A Course in Miracles states as its goal, in many ways, a shift in perception, a different way of seeing. The Course calls this different perception by various names -- the eyes of Christ, spiritual vision, salvation, Atonement, true perception, and forgiveness.(3) The entire goal of A Course in Miracles is but this. For example, the introduction to the Workbook of the Course states unequivocally,
"The purpose of the workbook is to train your mind in a systematic way to a different perception of everyone and everything in the world." [W1/1]Lessons 27 and 28 are "Above all else I want to see." and "Above all else I want to see things differently." What could this mean? What kind of seeing does it refer to?
First of all we must begin with the realization that we are perceiving beings. All of our experience is tied to our perception and perception is not a fact but an interpretation.
"Understand that you do not respond to anything directly, but to your interpretation of it." [T200/215]And, in a very real sense, the interpretation is what comes first. What we perceive is but what we have decided to see and then projected outward. Even the perceptive mechanism itself, the body and its senses, is part of this projection. A Course in Miracles tells us, very directly, in Lesson 15 of the Workbook,
"It is because the thoughts you think you think appear as images that you do not recognize them as nothing. You think you think them, and so you think you see them. This is how your 'seeing' was made. This is the function you have given your body's eyes. It is not seeing. It is image making. It takes the place of seeing, replacing vision with illusions." [W25/25]In the Text, the Course underscores this predicament quite clearly,
"The world you see does not exist, because the place where you perceive it is not real." [T559/602]The PLACE where you perceive is not real! Who has the ears to hear this? Just in the event that this is not clear enough, A Course in Miracles puts it more bluntly,
"You do not see." [T415/445]A while back I was riding with a good friend and long-time student of the Course, who turned to me and said, "I just don't understand this Oneness stuff." "Bingo!" was my response, "A Course in Miracles is not understandable." The Course aims at bringing us to a perception which is non-dual, non-linear and non-local -- opposite to our current perceptual process in every way. A localized, dualistic and linear mode of perception is what we currently utilize and this is the problem, the only problem. This type of perception understands by breaking down and taking apart. There should be no mystery why it cannot "understand" Wholeness. What we see is never precisely or completely what is there, but a narrow, partial and limited interpretation (judgement) based on accumulated conditioning and learning.
There is a Buddhist story about a group of monks sitting around a master. The master held up a rose without a word. Each man in turn described and explained the rose and its meaning, its significance and all that it symbolized. The last man however finally "saw" the rose and merely smiled at the master. The master also smiled and without a word gave him the rose.
None of the others had truly "seen" the rose; each had but reiterated his accumulated knowledge from the past. The rest did not experience the rose directly; they did not "see."
The Course points out that all perception is selective, beginning in the mind of the perceiver with a choice of what he wants to see. And while there are many different modes of perception, there are but two actually different WAYS of seeing,
"You have but two emotions [fear and love], and one you made and one was given you. Each is a way of seeing, and different worlds arise from their different sights." [T232f/250]so that "Forgiveness" which is the way of seeing through love, which is given, "is a selective remembering," but it is "based not on your selection."(4) The Course points toward this new way of seeing in this way,
"You have no idea of the tremendous release and deep peace that comes from meeting yourself and your brothers totally without judgment." [T42/47]Throughout A Course in Miracles there are assertions that sin does not exist, that all things work together for good, etc. It sounds to many like "positive thinking" glorified. In fact most students of A Course in Miracles think the shift in perception is merely changing our thoughts or opinions about some thing or event, calling it "good" instead of "bad" and such. I have heard the Course described as "Pollyanna-ish" and "looking at the world through rose-colored glasses." And many Course students are guilty of indiscriminately tossing around Course quotes as silly platitudes which further this impression. Yet the Course is not some sort of superficial, psychological technology of affirming or "positive thinking" our way to happiness. In fact, positive thinking innately assumes that some thoughts are negative and undesirable. This is dualistic at its root and it is dualism that is the fundamental error of our current way of seeing -- the belief in two powers, "the knowledge of good and evil."(5) A Course in Miracles does not suggest seeing error and denying its existence or pretending or affirming its "goodness." Quite to the contrary, it calls this sort of activity "a particularly unworthy form of denial."(6) It points out that "What you believe is true for you. In this sense the separation has occurred, and to deny it is merely to use denial inappropriately."(7) What the Course suggests is that, while error, sin and evil do appear, they are ultimately and fundamentally unreal and have no effect on the reality of God and His Son -- they have already been forgiven. They are but appearances in the mind with no radical basis in fact. Once again, they do not exist because "the place where you perceive it is not real." What the Course actually recommends is to look right at the error exactly as and where it is, knowing that it must be healed, until we can see beyond it using the vision of Christ. Jesus says,
