Saturday, October 23, 2010

Abrahamic Religion at the Library

Since this blog was started in an explicit acknowledgement of the significance of the publication of A Course in Miracles in the context of the Abrahamic religions, I just wanted to highlight an important exhibit at the New York Public Library, that is currently in progress. The exhibition on the Three Faiths of the Abrahmic tradition promises to be eminently worthwhile.

It is helpful to see these three religions, which have so often been in conflict, as coming from one historical source and expressing one underlying tradition. This is even more the case, when we realize from the Course standpoint how much monotheistic religion has held itself out to be superior to other faith, but is itself understandable only as a defense against the non-dualistic reality of any true spirituality. The point is that the whole Abrahamic religious tradition makes the world very real by projecting a creator God, which is an obvious psychological ploy to reinforce the reality of the manifest universe of time and space, but blame someone else, in this case God. This God is now a god who needs to be placated, for he knows our sin, which is what the religious framework is all about. Abraham himself meanwhile is the very symbol of man living in the separation, which ultimately finds expression in the diaspora.

We see this process of perverting spirituality in the service of the world (Caesar) in the extreme with the appearance of Jesus, and how his teachings, which evidently were completely non-dualistic - as we can now once again understand because of the Thomas Gospel - were adulterated and compromised into the framework of this monotheistic religious tradition, cleverly obliterating non-dualistic thought under the pseudo-truth of monotheistic belief, and reconstructing the teachings of Jesus accordingly. That was the real contribution of Paul as the framer of the religion we now know as Christianity. In the process, the lightness of the forgiveness of sins which was the essence of Jesus' teachings was lost (again).

Formal religion is thus simply a reaction formation against spirituality, which is very threatening to the ego, which must at all cost maintain a faith in the reality of this very dualistic world of time and space. In other words ego has a big investment in sin, and the religions serve to reinforce that belief and rationalize it. Religions have historically served very effectively as the smokescreens behind which the creation of the world is made real by being legitimized as the work of God, never acknowledging that this creator-God is made up by the ego as a substitute for the abstract notion of God as our source in the spiritual sense. Even the gnostics however already suspected that the creator God of Genesis could not be the true God, but this insight has never before been so clearly expressed and elaborated, not to mention made practical and actionable, as it is today in A Course in Miracles.

Formal religion has no place in psychotherapy, but it also has no real place in religion. 2 In this world, there is an astonishing tendency to join contradictory words into one term without perceiving the contradiction at all. 3 The attempt to formalize religion is so obviously an ego attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable that it hardly requires elaboration here. 4 Religion is experience; psychotherapy is experience. 5 At the highest levels they become one. 6 Neither is truth itself, but both can lead to truth. 7 What can be necessary to find truth, which remains perfectly obvious, but to remove the seeming obstacles to true awareness? (ACIM:P-2.II.2) 
In this quote psychotherapy is the model for the process of healing which is the substance of recovery from the insane belief in the manifest world of time and space as somehow a foundation of reality.

Once we do begin to fathom the underlying spiritual framework, which is the truth that is our true inheritance, we may come to appreciate that even in the religious literature which has mostly served to attest to the reality of the world, and the importance of the ego - as reflected in all the pomp and circumstance, and idolization of the religions - also often contains the grains of truth that remain in our minds despite our best attempts to suppress it and explain it away.

The fundamental choice we are being taught to make in the Course, is the choice for the 2nd place, i.e. to re-discover our reality as God's son, in lieu of playing God ourselves by granting primacy to the manifest realities which the ego made. In other words "I choose the second place to gain the first,"  means I'm stopping to play God, by accepting who I am as God created me, in lieu of substituting a self-image and a world which I made, and where I play God in opposition to the Will of God. The enabling thought underneath, the thought of separation from God, is what makes this delusional system possible, and drives it on with the energy of guilt. Conversely the idea of forgiveness, so central to the teachings of Jesus, is threatening to the ego because it invalidates the manifest world of time and space as anything of reality, but exposes it as only derivative phenomenon, based on making the sin of separation very real. The lightness of that forgiveness is symbolized in Abraham's story in the serendipetous appearance of the Ram which becomes the willing substitute for what we thought was going to be a sacrifice, but which becomes a mere giving up of our self-will in the separation and the cause of our suffering in the first place. The projected sacrifice we imagined becomes the mere letting go our self-will instead. Not my will, but Thy Will be done.

