Many say that A Course in Miracles is complicated and difficult to understand. The Course is three volumes, almost half a million words on over 1200 pages. On the surface, that makes it look rather ponderous and complex. Why is that? The Course itself continues to insist that it is "simple and obvious."(2) Why would it take such an immense work to explore something "simple and obvious"? As with most other questions, the Course answers,
"The Holy Spirit, therefore, must begin His teaching by showing you what you can never learn. His message is not indirect, but He must introduce the simple truth into a thought system which has become so twisted and so complex you cannot see that it means nothing." [T252/271]
and later in the same chapter, in yet another way, it says,
"Simplicity is very difficult for twisted minds. Consider all the distortions you have made of nothing; all the strange forms of feelings and actions and reactions that you have woven out of it. Nothing is so alien to you as the simple truth, and nothing are you less inclined to listen to. The contrast between what is true and what is not is perfectly apparent, yet you do not see it. The simple and the obvious are not apparent to those who would make palaces and royal robes of nothing, believing they are kings with golden crowns because of them." [T253/272]
and points to the principal reason that the approach may seem indirect and indistinct,
"Those who choose to be deceived will merely attack direct approaches, because they seem to encroach upon deception and strike at it." [T252/271]
One of the principal themes herein is that we are unwilling to give up the fundamental cause of misery, therefore, we will always be miserable, no matter what diversions we attempt, until we are willing to understand the problem as it is. A Course in Miracles is very direct and specific. For example, in Lesson 80 of the Workbook for Students, the Course says,
"If you are willing to recognize your problems, you will recognize that you have no problems."
Is that difficult to understand? It is saying that if we actually see the problem as it is, not displacing or ignoring its real nature, that we will see that it is not a problem, that it does not in fact exist. What is the difficulty in understanding that? Is it not our insistence that the problem is what we have defined it to be? Lesson 80 goes on,
"Your one central problem has been answered, and you have no other.... Salvation thus depends on recognizing this one problem, and understanding that it has been solved. One problem, one solution. Salvation is accomplished. Freedom from conflict has been given you."
One problem, one solution! How much easier could it be? But who sees the problem as one? as singular? What is that one problem? In the preceding lesson, the Course tells us in straight-forward, simple language,
"A problem cannot be solved if you do not know what it is. Even if it is already solved you will still have the problem, because you will not recognize that it has been solved.... Who can see that a problem has been solved if he thinks the problem is something else?"
Now, that is logical, is it not? Simple! If we had a muscle cramp in our leg, but thought it was a broken bone, we would be afraid to move, would we not? And, even after the cramp had gone, we would not believe that we could walk. So what is the problem? Lesson 79 does not mince words,
"The problem of separation, which is really the only problem, has already been solved. Yet the solution is not recognized because the problem is not recognized."
Now, that is straight-forward enough, is it not? What is difficult to understand about that? The predicament is that we perceive problems to be many, special and different, each requiring a separate solution. But in this same lesson A Course in Miracles cautions,
"Everyone in the world seems to have his own special problems. Yet they are all the same, and must be recognized as one if the solution that solves them all is to be accepted."
"The temptation to regard problems as many is the temptation to keep the problem of separation unsolved."
On this issue, the teachings of the Course are not at all unique. From other contemporary authors, we find the following:
"We seek to solve problems and are taught to do so without realizing that there are no problems apart from the mind. What are problems? They are always related to fear and self-centeredness. And what is self but an abstraction manufactured by thought? Where is the clarity that dissolves all problems and the duality of thought itself?"(3)
Or, more directly,
"Don't try to solve individual single problems--there are none: mind itself is the problem. But mind is hidden underground; that's why I call it the root, it is not apparent. Whenever you come across a problem, the problem is above ground, you can see it--that's why you are deceived by it.
"Always remember, the visible is never the root; the root always remains invisible, the root is always hidden. Never fight with the visible, otherwise you will fight with shadows. You may waste yourself, but there cannot be any transformation in your life; the same problems will crop up again and again and again."(4)
Here we find the core issue: virtually no one sees all problems as one nor do we see their source. The form and circumstance of each situation seems so different. How are we to understand this seeming contradiction? The Course answers,
"All of this complexity is but a desperate attempt not to recognize the problem, and therefore not to let it be resolved."
And, if we are observant and intelligent, we begin to see the truth of that statement. I am told by friends from Alcoholics Anonymous that the alcoholic mentality is one which continues to do the same thing over and over again expecting different results. If that is so, then all humans are, in a figurative but very real sense, alcoholics. This is an alcoholic world. We continue to insist that human ingenuity and understanding or force and effort are the solutions to all of our problems, failing to see that, for every solution, there come two or more new problems. A hundred years ago we saw technology to be a panacea. The golden age was just around the corner. Now, we are beginning to see that technology has brought many very large and complex problems. Yet, we still look to further technology to solve them. When are we going to wake up?

