Thursday, July 17, 2014

Clarity from Advaita

Sri Ramakrishna taught, in the spirit of the Advaita tradition that we all go through stages in our spiritual development, from dualism to semi-non-dualism and eventually to pure non-dualism. This kind of concept is right in line with the Course's emphasis on not skipping steps.

As I have covered in a recent blog, the Course's version of the "creation myth," (how did the impossible happen?), for many people may offer certain advantages in clarity compared to the Advaita tradition. The Course posits that the tiny mad idea (the separation thought, the ego), was our (the Son's) idea, and that the problem was not having the idea, but taking it seriously. The Course then appeals to our innate ability to change our mind as a straightforward "way back" to our Home in Heaven. This "change of mind" (Greek: "Metanoia,"), is the core teaching of Jesus, both what remains of his teachings 2000 years ago, and in ACIM today.
This particular aspect of the Course's explanation of our current predicament, is psychologically extremely powerful and helpful to us in returning to our mind where the problem is, rather than trying to fix the outcomes in the world, where the problem isn't and thus cannot be fixed either. It helps us in taking responsibility for entertaining the separation thought seriously, and now enables us to start to doubt our choice, and help to undo it, for which the Course offers us a stepwise training program, centered on "forgiveness," which properly understood is not dualistic forgiveness of someone out there (the Course would call that "forgiveness to destroy,") but forgiveness of myself for projecting my guilt on someone else, and taking it back to let the Holy Spirit be the judge for me instead.
The secret of salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself. No matter what the form of the attack, this still is true. Whoever takes the role of enemy and of attacker, still is this the truth. Whatever seems to be the cause of any pain and suffering you feel, this is still true. For you would not react at all to figures in a dream you knew that you were dreaming. Let them be as hateful and as vicious as they may, they could have no effect on you unless you failed to recognize it is your dream.
This single lesson learned will set you free from suffering, whatever form it takes. The Holy Spirit will repeat this one inclusive lesson of deliverance until it has been learned, regardless of the form of suffering that brings you pain. Whatever hurt you bring to Him He will make answer with this very simple truth. For this one answer takes away the cause of every form of sorrow and of pain. The form affects His answer not at all, for He would teach you but the single cause of all of them, no matter what their form. And you will understand that miracles reflect the simple statement, "I have done this thing, and it is this I would undo." (ACIM:T-27.VIII.10-11).
In The Disappearance of the Universe, Gary Renard through the voice of Arten, proposes a similar developmental path from duality, to semi-dualism, to non-dualism (such as Vedanta), and finally pure non-dualism as represented by Jesus, in the sense of the total reunification of the Father and the Son (see DU, pp. 30-37). non-dualism is realizing that the world is an illusion, as indeed the Advaita teaching of lila (the godhead playing a game of "who am I" with himself) and Maya does. Pure non-dualism is reflected in the Course in the notion that "there is no world." (ACIM:W-132). Realizing that all these steps are a necessary part of the process is important, and is in-line with the Course's notion that we should not skip steps, lest we trip ourselves up. This is an evolutionary process while you are in it, and you need to respect your attachment to seeing things a certain way, until experience shows you that you are not giving up anything, but rather confining yourself to a constrained point of view, and you can't help but let it go.

Lately, I have been talking with Dutch teacher Jan van Delden, whose path was via Advaita in the tradition of Sri Ramana Maharshi, but who lately realized why A Course in Miracles often is so helpful to people because the forgiveness process teaches us gradually to turn to the Holy Spirit, and incrementally to let go of our ego attachments, in the context of our normal daily lives. Recently, Jan has shifted to teaching the Course for that reason. I already reported how his Advaita teacher at the end of his life had agreed with Jan's personal intuition that the origin of Maya (the life we dream), is our idea of separation, not a game of God, for that would impart some degree of objective reality to the world again. Much later, after the death of his teacher, Jan then found the Course via the work of Margot Krikhaar. However, his Advaita background, along with his in depth study and understanding of the spiritual metaphor of Homer's Odyssey, in turn help him explain the Course in a vibrant, new and different way.

