Tuesday, January 31, 2006


In Gen 28:10-19, we find the story of Jacob at Bethel. With his vision of the angels ascending and descending to Heaven on a ladder, and realizing that wherever he is is Beth-El, the house of God.

Jan Willem Kaiser writes about this as follows, (Translated from the Dutch, "De Mysterien van Jezus in ons leven," p. 144, to be published in translation as "The Mysteries of Jesus in our Life"):

Beth-El, House of God. If Jacob had wanted only to recognize the spot, where one night he saw the Angels ascending and descending as such, than he would have set it aside from all other places on earth. That is how it is usually understood, and then we have explained it away. But then Jacob would not have continued his travel the next morning, but he would have established a cult right there on that spot. And then it would not have affected him so much in his worldview.
But the revelation that this earth, which so much seems to only be a tournament and a battlefield, a predatory realm where everyone should get what he can get, that this earth at the same time would be incomparably more essentially: House of God, Locus of His Indwelling, then this changes in one fell swoop the very foundation of our life. This demands a total change of our existence that is geared to robbery.
And not for nothing it is this Jacob, this fugitive, this clever striver for the rights of his "brother," who had the revelation of this overwhelming fact. For also he is an Arch father, that means: we are his descendants, and he lives on in us! And his "Lesson" is ours.

And subsequently in Gen 32:24-30 we find the story of Jacob's wrestling experience with Gabriel. To which J.W. Kaiser on p. 32-34 of the same book comments:

... Then we shiver, for holy is this place! This is not only a place of battle and cruelty, of money making and sadness, for God lives here. The Earth is the Gate, though which we can enter Heaven!
... [then he summarizes "the spirit of Jacob" as bargaining with God, and always being deceived in his working for the deceptive "uncle Laban," who of course personifies the false promises of the ego system and the world]...
Then it finally dawns on us, that with our cleverness, our effort, and manipulation we have braved God and not served him, as long as we served "Laban." That we, as in a long dark night have wrestled with an Angel, with "the Force of God," with Gabriel and that it seemed as if we would win. But that exactly in that moment our hip is dislodged, and we can no longer "hunt" nor "flee." What rests us then but to cling to that Angel and ask his blessing?...
But we will no longer be who we were before, and our new name contains the recognition of "the Force of God." (Ish-Ra-El according to traditional etymology meaning the man, he sees God. - tr. note) We have met God Face to face. And thus our soul is saved.

The Course offers us its own "revisionist" (compared to standard Judaeo/Christian theology), interpretation of the passage of Jacob's fight with Gabriel:

Brother, the war against yourself is almost over. 2 The journey's end is at the place of peace. 3 Would you not now accept the peace offered you here? 4 This "enemy" you fought as an intruder on your peace is here transformed, before your sight, into the giver of your peace. 5 Your "enemy" was God Himself, to Whom all conflict, triumph and attack of any kind are all unknown. 6 He loves you perfectly, completely and eternally. 7 The Son of God at war with his Creator is a condition as ridiculous as nature roaring at the wind in anger, proclaiming it is part of itself no more. 8 Could nature possibly establish this, and make it true? 9 Nor is it up to you to say what shall be part of you and what is kept apart.
Unquote (ACIM:T-23.I.4)

Kaiser as quoted above presents a right-minded reading of the well-known text of Genesis, with which we've all grown up, but yet we could not "hear," and understand. It is yet another reminder of how we can go back to all familiar stories, which we've all learnt to rely upon as witnesses to the reality of the world and the ego, and look at them with new eyes. The Course goes a step further by calling it the war against ourself, because it is only the separation thought which creates the illusion that we have a separate will, but it is clear when we read this section that the Course is in fact addressing this passage in Genesis in it, and reinterpreting a well worn familiar image, which has been so much misunderstood.

Hidden in the images is also the message that here, in Bethel, is the meeting place, and the place where we can have the change of mind, which the Course talks about. For God's House, Beth-El, is wherever we are, if only we remember who we are. And the notion that the earth is the gateway to heaven is also very much in line with the teaching of the Course, which is not a mystical path that rejects the world and the body, but a path in which we start as we are where we are and accept every life situation anew as a classroom where we can learn to accept the atonement for ourselves, which is out ticket to our home in heaven. The atonement and salvation is not tomorrow, but here and now if we should choose to accept it.