The attempt to solve individual, specific, formal problems keeps us dealing in the superficial realm of effects of the deeper, more fundamental problem. It is like pushing deck chairs around on the Titanic. Why do we do this? Because we are unwilling to see that our insistence on individual, self-centered identity is the cause of all of our problems. To quote a dear friend of mine,

So that, if we are attentive, we see that this "problem solver" is actually the problem maker. From the perception of self-centered identity, we make a problem out of any situation--no money/too much money, no relationship/imperfect relationship, and on and on. The ego requires, therefore manufactures, problems to solve in order to maintain its flimsy existence. We are all dramaholics. These so-called "problems" are merely diversions, distractions and deceptions in order to avoid facing the basic problem as it is. Without problems to solve, goals to seek, there is no function for the ego-mind. Then one sees that there is no thinker, apart from his thoughts, operating on something else; there is no "me". Therefore, real peace is an anathema to the ego-mind. Mind can never be peaceful. The mind requires constant busy-ness and preoccupation. By the whirling ceaselessness of its activity, it creates the illusion of a reality and maintains it by remaining so preoccupied that any question as to its value or reality is never raised.

There is nothing new in this observation. The Course offers no radically new teachings. These principles have been with us as long as there has been written communication and probably longer. However, let us take a brief look at what has been said by another mid-twentieth century author, Thomas Merton, about the nature of the fundamental problem itself:

"Both Christianity and Buddhism agree that the root of man's problems is that his consciousness is all fouled up and he does not apprehend reality as it fully and really is; that the moment he looks at something, he begins to interpret it in ways that are prejudiced and predetermined to fit a certain wrong picture of the world, in which he exists as an individual ego in the center of things. This is called by Buddhism avidya, or ignorance. From this basic ignorance, which is an experience of ourselves as absolutely autonomous individual egos--from this basic wrong experience of ourselves comes all the rest. This is the source of all our problems."(5)
It seems significant to point out that many authors, as well as A Course in Miracles, postulate that this ignorance is not a passive state, but a continued, dogged determination to make the impossible possible. In another work, Merton talks of the Fall of Man and original sin,
"The story of the Fall tells us in mythical language that 'original sin' is not simply a stigma arbitrarily making good pleasures seem guilty, but a basic inauthenticity, a kind of predisposition to bad faith in our understanding of ourselves and of the world. It implies a determined willfulness in trying to make things be other than they are in order that we may be able to make them subserve, at any moment, to our individual desire for pleasure or power. But since things do not obey our arbitrary impulsions, and since we cannot make the world correspond to and confirm the image of it dictated by our needs and illusions, our willfulness is inseparable from error and from suffering."(6)
A Course in Miracles calls this erroneous self-identification, ego. And suggests that it is but an idea, an impossible idea, but that
"Into eternity, where all is one, there crept a tiny, mad idea, at which the Son of God remembered not to laugh. In his forgetting did the thought become a serious idea, and possible of both accomplishment and real effects." [T544/586f]
Perhaps, this concept of separation or ego may still seem a bit elusive, esoteric or theoretical. What we are attempting here is to see the single fundamental problem. Perhaps it is easier to understand the commonality of all problems if we think of them in terms of unhappiness or suffering. Certainly it is not difficult to understand that when we perceive ourselves as truly happy, we don't seem to have any problems. So that problems are synonymous or identical with unhappiness. Is unhappiness situationally specific, or is there some fundamental root to all unhappiness and suffering? Why is it that, no matter what we do, suffering and misery continue? Let us look at what some of the world's greatest thinkers have said about the problem of human existence:
"The life of the body is evil and a lie, and so the annihilation of that life is a good for which we ought to wish."
"Life is what it ought not to be, an evil; and a passage from it into nothingness is the only good in life."
"Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit."(7)
"To live knowing that sufferings, illness, old age, and death are inevitable, is not possible; we must get rid of life, get rid of the possibility of living."
A Course in Miracles asks this obvious, but rarely asked question:
"Is it not insanity to think of life as being born, aging, losing vitality and dying in the end?" [M63/66]
It seems that at some point in everyone's life there arises, if only for a moment, the terrible recognition of one's own mortality and insignificance. It may first be that time when, as a child, our favorite kitten or pet bird dies, knowing intuitively that soon it will be our own fate as well. We are then reminded as a young adult upon the death of a parent or grandparent. Then, in what we call middle age, friends and companions begin to fall. To see that, no matter what, one's earthly life is always moving toward weakness, disability, death and destruction is intolerable. If we look at it we begin to see that the principal theme of mortal existence is devouring, consuming. Temporarily it may seem to be "eat or be eaten," but in the end everything is devoured, consumed, destroyed. Nothing exists but impermanence, change and chaos. Faced with this inescapable awareness that everything in this world is always, in every moment, breaking down, falling apart, dying; what is one to do?

How is it that we are so willing to accept this fact? You might say that this is too harsh, that there is beauty and joy here. Yes, there is momentary joy and fleeting beauty else we would not tolerate it at all. Nevertheless, the beauty fades, the joy turns to sorrow. There is no permanence, no stability and everything beautiful always seems to have a bit of ugliness mixed with it. Each moment of joy carries with it a bittersweet taste. To look at it another way, no matter what happens, there is misery:

*The misery of wanting - of not getting what one wants

*The misery of misfortune - of getting what one does not want

*The misery of insecurity - of getting what one wants knowing that he cannot keep it

The old adage "You can't have your cake and eat it too" seems most applicable to our contradictory existence. We cannot remain content to experience the beauty or the joy without possessing or consuming it and in the consuming of it, it is destroyed.

A Course in Miracles asks us to open our eyes to this fact in a section entitled "The Real Alternative." It says it in this way:

"There is no choice where every end is sure. Perhaps you would prefer to try them all, before you really learn they are but one. The roads this world can offer seem to be quite large in number, but the time must come when everyone begins to see how like they are to one another. Men have died on seeing this, because they saw no way except the pathways offered by the world. And learning they led nowhere, lost their hope. and yet this is the time when they could have learned their greatest lesson. All must reach this point, and go beyond it. It is true indeed there is no choice at all within the world. But this is not the lesson in itself. The lesson has a purpose, and in this you come to understand what it is for." [T608/653f]
Now, if one is at all intelligent and thoughtful, this realization has at least vaguely dawned upon his mind. And yet it is such a profound and disturbing awareness that most immediately seek some form of escape from it. Simone Weil in Waiting for God points out,
"Men feel that there is a mortal danger in facing this truth squarely for any length of time. That is true. Such knowledge strikes more surely than a sword; it inflicts a death more frightening than that of the body. After a time it kills everything within us that constitutes our ego. In order to bear it we have to love truth more than life itself."(8)
There seem to be five avenues which are employed to escape facing this terrible contradiction of existence:

1. IGNORANCE--The most convenient way to escape this fact is to refuse to look at it, to ignore the evidence, to remain consciously unaware of this reality. One is attracted by the temporary pleasures and dramas of this whirlpool of existence for a while and refuses to see the whole picture. Then after a while he lapses into the unconsciousness of habitual functioning, refusing to look at the problem. Yet even here, there is a vague unconscious awareness, manifesting as a general malaise or discontent, but the urgings of this deeper knowing are not heard.

