History of the Academy
On Plato, Jesus, and the Foundation for A Course in Miracles
On Plato, Jesus, and
the Foundation for
A Course in Miracles
By Kenneth and Gloria Wapnick
Plato began the Academy almost twenty-four hundred years ago, what is usually considered to be the western world's first center for higher learning. It was located in what must have been a beautiful spot on the outskirts of Athens, a grove of trees that was called the Academy, named after an Athenian hero from the Trojan War, Academus, to whom the land originally belonged. As would befit the Academy's founder, who was always vitally concerned with the integration of his philosophical ideas of appearance and reality (i.e., illusion and truth) with one's life in the world, the Academy was both in the city, and apart from it. Thus the Academy admirably served Plato's important aim of having his students apply his (and Socrates') abstract philosophical ideals of truth, virtue, and justice to their individual experiences. We have little specific information about Plato's school, but from what we do know from his writings and the recollections of others, the Academy was a place where serious and thoughtful people came to study Plato's philosophy in an atmosphere conducive to their learning. They then returned to their professions to implement what they were taught by the great philosopher.
We have always been inspired by Plato (and his mentor Socrates), both the man and his teachings. As is emphasized in Kenneth's book, Love Does Not Condemn: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil According to Platonism, Christianity, Gnosticism, and A Course in Miracles, Plato's work is the classical world's pinnacle for the philosophical tradition of idealism, of which A Course in Miracles' non-dualistic metaphysical thought system is perhaps the greatest exponent. The Academy, as a center for serious study of Plato's thought system, seemed to us to be the ideal model for the Foundation's Center, whose stated purpose is to further students' study, understanding, and personal integration of the principles of A Course in Miracles.
From ancient times, education has been intimately associated with spirituality, witness the early pre-Socratic mystery schools of Pythagoras, not to mention the still-earlier Egyptian school founded by the Pharaoh Akhnaton, who introduced monotheism into Egypt and the western world. This Egyptian movement, incidentally, inspired the early Rosicrucian mystery schools, and extended to many of the Gnostic schools as well. This same confluence of education and spirituality is also seen in western monastic traditions.
Given this history of the integration of education and spirituality, it is no surprise to find the thought system of A Course in Miracles presented to us in a curricular framework: text, workbook for students, and manual for teachers. Throughout, the Course's language is pedagogic, and students are repeatedly urged by Jesus (our internal teacher, along with the Holy Spirit), to renounce the ego as their teacher and to choose him instead. "Resign now as your own teacher.... for you were badly taught" (T-12.V.8:3; T-28.I.7:1), he urges us. At the end of Chapter 1 in the text, the beginning student is strongly encouraged by Jesus to study this material. Its original and more personal form, as taken down by Helen Schucman, scribe of the Course, was even more emphatic:
All learning involves attention and study at some level. This course is a mind-training course. Good students assign study periods for themselves. However, since this obvious step has not occurred to you, and since we are cooperating in this, I will make the obvious assignment now.
It is interesting that during the early months of the dictation, Jesus was repeatedly urging Helen and William Thetford, her partner in the scribing, to " study these notes." After a brief digression, Jesus continued:
The next part of this course rests too heavily on the earlier part not to require its study ... as you study the notes, you will see some of the obvious implications [of what will come later on] (quoted in Absence from Felicity: The Story of Helen Schucman and Her Scribing of A Course in Miracles, pp. 258f).
We can therefore see how progress in the Course as a spiritual path rests heavily on the study and learning of its thought system.
Plato left us with a term that best characterizes the goal of any true educational system: anamnesis, which means recalling to mind, or remembering. In other words, education-which literally means to lead out of-has as its purpose remembering what we forgot (the Holy Spirit's truth), and forgetting what we remembered (the ego's illusions) (e.g., T-5.II.6:1; T-7.II.6:1-5). The process of education, therefore, helps lead students (whether of Socrates and Plato, or of A Course in Miracles) out of the darkness of ignorance which has concealed the light of knowledge, already present within them. All who walk this earth identify with the arrogance of believing that they know what is true. The Course's purpose, as it was the purpose of the philosophy of Socrates and Plato, is to help its students unlearn the thought system of the world. Practicing this Greek ideal of coming to "know thyself" by recognizing what one does not know, allows the Holy Spirit's thought system-a Wisdom not our own (W-pI.135.11:2)-to be "remembered." This experience then inevitably becomes the basis for one's activity in the world.