The sole responsibility of God's teacher is to accept the Atonement for himself. 6 Atonement means correction, or the undoing of errors. 7 When this has been accomplished, the teacher of God becomes a miracle worker by definition. 8 His sins have been forgiven him, and he no longer condemns himself. 9 How can he then condemn anyone? 10 And who is there whom his forgiveness can fail to heal?
Unquote (ACIM:M-18.4:5-10)

In summary then, in Jacob we see the son (i.e. our selves) running away from home, and always on the make to stabilize his position, and always running into new disappointments. He becomes Israel, father of the twelve tribes, symbolizing the sonship in exile in the world of time and space. At Beth-El the memory of home comes alive for him, with the realization that he is never farther away from home than right here, right now. Or to think of the words of the Course:
6 The journey to God is merely the reawakening of the knowledge of where you are always, and what you are forever. 7 It is a journey without distance to a goal that has never changed. 8 Truth can only be experienced. 9 It cannot be described and it cannot be explained. 10 I can make you aware of the conditions of truth, but the experience is of God. 11 Together we can meet its conditions, but truth will dawn upon you of itself.
unquote (ACIM:T-8.VI.9)

And in Jesus we see our brother, who has fully remembered our true home, and sees the world for the illusion of abandonment and exile that it is, and beckons us to follow him on the way home. The experience of Beth-El demonstrates that the memory of home is never altogether lost. Rather, even in the dreaming of the world, that memory is always with us, and ensures that some day we will remember who we are in truth.

Copyright, © 2006 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Belief in the Crucifixion

Starting in 1991, I went to many workshops at the Foundation for A Course in Miracles, then in Roscoe, NY. I knew that it was the best place for me to advance my learning of the Course. However, I was at times bewildered by Ken's apparently very Catholic orientation, stronger yet, I used to believe that Ken Wapnick to some degree spoke mainly for Catholics, because I was raised with some understanding that the belief in vicarious salvation was exactly how Christianity had completely misconstrued the teachings of Jesus. And so I did not at all identify much with the centrality of the crucifixion in Christianity in general or in Catholicism in particular. And as a result I think I probably had a tendency to tune out some of what he said.

At the same time, I met Jeff Seibert at the Foundation, who has since then become a member of the staff, and in fact my very first workshop was the first for him as well. He is about the same age as I am, we have much shared background, except he was raised Catholic and I was raised somewhere off-Protestant. So we had lots of interesting comparison material. Not to mention the fact that we both had been introduced to the Course through the work of Jerry Jampolsky, and, during that first workshop in particular, were struggling with the fact that while Jampolsky uses certain concepts from the Course in his work, he does not teach the Course per sé. So we both felt the need to work with the Course directly, and to understand the Course on the Course's terms, not anybody else's. The Foundation in Roscoe seemed to be the surest way of doing just that.

Over the course of the years since then, I have begun to develop a profound interest in the clarification of the relationship of the Course to Christianity, or perhaps the whole framework of the Abrahamic religions, which in some way can be lumped together because of their common roots. And one thing that stands out is how the development of early Christianity really culminated in the moral acceptance of the Nicene Creed as the key determinant of what made someone "Christian" by the time the world had gotten around to defining what Christianity was supposed to be. So moral confession, and a moral conversion had come to replace the metanoia, or change of mind which Jesus taught, then as he does in the Course. In other words the externalization of "Christianity" in terms of a conscious belief, reduced the whole operation to the level of dialectic thought, or what the Course calls, "the thoughts you think you think," which are not our real thoughts. By virtue of that accomplishment, which starts out with the theologizing of Paul, and culminates in the Nicene creed, the referent now is the ego, no longer the Son of God as Jesus taught. And Christianity is now suited to become a world religion, for it has then become a validation of and support system for the ego thought system, dressing it up in pseudo-spirituality.

