ACIM and the Perennial Philosophy

I have been lately suggesting – thinking out loud, really – that A Course in Miracles is a particular expression of the perennial philosophy that may or may not be helpful as one works their way back toward God.

In his book of the same title, Aldous Huxley defined the perennial philosophy as

the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical to, divine Reality; the ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being.

Emerson, who was familiar both with Christian and Hindu texts, had pointed in this direction in the nineteenth century. One need only give attention to nature – “which always works by short ways” – he wrote in Spiritual Laws.

A little consideration of what takes place around us every day would show us, that a higher law than that of our will regulates events; that our painful labors are unnecessary, and fruitless; that only in our easy, simple, spontaneous action are we strong, and by contenting ourselves with obedience we become divine. Belief and love, — a believing love will relieve us of a vast load of care. O my brothers, God exists. There is a soul at the centre of nature, and over the will of every man, so that none of us can wrong the universe . . . The whole course of things goes to teach us faith. We need only obey. There is guidance for each of us, and by lowly listening we shall hear the right word.

Which of course mirrors Emily Dickinson’s insistence that one need hardly go to church to observe a sabbath.

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

One who worshiped in that mode needn’t anticipate Heaven as a future event or a distant locale. It was rather, a present experience that required only recognition and acceptance. In a sense, Dickinson was saying that Heaven is God’s gift and it is continually given right now.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.

A Course in Miracles is a western phenomenon – its Platonic and Freudian antecedents merge naturally with Christian symbolism and imagery, the latter having dominated western theological and philosophical thought for most of two millenia. Nor is its timing an accident. It provides a coherent and practical response to the personal yearning for wholeness and God so endemic in our culture. Though I understand people’s frustration with new age writers like Marianne Williamson and larger-than-life personalities like Oprah Winfrey, the course truly is at home in their semantic accessibility, their cheerful confidence that we are going to succeed in our spiritual quest, and – most importantly – their inclination toward inclusiveness.

ACIM isn’t any better at seeing you into Heaven than a walk in the forest or the first Spring crocus or a long kiss at twilight. But it’s not any worse, either.

As I’ve said before, people ought to practice A Course in Miracles on the terms and conditions and with the goals and teachers that are most helpful to them. I don’t see any other way. The extent to which we’re frustrated with how others are doing it, and feel compelled to correct them – a common perception one needn’t feel ashamed of – is the extent to which we haven’t given ourselves to our own practice, as directed by the guide who knows better than we do the way home.

Efforts to wall the course off – through copyright or trademark, through intellectual bombast, through the lovelessness of “this is the only and right way home” – all miss the critical point that it’s merely another strand of light in the prismatic radiance to which we are all responding and submitting en route to joining. ACIM isn’t any better at seeing you into Heaven than a walk in the forest or the first Spring crocus or a long kiss at twilight. But it’s not any worse, either. When you see the truth of that, then you are ready for the penultimate yes.

Separation, says the author of the course, was tantamount to following a long ladder down just as awakening is our journey back up that ladder (e.g. T-28.II.12:7 and T-28.III:1:2). Lovely image! And pervasive, too . . .

Consider, for example, Sri Aurobindo’s observation about the relationship between the individual and God.

The universe and the individual are the two essential appearances into which the Unknowable descends and through which it has to be approached . . . This descent of the supreme Reality is in its nature a self-concealing; and in the descent there are successive levels, in the concealing successive veils. Necessarily, the revelation takes the form of an ascent; and necessarily also the ascent and the revelation are both progressive. For each successive level in the descent of the Divine is to man a stage in an ascension, each veil that hides the unknown God becomes for the God-lover and God-seeker an instrument of His unveiling (The Life Divine  49).

Is that a precise correlative? Hardly. Does it suggest, however, a common philosophical ground? Indeed it does.

Huxley’s point – as Emerson’s and Dickinson’s, as Aurobindo’s – was simply that one needn’t wait on knowledge of God, because such knowledge was already implicit. It was already given. All that was required  was sustained attention. Nor has that changed because it cannot change.

It is true, of course, that a yoga – some sort of method, like the workbook lessons of A Course in Miracles or zazen – can be helpful in establishing our power of attention and our understanding of how to use it. But the method is not the essence, just as a map is not the territory.

Question everything then, especially that which most resists question. We cannot fail for the simple reason that we have already succeeded. We are merely looking for confirmation of what we already know. God is real and joy abounds! The evidence is anywhere you want to find it.