"It is possible to look on reality without judgment and merely know that it is there." [T44/48]
"No one can see through a wall, but I can step around it. Watch your mind for the scraps of fear, or you will be unable to ask me to do so." [T56/61]and, in what is one of the more powerful statements in the Text, it says,
"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." [T225/242]One of the things that is rarely, if ever, talked about is that in these statements, as well as the entire Course itself, it is speaking not only individually, but also collectively -- to the Course these are the same. Whether the fear (or hostility, they are identical) is seen externally or internally, it is the same. There is no difference. Whatever we see outside is but a projection of the inner condition of the mind. The inner IS the outer and the outer IS the inner.
What A Course in Miracles is leading us to is a totally reformed mental process,
"Spiritual vision literally cannot see error...." [T18/22]This is much different than seeing error and turning one's back on it or merely asserting that it is somehow "good." This vision means seeing with a completely different faculty,
"Everything looked upon with vision is healed and holy." [T415/445]
"Do not seek vision through your eyes...." [T232/249]and what the Course is talking about is not merely reformulating opinions which are based on our current way of sensory perception nor about making "positive" assertions or affirmations about the problems we see, but a super-sensory way of perception, perceiving directly with the mind rather than using the physical senses as intermediaries.
We have evidence of this possibility via psychic predictions, "near-death" experiences, ESP, even our nighttime "dreams" in which the physical senses play no part whatsoever in what we "see." Yet the Course is pointing beyond even these experiences to not only a different faculty but also a completely different WAY of seeing. With this radically different seeing and only then we may truly experience that "God is in everything I see." [Lesson 29]
In order to understand what this different perception might be we should perhaps first look closely at our current way of perceiving:
Looking OutThis way of seeing, which requires a localized center, results in a series of snapshots, each seeming to have separate meaning with little or no relationship to the rest. Whatever meaning they seem to have is only with respect to the center from which they are seen. This form of perception is entirely self-referencing. Looking out at, means that the observer is separate from that which is observed. Thinking about means the thinker is separate from the object. Things and events are given boundaries and limits (space and time) to separate them each from the other. This view is partial and the scene is fragmented. This is clearly the perception of separation. It is no mystery that our technology replicates our perception. We ourselves see much like a movie or TV camera does, in rapid snapshots that only give the appearance of motion. And the limited field of view of the camera (the eye) purposely borders and limits the amount of the scene which is included.
Things and Events
In several places the Course calls this type of perception "upside-down." Well, if our current perception is upside-down, what would "right-side-up" perception be like? It is impossible to describe this perception properly in language which itself derives from upside-down thinking, but perhaps we could at least get a vague idea by looking at it as the opposite of the three elements above, as follows:
Looking InLooking In
One Complete Whole
All the time we hear "the Kingdom of Heaven is within", "look within", etc. Within what? Well, the answer in words is -- within my mind. But where is the mind? Do we not habitually assume that it is somehow within or associated with the body or individual personality? This is not the mind to which A Course in Miracles refers. To the Course the body is but an appearance IN THE MIND. There is no specific center to the mind, it is non-local, omnipresent. However, unless there is a "seeing" or experiencing which accompanies these words they are but more noises on the eardrums. What sort of experience might it be? Thomas Merton described it this way,
"It is a strange awakening to find the sky inside you and beneath you and above you and all around you so that your spirit is one with the sky...."(8)It is quite simply the experientially validated understanding that everything arises IN MY CONSCIOUSNESS; all seeing is IN MY MIND. The Masters all report similar experiences, of seeing that "I am That." Mr. Krishnamurti reported this,
"Your mind was alive, but not as the restless sea; it was alive, and it reached from one horizon to the other. It had no height or depth, it was neither far nor near; there was no centre from which to measure or encircle the whole. The sea, the sky and the land were all there, but there was no observer."(9)Jesus put it this way,
"At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you."(10)This vision actually sees and experiences clearly that there is no place that "I" stop and "you" start. These reports, of course, make no sense at all to the mind which bases its reality in separative perception. This is another reason why A Course in Miracles is not understandable.