Along those lines then, it is important to always be mindful that the "you" who the Course addresses is not who we consciously think we are as the dream character and hero of our own story, but rather as mind, as the "decision-maker," the Son of God who can make a choice. And therefore also the belief in the crucifixion which the Course addresses has nothing to do with what moral/rational beliefs we entertain, Catholic, Buddhist, Protestant, or anything else. If we believe in the ego system, we believe in the crucifixion, but again the Course does not address our rational self-concept, or our conscious beliefs, but the underlying thoughtsystem that sustains all that.

Therefore, the difference between a fundamentalist Christian and a Course student is not that one believes in the crucifixion and the other one doesn't, but rather that one entertains a conscious thoughtsystem which rationalizes the ego choice and makes the world real, whereas the other has entered a path of questioning those values. It is that path which can ultimately change our underlying belief in the crucifixion, through the practice of forgiveness, in the classrooms that our life then comes to represent to us. Common sense in this context is perhaps best summed up with a quip Ken Wapnick has repeatedly made in workshops, namely that as long as you think what you see in the mirror when you get up in the morning is you, there is still work to do. To look at our work with the Course in this fashion, is to recognize that indeed completing the curriculum of the Course is a beginning of that process, not the end of it, as the epilogue to the Workbook states:

This course is a beginning, not an end. 2 Your Friend goes with you. 3 You are not alone. 4 No one who calls on Him can call in vain. 5 Whatever troubles you, be certain that He has the answer, and will gladly give it to you, if you simply turn to Him and ask it of Him. 6 He will not withhold all answers that you need for anything that seems to trouble you. 7 He knows the way to solve all problems, and resolve all doubts. 8 His certainty is yours. 9 You need but ask it of Him, and it will be given you.
Unquote (ACIM:W.ep.1)

Copyright, © 2006 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Karma & Reincarnation, BC and AC

The laws of Karma and Reincarnation are of course the laws of the ego system, and Karma BC (Before the Course) then is my current set of living conditions as representative of the effect of a choice in a past life. Karma AC (After the Course) however should be understood simply as an effect of a decision in the mind which I'm making now, and which I can change, and only I can change. As the Course points out in so many ways, the past isn't except as a decision of the mind to keep it alive in the present whereby we ensure that the future is a repetition of that past. (c.f. a.o. Lesson 8, "My mind is preoccupied with past thoughts.") In the Course Jesus gives us the tools to learn step by step how to change our mind. Fortunately there have been some Buddhist teachers from time to time who have understood what Buddha meant with this teachings on Karma and Samsara and have taught very clearly that Karma is a current choice not a past choice. In other words: "The secret of salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself." (T-27.VIII.10:1)

Having had the benefit of a psychiatrist father who was involved early on in what was then known as Post-KZ syndrome, now generally known as PTSD - post traumatic stress disorder, I was always fascinated by the stories from the concentration camps, and by attempting to understand the psychological need of the nazi-butchers to keep on killing. The books of Corrie ten Boom, as well as some other accounts I've either read or heard contain haunting descriptions of the total despair in the eyes of the butchers who could not stop killing. The real underlying despair is that the killing doesn't work, for the spirit cannot be killed. Only forms can be killed. Only effects can be killed for they're already dead. So life always escapes our deadly anger, and yet we imprison ourselves (or get shot and killed, and hanged, etc. for our "misdeeds"). Here is the ego's repetition compulsion at work. This is the ego's logic at it's most extreme insanity: it didn't work, therefore let's do it again. The Course frequently alludes to the issue of the ego's being nothing, wherefore there is nothing to give up... e.g.: "5 This is the only "cost" of truth: You will no longer see what never was, nor hear what makes no sound. 6 Is it a sacrifice to give up nothing, and to receive the Love of God forever?" (ACIM:T-24.II.6)

This is very evident in the Course's presentation of the tiny mad idea. Had we laughed at it, it would have just evaporated, but by taking it seriously, we then keep on repeating the same error, and in the end we believe we are in this world, imprisoned in the consequences of our own decision which we the project out and accuse God of instead. So we've then replaced God with our own God, who represents the insane thought system we've made up, and the fear of God now protects that thought system from examination, whereas it would dissipate in the light of reason. So in the process the ego thought system has completely obfuscated that we did it by ascribing the creation of this world to God, and teaching fear of him as our proper religious behavior.