Via Ken Bok I recently became aware of Mooji, and I have been taking in some of his material, which is also quite wonderful and helpful exactly because the language is different from the Course. Interestingly, Ken's interview with him sort of shows that transition, where at first the difference in terminology seemed to be a hurdle, but gradually better and better communication happened, until it ended in an experience of total surrender for Ken, which he has also shared with us, here.
One of the many things I found very helpful in Mooji's presentation was his reaction to the death of his guru, Papaji:
A month after returning to London, Mooji received news that the Master had passed away. Of this Mooji declares: "That Principle that manifests as the Master is ever HERE NOW. The True Master never dies, it is the mister that dies. The true Master, that Sat Guru* within, alone is the Real".
(http://www.mooji.org/biography.html) 
Interestingly, with the Course we are first being pointed to the existence of an "Inner Teacher," and gradually learn that he may show up for us in various manifestations through people, places and things, as we learn to tune in to the Voice more and more because engaging in forgiveness process would gradually lower our resistance, our defenses.

And again, the language of Advaita is different from the Course, but Mooji's approach to questioning our ego is quite interesting, and could be helpful to people:
So unsparing is his scrutiny and uncompromising stance, that the 'I' concept is inescapably exposed as a mental construction, when viewed from the formless awareness we are. 
(http://www.mooji.org/biography.html)
Yet another Advaita teacher caught my attention recently: Tony Parsons. His way of talking about True Empathy (his term: Compassion) versus False Empathy (his term: Complicity), is quite instructive, and really in synch with the Course, except I like the words even better - in particular the word complicity, for that's what it means to play into the ego's conspiracy, which is always about tempting the son of God to believe he's a body, in other words the conspiracy is about making the world real at all costs, and suffering and sacrifice does a great job of that.

In the end all ways lead to Rome, and it won't matter which way you came. The Course respects all paths, but simply suggests that you "stick" to yours in terms of being consistent in your practice. Skipping around on the buffet line is simply another ego stalling tactic. But simply listening to other ways of saying the same thing helps deepen our understanding, and can sometimes bring to light issues we had not been clear on for ourselves, for hearing it in different words, requires a more intent, conscious listening effort.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Advaita Vedanta On My Mind

Somehow the first teachings I explored outside of the Christian mystical tradition I was brought up with, were Lao Tzu and the Tao Teh King, and the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna as well as Sri Ramana Maharshi. In the context of the sort of theosophical atmosphere of my upbringing, these were perhaps obvious connections, and now after studying ACIM for almost 25 years, it seems even more obvious to me now how it all fits together.

Recently, I became aware of Ken Bok's visit with Mooji, in the context of "Il congreso del perdon," in Madrid, Spain in 2012, which apparently included both Advaita teachers (mainly Mooji) and some ACIM teachers, mainly spanish. Ken interviewed Mooji, and one of the interesting features was certainly to notice how the very idiosyncratic idiom of both traditions can get in the way, if you don't watch out.

Evidently ACIM and Advaita would agree on such ideas as: only truth is true, and everything else is false. In many ways Advaita and the Course come very close, and there would be no fundamental disagreement, but there is a vast difference in form that may not be easy to bridge for some. Being fully conversant with the terminology of both is not a trivial task. The Course says "God is, and then we cease to speak..." (ACIM:W-169.5:4) Only the absolute is, all else is but appearance, maya, illusion. Again, Advaita would have no problem with that statement.