Jesus' pedagogical method in his Course is to present systematically the components of the ego's specialness, so that his students may become aware of the intrinsic nature of the ego's thought system. Students of the Course are constantly being encouraged to look at the ego with him without guilt or fear, recognize the tremendous cost of choosing against his love and peace, and thus finally be able to let it go. If students so choose, their thinking can therefore be continually exposed to the truth of the Course's teachings, thereby allowing the darkness in their minds to be brought to the light. And all this in the Socratic and Platonic spirit of challenging students to rethink their assumptions and to question their beliefs. As the text states, for example:
To learn this course requires willingness to question every value that you hold. Not one can be kept hidden and obscure but it will jeopardize your learning (T-24.in.2:1-2).
Repeatedly, students of A Course in Miracles are asked to question all of their thinking, including even that of relating to the Course itself (W-pI.189.7:5), so that they might allow the greater Wisdom of the Holy Spirit to infuse their thoughts. This questioning aspect of the Course's process can also be seen in the following excerpt from the workbook:
You will not question what you have already defined. And the purpose of these exercises is to ask questions and receive the answers (W-pI.28.4:1-2).
And finally, near the end of the text comes a statement "that the world is more afraid to hear" than any other, a statement that summarizes the Course's goal of undoing our learning, so that the Holy Spirit's truth can dawn within our minds:
I do not know the thing I am, and therefore do not know what I am doing, where I am, or how to look upon the world or on myself.
Yet in this learning is salvation born. And what you are will tell you of Itself (T-31.V.17:7-9).
Thus we can state that the purpose of having a text as part of the curriculum of A Course in Miracles is that its ideas be studied and properly understood. Everything that is done at the Foundation for A Course in Miracles has as its aim to help students of the Course better understand intellectually what the Course truly teaches, so that its principles of forgiveness may be better infused and integrated into their lives. Without first being able to identify and understand the role that the distorted thinking of separation, specialness, and attack plays in their minds, students can never choose the Holy Spirit's thoughts of unity, forgiveness, and love that enable them to remember their true relationship with God. It was to express this purpose that several years ago we wrote, as part of our vision of the Foundation:
In our early years of studying the Course, as well as teaching and applying its principles in our respective professions of psychotherapy, and teaching and school administration, it seemed evident that this was not the simplest of thought systems to understand. This was so not only in the intellectual grasp of its teachings, but perhaps even more importantly in the application of these teachings to one's personal life. Thus, it appeared to us from the beginning that the Course lent itself to teaching, parallel to the ongoing teachings of the Holy Spirit in the daily opportunities within our relationships, that the manual discusses in its early pages....
The Center's principal purpose has always been to help students of A Course in Miracles deepen their understanding of its thought system, conceptually and experientially, so that they may be more effective instruments of Jesus' teaching in their own particular lives. Since teaching forgiveness without experiencing it is empty, one of the Center's specific goals is to help facilitate the process whereby people may be better able to know that their own sins are forgiven and that they are truly loved by God. Thus is the Holy Spirit able to extend His Love through them to others.
This relationship between intellectually understanding the Course's thought system of forgiveness and healing, and experiencing it is seen in this remarkable passage from the text in which Jesus introduces "The Laws of Healing," a section that presents a summary of the Course's teachings:
This is A Course in Miracles. As such, the laws of healing must be understood before the purpose of the course can be accomplished. Let us review the principles that we have covered, and arrange them in a way that summarizes all that must occur for healing to be possible. For when it once is possible it must occur (T-26.VII.1:1-4).
A parallel passage is found in the workbook, also dealing with sickness and healing:
No one can heal unless he understands what purpose sickness seems to serve. For then he understands as well its purpose has no meaning. Being causeless and without a meaningful intent of any kind, it cannot be at all. When this is seen [i.e., understood], healing is automatic (W-pI.136.1:1-4).
As we proceed through the life-long process of intellectually mastering the Course's thought system, we automatically integrate it and are healed. The unified curriculum that is indeed the heart of A Course in Miracles-text, workbook, and manual-carries within itself all that is needed to help its students heal their separation from God and accept the Holy Spirit's Atonement lessons for themselves (T-2.V.5:1).