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  1. Thank you for drawing all these beautiful voices together, Sean!

    About to celebrate light’s return to balance by running through my open-air cathedral…

    Happy Spring!

  2. Haha! No bluebirds today, but I did find a lost dog and mentioned it on twitter and now I’m Purina’s “Hero of the Day.”

    And you know how the old ego loves being someone’s hero! 🙂

    That aside, it was sunny, I felt good, the dog ran with me awhile and it was a very cool start to Spring….God is real and joy abounds; six words worth repeating, for sure!

    1. That’s great! Well, you deserve it. You are helping a dog. What else is there?

      It’s a gray and icy start to Spring in my neck of the woods but I’m not complaining. It increases activity at the bird feeder.

      All Heaven’s lost dogs are found . . .

  3. You get any better at this six-word stuff, and I’m going to have to tackle 20 sentences… 🙂

    Sending you a little Virginia sunshine…

  4. Hi Sean,

    Roger Walsh, who is a course student and who also partnered up with Frances Vaughn to bring the book, “Gifts From A Course in Miracles” (which I really enjoy) wrote a pretty good article a while back on this. I won’t paste it here, but one can google it under the title, ” The Perennial Wisdom of A Course in Miracles” if anyone is interested.

    I think I mentioned before, the more I read the course and also hear other paths speak, the more I see they are pointing to the same things. Yes, there maybe differences, but there are far more commonalities than may first appear. The course really is, as it states, only one form of the universal curriculum.

    On somewhat of a side note. Sri Aurobindo’s observation of the universe kind of correlates my study of the course and how it speaks of the universe. There seems to be a common understanding that the course speaks of the universe as a mistake and/or in a negative way.

    Yet, unlike the world that is spoken of in an ambiguous way, in my study of the course, there is no where I have found the course speaking of the universe in a negative way at all. I’m not saying this is not so, only I haven’t seen it. When speaking of the universe, the only thing I have found that is spoken in a negative way is not the universe, but our perception of the universe.

    I was reading a physics book (not a new age one) and it dawned on me that we confuse form within the universe AS the universe. And of course to identify with form, time/space must come into the equation, along with perception, which is limited to the conceptual mind and brain constructs.

    As the course says that no matter how holy perception becomes, it still involves the body.

    My suggestion is there is not “this universe” that we made and then some God “spiritual universe” that seems to be somewhere else as has been suggested by some teachers. There is only the universe (everything, All in all-the universe of universes, Reality) and we’re mis-perceiving it by being identified with form-time/space. through the dream of consciousness. In this way, we are literally at home in God, but dreaming of exile.

    The implication of this is that as long as we direct the mind to think that the universe is a mistake rather than we are mistaken about the universe, we can nullify the power of the universe, believing it is the universe we must escape. It is not that we need to escape the universe, but we need to let go of our beliefs we have about the universe.

    Here are a few passages on what the course says about the universe.

    To be alone is to be separated from infinity, but how can this be if infinity has no end? No one can be beyond the limitless because what has no limits must be everywhere. There are no beginnings and no endings in God, Whose universe is Himself. Can you exclude yourself from the universe or from God, Who is the universe? I and my Father are one with you, for you are part of us. Do you really believe that part of God can be missing or lost to Him. ~ACIM

    Without you there would be a lack in God, a Heaven incomplete, a Son without a Father. There could be no universe and no reality. ~ACIM

    For it seems safer to attack another or yourself than to attack the great Creator of the universe, whose power you know. ~ACIM

    Attack is neither safe nor dangerous. It is impossible. And this is so because the universe is one. ~ACIM

    What God created cannot be attacked, for there is nothing in the universe unlike itself. ~ACIM

    Think but an instant on this: God gave the Sonship to you to ensure your perfect creation. This was His gift, for as He withheld Himself not from you, He withheld not His creation. Nothing that ever was created but is yours. Your relationships are with the universe. And this universe, being of God, is far beyond the petty sum of all the separate bodies you perceive. ~ACIM

    The universe beyond the sun and stars and all the thoughts of which you can conceive belong to you. God’s peace is the condition for His Will. Attain His peace, and you remember Him. ~ACIM

    Eric: I really like this passage. To me, it speaks of what is beyond identification of form and conceptual ideas I was speaking about.

