Friday, July 27, 2007

Take me to Truth / Undoing the Ego

Yet he would not say anything except by way of parable, but would spell everything out to his own disciples. (Mk. 4:34 SV)
But without parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples. (Mk. 4:34 KJV)

So here it is in the modern words of the Scholars Version, as well as in the traditional wording of the King James Version, take your pick. A Course in Miracles famously says in its Preface: "Its only purpose is to provide a way in which some people will be able to find their own Internal Teacher." (ACIM:Preface p. viii). The point is this that following Jesus means to develop our own relationship with that Internal Teacher, and thus learning the Course is not about reading the book, nor about workshops, seminars and study groups, but about doing our own daily work with the Course, in which the words finally come to life whenever we truly ask for help from Jesus or the Holy Spirit to see things Their way, not ours, or as the Course also puts it: "Instead, there is a wish to understand all things created as they really are. And it is recognized that all things must be first forgiven, and then understood." (ACIM:T-30.V.1:5-6) It is through forgiveness that Jesus truly teaches us his way of looking at them, for it is a requirement of the forgiveness process that we should give up our judgment of the situation, before we are available to hear the Holy Spirit's take on things, and only in that process does Jesus explain everything to his disciples (Course students), he did then and he does now. Of necessity this is how the process must work, since the only purpose of the ego's judgment is to keep Jesus outside, with all the doors and windows shuttered, in line with what the Course also says : "The world was made as an attack on God." (ACIM:W-pII.3.2:1)

Nouk Sanchez and Tomas Vieira in their new book Take Me To Truth/Undoing the Ego share with us from their experience as they went their own (tandem) path of spiritual growth with A Course In Miracles by living it and applying it in their daily lives, and sharing the experience with each other and other people around them. This book is many things. It is a powerful introduction to the Course in very non-religious terms, which may be helpful to some aspiring students. The book is also a comment on the practice of the Course's Development of Trust section (in the Manual for Teachers, Chapter 4, M-4.A3-8) , and in the process it provides clarification on the Course's teaching of the Holy Relationship. Both of these last two are very inspiring aspects of the Course's teachings, as much as they befuddle many readers, and the guidance provided in this book gives us an answer for living and learning by providing some very powerful hand holding to readers who may find themselves struggling with the same issues.

To paraphrase the Markan quotation above in simplest possible terms, to those outside (i.e. identified with the ego, living in duality) it all comes in parables (of necessity, since in duality all is parable, which we can read either with the ego or with the Holy Spirit). But to his disciples individually he explains everything, i.e. when we go inside, and enter into a relationship with Jesus or the Holy Spirit, clarity comes because we can now see those parables with the Holy Spirit, in the light of Reason - at that point they are first forgiven and then understood. It all comes down to letting go of projection, and climbing into the observer seat with J. Talking about it in Course study groups or workshops is not enough, practicing it is what matters.

The book Take Me To Truth was born from living the Course, and it is an open invitation to the reader to do the same. The first most notable aspect of this book is that it is simply a good introduction to the Course, or perhaps I should call it an "on-ramp" to the Course, for it manages to introduce Course concepts effectively without any of the religious language in the Course. Since the seeming Christian terminology of the Course can be hard to take for some, this may prove very helpful, though I do believe that while the Course is not everyone's path, if it is your path, getting clarity about your relationship with Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit is most likely part of that process, for a lot of cultural stereotypes, including the "bitter idol" we made of Jesus in Christianity is undone exactly through sorting out our initial tendency to misunderstand the terminology, which only appears to be Christian. This aspect would be my reason for calling the book more an on-ramp to the Course than an introduction in the narrow sense, but having said that, the authors accomplished something truly remarkable, without any real compromise to anything the Course teaches. Their approach ensures that this book is not a "Course book," in the narrow sense, for it ranges more widely than the Course, though the thought model of the Course is definitely its foundation. In short, people may read this book simply because it's good, and it may happen to introduce them to the Course in a novel way, if they weren't Course students already, but it's not a necessity.

