ACIM and Christian Nonduality

The World is Real

Imagine you are sitting by a brook. The water is clear and clean.

A day or so later, the brook is clouded and full of trash, sluggishly working its way between muddy banks.

Then, a day or two after that, it is clear again.

In this example, the brook’s cleanliness and muddiness are both caused by something happening upstream. You do nothing but observe.

The suggestion is that before we judge the world – before we are even aware of the world – the world is real. Our senses and ideas are an observer, far downstream from “creation,” let alone the creator.

When I say the world is real, I am really saying “something precedes your experience, including the experience of awareness of experience, and for simplicity’s sake I am calling it ‘the world.'”

But Really, the World is Not Real

In A Course in Miracles “the world” is our perception of everything as both separate from us and external to us. That is the world ACIM dismisses when it argues that “there is no world” (W-pI.132.6:2). It’s more of an idea – a perceptual filter – than a physical thing (i.e., it’s more the observing than the observed).

Thus, that world – the one that appears separate from and external to us – is a matter (pun intended) of perception and belief. It’s like a reflection in a mirror: we perceive an image that we believe corresponds to what is being imaged. But it is always a reflection, with no powers or abilities of its own, and we can always be mistaken.

When we realize that world is an image, a reflection, and thus dead and not living, our interest in it as something separate from us diminishes. Our sense of it has something full of the power to make us happy or sad diminishes. Attention shifts inward. We want to gaze at the original, not the reflection.

We want life, not death.

Imagine you are looking in the mirror and you see your face – it’s kind but a little tired maybe. It shows its mileage; it’s serious but not unhappy.

If you want to get to know the one behind that appearance – that is, if you want to know yourself – you cannot talk to the mirror! Or you can, but it will get old real fast. You have to look within and (this is where A Course in Miracles can be especially helpful) you have to be in relationship with what you discover there.

A Course in Miracles insists that when we look within we will find our brother and sister(e.g., T-21.IV.8:12), and it further insists that it is only in finding them that we can awaken from the dream of separation (e.g., T-29.II.3:5-6).

So we can dismiss the world, and we can realize that we’re not bodies, but we still need each other. Whatever we are – and whatever is going on with us – we still need each other.

Nonduality in Christian Context: Abhishiktananda

This uncompromised emphasis on relationship as central to salvation reflects ACIM’s Christian roots. Nondual awakening in a Christian framework requires that we remember one another as equal members of one family. Jesus did not call us to abstract mystical union with God but rather to a dynamic relationship with one another as children of a Father in Heaven who loves us. It is in that relationship that we remember “I and the Father are one.” Hence this joyful declaration in the first letter of John.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

Richard Kearney said of Abhishiktananda, a Benedictine priest who found his spiritual home in Advaita Vedanta, that “Abhi” intuitively understood that “Christianity discovers its true self by journeying out through the other, the stranger, the outsider.”

Abhishiktanda wrote of this western Christian imperative to seeking a “true self” (so central to the ACIM curriculum (e.g. W-pII.In.9:7)):

But what makes the Christian inspiration distinct? Why this search for distinction, for identity? . . . Christianity is the discovery of myself in the other.

I can give up everything – I can lose everything – but somehow I can neither give up nor lose you, and this is the case for all my brothers and sisters, from my wife and children to strangers in Tibet, Bangladesh and Mogadishu. It is only in and through you that I can remember fully we are children – equal creations equally loved – of a loving God.

Indeed, it is only in this “not giving up” – which is to say, in being in relationship – that I can know myself. In terms of A Course in Miracles I surrender to the Will of God by accepting the Holy Spirit’s guidance to remember – as Jesus remembered – all my brothers and sisters remembering me in Christ.

Radical equality and love are one. They are Christ.

Nonduality is not Supernatural

This description of ACIM practice should not call to mind anything magical or supernatural. It merely translates the ordinary relationship in which moment by moment, day by day, year by year and lifetime by lifetime, you and I find our way together in community into a site of holiness.

Abhishiktananda again.

If Christ is the ‘only one’ for me . . . may I discover in him the glory of the Only One. And what does it matter if I discover the glory of the Only One in whatever created form there may be! For the glory of the Only One is in all one. This alone is important: that Christ should be Everything for me . . . Let every human being
be the only one for me, my everything to whom I give myself totally. In this alone I will have the experience of the Only One.

In other words, it is in relationship with one another that we discover – we remember – that which precedes both experience and awareness of experience, that which falls beyond our capacity for knowing-through-perception. It is relationship that allows us to know our “true self” – i.e., a self which transcends the world, the body, and the world’s and body’s conceptions of the self.

In relationship, we hear the fundamental “I AM” in which all else grows still and quiet. Everything from ACIM to Jesus to our life’s work is undone in it. “The discovery of Christ’s I AM,” wrote Abhishiktananda, “is the ruin of any Christian theology, for all notions are burnt within the fire of experience.”

This was an extension of his understanding that “Truth cannot be formulated.”

Christianity is neither knowledge, nor devotion, nor ethics and ritual — nor is it duty, religion (formulas, institutions). It is an explosion of the Spirit. It accepts any religious basis (jnana/bhakti/karma) to the extent necessary in each case.

We learn this when we “Forget this world, forget this course, and come with wholly empty hands unto our God” (W-pI.189.7:2-5). What does “whose kingdom is the world for you today” (T-30.I.16:8) mean then? And how shall we bring it forth?

For us, the formless truth borrows the framework of A Course in Miracles, extending the broader outlines of love that came into being in the Jesus movement that began in Galilee a couple of millenia ago. For us, it is the culmination of Jesus’ prayer that “all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (John 17:21).

It’s like we are sitting by a brook. And we’re so fixated on the brook’s appearance that we don’t realize somebody sitting next to us. And so at last we turn . . .

What do we see?

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