2. INDULGENCE--"Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die." Those who have been blessed by circumstance with the means to pursue the "good life" do so with a vengeance, postulating that sensual enjoyment is the only reason for living. Their appetites become enormous and blind them to the consequences of their unbridled seeking after luxury and sensuality.

3. SUICIDE--This escape is only for the strong and logical. Once faced with the terrible circumstance of human existence and convinced that there is no other, there is only this one possibility. It is the only logical thing to do.

4. ENDURANCE--The weak who see the problem have not the courage to end it all and, though they know death to be better than life, their lack of resoluteness causes them to drag it out, waiting for something to happen, living in despair, keeping on keeping on.

5. INSANITY--Rather than attempt to cope with or face this contradiction, some escape into fantasy or madness as defined by contemporary culture. If we look carefully we will see that this is the inevitable result of carrying self-centered identity to its full, logical conclusion.

Could there be anything else? As long as we perceive ourselves to be separate autonomous beings who attempt to find meaning within the limits of our mortal existence, probably not! But, there are some who find life for them has a meaning. How is that? By the vague and obscure feeling that beyond, yet among, this life there exists another more fundamental reality, a real meaning for which this life is but a preparation. In the words of A Course in Miracles, there is a recognition or at least a hope that "...there must be a better way." [T18/22]

There exist two main currents of thought about what constitutes a better way which have become the predominant myths that have caught the imagination of the vast majority of western, and much of eastern civilization. Not because they are true, but because they are easy and require little of us in the present. They are relatively non-threatening to our "normal" existence:

The Religious Myth

This one acknowledges the suffering and strife of this world and offers no solution. It merely says that if one leads a moral and exemplary life, conforming to authoritarian dogma and social norms, enduring hardship and suffering, that he will be rewarded in the "afterlife" with the joys of Heaven, samadhi, or some such. By performing specified rituals and ablutions, one can appease and win favor with a judgmental and tyrannical God who only punishes his children because he loves them so much. It is essentially a no-think position which provides a certain comfort and freedom from the persistent questions in unquestioning belief and hope for the future based on conformity and submission.

The Humanistic/Technological Myth

This is far and away the dominant myth in the world today. To the rational Cartesian man the religious myth was madness. A new myth arose which postulated that "this is it," the material world is all there is. In a sense it can be traced as far back as the atomic theory of Democritus, the belief in matter as the ultimate reality. This myth assumes manifest form is the only reality and Man is its ultimate expression. There is no other reality and Man, through his ingenuity, can create for himself the ideal life. This myth essentially supplanted the religious myth as a result of the Industrial Revolution. During the Enlightenment, man had become very disenchanted with the religious dogmas which had dominated European culture for more than a millennium. He saw new hope in technology and industrial might to provide a better, happier life. Finally, Deus ex machina for real!

It seemed to be possible, with this explosion of technology, that Man could become prosperous without limit. The principal and essential assumptions of this myth are that material prosperity is identical with happiness and that growth and/or more technology will solve whatever problems seem to crop up along the way. We can engineer our way to utopia, say the pundits of this secular religion. No longer do we trust in God, we trust explicitly in human ingenuity. Homo über alles!

Both of these myths acknowledge that human existence is problematical and both offer a solution "just around the corner", in the future. Is this sufficient? Do these solutions make any sense? As the future gets nearer, any intelligent person begins to see that the technological myth is as mad as the religious one. Do we have any evidence to support either one? NO! Why should we wait longer for a future which always seems just beyond our reach? What shall we do?