The book effortlessly incorporates the notion of Byron Katie's "The Work," which indeed is a very solid and also non-Christian sounding approach to the Course's notion of thought reversal, of truly changing our mind through forgiveness. It is an elegant and simple process, which simply shunts the entire train of our thoughts on to a different track altogether. "The Work" is an utterly practical implementation of the Course's forgiveness process. The book leverages other ideas as well, in particular also the Enneagram as a personality inventory, which can be helpful in becoming more aware of one's patterns in this particular life we think we are leading just now, and becoming more conscious of the games we (tend to) play is a very important step in any process of spiritual growth. I have tried the Enneagram, specifically by taking the on-line test which the book recommends (RHETI 2.5), and it is interesting though personally I perhaps relate more easily to astrology, but for many people the Enneagram may be more readily accessible. I personally ended up getting an ambiguous result among several categories, the main benefit of which is that I get to retake the test for free all the time, which adds up to quite a bit of savings, at $10 each.

Next the book explores the dynamics of special relationships and the reasons why our special relationships can be the most powerful classroom for undoing the ego, since evidently all our own issues are comprised in them. Once again it clarifies an important Course teaching without getting caught up in Course language, doing it instead in straightforward everyday language. And while the basis of the authors' story is their making this journey together, they also pay at least some attention to what seems to be the more frequent situation, that one of the two in a relationship is working on a Course journey without any apparent participation or interest from the other party. At which point we may remember with Gary Renard that the only good relationship is a forgiven relationship, for it is only forgiveness which returns us home, and helps us to truly live the Holy Relationship in all our relationships. Cooperation from significant others is not required, simply because in essence we are forgiving ourselves in the end, through learning, with the Holy Spirit (or the Universal Inspiration, as the authors call it), to see ourself (but truly) in the partners in our special relationship.

Having thoroughly explained why our special relationships are our best classroom (because they mirror us), the bulk of the book could be read as a commentary to the Course's section on the Development of Trust, from the Course's Manual for Teachers, again presented in straightforward language, without making it per se necessary to consult the Course. This remains quite a feat! Undoubtedly this section (Chapters 5 and 6) are the high point of the book, and if I were to describe the book to a Course student, I'd call it a commentary to the Development of Trust. To a more general audience I might represent it as a guide for undertaking a journey of spiritual growth in the context of our most important relationships.

These chapters are extraordinary, for most people, myself included have quite a challenge with that particular section of the Course, and here it is, all in very clear, unambiguous language. The book correctly warns us that we don't always go through these stages in an orderly fashion, but sometimes may find ourselves switching back to an earlier stage, which is probably the main reason why people have such difficulty comprehending this section, because it seems we can never figure out where we are in the process. This is a bit like a long dive, when you come up you can see how far you made it, but while you are under water, you just keep on going as long as you can. Most of us have a terrible tendency to go scuba diving instead of swimming across, and as a result we work though the stages of the development of trust in a disorderly fashion, although we will gain clarity about it as we go along. The explanations here are crystal clear, including a diagram on the misalignment of our needs and wants through this process, which I'm sure will shed a lot of light for many readers.

The book has an occasional flourish of New Age veneer, particularly in some reflections on where we are in our evolution, as if this time were better than any other time for waking up. It seems to me it is the other way around, since we will choose whatever circumstances are most conducive to our growth, so of course this time is better for waking up than any other, if that's what we chose, and that's why we chose it. Within the illusion of time and space there may be a point, just as much as with Helen's "celestial speedup," and Pursah's comment to Gary Renard that it is more rewarding to be a Course student now than it was to be a disciple of Jesus two thousand years ago. Other examples are a quote on page 119, that little children and animals
would somehow be similar to enlightened people, and that flies in the face of the Course notion that everyone comes into this world with a fully formed ego. Jesus however does use the "become like little children" sometimes in the sense of letting go of our self-importance and judgments, and instead ask for help in order to enter the Kingdom - so in that respect the image has validity.

I do believe we should understand what the authors call a Unified Relationship as a special case in the curriculum of the Holy Relationship. For the Holy Relationship does not require two people, but only one, who can be "the saner of the two" in terms of the Course, to realize the Holy Relationship. There are no guarantees that our significant others in this particular time will come along at the same tempo in form, nor should students be dependent on that in any way, but evidently it can be very powerful if we can experience it in such a context, as the authors share with us from their own life in this book. However logically, once we accept the Atonement for ourselves, all our relationships would become a reflection of the Holy Relationship, though the experience in form may be odd and out of sync at times - the standard example being that no one would argue the crucifixion to be a peaceful experience.

