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The Metaphysics of Forgiveness: The Spiritual Practice of “A Course in Miracles”

  • February 1, 2020

Dr. Kenneth Wapnick

The Metaphysics of Forgiveness:
The Spiritual Practice of "A Course in Miracles"[1]

A Course in Miracles, a twentieth-century scribed work, is a confluence of Eastern and Western thought. It combines a non-dualistic metaphysics, similar to many of the higher teachings of Vedanta and Buddhism, with a sophisticated psychodynamic understanding of human behavior, all presented within a linguistic Christian framework. Such a framework, however, is purely on the level of language, as the Course’s teachings present an entirely different perspective on Jesus and his message from the two-thousand-year-old tradition. Stated another way, A Course in Miracles integrates a lofty transcendental view of reality with practical guidelines as to how, despite the world’s illusory nature, one lives here attentively and kindly, mindful of the need to practice forgiveness in all relationships.

A difficulty inherent in any student’s practice of a spirituality based on non-dualistic principles is the temptation of denial. Confronted by the problems intrinsic to existence here in the body, an otherwise sincere spiritual aspirant may find it quite attractive to offer a spiritual rationalization for world-avoidance in words such as these: What difference does it make—it is all an illusion anyway. A major purpose of this article, therefore, is to discuss how forgiveness integrates an ontological non-dualism with life in a dualistic world in such a way that non-dualistic reality is not compromised, at the same time our experiences here in the world are respected and used as means to reach our desired end. Forgiveness therefore is the key that unlocks the door that leads us beyond this world to our true Home, enabling us to remember the Oneness in which we were created, and in which is found the reality of our true Self.

Thus we can avoid the seductive attraction of not looking at our problems, magically hoping that they will have somehow been removed from us without our having to do the work of making the deliberate choice to expose their darkness to the light of truth. Moreover, A Course in Miracles helps explain why well-meaning spiritual aspirants so often end up practicing their spirituality in ways that reflect separation and judgment, the very characteristics their goal of oneness with creation and Creator would transcend. Without first uncovering and undoing “the secret sins and hidden hates” [T-31.VIII.9:2] buried in the unconscious mind, these obstacles to love and peace would inevitably manifest as judgment and persecution through the dynamic of projection. In this way we are able to blame others for what we have secretly accused ourselves of having done: separating from love. Thus the Course emphasizes right at the beginning: "The course does not aim at teaching the meaning of love, for that is beyond what can be taught. It does aim, however, at removing the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence, which is your natural inheritance" [T-in.1:6-7; italics omitted].

The spiritual practice of forgiveness, as seen in A Course in Miracles, has its underpinning in the metaphysical principle that states that the entire physical universe is an illusion, a dream that had its origin “as an attack on God” [W-pII.3.2:1]. The locus of the dream is the non-spatial, non-temporal, and non-material mind, which in the Course is distinctly separate from the brain, an organ of the body. It is this mind, split off from the Mind that remains as God created it—perfect, eternal, and forever at one with its Source—that first appeared to harbor the thought of separation from God. This thought quickly metamorphosed into a thought system of sin, guilt, and fear—the core of the false self, called ego in A Course in Miracleswhich then needed to be denied to offset the terrifying belief in retributive annihilation. The guilt is then projected as a further defense against confronting it.

The ego thus develops a two-tiered system of defenses: guilt defending against the love of God, and the physical world defending against the guilt. This protects the ego from the mind’s ever deciding against it through our choosing the Holy Spirit’s thought system of love and oneness in its place. This quasi-foolproof system works as long as the guilt remains buried in our minds, protected by the world and our very palpable experiences within it. Indeed, A Course in -Miracles emphasizes that the ego-mind made the body for the specific purpose of witnessing to the seeming reality of the illusory world, thus keeping guilt hidden and protected through repression and projection. The end result of this elaborate set of defenses is the state of mindlessness that constitutes our lives as bodies within a physical universe that is devoid of mind and spirit.