Since the separation, the words "create" and "make" have become confused. 2 When you make something, you do so out of a specific sense of lack or need. 3 Anything made for a specific purpose has no true generalizability. 4 When you make something to fill a perceived lack, you are tacitly implying that you believe in separation. 5 The ego has invented many ingenious thought systems for this purpose. 6 None of them is creative. 7 Inventiveness is wasted effort even in its most ingenious form. 8 The highly specific nature of invention is not worthy of the abstract creativity of God's creations. (ACIM:T-3.V.2)
The story of Abraham's sacrifice in Genesis is a wonderful reminder of the way out of hell for us. For rather than being an illustration that repels us if it is taken literally, we might come to appreciate it as a reminder of the way home. It is the " little willingness,"  to be wrong and happy rather than self-righteous and miserable - the Course asks: "Do you prefer that you be right or happy?" (ACIM:T-29.VII.1:9) And so it is not the literal sacrifice of Abraham's literal son which is the point of this story - we should be mindful that "to those outside all comes in parables," as we are frequently reminded in the New Testament quotes of Jesus. So as long as we believe we are in this world of duality, we still need to learn to understand the parables in order to unlearn our substitution of truth by means of a manifest reality, which has no reality at all, as even quantum mechanics is graphically showing us today.

The point of Abraham's sacrifice is the willingness to let go of our ego's definition of tomorrow (our " son"), and once we demonstrate that willingness, it turns not to be a sacrifice, which our ego would believe it is, but a willing surrender of our stubborn self-will, in the form of the "Ram" which symbolizes the beginning of life in the manifest (substitute) reality of the world of time and space, as does the astrological sign of the same name in the symbolism of the zodiac. Thus, in lieu of the self-of-tomorrow (son), which we made as a substitute for reality, we are again accepting our reality as God's son, in the sense of  "I am as God created me." (ACIM:W-110). This is the path of relinquishing the ego's self-justification of its lies and its substitute reality, which is born from strife (separation), and begets us a life in hell, until we willingly release it, once we see the true cost of maintaining the idols which would displace God from our minds.

Thus the key to all spirituality is present in one of the foundational myths of the Abrahamic religious tradition, but as always it is taken literally and often explained away in embarrassment, all of which are ways of not looking at what the story really means; part and parcel of the process of metamorphosing the deepest truths of human spirituality into the contentious fodder of organized, formal religion, which always loses itself in its own literalness and fundamentalism, and thus inevitably splits itself into more and more splintered schools of thought, and thus seems to obliterates truth from our mind, until we have to admit it is not working for us any longer, and the time for a spiritual awakening is at hand.

Copyright, © 2010 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Course in the Low Lands by the Sea

For some time now, I have off and on been pretty intensely involved in Course-related matters in Holland, my native country, not in any very overt way, but because of on-going dialog with some Course students, and an active collaboration with Annelies Ekeler in doing translation work for some Course-related writings, like Gary Renard's books, as well as a book by Nouk Sanchez and Tomas Vieira. A year or two ago, I proofread the manuscript for a new book, that has just now come to market in Holland, with a new publishing company called Inner Peace Publications, (notice that on its web page the mission statement is present both in Dutch and in English), founded by Annelies Ekeler, its the publisher, and chief cook and bottle washer. More than anything else, it is with this book, that I feel the Course truly has "landed" in Holland.

The book, which is excellent, was first turned down by essentially every publisher who covers the topic of spirituality. But evidently with good will and devotion from a lot of people, its publication was eventually realized with the launching of this new publishing venture. These kinds of developments are more or less par for the course in publishing in general, but more particularly with the Course, because subject-matter expertise is not a good predictor of success as a publisher, while on the other hand its absence makes for plenty of dubious decisions. The only alternative in worldly terms seems to be some variety of risk-management techniques, the equivalent of "throwing enough mud against the wall to see what sticks." The craftsman-like publishing of old has died, and its modern corporate equivalent is a dispirited reenactment that seems barely or rarely functional.

The Course itself could never have been published commercially when it was first released in the United States, but it eventually became a best-seller of sorts, when a million copies were sold during its first ten years in print, without any advertising. Likewise, Gary Renard's The Disappearance of the Universe could never have been published commercially when it first came out, but by the time it was selling 100,000 copies a year publishers came running.

