Mark Twain once remarked that when he was sixteen his father was the most ignorant person on earth, but when he was twenty-one he was amazed at how much the old man had learned in five years. Several years ago, when Tara Singh first told me "You don't know how to read the Course", I was incensed. How could this Indian pundit who was illiterate until his late 20's tell me, a top-college educated American, that I did not know how to read? I now see the wisdom of his remark. If we are to become true students of A Course in Miracles, we must first learn how to read it. The Course is an extraordinary document. It is not written like the books to which we are accustomed. First of all, it is written from an absolute perspective, black or white, no exceptions. This is quite contrary to our usual relative way of thinking in which there are shades and degrees of meaning. There are many other ways in which this is true; for example, it begins both the Text and Workbook with the most profound and difficult concepts first. The most pervasive and tricky of all, though, is its use of words. In illuminating most, if not all, of its major concepts, the Course uses words with which we are familiar, but in a radically new and different way. The result of this is initial and persistent misinterpretation of the meaning of these words and concepts.
Among these are learning and teaching. The common meaning of learning is the accumulation of intellectual material about a particular subject. In Course terms, learning means the exact opposite -- unlearning.
"It is the function of God's teachers to bring true learning to the world. Properly speaking it is unlearning that they bring, for that is 'true learning' in the world." [M15/16]
Teaching usually means instruction, the imparting of specific knowledge by someone who knows to someone who doesn't. Again the Course turns the tables,
"Your holiness is the salvation of the world. It lets you teach the world that it is one with you, not by preaching to it, not by telling it anything, but merely by your quiet recognition that in your holiness are all things blessed along with you." [W56/56]
Another key concept which is different from common meaning is ego. This term comes to us from Freud as a part of individual mind. Yet A Course in Miracles tells us,
"The structure of 'individual consciousness' is essentially irrelevant because it is a concept representing the 'original error' or the 'original sin." [M73/77]
What the Course means by ego is the entire concept of separation in all of its forms and manifestations--the "original sin", if you will. This singular idea is the fundamental "problem" in consciousness. It is an idea shared by everyone and everything in the manifest universe. The Course is definitely not talking about some fragmented part of individual personality which can be changed, improved, or modified.
The most easily misunderstood of all, however, and the key to understanding A Course in Miracles, is forgiveness. 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.
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©1993 daan dehn