Besides the differences in terminology, and in process, it seems to me that at the abstract level of the teaching, there is only one specific issue that really separates the two, and that is the answer to the question which the Course would humorously refer to as: "How did the impossible happen?" I was reminded of this not too long ago by a former advaita teacher in Holland, Jan van Delden, who more recently got involved with A Course in Miracles, in part because of the way it deals with that particular question, and in part because as a path it gives people a level of handholding that is unprecedented in any other spirituality. Curiously, his own process involved mostly Advaita, but also a strong experience of recognition and guidance from Homer's Odyssey, which is nothing but a parable for the "homeward journey' we all have to make, not just the hero from the Trojan war. It is a symbol of our journey home, just as much as the book of Exodus is in the Old Testament, or in fact the gospel story itself. 

Jan shared with me how towards the end of the life of his advaita teacher, Jan told his teacher how he suspected that the dream that is our life in the world is made up by us, that we are the dreamer of the dream - which is an essential concept of the Course, and the very reason salvation is even possible. Namely, if we had an insipid idea, and we're suffering the consequences, we can also choose to change our mind, and the Course in effect offers us the tools to help us change our mind. The Advaita way of talking about the same thing varies between the Godhead playing a game of hide and seek, "who am I," or variations on that theme. (See a discussion of the major variations here.) As Eliot Deutsch points out in his book Advaita Vedanta: "For Advaita Vedanta, then, the phenomenal world is maya, and it is produced by maya. But it is not on that account merely a figment of one's imagination." (Deutsch, p.31) 

ACIM on the contrary says simply: There is no world, as here:
But it is pride that argues you have come into a world quite separate from yourself, impervious to what you think, and quite apart from what you chance to think it is. There is no world! This is the central thought the course attempts to teach. Not everyone is ready to accept it, and each one must go as far as he can let himself be led along the road to truth. He will return and go still farther, or perhaps step back a while and then return again. (ACIM:W-132.6, highlighting added)
In short, in the language of metaphor, God does not even know about the world, he did not create it, because it is not there, just as much as your dreams at night simply disappear when you open your eyes. To ACIM the thought that God created the world is definitely part of the problem set, because it grants the world an objective reality it does not have.

An Advaita site goes sofar as to criticize ACIM over this issue as follows: 
ACIM's theology is also grounded in the idea that people's experience of the world is a cognitive mistake or error. This is very different than the best of Indian Advaita, which teaches this same idea as a preliminary doctrine but ultimately counsels that the world is a dream or illusion emanated by God (Brahman), not by the ego, and that it is an emanation out of pure Divine playfulness or lila (pronounced “leela”) and loving Grace, not a "mistake." 
(http://www.enlightened-spirituality.org/ACIM_critique.html)
It seems to me there is simply a different teaching approach behind both systems, and this is a clear example of why you can't mix and match, for you'll get duck soup.

Just like ACIM says "God is, and then we cease to speak"  so in Advaita, Brahman is "one only without a second," as the Upanishads would have it. But then the differences arise. The Course sees the world as an "attack on God," (ACIM:W-pII.3.2:1), and how it gets there is that the Son, all the while being one with his creator, entertains a "tiny mad idea," the idea of separation, following which he represses the memory of Heaven (called the Holy Spirit in the Course), and fully identifies himself with the separation thought (ego), and to escape the pain in his mind, because he is driven mad by guilt over his attack on God, he then projects a physical world, that is the expression of the separation thought. In short, all the world is, is the expression of a silly little idea we had, and when we stop fighting it, which only makes it real, we can forgive it, and eventually undo our belief in it, as we remember the reality of who we are in truth and it fades away into the "nothingness from which it came." In short, we never ever were separate from God, but we thought we were because we entertained the "tiny mad idea," and took it seriously. So yes, in the Course the world is maya, and sustained only by our belief in it, because its origin lies in the guilt that arises from the thought of a separate identity, the ego thought.

