Click on an excerpt, audio or video tab to open.
Click on an excerpt, audio
or video tab to open.
Best Viewed in Landscape
… from the point of view of the Son’s deluded mind, it did appear as if the impossible had occurred and that this thought of separation had “become a serious idea, and possible of both accomplishment and real effects” (T-27.VIII.6:3). And what were these impossible and unthinkable effects?
This is the anti-Christ; the strange idea there is a power past omnipotence, a place beyond the infinite, a time transcending the eternal. 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. Here the deathless come to die, the all‑encompassing to suffer loss, the timeless to be made the slaves of time. Here does the changeless change; the peace of God, forever given to all living things, give way to chaos. 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 (T-29.VIII. 6:2‑6).
There remains, however, the most basic question anyone could ask at this point, and a book presenting the complete thought system of A Course in Miracles would be remiss if it did not address it. The basic question is this, which I state in different forms: How could such a thought of self-creation, independent of our true Creator and Source, ever possibly have arisen? How could the perfect and awake Son of God ever have fallen into a sleep of imperfection? How, in fact, could the separation have occurred at all? Unless my memory fails me, my wife Gloria and I—together or separately—have not conducted a class or workshop on A Course in Miracles where someone has not asked this question. Even further, the question is hardly new. It has been expressed by philosophers many times over, and has actually been a very specific concern for all Platonists in one way or another throughout their long and illustrious tradition. For example, in the Gnostic writings, many of which fall within the Platonic philosophical line of inquiry, we find two expressions of these concerns. The first comes from the non-Christian Gnostic text “Zostrianos,” probably dating from the 2nd century, where the protagonist asks:
Now concerning Existence: How do those who exist, who are from the aeon of those who exist, come from an invisible spirit and from the undivided self-begotten?… What is the place of that one there? What is his origin?… How has Existence which does not exist appeared in an existing power?
I [Zostrianos] was pondering these matters in order to understand them. I kept bringing them up daily to the god of my fathers according to the custom of my race…(quoted in Love Does Not Condemn, First Edition, p. 417).
However, this god, as well as other celestial revelatory beings mentioned in the treatise, does not provide a real answer.
The second example comes from the literature of the Mandeans, another Gnostic group whose incredible history actually spans the 1st century to the present day. The same question is also posed, again without answer:
Since you, Life, were there, how did darkness come into being there?… how did imperfection and deficiency come into being? (quoted in Love Does Not Condemn, First Edition, p. 417)
While these are perfectly logical questions to ask, they are nonetheless spurious ones, as Jesus points out in A Course in Miracles. In fact, he addresses the issue in two places. In the text Jesus states, in what was originally a response to a question posed by William Thetford as Helen was taking down the Course: “It is reasonable to ask how the mind could ever have made the ego” (T-4.II.1:1), and then provides a very practical explanation:
There is, however, no point in giving an answer in terms of the past because the past does not matter, and history would not exist if the same errors were not being repeated in the present (T-4.II.1:3).
In other words, why should we persist in wondering how the ego occurred in the past, when we are still choosing it in the present? In the Introduction to the clarification of terms, we find a more penetrating answer to the ego’s question about its own origins:
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 (C-in.4).
Who asks you to define the ego and explain how it arose can be but he who thinks it real, and seeks by definition to ensure that its illusive nature is concealed behind the words that seem to make it so.
There is no definition for a lie that serves to make it true (C‑2.2:5–3:1).
Restated, A Course in Miracles’ argument is that once we ask how the impossible (the ego) happened, we are really affirming that the ego did happen, duality is coexistent with non-duality, or even that non-duality does not exist at all. Otherwise we could not even think to ask such a question. Thus we are making a statement, not really asking a question at all, as Jesus instructs us in the text:
The world can only ask a double question. One with many answers can have no answers. None of them will do. It does not ask a question to be answered, but only to restate its point of view.
All questions asked within this world are but a way of looking, not a question asked.…
A pseudo-question has no answer. It dictates the answer even as it asks. Thus is all questioning within the world a form of propaganda for itself. Just as the body’s witnesses are but the senses from within itself, so are the answers to the questions of the world contained within the questions that are asked. Where answers represent the questions, they add nothing new and nothing has been learned (T‑27.IV.3:5–4:1; 5:1-5; italics mine).