The attempt to explain intuition is patently absurd from the start. Yet this is the heart of the new way of seeing. Once again we are reduced to seeing it as somehow the opposite or negation of what we currently know. Thinking about requires, first of all, a thinker separate from his object. Then thought, the snapshot mind, compares the current image with its memory to find similar images. It not only searches for visual matches, but audible, tactile and olfactory matches as well. Once finding a suitable match, considering all inputs, it then connects with the past experience or feeling-tone which was connected with that event or thing. It brings this same general feeling-tone forward to the experience of the current thing or event. There is no direct connection with what is happening right now. The present situation is made to fit the mold of the past and is therefore neither correctly nor directly perceived. "Be Here Now" is a phrase popularized by the teachings of Ram Dass in the Seventies and it still gets bandied about regularly. What we fail to see it that the process of thought as we now know it can NEVER be here now. It always references the past for its "knowing" and projects a future based on this knowing. In this way it guarantees its own continuity. We must see the wisdom of the lesson "I seek a future different from the past" [Lesson 314]. And "different from the past" means more than just improving or reFORMulating the details. It means a radical departure which references the past not at all, different in every respect.
In addition to repeating the past in an infinite variety of forms, the separative approach also fails to see the interconnectedness of everything. There is actually no such thing as "objective thinking." We begin to catch a hint of the relationship of the observer to his object from the physical sciences. Einstein, years ago, demonstrated that the observer is not separate from his observations; that the presence of an observer influences the outcome. There is a demonstrable connection between the observer and that which is observed. Mr. Krishnamurti frequently repeated, "The observer IS the observed."
In Stranger in a Strange Land,(11) the Martian character come to Earth uses the term grok to describe direct perception (really more a connection) without thought acting as intermediate interpreter. Only in this way can one actually "see" and experience what is without reference to the past. Our habitual way of thinking and seeing does not grok what it means to grok. The mind of brokenness cannot "understand" wholeness and never will. And this broken way of seeing is merely a self-reinforcing habit. It is not fixed at all except by our willingness to reinforce its reality every moment of every day.
One Complete Whole
Time and space are concepts of the limited, linear, separated self-mind. Time and space are the means by which we separate one thing or event from another. They are the means (a psychological trick) by which we separate cause from effect in our awareness so as to attempt to have pleasure without pain, selfishness without loss. Therefore, to perceive wholeness must require a perception which references neither time nor space. This much is obvious. And this becomes the key to discern which of our normal and paranormal perceptions are true and which belong to the larger realm of the ego thought system.
Throughout the "New Age" or modern, popular "spiritual" world, there is talk of ascended masters, white brotherhoods, mystical teachings of all sorts, almost none of which is in the least way new. There are many levels, realms, planes and dimensions. All of these teachings claim to be very spiritual. And yet none of them ever seem to quite agree with one another even in basic principle. They may pay lip service to beautiful, high-flown phrases like "love" and "brotherhood", but when it comes to the specifics of the teachings there seems to be little concern with fundamental principle at all, only with the details of the highly complex organization, lots of numbers and so-called "facts", most of which are completely unverifiable.
