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Q: How do I forgive others for their horrible acts? How can I forgive the sniper? Is this not real? Is it the distraction of the ego? I also fear what is real. When I say, above all I want to see, I become terrified. I have a hard time giving up this world we created. I love some of my creations, like my family. Don’t I need to die to return to my reality? Won’t I be lonely?
A: The forgiveness the Course is teaching us is a process of looking at a situation such as the sniper killings and asking ourselves what this event is telling us about what we believe. We begin by looking honestly at our reactions to these killings which include all kinds of feelings and judgments about the victims and the victimizers. All these feelings and thoughts are useful in uncovering the hidden beliefs of the ego thought system; that the world is real, that we are bodies, that what we call death is the end of what we call “life,” that we are vulnerable to attack …the list goes on and on. The Course then asks us to recognize that all these are feelings and thoughts about ourselves that we have projected on to the victims as well as the victimizers. We are learning that the feelings/thoughts along with the pain they cause were already with us before the event took place. The event only seemed to cause the feelings. This is why the Course says we forgive our brothers for what they did not do. “Be willing to forgive the Son of God for what he did not do” (T-17.III.1,5). The snipers did not cause our feelings, our mistaken beliefs did.
If we are willing to look at any situation in this way we are beginning to question the ego’s lies. We are then in a position to ask for another way of seeing. This is sometimes very difficult to do; it takes practice and a lot of honesty, but it is the only way we can get in touch with the beliefs that are keeping us rooted in a thought system that is causing us a lot of pain. This pain is coming from believing the ego’s lies and not from the situation, in this case the killings. It is very important that we practice this without denying any of the feelings or thoughts we do have about the outrageous events in this ego world of fear and hatred and without forcing ourselves to try to accept a new belief system that challenges our usual ego perspective. This will only entrench us in our mistaken views and make us more afraid. If we are willing to just say “maybe I’m wrong about this”, then the world we’ve made and all our relationships, including those we “love,” become our classroom for learning the Holy Spirit’s interpretation of everything we experience rather than serving as a distraction. (Note: the Course uses the term made for the ego’s world. Creation refers to God’s extension of Love on the level of the Mind only.) The Course tells us the Holy Spirit will not take any of our special relationships away from us but will instead give us a different interpretation and a different purpose for them. Without them we would not be aware of the mistaken beliefs about ourselves or the judgments (whether for good or for bad) that keep us in our deep sleep. We have made ourselves afraid of what is real and that is why we have a Teacher who is inviting us to take small steps with Him toward a new way of thinking. If we do this with Jesus or the Holy Spirit by our side we will not be lonely or dead. Eventually we will fully waken from the dream with the realization that we were in fact only dreaming, with no thought or need for dying. Meanwhile each step in forgiveness brings us more peace and takes us closer to the truth where our family will include everyone and we will not experience any sense of loss.
Q: Can you please explain how and why the Course is unlike any other spiritual path? I have studied other non-dualistic teachings but seem to always come back to the Course.
A: First, let us say that by non-duality we mean that A Course in Miracles recognizes only one dimension of reality—spirit and the state of perfect oneness, what the Course refers to as the realm of knowledge. Everything else—the dualistic world of separation and perception, of form and matter, of thinking and concepts—is illusion, and thus does not really exist.
This non-dualism is what you find in the higher teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism, but rarely in the West. What makes A Course in Miracles unique as a spiritual system—ancient and contemporary—is its integration of this non-dualistic metaphysics with a sophisticated psychology, heavily based on the insights of Freud and his followers. This means essentially that at the same time that the Course teaches that the world is an illusion and is nothing but a dream, outside the Mind of God, we are urged to practice our daily lessons of forgiveness, paying careful attention to our everyday experiences here. Key to this integration is the Course’s emphasis on purpose, the introduction of which idea sets A Course in Miracles apart from other spiritual paths. The Course teaches that not only is the world an illusion, but that it is a purposive illusion; the purpose being to make a world of bodies, thoroughly focused on solving the myriad number of physical and psychological problems that beset us daily, clamoring for attention and solution. In this way the mind, the true source of our problems, is kept hidden from awareness.
In addition, A Course in Miracles is unique among spiritualities in its insistence that we look at the ego—the dark side—as the way of moving beyond to the light. Its focus, therefore, is not on the truth, but on removing our ego’s thought system of guilt, fear, and attack, which allows the light of truth to shine. As Jesus teaches in one representative passage: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all of the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. It is not necessary to seek for what is true, but it is necessary to seek for what is false” (T-16.IV.6:1-2).