    Infinity is meaningless without you, and you are meaningless without God. There is no end to God and His Son, for we are the universe. ~ACIM

    There is another Maker of the world, the simultaneous Corrector of the mad belief that anything could be established and maintained without some link that kept it still within the laws of God; not as the law itself upholds the universe as God created it, but in some form adapted to the need the Son of God believes he has. Corrected error is the error’s end. ~ACIM

    Today we will again give thanks for our identity in God. Our home is safe, protection guaranteed in all we do, power and strength available to us in all our undertakings. We can fail in nothing. Everything we touch takes on a shining light which blesses and which heals. At one with God and with the universe, we go our way rejoicing, with the thought that God Himself goes everywhere with us. ~ACIM

    None has a different cause from all the rest, and all of them are easily undone by but a single lesson truly learned. Salvation is a secret you have kept but from yourself. The universe proclaims it so. Yet to its witnesses you pay no heed at all. ~ACIM

    What cause have you for anger in a world which merely waits your blessing to be free? If you be prisoner, then God Himself could not be free. For what is done to him whom God so loves is done to God Himself. Think not He wills to bind you, Who has made you co-creator of the universe along with Him. He would but keep your will forever and forever limitless. ~ACIM

    You could, in fact, gain vision from just that table if you could withdraw all your own ideas from it and look upon it with a completely open mind. It has something to show you-something beautiful and clean and of infinite value, full of happiness and hope. Hidden under all your ideas about it is its real purpose, the purpose it shares with all the universe. ~ACIM

    Yet my mind is part of creation and part of its Creator. Would I not rather join the thinking of the universe than to obscure all that is really mine with my pitiful and meaningless “private” thoughts? ~ACIM

    All living hearts are tranquil, with a stir of deep anticipation, for the time of everlasting things is now at hand. There is no death. The Son of God is free. And in his freedom is the end of fear. No hidden places now remain on earth to shelter sick illusions, dreams of fear, and misperceptions of the universe. ~ACIM

    Who can deny the Presence of what the universe bows to in appreciation and gladness? Before the recognition of the universe which witnesses to It, your doubts must disappear. ~ACIM

    1. Thanks Eric . . . we are largely in sync with this line of thought . . . I am familiar with some of Frances Vaughn’s work, not so much Walsh’s. There is an interview out there somewhere – I’ve linked to it before but can’t grab it at the moment – where Bill Thetford talks about this idea as well. It feels sound and helpful to me & somehow takes a lot of the pressure off to be “right” or to “get it” or whatever.

      Aurobindo is a challenging read but worth it – I am having the same sort of enlightening experience with him as I had when I first read Tara Singh.

      Hope all is well on the west coast!

  5. Well Sean,

    You went an done it again. You got my curiousity up on Sri Aurobindo so I went and bought a book from Amazon.

    I’m finding lately that I’m resonating with people who are from India. This isn’t by design, but I find it interesting that I’m resonating more with people like J. Krishnamurti, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Tara Singh, and Ramana Maharshi when it comes to what I call a companionship to my course study.

    In fact, I would recommend these teachers over course authors (though of course Singh is a course author) to help one in understanding some of the things the course is attemptng to convey.

    The book, I think it is called, “A Divine Life” should come next week. I’ll let you know what I think of it.

    1. Hey Eric,

      “The Life Divine.” Yes, that is what I am reading, too.

      “Resonant” is a good word to use, I think. When I read Aurobindo – as when I read Singh – it is like an echo of what I already know but have forgotten. There isn’t really any interpretation so much as confirmation. That’s kind of vague, but it has that feel to it.

      The Indian connection is quite profound. I don’t think ACIM is as Vedantic as some argue – as I have certainly argued – but I do see it as an expression in that tradition, and the workbook feels critical to me as the “yoga,” the “reproducible technique of transcendence” as Ken Wilber put it. Singh ties it all up, at least for me. Singh also recommended students read Ramana Maharshi.

      The Transcendentalists got it, too – which is my New England link. I’ve always felt close to them, both geographically and intellectually. Thoreau and Dickinson and to a lesser extent Emerson.

      It seems to me a point comes when you realize the answer is everywhere and is your responsibility to hear it, accept it, and make it truth by which you live. The form in which it arrives is not critical, but its arrival is. It is like the ACIM reminder that salvation comes from our one true self – when we accept that, things start to shift quite quickly and interestingly.

      Yes – let me know what you think of Aurobindo. Talk to you soon –


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