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.