This double shield of oblivion [W-pI.136.5:2], then, as the Course refers to the ego’s system of defenses against the truth, must be set aside if we are ever to attain our spiritual goal. Forgiveness is the name A Course in Miracles gives to the process of undoing the ego’s system of defenses. It is essentially the reversal of projection, bringing back within our minds the guilt we had sought to see outside ourselves and attacked in another. The rationale for our choosing forgiveness is simple: we forgive so that we would feel better. Here is why: as long as the guilt remains hidden in our minds, it is not accessible. Thus it forever remains a secret impediment to our spiritual progress, which can never truly occur as long as the thought of guilt, born out of the belief in the sin of separation and nourished by the fear of punishment, remains as the ego’s principal defense against our remembering the love of God that we both have and are.

We can thus see our spiritual practice as being very simple: we are asked to keep an ever-vigilant eye for all our projections. Under the guidance of our Inner Teacher—in A Course in Miracles this is Jesus or the Holy Spirit—we use each and every day, each and every experience, each and every relationship, as a classroom in which we seek to learn how to forgive; to shift our belief from separate interests to the shared interests of forgiveness that unites us all within the larger dream of separation. This is what the three-step process essentially entails:

1) We begin by recognizing that the source of our distress is ultimately within ourselves, and that the responsibility for our unhappiness cannot be placed on anyone or anything that is outside our minds. Thus, we basically reverse the direction that was taken by our mind’s projection: bringing the guilt back within that we had sought to place without, wherein we sought to make others guilty, having our secret sins rest on them instead of looking at these beliefs within our own minds.

2) When the guilt has been brought back to its origin in our minds, we can exercise the power of our mind’s decision-making ability to change the perception of our self. This shift from the ego’s (or false self’s) image of ourselves as the “home of evil, darkness and sin” [W‑pI.93.1:1], to a self that abides in “light and joy and peace” [W‑pI.93] is what A Course in Miracles refers to as the miracle, the reason for the title of this spiritual text.

3) Once the darkness of our ego’s thought system has been brought to the light of the Holy Spirit—the memory of God’s love that we brought with us into the dream of separation when we first fell asleep—it is gone, just as the darkness of the room disappears once a light is turned on. Or, in the perceptive words of the first letter of John: “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

A Course in Miracles succinctly summarizes the process of forgiveness this way, speaking of undoing the cause of the world. “This change requires, first, that the cause be identified and then let go, so that it can be replaced. The first two steps in this process require your cooperation. The final one does not” [W-pI.23.5:2-4].

In this process it is evident that the decision for guilt—the real problem—would forever remain buried in our unconscious minds were it not for the opportunities that the external world—the original projection of the separation thought —provides. Thus, even though the world was originally made to serve the purpose of separation and fragmentation, it can yet be used as a classroom in which we learn the lessons of forgiveness through which we return to our original and ever-constant state of oneness as creations of God. It is by observing our reactions to the phenomenal world around us, as vicious and hateful [e.g. T-27.VIII.10:6] as it may be, that we gain a window into the underlying thoughts that gave rise to them. As A Course in Miracles teaches: [The world is an] “outside picture of an inward condition. …  And you will see the witness to the choice you made, and learn from this to recognize which one you chose” [T-21.in.1:5; 2:6].

In this manner, the ego’s defenses of denial and projection are turned into instruments of healing our minds. Meant to keep God away, they now become the means of our return to Him. The world, conceived in sin, has now become transformed—in Freud’s happy phrase—into the royal road that leads out of the ego’s hell back to the Heaven we never truly left. Its function complete, the world’s illusory nature disappears back “into the nothingness from which it came” [M-13.1:2].

In light of the message of A Course in Miracles, we can better understand the purpose of Jesus’ appearance in the world two thousand years ago. Unlike the salvation story told in the gospel narratives, Jesus “came” to us as a voice and light from outside the world’s dream of separation, bodies, and death, calling us to return to that light. A Course in Miracles helps us better to understand that call as the call to forgive: to return the world to its maker, the mind that conceived it in fear and hate, yet now can learn to perceive it through the eyes of kindness and love. Thus does Jesus become the teacher and guide who gently leads us through the world to the ego mind, which, forgiven, simply fades away as we remember our home in the Mind of God that we never truly left. And so we can say at last to the illusory world a sincere Thank You: “no longer [are you] our enemy, for we have chosen that we be [your] friend” [W-pI.194.9:6].

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[1] NECTAR Vol. 3 No. 2, Spring 2002.