I want to borrow a phrase from Buddhism – borrow and modify, really: Buddha-nature. I’ve always liked that phrase because it implies that what is inherent in the Buddha is inherent in us. I am going to modify it (I am hardly the first to do this!) by inserting “Christ” in the place of Buddha. And then I am going to suggest that the concept and practice of forgiveness contemplated by A Course in Miracles is not an activity related to the righting of wrongs, but rather the capacity to perceive Christ-nature in all our brothers and sisters, and thus in ourselves.
What appeals to me about Christ-nature is that is ends the obsession with the historical Jesus and, by locating the Christ in our own nature, makes clear that what was holy about Jesus remains a viable potential in our own self. In other words, to perceive our Christ-nature is to effectively end the separation. That which is holy and that which we are becomes one even if – as is likely the case – we are still not convinced of the union.
It is hard to follow Jesus – as I profess to do – and not enter the rabbit hole of history. Who was Jesus? What did he really say and teach? This is the perennial problem for any Christian community, be it orthodox or new age. We are like Thomas in a sense, forever longing to place our hand in his wounds, the better to believe.
Yet I have come to understand that the historical Jesus – as fun and interesting as tracking him can be – is a bit of a fool’s game. I say that carefully, as many men and women I deeply admire and in some cases love have devoted their lives to this project. At the same time, one appreciates the Buddhist adage: if you meet the Buddha on the road kill him. I am mixing theological metaphors a bit here – with apologies to all – but the point remains. If there is any meaning at all to the reality of Christ nature, then it must mean that the historical Jesus is somewhat superfluous to the experience of it.
It is worth keeping in mind an early statement by Jesus in the ACIM text: “I have stressed that awe is not an appropriate reaction to me because of our inherent equality (T-1.VII.5:6).”
When we allow our focus to shift from a past Jesus to a present experience of Christ, we are better able to appreciate what A Course in Miracles is getting at when it urges us to remember that forgiveness is our function (W-pI.62) and that forgiveness is “the answer to our search for peace (W-pI.121.1:1).
We are deeply invested in the idea that forgiveness is an action that we take in relation to the action of another. You step on my toe and I forgive you. Even after we begin to appreciate that the Course offers a new understanding of forgiveness that is unrelated to righting wrongs, we still cling to that old idea. The proof – for most of us anyway – is that we tend to extend forgiveness only to people that we don’t like or who trouble us in some way. We don’t “forgive” our children or our best friends or the nice man who stopped for us while we were crossing the street. We love them so we don’t have to forgive them.
But lesson 121 upends that idea. It specifically asks that we “forgive” both an enemy and a friend, the better to learn that “giving and receiving are the same (W-pI.121.9:1).” And rather than focus on what we find irritating (or enraging) and helpful (or loving) about this “friend” and this “enemy,” we are simply trying to see a light in both of them. It suggests in regard to our so-called enemy:
Try to perceive some light in him somewhere; a little gleam which you had never noticed. Try to find some spark of brightness shining through the ugly picture that you hold of him. Look at this picture till you see a light somewhere within it, and then try to let this light extend until it covers him, and makes the picture beautiful and good (W-pI.121.11:2-4).
And then we are called to transform that light to our friend.
That light that we are searching for is Christ nature. When we can see it in the one that we despise and know that it is no different than the one we see in the one we call brother or sister, then we know that the light is impersonal and that it shines in all of us. How hard it is to accept that it is in us as well? This lesson can be the foundation of our forgiveness practice – the attempt to perceive in everyone we meet the light of the Christ. Our focus is not on what people do or don’t do. We aren’t interested in that anymore. Instead, we are looking for the light in them.
What are the fruits of this practice, of seeing in friends and enemies alike the same Christ nature that abides in us?
Now are you one with them, and they with you. Now you have been forgiven by yourself (W-pI.121.13:2-3).