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An Intellectual Antecedent to A Course in Miracles


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Edited transcript of video excerpt from
The World: A Bad Idea

Let me start with the world as a bad idea. The inspiration for that phrase comes from Schopenhauer, who was a great German philosopher of the 19th Century. Let me just say a few words about him as kind of an introduction to what we’ll be talking about. And I’m referring to him for two reasons: the first is that he’s another example of a very important intellectual antecedent to the Course. And as many of you know, from time to time I talk about some of these figures like Plato, Shakespeare, Schopenhauer, as I’m doing today, and then two people who were greatly influenced by Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. So his influence was really quite important. And it does help, I think, students of the Course see that there really is an intellectual context for these ideas, and that most, if not all of the ideas in the Course are really not new. What is new and unique in A Course in Miracles is the way Jesus puts all these ideas together. And we’ll see when we look at different parts of these antecedents to the Course that they’re little glimpses of the truth that come. And actually the Course is not the last word, either. There will always be more and more glimpses. And when we speak of antecedents, which is a linear concept, in truth it’s not linear. As you know, the Course’s major focus is on the mind, not the world or the body, and the mind is outside of time and space, which means there is no past, present and future in the mind. So when we speak of forerunners of the Course, for example, in truth all we’re seeing is that different aspects of the truth come through the mind of the Son and out into the world at different times, or what appear to be different times. But they’re really different ways to help us really accept what the truth is so that we can move beyond the illusion, the truth of the illusion, rather so we can move beyond the illusion to the ultimate truth.

A second reason why I think talking about Schopenhauer is useful is—as will be clear in my brief remarks about him—he was not a very nice person. And he’s another example, unfortunately among many, many thousands—of an unhealed healer. Someone who says words that are really true and are extraordinarily helpful when you recognize what their implications are, but does not provide a very good example of these truths. And that is why in the history of the world, one does not see really any profound changes, because there really are very, very, very few people who are really illustrative of the truth. Not that they just talk about the truth, but that they really are representative of the truth. So both of these aspects I’ll cover briefly now. I’ll just kind of tell you a little bit about Arthur Schopenhauer.

He was born in 1788 and he died in 1860. He spent almost all of his life in Germany. He did make a couple of trips to the wonderful country of Italy, but most of the time was in Germany. His father was a well-off merchant or business person who died when Schopenhauer was a young man, actually a boy. And he left Schopenhauer and his mother rather well off so that there was no real concern for money. Schopenhauer’s mother and he got along very, very poorly. In fact, there’s one story that they had an argument and she pushed him down the stairs. And then Schopenhauer never spoke to her again for the rest of his life…the rest of her life. And basically that’s a good characteristic of him, in terms of understanding him. He did not like people. He had a real hatred of women, except as their being sexual objects, and he didn’t like men much, either, actually. He was brilliant; he got his Ph.D. in philosophy at a relatively young age. And in effect, he really only wrote one major work, and that’s a book called “The World as Will and Representation,” and I’ll explain those terms in a minute. He had a number of other shorter works and a large number of essays. But basically he’s known for that one book. The last part of his life, he lived basically alone. He had a close relationship with his dog and that seems to be about it. There’s a story about him that kind of replicates what his mother did. The story was that some man came to call on him, to speak to him, and Schopenhauer felt the man was intruding on him and so he pushed him down the flight of stairs.

The gist of his work is his view of the world, and he was very clear that the world is not what it appears. I’m not so sure that he actually used the word illusion. He did talk about it as a dream, and there’s one wonderful passage which I’ll read to you in a little while. He saw the world as—while he would not have used the word projection, he did talk about the world as a projection of what was in the mind. And what was in the mind was the will. And when Schopenhauer talked about the world as will, he really is using the word will pretty closely to how we, as students of the Course, would talk about the decision-making part of the mind. And when he used the word representation, and the German word for that is “vorstellung,” he really meant that the world was a projection or a representation of the thought that was in the mind. And he did not think very highly of what was in the mind. He described the mind or the will as being this kind of a blind striving that was very irrational and unreasonable. He did associate it with sexual expression, and that was the aspect of his work which Freud really picked up on, was this kind of blind, unconscious striving of the will that could never be satiated. Without using the term again, Schopenhauer had a real insight into what the Course calls special relationships. That we strive mightily to find happiness and peace here and fulfillment, and when we do get what we think we want, it’s not what we really wanted, and it doesn’t satisfy us. And so we’re condemned to what the Course refers to as going on an endless and unrewarding search. And we never find the love or the happiness or the peace that we really want. But that’s man’s fate in this world, and that’s how Schopenhauer saw this world.