Meanwhile, in Holland, Nicole de Haas, who at the time was the publisher at Ankh-Hermes, the country's largest publishing company of literary works in the category of spirituality, made the decision to publish the Dutch translation of the Course in 1998 and thereby became the original publisher of the Course in Dutch. That decision, although an insightful act of faith, at the time had every appearance of one of those 'bet the farm' type of decisions in the eyes of the bean counters until it was vindicated only by sales in excess of a million Dutch guilders within just weeks of the book's release. Presently, eight editions later, more than 45,000 copies of it have been sold in Holland, which is a huge number for such a small country. However, Ankh-Hermes subsequently were not so lucky in picking Course-related books for publication. The best example of that probably lies in the fact that the company chose not to publish Gary Renard's book when they had the chance, and another publisher picked it up instead, to its good fortune.

Nicole de Haas passed away this year, the same year when IPP, which is solely dedicated to Course-related books, was born in Holland, at a time when commercial publishers rightly or wrongly believe the Course is too much of a niche market, and simply too small to justify the risk. One way or another, now there is a new publisher devoted to the Course, and its first book was released at the end of June.

The book is Awakening in Love (not available in English at this writing; in Dutch: Ontwaken in Liefde),  and its author is Margot Krikhaar. As mentioned above, I read the book two years ago in manuscript form and its importance was immediately clear to me. I wrote a letter recommending it to various Dutch publishers, and, lo and behold, nobody thought it was commercially a feasible project, so it lingered until a few people got together and formed IPP for the express purpose of publishing Course-related literature in Dutch and eventually possibly other languages as well. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, the book is out, and I think it signifies an important milestone in the further adventures of the Course in the Dutch language. Simply put, this book tells the story from the inside, that is from Margot's personal experience - Margot's experience of actually working with the Course and her subsequent attainment of the real world, aka "enlightenment," or "awakening." Hence the title - Awakening to Love, which, in the words of the Course, is "our natural inheritance," not as any kind of a feat or achievement, but as simple fact, because it is the goal of the Course and it is the inevitable outcome. Only the time it takes can be hastened if we stay faithful to the process of forgiveness, which is the method or path the Course offers us.

There are many things I could say about this book, starting with the fact that I enjoyed every page of it. More to the point, I saw myself in much of what she shares about her personal experiences which she tells, as well as her business experiences, seen from the perspective of the Course. Taken as a whole the book immediately stands out as being the first original Dutch book about the Course that is entirely devoted to the content (its practice and experience in daily life) and not the form (theory) of the Course's process. Not for nothing does the Course say "do not let theology delay you," to address exactly this difference between experience and theory, as in the following section:

The ego will demand many answers that this course does not give. It does not recognize as questions the mere form of a question to which an answer is impossible. The ego may ask, "How did the impossible occur?", "To what did the impossible happen?", and may ask this in many forms. Yet there is no answer; only an experience. Seek only this, and do not let theology delay you. [italics mine] (ACIM:C-in.4) 
Margot freely shares her process with us in the book and focuses our attention therefore on the experiential rather than the theory side of the Course. And thus this book, born from the experience of living the Course - that is, actually learning to live by the guidance of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, instead of in slavery to the ego - signifies in a lot of ways what I mentioned earlier: the Course has truly arrived in Holland. It is an entirely authentic Dutch experience of the process of the Course, and thereby simply transcends all the noise issues that inevitably surround the Course particularly in a translated form. No translation is ever perfect, but if it is true that translation requires understanding (in the sense of experiential knowing), then this book is the best translation of the Course I know of in Dutch, for it is written from that kind of understanding, and expressed in everyday Dutch colloquialism, which will help people to overcome, in rapid tempo, the occasional difficulties with the text of the Course itself, especially in translation. As such it will no doubt do wonders for those Dutch Course students who decide to pick it up.

Among the many things I could share about the stories of Margot's own life experience in the transition from ego-bound decision-making to living with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I'll take just one that seems relevant here, - particularly in the context of what I referred to above about the difficulty of making business decisions (any decisions really). She discusses a period of her life when she was on public assistance, and, at the same time organizing her own counseling practice, where she needed to function within a framework of numerous requirements, including various business-training courses, demanded of her by both welfare agencies and professional organizations. She describes very vividly how dispiriting such frameworks were, for as the very nature of the ego suggests, this is all reasoned from need, and has nothing whatsoever to do with inner purpose.