Q: How does one forgive oneself? I have a pen pal in prison who is new to the Course. He is in prison for assaulting his girlfriend. He says he is learning to forgive others but not himself. He is angry and ashamed of himself for hurting her. I can see his actions as a “call for love,” a mistake to be corrected and not a sin to be punished. He no doubt was a victim who became a victimizer, and keeps reliving it now. I would tell him to let it go—”Brother, choose again.” But could I say this to myself? I have dealt with depression most of my life and guilt is a familiar companion. My ego’s accusations seem overwhelming when I do one thing wrong. I see when I project my guilt onto others and I know it’s not helpful to blame and accuse myself when I judge others. But what if I really hurt someone else in some way? I could try to make amends and move on, but I don’t think my ego would let me off the hook that easily. I seem only to be able to release myself from guilt by experiencing pain for the length of time my ego dictates. I know there has to be “another way.” Why am I kind to others and mean to myself?
To top it all off, I seek my addictions to get some relief from the pain of the guilt, and then I feel guilty for indulging in the addiction. I need a way out of this. Can we project guilt onto ourselves as well as others? I know I will come to understand why I don’t love myself and why I even hate myself at times. I am still learning. It is ironic that, as my friend in prison is trying to forgive himself, I am in my own prison trying to do the same.
A: It does seem that as we learn more and more to release others from the projections of our own guilt, we then feel stuck with the guilt ourselves. Jesus tells us that “as blame is withdrawn from without, there is a strong tendency to harbor it within” (T-11.IV.4:5). But he goes on to say, “It is difficult at first to realize that this is exactly the same thing, for there is no distinction between within and without” (4:6), and then, “Blame must be undone, not seen elsewhere” (5:3). So how do we do that?
The question you raise, “How does one forgive oneself?” is a good one, but it is actually the wrong question. Because we are still so strongly identified with our egos, we can not forgive ourselves, at least not by ourselves (i.e., on our own, which is the ego state). That is why we need Jesus or the Holy Spirit, or whatever nonjudgmental symbol of love and acceptance we feel comfortable with, to look with us at our “sins.” We need someone outside of our guilt-based thought system who knows the truth about who we really are, to whom we can give our guilt, once we have uncovered it and recognized its purpose and its cost. We believe that we are bodies that can hurt and be hurt by each other. Jesus knows we are spirit, the guiltless Son of God who is incapable of attack. We don’t believe that and in fact we don’t want to believe it, because we still want the separation and our own individuality to be real. And so the forgiveness process must involve joining with someone or something outside of ourselves, such as Jesus, who knows separation and attack and guilt are not real. We are incapable of this realization on our own, by definition.
The ego, as you are experiencing it for yourself, tells us that we need to atone for our sins through suffering and sacrifice. But that only reinforces our belief that our guilt is real and that God is a punishing God who seeks revenge for our very real sins. And all of our attempts then to gain release through expiation are just forms of magic that fail to address the real problem in the mind. We need to understand that the problem is not the guilt we believe we are experiencing for our transgressions here in the world. Those “sins” are really deliberate distractions, serving the purpose of keeping our focus here in the world, looking for magical solutions to release our guilt (e.g., making amends) or to avoid experiencing it (e.g., addictions). But these only prevent us from looking deeper into our mind to the real source of all of our pain and guilt (and everyone else’s)—the belief that we have not only separated ourselves from our loving Source, but that we have been willing to kill Him, to destroy Love, to be on our own.
However, if we can join with a reflection of that Love, such as Jesus or the Holy Spirit, and look at our self-accusations with their loving presence beside us, we will have to realize at some level that we have not destroyed love. And in that recognition, real forgiveness—for what has never happened—is possible, dissolving all guilt and releasing us from our self-imposed prison. And then whatever action or behavior, if any, may be most helpful and healing in response to our so called transgressions against others in the world will simply flow through us.
Q: I came across a really disturbing passage in A Course in Miracles that I have not found addressed anywhere on the Internet, including on your site. It comes in “The Justification for Forgiveness” (T-30.VI). The first two sentences are clear: “Anger is never justified. Attack has no foundation.” Since this world is but a delusion made by ourselves, it would be a joke to take it seriously and get annoyed over something that bothers us (yet we do!). Yet a few sentences later, it says, “You are not asked to offer pardon where attack is due and would be justified.” Isn’t that a plain contradiction to the previous sentences? And the next paragraph continues this line of thought: “You do not forgive the unforgivable, nor overlook a real attack that calls for punishment. Salvation does not lie in being asked to make unnatural responses which are inappropriate to what is real,” etc. So is attack justified or not? What does the Course include under a “real attack that calls for punishment”? I thought attack is never in line with God’s reality?
