Duality as Metaphor in A Course in Miracles
Excerpts from the Workshop held at the
Foundation for A Course in Miracles
Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.
This workshop is probably one of the most important ones I have ever done, and probably will ever do. Despite that, it was never a topic I thought I would have to present until relatively recently, because of the tremendous amount of misinterpretation that is going on regarding A Course in Miracles. And rather than this being a trend that will fade away, I don't think it will. You can already see the seeds for the kinds of misunderstandings that people are having, both in terms of their own study of the Course, certainly their application of what they study to their personal lives, and then, unfortunately, to their teaching of it. This kind of misunderstanding is due to an idea I have commented on frequently: level confusion.
Many years ago now, Gloria and I were talking about the Course, what it was, its role, etc., and Gloria said something I had never actually thought of in this way, although obviously I knew it was true. She said she felt that this course really had a hidden level to it that practically no one was aware of. Not hidden in the sense that someone was hiding it, that Jesus was deliberately trying to mislead people, or be obscuring, or to hide what the Course was saying, but that this level was hidden simply because of the tremendous amount of fear that was present in almost all students of the Course. Later we will discuss this more in terms of the fear of losing one's specialness and one's identity, and what exactly that means. Because of this tremendous fear and the tremendous investment in maintaining one's identity with one's self—or what one thinks is one's self—this means almost automatically that one will never really understand these deeper levels of what the Course is talking about and what Jesus' message is.
If you do not understand this and are continually screening this out, there is no way you could understand what the Course is saying, and this is what, again, gives rise to all of these misinterpretations. The people who misinterpret and misrepresent the Course are not evil, wicked, sinful people, but most of them, unfortunately, lack what the Course is always asking of its students, and that is humility. It is the arrogance in thinking that you understand something when you do not. It takes the form in many different places of taking statements, concepts, and ideas from the Course totally out of context, and using them as ways of justifying what you really want the Course to be saying to you. This would be an example of what in the Course Jesus repeatedly speaks about: the mistake of bringing the truth to the illusion, rather than bringing our illusions to his truth.
As you know, this is the fundamental process that forgiveness or the miracle represents—that we bring our illusions to the truth of the Holy Spirit's presence in our minds. In doing that, we would finally be able to look at these illusions without judgment and without guilt, thereby letting them go. This course, however, is so fearful to everyone's ego because of what it truly is saying that what one almost inevitably does is translate the Course into the language that one can understand. The problem is that the language that one can understand is the language of specialness that preserves one's individual identity and therefore the identity of everyone else, and ultimately the seeming reality of the world.
The problem is that we do not know this is what we are doing, and we think that we are understanding and mastering the Course. We think that by teaching the Course over and over again we are going to learn it, and we are not aware that learning this course really means that we must question, as Jesus says at one point, every value that we hold (T-24.in.2:1). The most important of these values is the value of our own specialness, the value of our own identity, and believing that we are really here, when we are not here at all. This means that people who are studying A Course in Miracles so they can learn it and live it, will not be learning it at all, because they will be going in a totally different direction from where the Course is leading them.
So sincerity, in terms of our approach to the Course, is not enough. That is what Jesus means when he says, "Trust not your good intentions. They are not enough" (T-18.IV.2:1-2). What you really need, as he explains in the next line, is a little willingness (T-18.IV.2:3), and it is the little willingness to be able to admit that you were wrong and, in the end, that Jesus was right, and that what he says in A Course in Miracles is right. But to make the point still once again—and I will probably make it dozens of times in the course of this class—you will not know what he is saying, and you will not know the truth of what he is teaching because you are so frightened of what that is. What you will find yourself doing is seeing a part of the Course and not understanding its connection with the whole, because it is this deeper layer, the so-called hidden level of the Course that contains the whole. In a nutshell, and this is a point I will be elaborating on a great deal, what we are really talking about is not really understanding the difference between reality and illusion; not really understanding what non-duality means, and therefore not understanding what duality means. This whole course hinges on our recognizing what reality is and what illusion is.
Many of you are familiar with the Preface that is now found in all editions of the Course. The first two parts were written by Helen herself, and they describe how she scribed the Course and what the Course is as a series of books. The last part, "What It Says," was written by Jesus just as the Course was, and that begins with his talking about the difference between knowledge and perception, reality and illusion. This is central to understanding what this course means, and that is why we will spend a great deal of time talking about what reality is in terms of its being non-dualistic, and what illusion is as dualistic.
You may be familiar with the parable of the six blind men and the elephant: Each of them feels a different part of the elephant, and because that is what they think the elephant is, that is what they define the elephant as being. So one has one leg, one has a trunk, one has a tail, and they think this is what the elephant is. Well, this is what people do with the Course, without realizing they are doing it. They take certain parts that they resonate with because they interpret it as preserving their specialness in the guise of spirituality, and they do not realize what the whole Course is.