It must, then, be only the ego—now apart from God—that would ever pose such a question-statement. This question-statement thus reflects the crux of the God-world paradox, for it appears to make both aspects equally real: the true Creator God and His Heaven, as well as the illusory ego and its miscreated world. By denying the reality of the world (once it is understood to be a miscreated dream), the paradox disappears since what does not exist cannot be held antithetical to what does:
The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite (T-in.1:8; italics omitted).
In other words, once one has had an experience of God’s non-dualistic Love, the inherently dualistic question—ultimately borne of fear or ignorance—could never be asked. This again is what is meant in the above quotation about seeking only the experience of truth, without allowing the defensive nature of theological inquiry to delay the achievement of one’s true goal.
Thus, the issue of how the thought of separation arose (and later, how the separated world arose as a defense against God) is itself unresolvable and beyond comprehension; the ego is unable to understand a reality beyond itself. And so we can understand why no non-dualistic metaphysical system can provide an intellectually satisfying answer to this pseudo-question: even to attempt an answer is to give the ego a reality it does not have. It is similar to the famous question asked by comedians of an earlier generation: “When did you stop beating your wife?” Simply trying to answer the question implicates the comedian’s target in the illusory spousal attack. The truth can only be ascertained by denying the legitimacy of the question in the first place.
One of the best expressions I know of how to approach this pseudo-question comes from an Eastern source, related to me by a friend, in which the spiritual teacher Kirpal Singh taught: “When caught in a burning building, you do not worry about how the fire began; you simply get out as quickly as possible.” Since one of A Course in Miracles’ claims for itself is that it will save its students time, this seems to be the most practical and helpful response to our famous question.
The great 3rd-century Neoplatonist philosopher Plotinus, who had no use for either Christians or Gnostics as his profound Platonic spirituality was without form or ritual, provided us with a telling criticism of the Gnostics’ “spiritual specialness.” In the second book of his Enneads, he addresses those Gnostics who managed to talk themselves and others into believing that they were better than all other people, including the gods (the greater cosmos) themselves, and the gods’ creation, “the blessed Soul”:
But stupid men believe this sort of talk as soon as they hear “you shall be better than all, not only men, but gods”—for there is a great deal of arrogance among men—and the man who was once meek and modest, an ordinary private person, if he hears “you are the son of God, and the others whom you used to admire are not, nor the beings they venerate according to the tradition received from their fathers; but you are better than the heaven without having taken any trouble to become so”—then are other people really going to join in the chorus? It is just as if, in a great crowd of people who did not know how to count, someone who did not know how to count heard that he was a thousand cubits tall; what would happen if he thought he was a thousand cubits, and heard that the others were five cubits? He would only imagine that the “thousand” was a big number (Enneads.II.9.9).
What Plotinus is describing is the common occurrence of the blind leading the blind. If you have no standards by which to judge another’s “revelatory” proclamations and claims, then you accept anything if it feeds your special needs that others be special, which then automatically makes you special for simply being in their special presence. Not only that, the persons making the special claims for themselves usually end up believing in their “truth,” because they now receive validation from others, the culmination of this very circular process. To state it again, having been told by those around them that they, the special ones, are spiritual giants (“a thousand cubits tall”) and above the others (who are only “five cubits”), the audience accepts this and reinforces it in the proclaimers. Thus, a vicious circle of deception is set up that becomes extremely difficult to break, for the reinforcement of the specialness is so very strong. As we shall see presently, one can observe this phenomenon of spiritual specialness in many students and followers of A Course in Miracles.
While what we are calling “spiritual specialness” appears in the members of almost all spiritual or religious movements, very often it is inherent in the theologies themselves of these religions. This usually comes in the form of believing that the group or Church members have been singled out by God or the Holy Spirit to perform some holy function that will benefit humanity and contribute towards the saving of the world. Visitations by God (or His agents), special writings that have been “given,” divinely inspired messages about one’s mission, are only three of the many and varied justifications people give for the satisfaction of their ego’s specialness. Once specialness has been made an inherent part of any theology or spirituality, spiritual specialness among its followers is not only reasonable and understandable, but logically inevitable as well.