A: This probably ranks up there among the most misunderstood passages in the Course! Our egos read this as Jesus saying that there are those times when attack is justified, when the action of others is so evil that it is unforgivable, and he’s not going to ask us to offer forgiveness in those instances, for that would be unnatural and inappropriate. But Jesus’ point is just the opposite. He is correcting the world’s form of forgiveness, which he calls “false forgiveness” in the third paragraph of this section, and “forgiveness-to-destroy” in the Song of Prayer pamphlet (S-2.II).
Most of us have been brought up with the idea that, no matter how horrible and cruel an act another may have committed against us or one of our loved ones, the truly loving, Christian (if we were raised Christian) thing to do is to “forgive” the other person. It may be such a heinous act that nearly everyone agrees that some form of punishment would be only fair and just, yet the Christian thing would still be to “forgive.” But this is not the kind of “forgiveness” Jesus in the Course is asking of us—that we should forgive anyway, regardless of how unfair such a demand may feel. His point instead is that, because there is no act for which attack in response is ever due, forgiveness is therefore always justified. So, correcting what 2,000 years of Christianity has taught about forgiveness, Jesus is saying that we are never “asked to offer pardon where attack is due and would be justified,” for attack is never due and justified, regardless of our perception of the “crime.” The problem is never, Jesus asserts over our ego’s protestations, the “crime,” but our perception of it.
In other words, if you re-read these paragraphs with the understanding that Jesus is saying that seeing attack, either in others or in ourselves, is a misperception of the ego and is not real, and therefore attack in response can never be justified., then it becomes clear that Jesus is saying that forgiveness or pardon as the Course defines it—releasing judgment—is always justified. We are not asked to “overlook a real attack that calls for punishment” because there are no real attacks that could ever call for punishment when we are in our right mind. That is not to deny that people do insane things that they intend to be hurtful to others, but nevertheless it can only be my own ego-based interpretation that would lead me to perceive them as attacks against me personally. One of the clearest statements of this correction can be found in Jesus’ discussion of the crucifixion in the text:
“Assault can ultimately be made only on the body. There is little doubt that one body can assault another, and can even destroy it. Yet if destruction itself is impossible, anything that is destructible cannot be real. Its destruction, therefore, does not justify anger. To the extent to which you believe that it does, you are accepting false premises and teaching them to others. The message the crucifixion was intended to teach was that it is not necessary to perceive any form of assault in persecution, because you cannot be persecuted. If you respond with anger, you must be equating yourself with the destructible, and are therefore regarding yourself insanely” (T-6.I.4).
Jesus did not need to forgive those who crucified his body, because he was not identified with his body. And he did not see the body as himself because there was no guilt in his mind that he needed to project outside his mind to defend against it. We though who still see ourselves as bodies do need to learn to forgive. But we do not need to learn to forgive others. When we feel we are attacked, it is only because guilt is still real in our own mind, and that is where the forgiveness is truly needed. Perceiving others as attacking is only ever the result of our own projected guilt. So when we feel attacked, we need to forgive ourselves. To believe that we need to forgive others for their attacks against us makes forgiveness as the Course teaches it impossible. It is what the Course refers to as making sin real and then trying to forgive it, described beautifully in the following two paragraphs:
“The unhealed cannot pardon. For they are the witnesses that pardon is unfair. They would retain the consequences of the guilt they overlook. Yet no one can forgive a sin that he believes is real. And what has consequences must be real, because what it has done is there to see. Forgiveness is not pity, which but seeks to pardon what it thinks to be the truth. Good cannot be returned for evil, for forgiveness does not first establish sin and then forgive it. Who can say and mean, ‘My brother, you have injured me, and yet, because I am the better of the two, I pardon you my hurt.’ His pardon and your hurt cannot exist together. One denies the other and must make it false. To witness sin and yet forgive it is a paradox that reason cannot see. For it maintains what has been done to you deserves no pardon. And by giving it, you grant your brother mercy but retain the proof he is not really innocent. The sick remain accusers. They cannot forgive their brothers and themselves as well. For no one in whom true forgiveness rests can suffer. He holds not the proof of sin before his brother’s eyes. And thus he must have overlooked it and removed it from his own. Forgiveness cannot be for one and not the other. Who forgives is healed. And in his healing lies the proof that he has truly pardoned, and retains no trace of condemnation that he still would hold against himself or any living thing” (T-27.II.2,3; italics added).
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