In Advaita, the way that story of the origin is told, it takes on a little more objectivity, as if Brahman, as Ishvara, had the idea of the world, which grants it some objectivity, almost in spite of the fact that anything besides Brahman is treated as illusory, maya. In a way it is as if Isvara is somewhat of a parallel of the creator God, Ialdabaoth in the gnostic tradition, be it that Ishvara is merely another aspect of Brahman. In the way the Course describes it, Ialdabaoth is a projection of the ego, the separation thought, and is the progeny of Sophia in gnostic myth, or, to describe it more psychologically he is the angry God of the Old Testament, who we fear, because we have projected our guilt over the thought of separation onto him. It is this imaginary God we are running from. The real God is not angry about the separation thought, or the world - He does not even know there is a world, or a "you," ALL of that is a figment of your imagination. Ken Wapnick liked to sum this up as: "The world is a maladaptive solution to a non-existent problem." For there never was any separation, it was only a dream, our only job is to have the "little willingness," to doubt the reality of it and then ask the Holy Spirit, and our inner teacher, Jesus to guide us on the journey home. "It is a journey without distance to a goal that has never changed." (ACIM:T-8.VI.9:7)

On the other hand, when I hear Mooji state it as; "You are the supreme and perfect self. Playing a game of how do I find myself," it is clear that to some degree the distinctions between the two at the abstract level are small and subtle. At that level he is addressing our real Self, just as does Jesus in the Course, (or, more precisely the "decision maker" to use Ken Wapnicks, term - the faculty to choose between ego and Holy Spirit. If you would just add that it was a stupid little game, and to hear in your other ear Jesus saying how we can laugh the consequences of that stupid little idea away with him, the two schools of thought are very close indeed. The reality of it is that different forms and different paths are necessary within this world of differences, and to quote something Jesus said to Helen: you should not judge your brother's path, nor should you take it as your own. And to look at the process of learning the Course, one becomes aware more and more that we all learn it by misunderstanding it first, for the resistance is enormous. So we all constantly misinterpret the Course, because our ego is fighting it, and then we get to correct ourselves again, and again and again. Some of us may go off for a while even making a business out of our misinterpretations, which has given rise to a whole "Course in Miracles Industry," as Ken Wapnick used to call it. It does not matter. They are all ways of working with the material, and we will go deeper and deeper as we go along, and at some point we will realize there simply is no going back, the pain of the ego system is simply too great. The fleshpots of Egypt have lost their appeal for good.

On a practical level, the Course is a path that engages with the world, with your dream life and your relationships, by teaching you to not make decisions with your ego, but to learn gradually that it is all thought, and that what matters is to let go of the ego's urge to think that anything at all must be done, and instead every thought needs to be forgiven first, to the point where we are no longer acting from the ego, but purely under the guidance of our inner teacher. The Course does not teach abandoning the world, but engaging with it, just with a different teacher, the Holy Spirit, not the ego:
You who have tried to learn what you do not want should take heart, for although the curriculum you set yourself is depressing indeed, it is merely ridiculous if you look at it. Is it possible that the way to achieve a goal is not to attain it? Resign now as your own teacher. This resignation will not lead to depression. It is merely the result of an honest appraisal of what you have taught yourself, and of the learning outcomes that have resulted. Under the proper learning conditions, which you can neither provide nor understand, you will become an excellent learner and an excellent teacher. But it is not so yet, and will not be so until the whole learning situation as you have set it up is reversed. (ACIM:T-12.V.8, highlighting added)

I discovered Mooji through my friend Ken Bok just now, and I've been listening to some of his YouTube videos intently. It has mobilized my profound interest in Advaita Vedanta all over again, although I was already on that track because of my communication with Jan van Deelden. I find it most helpful to listen and read the Advaita material with the full appreciation that they are different systems, so much so that it can actually be helpful to notice how the same things are approached in different ways. I feel very much at home in the Advaita material, and I'm enjoying re-reading stuff I had rarely looked at for forty years, but the Course is definitely my path, for it helped me with some critical things that no other discipline has ever given me. Which means nothing special, except that it is clearly my path.