In conclusion, I could only say that this book is a truly inspired work, and an inspiring read. In the process of reading it twice this year, I experienced that first hand, through a lot of integration that happened in the process of reading it. The material from the Course and other sources is so well integrated, and the paraphrasing of the Course's sometimes arcane usage is so crystal clear, that I really do believe a general reader could successfully read this book, without any need to consult the Course, which is high praise indeed. Having said that, I could not imagine why any reader who did not know the Course before, would fail to become interested in the process of reading this book. My point rather is that Take Me To Truth reflects such maturity and integration, that this in and of itself is perhaps the best advertising that the Course actually means what it says, given that Jesus in the Course clearly states that his goal as a teacher is to make himself superfluous, while the ego's teachers always teach at their pupil's expense, as they need to build themselves up, and thus they strive for dependence instead of true independence. Jesus in the Course strives for equality, and this book demonstrates that he means it, and that it works as advertised. To his disciples individually he explained everything. Still does, evidently.

Copyright, © 2007 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

St Christopher - Christophorus

This legendary Saint was removed from the roster by the Catholic Church, because the historical accuracy of the story was in doubt. We can presently look at this anew, and recognize that the spiritual accuracy of the story cannot be open to any doubt.

As legend has it, Reprobus was a Roman of giant stature (and of course "Roman" a subject of Caesar, much like "Jew" in the NT materials) symbolizes one who had loyalties to something other than Jesus, and one day he decided to follow Jesus. He ended up making his living ferrying people over a ford in a wild river, because with his stature he could give them the support necessary to do so.

One day a child came to him and wanted to be carried across, and Reprobus took the child on his back, only to find out that the child became heavier and heavier, and finally revealed to him that he was Jesus. And he baptized Christophorus in the wild river, and told him that henceforth his name was to be Christophorus, i.e. "Christ bearer," and advised him to plant his staff firmly in the ground, where it promptly turned into a fruit-bearing tree. And then the legend has it that this miracle converted many. That last part sounds like typical Christian proselytizing, which is hardly the point of the story. If anything the point of the story is that in the words of the Course the path the of Atonement, which seems so unduly heavy to us at times in the end leads to the realization that we're giving up nothing for everything, and in imagery that has strong parallels in the Jesus tradition (some of the Thomas and Q sayings), our barren staff with which we support ourselves (barely) in this world, turns into a fruit-bearing tree that feeds us abundantly, beyond our wildest dreams.

We may also be reminded here of Thomas Logion 90, which in Pursah's rendering says: "Come to me, for my yoke is comfortable and my lordship is gentle, and you will find the rest for yourselves." For indeed, it is the ego in us which finds the thinks that Jesus seems to ask of us to be a heavy burden, but the truth is that the ego in us has to become less so that Jesus can become more, and we momentarily realize that the only burden was the ego's resistance, and that in the world Jesus leads us into all is light and abundance.

Acknowledgment: the spiritual significance of the Christophorus legend was first brought to my attention through the work of Jan Willem Kaiser. (For some more background info the link under the title will connect the reader to a Wikipedia entry on St. Christopher.)

Copyright, © 2007 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Corrupting the Tradition - Insights from Pursah's Thomas Kernel

Evidently, there is a deeper reason why in Chapter 7 of Your Immortal Reality Pursah discusses both the modern day corruptions of the Course and the traditional corruptions of Jesus' sayings in the Thomas Gospel and its evolution in the first four centuries, until it was buried and preserved, only to be rediscovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945.

There are numerous angles of this "meta" message (latent content, versus overt content), to be considered here.

First, by the very fact of the providing the revised messages, (sayings), Pursah makes the point of demonstrating just how the corruptions happened, and for anyone who has had any exposure at all to historical text-critical research, the outcomes make a lot of sense, far beyond what one would ever have a hope of reconstructing via the text critical method, simply because the evidence is always patchy. Traditional historical text-criticism might have a problem accepting Pursah's authority in this context, but if that is not your problem, then Pursah's kernel of Thomas is altogether very plausible, because it eliminates a lot of internal contradictions, and it shows in a lot of ways a very likely path which the corruption of the tradition could have taken.

Some of the corrections Pursah offers are slight, and address shades of meaning, others really highlight major distortions, and provide us insight of how that process of distortion happened. Examples are Logia 6 & 14, which Pursah contracts into a single one, and the minute you read it, it makes a lot of sense, and you end up amazed at the embellishments in the Nag Hammadi version, where the second half of 6 and the
first half of 14 appear to be embellishments from a later date, which create an entirely different sayings, not to mention are a lot less coherent in that later form than in the form Pursah suggests as the original one.