We live in a society where there has existed for some time a creeping anti-intellectualism, which these days seems to flare out in the open more and more in political, social, and educational arenas, not to mention religious ones. When this anti-intellectual prejudice assumes a spiritual form, one finds an undue emphasis placed upon experience, with a subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle criticism made against the intellect.
Students of A Course in Miracles have certainly not been exempt from this attitude, and we find in many Course circles a depreciation of the need to understand the Course's principles, with claims that all one needs is an experience or a simple prayer to the Holy Spirit. Techniques are often borrowed from disciplines outside the Course curriculum and employed to "augment" the Course. These include various forms of meditative, psychotherapeutic, and behavioral activities. Group experiences that focus on physical "joining" frequently become the substitute for the individual's true joining with Jesus, a union which contains within itself the experience of unity with the entire Sonship. When this relationship is properly understood, external joining as a focus becomes irrelevant, as students come to know that in Jesus they are already joined with all people, whether or not they are students of A Course in Miracles. In an inspiring passage, Jesus writes of this union:
There is no separation of God and His creation. You will realize this when you understand that there is no separation between your will and mine .... As we unite, we unite with Him. Glory be to the union of God and His holy Sons! All glory lies in them because they are united .... We are the joint will of the Sonship, whose wholeness is for all. We begin the journey back by setting out together, and gather in our brothers as we continue together (T-8.V.2:8-9; 3:4-6; T-8.VI.1:1-2).
What is frequently not recognized in these oft well-intentioned attempts is the ego's denial of the Wisdom of God (here represented by Jesus and his Course) in the wrong-minded attempt to do Jesus one better. It is thus forgotten, as has already been stated, that A Course in Miracles contains within itself the entirety of the curriculum, and that therefore nothing else is required or truly needed.
It is certainly not a sin to combine the Course with any technique. practice, or teaching that a student finds helpful, but it is a mistake to deny the arrogance involved in believing that what is added is actually part of A Course in Miracles, or is supplying a lack inherent in the Course curriculum. Magic, as the Course explains (T-2.IV.4:1-10), is not evil, but it becomes an error when the specific forms of magic are confused with the miracle. The experience of God's Love, which is the ultimate goal of any student of A Course in Miracles, is attained through the thoughtful and dedicated study of the text, and the faithful practice of the daily workbook lessons. To state the point still once again: nothing else is needed. As Bill Thetford used to say, seriously but with a smile on his face: "If it is not in the workbook, don't do it."
The Foundation's Center has therefore been specifically designed to assist students of A Course in Miracles in pursuing the aims of both the theoretical text and the practical workbook. The various workshops, seminars, and classes have had, and will continue to have as their goal the clarification and discussion of the teachings of the Course, while the quiet and meditative setting of the Center provides support for the personal times of reflection wherein students may further integrate these teachings into their personal lives.
From the beginning of the Foundation in 1983, as reflected in our earlier quoted vision statement, we have conceived of the Center as a school, and so now we are taking the Center one step further by establishing an academy of learning as an aid and reinforcement to students' study of A Course in Miracles. The specifics of the Academy's program, which will begin in April 1993, will be announced in a future newsletter. Our plans are to have semesters of different lengths to accommodate the scheduling needs of students. Moreover, we have established a separate area for a library, which now has an expanded collection of spiritual, philosophical, and psychological books, and in which there will be areas for study and completion of classroom assignments. Video and audio tapes will also be utilized in the programs of the Academy.
It is our hope that the Academy of the Foundation will help develop students' understanding of the Course's principles of forgiveness, that they, as with students in Plato's Academy, may return to their everyday life situations with a deeper appreciation for the difference between appearance and reality, illusion and truth. And as their understanding of A Course in Miracles deepens, students will increasingly be able to integrate the loving message of Jesus into their lives, so that from his love, this message would then be communicated to the world. As he states in the Course:
For this alone I need; that you will hear the words I speak, and give them to the world. You are my voice, my eyes, my feet, my hands through which I save the world (W.pI.rV.9:2-3).
It is to help students of A Course in Miracles prepare to be Jesus' teachers in the world that our Academy is dedicated.