To outsiders looking at the Course, the difficulty is equally great. The idiosyncrasies of the Course and its very specific idiom are such that it is easy to misread it. The fact that it is written on such a high level, makes it hard, but also, to the casual reader it is very easy to overlook the levels within the Course. Level one, which is "God is," "Truth is true," "Heaven," "God," "Oneness," "Spirit," and Level two, the level of the world we experience, which is a dream, and all duality is metaphorical, but what we learn with the Course is that, by asking our inner teacher for guidance, we can learn to reinterpret the metaphor, and it can become our classroom, and the vehicle for our journey home. 

I am going to enjoy my re-discovery of the world of Advaita for a while... Thinking back to my first acquaintance with Advaita Vedanta teachers, I remember that it was a conscious decision on my part that I somehow sensed the solution was not to go and meditate in a cave in the Himalayas, but I wanted to be in the world. That was a very deliberate choice, and so it could be no surprise that I ended up finding A Course in Miracles later in life, a path that very much teaches that the journey is right where you are, and that inner change is the only thing that makes a difference:
Projection makes perception. The world you see is what you gave it, nothing more than that. But though it is no more than that, it is not less. Therefore, to you it is important. It is the witness to your state of mind, the outside picture of an inward condition. As a man thinketh, so does he perceive. Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world. Perception is a result and not a cause. And that is why order of difficulty in miracles is meaningless. Everything looked upon with vision is healed and holy. Nothing perceived without it means anything. And where there is no meaning, there is chaos. (ACIM:T-21.in.1, highlighting added)

Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Amorality of A Course in Miracles

What has been given you? The knowledge that you are a mind, in Mind and purely mind, sinless forever, wholly unafraid, because you were created out of love. Nor have you left your Source, remaining as you were created. This was given you as knowledge which you cannot lose. It was given as well to every living thing, for by that knowledge only does it live. (ACIM:T-158.1)
 The other day, I had an interesting discussion with one of my Dutch Course friends, about why the word "conscience," or "scruples" does not occur in the course, apart from one mention of "unscrupulous." It seems to me that this is because it is merely an ego-inspired euphemism for "guilt." Particularly in the process of growing up in this world, our "conscience" is conditioned further into a set of moral values, with which we convince ourselves that we can decide good and bad, and thus please the ego's angry, vengeful God, Ialdabaoth. As this evolves it is further "civilized" into religious, philosophical or political mores or ethics. In short, first we cover up the guilt with the euphemism of "conscience," and then we give it social acceptability, because by knowing right from wrong, we become socially conditioned into well adjusted "grown-ups," capable of making our own decisions. Jesus in the Course gently, but firmly, disagrees, and speaks of our judgement as "sharp-edged children's toys," and makes clear that we are hurting ourselves with them, and makes it very clear that we come to his course as spiritual toddlers, who are best off by resigning as their own teacher, and learning to leave judgment to the Holy Spirit.

Resign now as your own teacher. This resignation will not lead to depression. It is merely the result of an honest appraisal of what you have taught yourself, and of the learning outcomes that have resulted. Under the proper learning conditions, which you can neither provide nor understand, you will become an excellent learner and an excellent teacher. But it is not so yet, and will not be so until the whole learning situation as you have set it up is reversed.
Your learning potential, properly understood, is limitless because it will lead you to God. You can teach the way to Him and learn it, if you follow the Teacher Who knows the way to Him and understands His curriculum for learning it. The curriculum is totally unambiguous, because the goal is not divided and the means and the end are in complete accord. You need offer only undivided attention. Everything else will be given you. For you really want to learn aright, and nothing can oppose the decision of God's Son. His learning is as unlimited as he is. (ACIM:T-12.V.8:3-9:7)
The ego always, and in all ways, tries to mimic heaven, so as sons of the ego, we believe we have consciousness (mind with a lower case "m"), and we give ourselves a life, driven by our belief in the ego's unholy trinity, of sin, guilt and fear. That belief in sin, guilt and fear is rationalized within the ego system in the form of a "religion," a "philosophy," a "world view," or a "conviction," it can be theistic, atheistic, or agnostic, but in one form or another it makes the world and the individual real, and keeps us focused on the putative life we have in time and space. As an individual who believes they are living in this world our first job then is to preserve the guilt, for the guilt is what makes the separation real, and guarantees our existence as a separate individual. The first step in domesticating guilt is to give it a nice name, "conscience," and a socially acceptable function, typically something like the "golden rule," in one form or another. We stay firmly shackled to the ego as long as we identify with the Hero of the Dream, who conscientiously makes the "right choices," about his (dream) life. And it usually takes us a long time before we encounter a challenge that really knocks us off balance enough to realize, as Helen and Bill did: "There must be another way," and begin the process of learning that we are the Dreamer of the Dream.