Let me read to you what he said. This is an essay that he wrote. It has kind of a long title. The name of the essay is “Transcendent Speculation on the Apparent Deliberateness in the Fate of the Individual.” I’ll translate that for you into German. It’s probably more—no, I’m not going to do that. What he’s talking about is he’s talking about more metaphysical explanations for what happens in the world, what happens to us. And while again I’m using the Course’s words or language and not his, what he’s clearly talking about is that we are the dreamer of the dream; the dream does not dream us. That’s what he’s talking about, in terms again—“Transcendent Speculation on the Apparent Deliberateness,” which really means design, on the apparent design, “in the Fate of the Individual.” That things are not done to us; it’s really our dream. So here’s what he says in this essay:

Now if we look back to the main result of the whole of my philosophy; namely, that what presents and maintains the phenomenon of the world is the will [Remember, when he says “will” think of mind] that also lives and strives in every individual. And if at the same time we call to mind the universally acknowledged resemblance of life to a dream, then summing up all that has been said so far, we can quite generally imagine as possible that just as everyone is the secret theatrical manager of his dreams [the secret theatrical manager of his dreams—now this is like 130 years before the Course came] so, too, by analogy, that fate that controls the actual course of our lives ultimately comes in some way from the will. [In other words, what seems to control our lives from outside is really coming from our will or our mind, and that we are the secret theatrical manager of our dreams.] This is our own, and yet here where it appears as fate, it operates from a region that lies far beyond our representing individual consciousness. [In other words, he’s really now talking about that minds are joined.] Whereas this furnishes the motives that guide our empirically knowable individual will.

That what really governs us and drives us is this joint mind. Now he continues this a couple of pages later:

One man’s fate is always in keeping with another’s, [This is similar to the famous line of John Donne, “No man is an island entire of himself.” One Man’s fate is always in keeping with another’s] and everyone is the hero of his own drama, but at the same time figures also in that of another. [In other words, we seem to have our individual dreams, but our dreams are really interconnected, because minds are joined.] All this, of course, is something that surpasses all our powers of comprehension. [As you know, many of you know, Jesus says the same thing in the Course. He says these outrageous things and then he stops and says, but you couldn’t understand what I’m saying anyway. And then one final part.] The subject of the great dream of life is in a certain sense only one thing: the will to live. And that all plurality of phenomenon [the whole perceptual world] is conditioned by time and space. It is the great dream that is dreamed by that one entity, but in such a way that all its persons dream it together.

So again, I like to kind of read things like this every once in awhile so you have a sense that the Course is not coming out of left field. It’s really coming from that same right-minded place of wisdom that is in everyone. And that same right-minded place of wisdom is outside of time and space.

One final thing about Schopenhauer. While on the one hand, he did not really see a way out, he did see some kind of way of dealing with this. And he saw that there were two models that he used. One was the artist. And he felt that the artist was able to transcend the will, which really would be like the ego’s will, and get in touch with the true will, which we more think of like the Holy Spirit or the right-minded will. And the form of art that he thought was the closest to this was music. He felt music was the purest of the arts and had the ability to lift people out of the world, which is something many of you know we’ve discussed other times here.

I also might mention that a third great figure that Schopenhauer had an influence on besides Nietzsche and Freud was Richard Wagner, the great composer, who lived at the time Schopenhauer did, and he was very much influenced by Schopenhauer philosophy. In fact, those of you who know Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal might see in there, not only the musical influence of Schopenhauer, but certainly in terms of the theme that the world was a bad idea, was a vitriol place, and that there was a way of escaping from it. And the second way of escaping from the world because what Schopenhauer said, the artist can do this temporarily, but always falls back into the world. The second way was that of the ascetic, and for this Schopenhauer was very much influenced by Buddhism. So that the whole idea of the world as a dream and not really being the reality we think not only comes from Western philosophy like Plato and Immanuel Kant, but also from the East. And so Schopenhauer said that if one could deny the world, as the life of an ascetic does—you deny yourself all the pleasures of the flesh—if you could deny the world, you would then in effect be denying the will. Because the will for Schopenhauer was bad. So again, Schopenhauer’s will is really the decision maker having chosen the ego. Again, he was a very important figure, he had a great influence, as I’ve indicated. And when you read Schopenhauer from the perspective of the Course, as you can see even from the little bit I just read to you, you’ll be astounded at the insights that this man had.