To use a musical example, it would be as if you took a bridge passage in a piece of music and disregarded its role as a bridge. A bridge passage is a sequence of measures or bars that link one part of a movement to another. Usually these bridge passages are not terribly important, but they do become significant in getting you from one part of the symphony to another. Those of you who know Beethoven's symphonies recognize that his greatest symphonies really constitute a unit. They are a perfectly intact whole, and these bridge passages become very important. But if all you see in the Fifth Symphony, for example, are the bridge passages and then say this is the Fifth Symphony without realizing how they fit into the whole, you will have no clue as to what Beethoven is really expressing in that Symphony.
People do the very same thing with the Course. To shift to another milieu, if you look at Shakespeare's works, his greatest tragedies have what are usually referred to as scenes of comic relief. As the tragedy builds to an inevitable end, which is filled with tension, he inserts a very comic scene. If you know Macbeth, there is the very famous drunken-porter scene, which is very funny. In Hamlet there is the graveyard diggers scene, which is very funny. If you just look at those scenes and say this is Hamlet, this is Macbeth, this is very funny, Shakespeare is being silly, or he is being stupid, or he is being a comedian, you will not realize the role that particular scene plays in the whole play, and you will miss what the play is about. That is, again, exactly what people do with A Course in Miracles.
To use a few examples of what people do with the Course: People who have an ax to grind in the sense of trying to demonstrate that one can achieve physical immortality will take sentences from the Course out of context that seem to say that, and they will say this is the proof—this is what Jesus is saying, exactly what they always knew was true. If you have an investment in proving that the Holy Spirit or Jesus is a magician who does things for you in the world, waves a magic wand like Merlin, you will prove it in terms of something in a relationship, a job, or even a check that arrives in the mail to pay for next month's mortgage. Or, when you want a parking space and you want to prove that is what the Course is about, you will find passages that will prove that to you, because there are sentences that seem to say that. If you want to prove that physical relationships are important, you will find statements in the Course that will prove that to you. Someone once took a very meaningful and beautiful section in the Course as proof that this is a course on homosexuality, and if you read it a certain way, that is what it says. If you want to prove that relationships are real in the body, then you will read this course in a way that it tells you that you forgive someone else.
We will spend a great deal of time understanding why that is an absolute impossibility, but you will not know that if you have an ax to grind, which is to prove that you are right and Jesus is wrong. But your fear of him will be so great, that rather than say he is wrong, you will say he is right because he agrees with you. It is extremely important that you approach this course with an air of humility so that you can look at it, not as if you know what it says, but because you want to learn what it says. This course will teach you what it says, and it will lead you, step by step, around and around the same material from the first miracle principle to the glorious end of the text. You will hear the same thing over and over again, and if you follow it along, month by month, year by year, decade by decade, you will be led to that deeper layer of the Course, and you will suddenly realize what it is saying. And each time you read this course, you will swear you are reading the book for the first time. But in order for that to happen, you must give up your cockiness, you must give up your arrogance, and you must say, I don't know.
The simple fact that you are in this world is proving to you how identified you are with your specialness, how identified you are with your individuality, and how sure you are that you are right. Over and over again in this course, Jesus makes it very clear that we are wrong about everything. How many times does he say to you in this course that you are insane? Every once in a while he throws you a bone and says you are no longer wholly insane. How often in this course does he refer to you as a little child who does not understand anything? In a couple of places he calls you a baby who cannot even speak the language, just as babies cannot speak the language that they are hearing. He is not putting anyone down. Obviously, he is not speaking with disdain about anyone, but he is trying to say to his students, "Please trust me and realize how you don't know anything, and let me teach you. All of your dualistic concepts of the Course are wrong."
The sentence from a passage near the end of the teachers' manual section on death says, "Teacher of God, your one assignment could be stated thus: Accept no compromise in which death plays a part" (M-27.7:1). Death is the greatest symbol of the ego thought system that we have, because that is what proves that sin is real, and that God is a punishing agent Who punishes by murder. It is the exact same thing if we were to substitute the word duality: "Teacher of God, your one assignment could be stated thus: Accept no compromise in which duality plays a part." We will spend a great deal of time talking about what duality is, and you will be surprised what it really is, and you will also then be surprised to learn what non-duality is, and therefore what reality is and what truth is. Then you will realize how, over and over again in this course, Jesus is speaking metaphorically. He is speaking about the reflection of truth, not truth itself.
As we will see in looking at many passages, he keeps telling us there is no way we could understand what truth is and therefore he must speak to us in symbols and metaphor, and about the reflection of truth. All too often what students do is they take the reflection of truth that is found in the Course and say, this is the Course in Miracles. It is about hearing the Holy Spirit's Voice. It is about finding parking spaces. It is about forgiving this person who hurt me. It is about joining with other people. If every student kept in mind this statement, accept no compromise in which duality plays a part, then these students would be able to understand what these hidden or deeper layers of the Course are all about.