The Course says:
Now you are being shown you can escape. All that is needed is you look upon the problem as it is, and not the way that you have set it up. How could there be another way to solve a problem that is very simple, but has been obscured by heavy clouds of complication, which were made to keep the problem unresolved? Without the clouds the problem will emerge in all its primitive simplicity. The choice will not be difficult, because the problem is absurd when clearly seen. No one has difficulty making up his mind to let a simple problem be resolved if it is seen as hurting him, and also very easily removed. (ACIM:T-27.VII.2)
Let's for a moment do a double take on the Course's story of how we got where we are:

  1. First there was the oneness of Heaven, God, Spirit, and nothing else, the complete unity of Creator and created, the father and the son.
  2. Within that unity this "tiny mad idea" (TMI) seemed to arise, which in one of the gnostic myths is designated as "Sofia" (meaning "wisdom," an evident euphemism for the non-overly bright Tiny Mad Idea).
  3. And Sofia has a son, called Ialdabaoth. He is the creator God of Genesis, and this world, the dualistic world of form is described in the gnostic myth as the "after birth." We are the sons of that God, as portrayed in the Bible with the creation of Adam and Eve, and everything that follows.
  4. The Course fleshes this sequence out a little further: the Tiny Mad Idea gives rise to the separated mind, which promptly suppresses the memory of Heaven, by repressing the "Right mind," the home of the Holy Spirit, and it identifies with the wrong mind, the ego mind, which is what the Buddhists like to call the "monkey mind," that seemingly never ending hairball of insane thoughts, all driven in the end by sin, guilt and fear. 
  5. This separate ego individuality is driven by guilt, and it projects ("sets up," if you will) a life experience with a past (sin) and a future (which we fear), in order never to have to be present to our unexamined guilt feelings. I has also projected an angry god, and a world and a body, where we think we can escape the vengeance of this god.
  6. In this individual life we now must make choices, and Ialdabaoth is the paranoid schizophrenic "God" (of this world) that we project, and of whom we are afraid, because we think we killed him in order to gain our individuality. We maintain that guilt by making it seem useful, mostly in the form of "conscience," which properly considered only concerns itself with what is good for the individual, tempered by some cultural rules to prevent total mayhem (such as the golden rule, etc.). 
  7. In short, conscience is nothing but our pledge of allegiance to the ego-god, Ialdabaoth, and by making "conscientious decisions" as the ego would have us believe, we constantly reaffirm our pledge of allegiance to this ego-god.  Our "conscience," our guilt, keeps us under the spell of the ego's god, making choices that make the world real, all to prevent that we should ever make the only real choice we have, the choice for the Holy Spirit, for then the ego-charade is up.
  8. This goes on until we realize it's deja-vu all over again, and we end up looking for "another way," and that is when we are shown as per the quote above: that we can escape by seeing through the setup of meaningless choices between left and right in the world, to make the only choice that can liberate us, for the Holy Spirit instead of the ego.

The Course therefore is indeed amoral in the sense that it teaches that the ego choices, and our "conscience" is irrelevant, which does not mean that it is immoral, for the guidance of the Holy Spirit is sure to have the best interests of all in mind, and guide us to the most loving choices at all times.