No wonder economics is called the dismal science! After all, the ego's scarcity principle, described in the Course, is the very foundation of the concept of value in the world. Therefore, it follows that the entire business framework, about which we learn in school, suffers from the same issues, as it is based on a valuation and organization method which of course takes its foundation in the notion of separation and need for survival, and thus cannot do anything else but be oriented to models of our individual (separate) "reality" such as Maslow's hierarchy of needs, in which spirituality is a luxury we acquire - where no one knows - after all other needs of existence are satisfied. Thus the assumption of the model is that "I" the sole proprietor, or practitioner, or "we"  the corporation, have certain needs that must be met in order to survive, and that the whole purpose of our business is our survival. After all, otherwise why bother? All of this seems valid and reasonable, and my comments are not meant to invalidate that process. However, as we change our own way of looking at things, the inadequacy of such an approach to living becomes apparent as we are learning to live a life of spirit. The results of making this transition from ego-bound survival to listening to the Holy Spirit, will manifest in myriad specific forms for each of us, but Margot's own process with it, and the very personal and direct way she deals with it in the book are truly an inspiration.

The life of spirit is a life of abundance, though it may not necessarily manifest in form. After all, Jesus' final moments were hardly comfortable in terms of outer circumstances; yet in spite of it, he was at total peace knowing he was not his body. So the Calvinistic confusion of form and content, in which "abundance" is interpreted to mean material and bodily wellbeing in the world of form, needs to be looked at with one's Inner Teacher and sorted out. In learning to live from spirit, it will one way or another become clear to us that the ego-bound methods fall short, and, not only that, are a trap that will bind us to the past and to scarcity by their very nature. For they will create a future like the past, the mechanisms of projection guarantee it. So while Margot did go through the motions with all of this good advice and guidance, in the end her process took her to the position where she gave up the ego's fear-based survival tactics entirely, and in the true spirit of what it means to follow the Internal Teacher whom the Western tradition calls Jesus, she found herself having to "lose" her "life" before picking it up anew and becoming the inspiration which she now is and lives, as her book testifies. Suddenly, she is also experiencing an inflow of serious Course students in her workshops, and I'm sure the book will do well, though none of that is necessary, lest we confuse content and form all over again.

In short, the initial decision to publish the Course in Dutch was, again, clearly an act of faith, which would seem irresponsible to the normal understanding of business planning, because it always judges by the past. Yet, it turned out to be the right decision, and a very sound decision indeed. But the commonly accepted reasoning is always based on deriving content from form. As such, it will always fail, as we have seen in spades with, for example, the recent Wall Street burnout. All the mathematical models work only as long as the world conforms to the model, and the financial industry simply ignores that and considers a crash as an accident or an unpredictable externality, like a natural disaster, when a child could see that it is entirely implicit in the methodology, as we touched on here. Ultimately, it cannot work, for, while the ego thought system is fool-proof, it is, thankfully, not God-proof, as the Course also says, here:

You need not fear the Higher Court will condemn you. It will merely dismiss the case against you. There can be no case against a child of God, and every witness to guilt in God's creations is bearing false witness to God Himself. Appeal everything you believe gladly to God's Own Higher Court, because it speaks for Him and therefore speaks truly. It will dismiss the case against you, however carefully you have built it up. The case may be fool-proof, but it is not God-proof. The Holy Spirit will not hear it, because He can only witness truly. His verdict will always be "thine is the Kingdom," because He was given to you to remind you of what you are. [italics mine] (ACIM:T-5.VI.10)
And so, Margot's story in this book is the story of learning the Course's daily lessons of forgiveness and accepting the atonement for oneself, with all the practicality of daily experience. It is the story of learning to increasingly distrust the counsel of the ego and gradually turning to the Holy Spirit for guidance. Nobody can do those steps for you, for only by living them do they become authentically your own. Yet it helps greatly whenever you encounter someone in person (or in this case through a book) who clearly demonstrates by example what it means to follow Jesus in practice to his Kingdom that is not of this world. It has nothing to do with theological or intellectual comprehension or being impractical, but it does have everything to do with learning to live from the authenticity of Who we really are.

Copyright, © 2010 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.