Yet what seems obvious is that the great ones of all of our cultures throughout history have taught none of this nonsense. Jesus never mentioned any of these details. Neither did Buddha, Ramakrishna, or Lao Tzu. The teachings which have survived the test of time have all pointed to the fact that Reality, the recognition of the Real, Heaven if you want to call it that, is far simpler and more direct than all of that. And, beyond the doctrine and ritual which have been added, all of their teachings agree in fundamental principle -- Reality is one, undivided whole. Wherever one looks, reason and experience, science and religion all point toward a single, all-pervading, underlying principle, essence, or substance -- one irreducible something from which all else arises or is composed and on which all else depends for its existence. A noumenon for all phenomena, the very Ground of Being. This is what is often meant by "God"; for our purposes let us call that Spirit. Somehow, within that noumenon there arises a phenomenon of perception which objectifies experience and somehow interferes with a direct intuitive experience of this Ground of Being. That phenomenon we shall call mind. In the current context there is considerable confusion (actually lack of discernment) between what is properly called the realm of mind and the realm of Spirit. The terms spirituality and metaphysics are often confused and interchanged as if they were synonymous. Metaphysics, from the very composition of the word, means merely that which is beyond (meta) the physical. This would, of course, include such things as music, mathematics, even energy. Spirit, on the other hand, is the realm of that all-pervasive Ground of Being which, while it is metaphysical, includes the physical and non-physical, and transcends them all.
In this symbol we see that the realm of Spirit is open, infinite, and encompasses both mind and matter. Mind, however, is limited, though vastly greater than matter which it encompasses, and depends on Spirit for its existence. It is perhaps proper to also use the term psychic for this realm in order to make a distinction between psychism and true spirituality. This distiction commonly is neither understood nor even considered. Relatively speaking, the world of physical matter is the smallest and most limited of the three and dependent on both of the other realms for its existence.
For most of Western history we have operated within a paradigm which postulates that matter is the fundamental reality and that mind, or psyche, is an epiphenomenon. In other words, the triangle above is turned upside down. This approach treats Spirit mostly as a sub-category of mind. It is often referred to as "higher mind." Even most of our present so-called holistic approaches use the phrase "body/mind/soul (or spirit)", once again demonstrating our habitual bias to place matter first. This illustrates the principle of a statement attributed to Voltaire, "God created Man in His image and then Man returned the favor." All of our human concepts of God begin with our ideas of who and what we are. God becomes for us a sort of superman - our ideals and attributes blown up to gigantic proportions. We must begin to realize that from this finite, limited perception we cannot and will not ever "understand" God.
In any case the dividing line between matter and metaphysics seems clear enough, but where is the demarcation between mind or psyche and Spirit? The answer is perception. Perception is a function of mind and requires a subject/object relationship. Beyond mind, there is only the eternal subject, Oneness without Twoness, completely inexplicable and not understandable. A Course in Miracles is leading us into the entire field of perception and to what it calls (among many other names) "right perception" which is the very borderline between mind and Spirit.
"The whole value of right perception lies in the inevitable realization that all perception is unnecessary." [T54/59]This last point, I think, accounts for the lack of popularity of true spirituality and the popularity of "metaphysics", or what the Course calls "magic", the manipulation of form.
We find ourselves in the realm of mind, of perception. It is impossible to examine something from the inside. In order to properly study this field one must be outside it. Otherwise we have a madman trying to study madness, a tomato talking about tomatoes, a blind man theorizing light and color. All of the metaphysical systems steeped in levels and multiple beings are understandable to the mind, they are part of its realm. They provide endless fascination and often tangible "results." They require much arduous study but are nevertheless comprehensible to the intellect. Spirit, that One Whole, is not. It is beyond mind entirely.