However, such intrinsic specialness is clearly not the case with the teachings of A Course in Miracles, the whole message of which specifically addresses the ego’s investment in specialness, differences, and exclusion. Inherent, then, within the Course’s theology is the correction of the form of the ego’s thought system we have been calling spiritual specialness. Nonetheless, many of the Course’s students have not entirely escaped this subtle trap. The battlefield that usually ends up as the home of religious and spiritual movements—both within the movement itself, as well as between itself and other spiritualities—is also finding its way into the “community” that is already beginning to sprout up around the Course. Thus students of A Course in Miracles often confuse form with content, and forget Jesus’ earlier cited statements that “All my brothers are special” (T-1.V.3:6), and that the Course is only one path among “many thousands” (M-1.4:2).
This is certainly not to say that students should not join with each other in groups and events in what are authentic experiences that reflect forgiveness; nor that people should not feel the presence of Jesus or the Holy Spirit, and that these abstract and non-specific experiences cannot be meaningfully translated by the mind to specifics. Helen’s experiences of Jesus and the scribing of A Course in Miracles certainly attest to the legitimacy of that phenomenon. But it does say that the ego can very easily jump into what could otherwise be valid experiences of forgiveness or of Jesus, and then turn them into something special and important. They then join together as if they were a group unto themselves, part of a distinctive family or network, this groupiness somehow making them and the Course itself special. And it is these distortions, born of the ego’s really joining with itself, that need to be understood and addressed, lest one’s spiritual progress be sidetracked or even aborted.
The mistake, of course, lies in failing to realize that what truly unites people as a family is their common Source, which is only of spirit. Our worldly families—biological, marital, ethnic, religious, local community, country, sports allegiances, etc.—are nothing more than classes we have chosen to attend, in which we hope ultimately— through turning to Jesus as our inner teacher instead of the ego—to learn that there is in truth but one Family: Christ. Contrasting our worldly names with the one true Name, which we share with God our Creator, Jesus states in the workbook Lesson “The Name of God is my inheritance,” a passage from which I have extensively quoted in Chapter Three:
You live by symbols. You have made up names for everything you see. Each one becomes a separate entity, identified by its own name. By this you carve it out of unity. By this you designate its special attributes, and set it off from other things by emphasizing space surrounding it. This space you lay between all things to which you give a different name; all happenings in terms of place and time; all bodies which are greeted by a name.
Rather, we are asked to
accept the Name for all reality, and realize the many names…[we] gave its aspects have distorted what…[we] see, but have not interfered with truth at all. One Name we bring into our practicing. One Name we use to unify our sight.
And though we use a different name for each awareness of an aspect of God’s Son, we understand that they have but one Name, Which He has given them.
And so we pray:
Father, our Name is Yours. In It we are united with all living things, and You Who are their one Creator. What we made and call by many different names is but a shadow we have tried to cast across Your Own reality.… Your Name unites us in the oneness which is our inheritance and peace. Amen. (W-pI.184.1; 13:3–14:1; 15:1-3,8-9; italics omitted).
…One of the most important themes in Notes from Underground is the underground man’s rantings and ravings about how insane this world is, a world where 2 + 2 = 4. Dostoevsky was attempting to say that staying with reason and rationality is a way of imprisoning us, denying us our true freedom. In that sense, again, the underground man was the first existential hero,  certainly in modern literature. The influence of this book, again, was extraordinary.
The excerpt  that follow give an idea of how often Dostoevsky talks about two times two makes four (see Note below), which for him was a symbol of the world’s laws. He deplores these laws and how rigidly they keep us in check and deny our creativity and feelings. In these excerpts the underground man has been speaking about the laws of nature, the conclusions of the natural sciences and mathematics. Then he says:
You’ve got to take it [the world] as it is. There’s nothing else to do, because two times two is mathematics. Go argue with that.
He continues sarcastically.
“For goodness sakes,” they’ll yell at you. “You can’t rebel. This is two times two makes four. Nature doesn’t ask your approval. She doesn’t care about your desires and whether you like her laws or not. You have to take her as she is and consequently all her conclusions as well. A wall, then, is a wall,” [etc., etc.] Good Lord! What do I care about the laws of nature and arithmetic? If for some reason, I do not like these laws and this two times two makes four, of course I won’t ram through such a law with my head if I really do not have the strength to ram through it. But I will not submit just because I have a stone wall before me and I do not have enough strength.