There is a lot of conversation in the present time frame about a "paradigm shift." With an awareness of the approaching ecological, sociological and economic limitations of material technology, there seems to be emerging a new myth. Faced with the obvious demise of unlimited material expansionism, some have turned to a sort of psychological technology. Beginning with The Power of Positive Thinking and continuing through all the personal growth seminars of the 1970's to the present time, there have arisen all sorts of methods and techniques attempting to psychologize our way to happiness. New ones crop up every day with gurus each touting his own panacea. We have even formed religions around some of these ideas of positive thinking and "creative visualization", calling them "spiritual." Some even call this a new paradigm, but it nevertheless has as its foundation the belief in man's ingenuity above all. There is a tacit assumption that, if there is a God, he is some sort of Santa Claus, a servant of Man's insatiable wants. This is really nothing new at all, only a strange amalgam of the two older myths arranged to be agreeable with Man's current and popular vision of himself. Unfortunately, rather than a radically new paradigm, this is but a slightly modified, "improved" version of the old humanistic paradigm. There is no real, ultimate answer here.

We have yet to come to the realization globally that not just some, but all of the old rules no longer work. Perhaps they never did; it is just that now their unworkability is becoming more obvious on a grander scale. What we need and will get, like it or not, in one form or other, is a brand new ball game, not just the old game with a few new rules. There must be fundamental, radical change. A Course in Miracles is but one of many road signs pointing to the solution and it merely reaffirms what has been said by Buddha, Jesus, Socrates and the other great ones of all time. We have reached the crisis, but are unwilling as yet to welcome the denouement. We continue to follow the predominant myths, rather than leaping into the abyss of agnozia(9) and trust. We have as yet hardly begun this process of transformation. How and where do we begin?

What is the real problem? What is its foundation? Could it be that beyond our fear of this contradictory nature of our human existence is yet something, at our deepest level, that we fear and desire to avoid even more? Could it be that we deeply know that our relationship with All That Is, our own True Identity, is ultimately inescapable? Yes, it very well could be. Isn`t it strange that we accept illness, death and destruction more willingly than we accept God? Anger and conflict more willingly than love?

You know, it is amazing to me that we have consistently overlooked and continue to ignore the one solution for which we have some, if limited, evidence. That is the solution demonstrated by the great ones of all cultures, of all times, the one to which the Hindus and Buddhists have pointed, however crookedly -- the transcendence of the world through the transformation of the mind. Even within the Christian context there has been consistent evidence of self-transcendence -- Jesus (of course), Augustine, Pseudodyonisius, St. John of the Cross, St. Francis, Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme, Thomas Merton, just to name a few.

What they have all unequivocally said, and continue to say to us today is that the problem lies in our concept and perception of ourselves--that the belief in separation and limitation is erroneous--THAT IS the original sin. We have forgotten who we are. We have willfully denied our connection with the Divine Essence which is the foundation and principle of our very life. We no longer remember where we have come from. We have forgotten what we are. We have accepted ancient mistaken beliefs handed down generation after generation without question.

All of the saints and sages of whatever culture and time have pointed to the fact that the experience of wholeness and deathlessness which they have attained is available equally to all right now. It is our birthright, our inheritance, which we, like Esau, have sold for a bowl of soup. In our obsession with original sin (either in pursuing or fighting it) we have willfully forgotten, turned away and divorced ourselves from what came before it -- ORIGINAL INNOCENCE!

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©1993 daan dehn

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1. this and all quotations in this chapter, unless noted, are from Lessons 79 & 80, W139-42/141-4

2. T163/175, 253/272, 289/310, 407/436, 426/457, 600/645, 609/655, W357/367, M10/11 and others

3. Tara Singh, The Future of Mankind, 2nd ed. (1992), p.178f

4. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, TANTRA The Supreme Understanding (1975), p.32

5. The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton (1968), p.332

6. Zen and the Birds of Appetite (1968), p. 82f

7. Ecclesistes 2:17 (KJV)

8. pp. 210f (1973)

9. not-knowing in a profound sense, like a little child