While the exploration of all of these various psychic "levels" or "planes" is fascinating and knowledge thereof seems to give greater psychic or magical "powers" and insights or some sort of "mastership," it has nothing whatever to do with real spirituality. It does give a certain elevated status to those in possession of such knowledge, a sort of "have" versus "have not" distinction. This "I know and you don't" attitude was the basis for the hermetic teachings of ancient Egypt which found their way into some early Christian gnostic teachings and is certainly prevalent in the New Age today. What must be seen is that Ascended Masters, White Brotherhoods, advanced aliens from other galaxies, are all in the same relationship with Spirit as we humans are -- that of separation. As long as any perceptual context contains an "I" sufficiently distinct from something "other" to be separately identifiable, it is no more spiritual or real (nor less) than this mundane life on earth. Other planes, chakras, disembodied spirits, psychic phenomena will not necessarily lead us to the realization of our immediate union with Reality any more than organized religion of the conventional sort. They may in fact be merely more of the mind's magic smokescreen to disguise and avoid the simple and obvious truth.
These other perceptions and experiences do, however, clearly demonstrate a fundamental principle of Reality -- that mind is dominant over and ultimately transcends matter, time and space. They also definitely demonstrate that our habitual earth-bound perception is not the only perception there is. Nevertheless, continued fascination with the form or phenomena itself, at whatever level, is but a block to the awareness of the omnipresence of the Reality of Spirit in this and every moment. That these various psychic levels exist within the mind and have the same contingent and provisional reality as the "earth plane" is not questioned here. What is flatly denied is that these levels represent something more (or less) spiritual than this one. Being projections of the formal, imaginal mind, they all represent the same fundamental error of perception, the same ignorance of the nature of Being Itself. They become merely a support for the belief in spiritual progress and evolution -- that we are part of some long term process of Becoming, rather than an immediate part of Being. All of these beliefs deny our already existent, intrinsic, whole, singular spiritual nature and refuse to accept that awakening is always available. They are the mind's self-deception in its refusal to receive salvation NOW.
What is implicitly assumed in the belief in spiritual evolution is that the finite can somehow grow into the infinite -- IMPOSSIBLE! This is a very important point and must not be overlooked. Most understand infinity as but a very large number. But infinity is beyond all number. There is no relationship between a large number and infinity. A googolplex (1 followed by 10100 zeros) divided by infinity is still zero, nothing! One does not sneak up on the infinite little by little. The only thing we sneak up on little by little is willingness.
Real spirituality, properly seen, is the pursuit of actual knowledge of the noumenon itself -- direct, immediate union with God, if you like. Here knowledge is used, not in the sense of words and concepts about, but direct experiential contact. Metaphysics or magic, as here used, is the pursuit of knowledge and manipulation of various perceptual and phenomenal processes. And, in that sense, metaphysics is, in some greater sense, part of the spiritual process as mind is part of Spirit. However, when mind -- metaphysics and magic -- is pursued as an end unto itself and from within itself, there is a tacit assumption that some sort of phenomenon or perception is ultimate and final and, therefore, this approach becomes a dead-end side track to real spirituality. The ultimate end of spirituality leads beyond all of the levels and realms to the profound and intense realization, the actual unspeakable, ineffable experiential knowledge, of Being Itself, the One Complete Whole.
Before such experience, however, the Course says we must learn this other way of perceiving that is very close to what it calls knowledge, which is itself not perceptual.
"Your purpose is to see the world through your own holiness. Thus are you and the world blessed together. No one loses; nothing is taken away from anyone; everyone gains through your holy vision." [W56/56]
This perception contains no content of planes and levels. In the teachings of A Course in Miracles there are but two levels, one true and one false. This true perception of wholeness is the greatest gift one can give to the world. In this holistic way one comes to "see" so that
"He can see no evil; nothing in the world to fear, and no one who is different from himself." [T492/529]This, then, is the vision of Christ and the goal of A Course in Miracles.
3. see M81/85
5. as referenced in Genesis 2 & 3
6. T20/23. This text begins by referring to the body, but continues with the clear implication that this is applicable to all forms of error, which it calls "the unmindful."
8. from The Sign of Jonas
9. Commentaries on Living, 3rd Series, p.171
10. John 14:20 KJV
11. Robert Heinlein