The world of course has the need to make scapegoats out of kz-butchers and serial killers, and to emphasize the point of how insane they are, thus again covering over the insanity of the ego system in ourselves, and protecting it from examination. With the Course in hand we arrive at the contrary position, namely our brothers who are acting out these thoughts, are our teachers, and deserve our forgiveness, for through true empathy with them (and note that for eminently practical reasons under the laws of this world they may still "deserve" an appropriate punishment for their actions), we can come to understand the insanity within ourselves and the ego's desperate fear for its own survival, which only makes us kill again and again, and again. For such is the choice for the crucifixion which we make daily by choosing the ego yet again, meanwhile the Course quietly holds out the alternative position that we can ALWAYS choose again, and make the other choice.

In recent literature we have seen the interesting example of Gore Vidal's efforts to understand, and (God forbid!) humanize Timothy McVeigh. The resistance to this is so great because the ego thought system compels us to judge others for the insanity and thereby protect it in ourselves. (What we deny we must project!). Trying to understand the reactions of McVeigh by recognizing any rational validity of his views on the sickness of society is not enough however. This is where the Course's teaching of true empathy comes in, for it allows us to see that the other is truly our brother in Christ, who just happens to be acting out a thought-system that we believe in too, and which can only be healed by forgiveness, as much as it is sustained by judgment. Which of course still does not mean that we should not apply appropriate measures to stop or prevent a recurrence of the behavior, if such is our role.

We can only be grateful then for every opportunity of recognizing the true emptiness of the ego thought system, which strives through the constant repetition of judgment to sustain the illusion of an identity separate from everything, always choosing nothing over everything, and deluding itself that at least it is something, because it isn't something else. In truth the only thing that sustains the hollow emptiness of this prized identity is nothing else but our repetition compulsion of separation, separation, separation. And the serial killers and KZ-butchers just act this out in a specific way. But truth is true in spite of our judgment, and therein lies the despair of the ego: it cannot ever change reality. That is the hollow fears in the eyes of the the murderers, and it is the hollowness of the very idea of the ego itself.

This is depicted in detail in the section titled "The Anti-Christ" in Chapter 29:
An idol is established by belief, and when it is withdrawn the idol "dies." 2 This is the anti-Christ; the strange idea there is a power past omnipotence, a place beyond the infinite, a time transcending the eternal. 3 Here the world of idols has been set by the idea this power and place and time are given form, and shape the world where the impossible has happened. 4 Here the deathless come to die, the all-encompassing to suffer loss, the timeless to be made the slaves of time. 5 Here does the changeless change; the peace of God, forever given to all living things, give way to chaos. 6 And the Son of God, as perfect, sinless and as loving as his Father, come to hate a little while; to suffer pain and finally to die. p620
Unquote (ACIM:T-29.VIII.6)

Likewise the section "The Last Unanswered Question," in Chapter 21, contains some very strong language to help us see these issues, which could make us look at the fear mongering of the marching SS-troops etc., in quite a different light, as a desparate call for help:

No one believes the Son of God is powerless. 2 And those who see themselves as helpless must believe that they are not the Son of God. 3 What can they be except his enemy? 4 And what can they do but envy him his power, and by their envy make themselves afraid of it? 5 These are the dark ones, silent and afraid, alone and not communicating, fearful the power of the Son of God will strike them dead, and raising up their helplessness against him. 6 They join the army of the powerless, to wage their war of vengeance, bitterness and spite on him, to make him one with them. 7 Because they do not know that they one with him, they know not whom they hate. 8 They are indeed a sorry army, each one as likely to attack his brother or turn upon himself as to remember that they thought they had a common cause.
Unquote (ACIM:T-21.VII.2)

Ultimately all of the aggression in the world then acts to help us see but one thing, our own choice for the ego, and how it is a choice for powerlessness, and thus give us an opportunity to choose "another way," when it finally dawns on us that all the murderous ferocity gets us exactly nothing, while we give up everything. The Course merely offers an installment program to do this, one forgiveness lesson at a time, dissolving the Karma which uphold the world as we see it today.

Copyright, © 2006 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.