In other words, our “hero” is telling the world, “Don’t tell me what I can do and what I can’t do. Even if there is a stone wall, I still have freedom.”
As if such a stone wall really were any solace and really did contain the slightest word of conciliation. For the one and only reason that it represents, two times two makes four. All absurdity of all absurdities.
A few pages later:
You shout at me that, after all, no one is divesting me of my will. The only concern here is to arrange things somehow so that my will, all by itself, would of its own will, coincide with my normal advantages, with the laws of nature and with arithmetic.
Namely, that I be a good boy and do what the world says.
Odd, gentlemen. What kind of will of one’s own is that going to be when things come to tables and arithmetic? When there will be only two times two makes four around? My will or not, two times two would still be four. Some free will that is.
In other words, he is saying, “How can I have freedom if the world tells me what the laws are and defines the boundaries of my existence?”
Finally, and this is probably the most important of the excerpts:
And who knows? Maybe the entire goal here on earth toward which mankind is striving consists of nothing more than this continuity of process of attainment alone. In other words, in life itself, and not actually in the goal proper, which it goes without saying cannot be anything except two times two makes four. That is, a formula. And after all, two times two makes four is already not life, gentlemen, but the beginning of death.
When we speak of how A Course in Miracles would look at this issue, we will see that the laws of this world really are laws of death, even though they seem so immutable and real.
At least man has always somehow feared this two times two makes four. And I fear it even now.
We fear it because it means our own death, the end of who we really are.
Possibly man does nothing but search for this two times two makes four, crosses oceans, gives his life in the search. But to find it, really to discover it, he is somehow afraid of that, so help me, God. After all, he senses that as soon as he finds it, there won’t be anything left to search for.
As the workbook says, “The world I see holds nothing that I want” (W-pI.128), and when I finally get what I think I want in the world, I end up realizing it is nothing. This is what we are most afraid of, and it is what Dostoevsky is saying.
There’s something uneasy about him, such a man, that can be observed when he has attained such goals. He likes the attaining, but not altogether to have attained, and that is, of course, terribly funny. In short, man is made in a comical way. But, two times two makes four is an insufferable thing. Two times two makes four is, in my opinion, nothing but an impertinence. Yes, sir. Two times two makes four looks like a dandy, struts like a cock of the walk, blocking your way, and spits.
In other words, it is really the world mocking us, which of course, is the ego in all of us mocking us by convincing us that its thought system of separation is reality, as is the world that arose from it along with its “natural” laws.
I agree that two times two makes four is a wonderful thing. But if we are to praise everything, then two times two makes five is sometimes a most delightful little thing.
The point of Dostoevsky’s book is that two times two makes five is the wonderful thing. He understood the nature of the world, that there is no hope here, and that it is arrogant to think one can do something to correct the world’s condition. That is why he eventually turned away from a political solution, even though, as we saw, he had been very attracted to it earlier in his life, and in fact wrote about it a great deal. He realized that political/social change was not the answer. Interestingly, by the way, in the last stage of his life he became a Christian, although he hated the Church, an attitude clearly depicted in the famous Grand Inquisitor scene in The Brothers Karamazov. He believed that redemption lay only in accepting the love of Jesus within—not through the traditional Church that disgusted him with its hypocrisy. Dostoevsky was emphatic in his belief that the answer to humanity’s problems lay not in the world, but rather in one’s inner life. One does not get that from Notes from Underground, however.
And so Dostoevsky pokes fun at the attempts of contemporary Russians to make the world, and Russian society especially, a better place. He was saying that all those attempts deny the underground. (One can well see why Freud admired him so much.) They are all based in one way or another on a rationality that concludes that the way things are now is how things ought to be: two times two makes four. Real freedom, Dostoevsky believed, lay in denying that equation and recognizing that nothing here works. As A Course in Miracles would tell us, everything in this world lies; perception is a lie. “Nothing so blinding as perception of form” (T-22.III.6:7), and indeed, two times two equals five.
It was not until I looked at the book again—my first reading having been close to fifty years ago—that I realized Dostoevsky actually says 2 times 2 makes 4. I have always said 2 plus (or and) 2 is (or equals) 4, so I will stay with that, even though I am going to read a brief excerpt where he says 2 times 2 makes 4. The point is clear, however.