nature.
    My old mate, Chuck Anderson, the “Master Teacher,” once said that you have nothing to do with your own awakening and that is what pisses you off. The prime directive of the ego is to resist awakening in every possible way. Awakening will happen…not via any action on your part, but when you are NOT looking, by surprise. And I can only wish you a surprising day. Let us join in the wish for Peace as the only thing we want…you and I.

  8. Esther says:

    Hi Daan,

    Thanks for your interesting response. At the same time, I am responsible
    for what I see. Whether I see the real world or the unreal one, it is my choice. So is Chuck referring to the ego self? I think my real Self is responsible for my awakening.

    A sick dog came to my house once. He was bleeding and about to die and I stoned him, because I did not want him to die at my house. But I thought that I could use him to learn to surrender. So I pretended that I was him, sick bleeding, fainting, dying and someone stoning me. It was a good lesson. I felt the hopelessness and the peace of letting go, but it did not last. But I remember thinking “I can let go, it is easy. I have no care in the world.

    I am finished with admiring the words and poetry of ACIM. I just want to
    step back, let go, be effortless, be quiet and forget esther and be surprised.

  9. Linda Langlois says:


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