Second, there are any number corrections which reflect minor interpretive embellishments both by adding words and by word choices. These are readily evident by a casual comparison of the Pursah-text to the Nag Hammadi-based translations into English.

Third there is the overall effect of demonstrating how different forces pulled a tradition in different directions, and to anyone who has done some reading about the history of early Christianity -- and I mean the first three centuries before the notion of Christianity proper was even explicitly defined at all -- this makes a lot of sense. Then, by juxtaposing the various recent "controversies" (in whose eyes?) surrounding the Course, this provides yet another level of looking at and understanding the forces that could pull such a tradition one way or another, and we should be most grateful that the Course was available to us in written form, and did not go through a generation of oral tradition before being put into book form. Even so it is amazing how much distortion is possible, given the unlimited amounts of ill will and distortion we all are capable of - if we want to put our belief in it.

Thus we realize that then as now the point simply is to focus either on listening and practicing this path, which will take different forms for all of us, though the content is the same, or somehow to compromise it by maintaining a separatist interpretation of this Course, not to mention separatist versions of the Course itself. The latter is how the ego ensures that it, not Jesus or the Holy Spirit, is in charge of our spiritual path, and we stay safely within the perimeter of the insane asylum of the ego, even if we may wander off to the outer edges of the property. Or to speak with Plato, it is the ego that keeps us locked in the cave, making sure we don't pay attention to the madman, who is telling us of the light outside.

Copyright, © 2007 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Ekklesia and the Real Church

Christ is reborn as but a little Child each time a wanderer would leave his home. For he must learn that what he would protect is but this Child, Who comes defenseless and Who is protected by defenselessness. Go home with Him from time to time today. You are as much an alien here as He. (ACIM:W-182.10)

In the first six Chapters of the text, Jesus deals with the major issues of the distortion of his message, as well as his identity, suggesting sometimes that certain Biblical passages could be open to a right minded reading, whereas in other cases he outright dismisses certain parts of the tradition about him as being obviously in error.

Later on in the Course Jesus periodically offers us passages which to the attentive reader are reinterpretations of the content of the traditions about him, which may shed new light on the original meaning behind certain traditions, Biblical as well as extra-canonical. The passage above contains one of these gems.

It should be readily apparent that the apostles in general model all of us in how we grow in our relationship with Jesus through many stumbles and foibles that constantly get in the way when we waffle and fall back into choosing the devil we knew, the ego, and let go of Jesus' loving guidance. So Simon the waffler was all of us, and to all of us Jesus said to become the rock on which he builds his "church." This was taken by some as an exhortation to go into the real estate business, but a few (as in: "All are chosen, few chose to listen.") have always understood this on a spiritual level as the spiritual community of those who follow Jesus, out of this world, to a Kingdom not of this world of which he speaks to us, if we have ears to hear.

There are some interesting details in the original text of the New Testament, namely the actual (Greek rendering of the) word which Jesus used, and which has been rendered as "church." The Greek word is actually "ekklesia," which could be rendered as "out-calling" i.e. it is the gathering of the faithful, who respond to Jesus' call to drop the work of their hands and follow him. And, like he always teaches in parables, this also needs to be understood symbolically. The "ekklesia" is the gathering which forms when we leave our "homes" in this world, to join with Jesus for the journey to our real Home in heaven. Likewise Jesus was not calling us to give up our jobs, but to give up our investment in our accomplishments in this world, by following him to the Kingdom not of this world. And that community which forms in responses to the call surely is his "ekklesia."

Now read the paragraph above one more time. Each time we (one of the sonship) leave the safety of our (substitute) homes in this world, i.e. leave behind the emotional dependence of the would-be safety in the illusion, where everything is built on quicksand, for the path that will make us into a rock of faith, in response to his calling ("ekklesia"), the Christ is reborn in us. He also reminds us again that like there was no room for the Christ child at the Inn, neither do we pregnant with the Christ child in us have a home in this world, and we cannot but follow him, back to the Home of our Father in Heaven.

Note, the basic exegesis of the proper meaning of "ekklesia" as indicated above goes back to the work of Jan Willem Kaiser, which I'm engaged in translating.

Copyright, © 2007 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.