ACIM Urtext

On reading (and re-reading) the ACIM Urtext . . .

There is considerable debate in the ACIM community about which version of the text and workbook students should use. While the overarching conflict is not important, the version that we choose does in fact matter, largely because we want to be sure that we use one that works for us. As Ken Wapnick said at some point, you should read the edition that makes you feel less guilty.

(Note: Robert Perry’s thoughts on the editing of A Course in Miracles are thorough and relatively balanced. They are worth reading as one works through their own relationship with the ACIM material).

We all know the outline, right? Helen Schucman channeled what she called “The Voice” – which is transparently Jesus – wrote down in shorthand what it said and then dictated it to Bill Thetford who typed it up. There were several subsequent edits in the years that followed. Other people got involved in the editing and public dissemination – Ken Wapnick, Judith Skutch. Organizations sprung up – some ordained by Helen, some not – each with their own thoughts and ideas about A Course in Miracles. There was a lawsuit.There was wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Long story short? There are now several apparently different texts available to students.

I say “apparently different” because in my experience none of the version are substantially different from one another. The fundamental message remains the same. The world is a projection of fear and guilt, a result of our mistaken belief in separation and our habit of listening to ego. We can choose to listen instead to the Holy Spirit, who will teach us how to align our will with God’s Will and, in doing so, learn that there is only one Will and that Creation has no opposite (W-pI.138.2:1). We remember our shared interest with our brothers and sisters which in turn translates to the Peace of Heaven.

From this vantage point, it really doesn’t matter what version of A Course in Miracles we choose. They all share the same underlying message: we are innocent, and in our innocence is our salvation.

Also, most Course students have the experience at one point or another of realizing that they have to go beyond the text and workbook. These too are symbols of the separation and although they point the way back to God, they are not in and of themselves substitutes for God. The last lessons of the ACIM workbook are “as free of words as possible” in order that we might “seek to go beyond them.”

The Urtext is the first typewritten draft – it reflects what Helen Schucman dictated to Thetford. It is personal to the point of private, which was one of the primary reasons Ken Wapnick encouraged students not to read it. It was neither ready for – nor, according to Wapnick and other early ACIM practitioners, intended for – publication. Indeed, reading it does give one the sense that they are peering into a therapy session between Jesus, Helen and Bill.

If you are going to steer clear of the ACIM Urtext – or feel called to steer clear of it – that’s probably the best reason. It simply wasn’t intended to be shared that way. It arose as a site of healing between Helen and Bill and only subsequently reached a state where the audience could broaden. Both Helen and Bill seemed to feel – at least according to material that I’ve read (summarized, in an admittedly one-sided way here) – that it was meant to be revised before going public. Why not respect their wishes?

Yet for all of that, reading the Urtext does have its benefits. For one thing, as Robert Perry has correctly pointed out, it abounds in specifics. If you are curious about the meaning of a particularly abstract phrase or idea, chances are the Urtext has some examples or additional language that will help clarify it. This is especially true of the early chapters, which were the ones most subject to revision (a lot of that material was eventually excised, reordered or rewritten).

For me, the value of the so-called Urtext is in the way it makes clear that A Course in Miracles is meant to be practiced. It was meant to be lived, to be brought into application, and its application was nontrivial. When asked for an example of course principles being lived out in the world, Helen named Mother Theresa. The course is meant to be used in the world – we are called to be messengers of love and healers in a deeply pragmatic, even radical, way.

Some of the ACIM Urtext is confusing – or a little too intimate. It talks, for example, about sexuality and encourages miracle workers to give considerable attention to this area of their living. Seeing the body as a means for pleasure in any way is to indulge the ego – unless we can fix the underlying error (e.g., the belief that we are bodies). So long as we are sexually active, then spiritual sight remains all but impossible. This reflects details about the sex lives of Helen and Bill (which neither wanted to share with us), and feels overtly conservative and judgmental (reflecting, clearly, Helen and Bill’s sexuality). Like eating, sex is a use of the body that few of us want to compromise or surrender. The canonical text (published by the Foundation for Inner Peace) is silent on this issue.

So, arguably, the Urtext helps us to flesh out this important idea.

The other issue that one has to consider when reading the Urtext is the degree to which the teachings of Jesus need any editing. If the voice that Helen heard was Jesus of Nazareth, then why make any alterations? Reasonable people can certainly ask why the ACIM urtext was edited. Why did Ken step in and edit it? It’s true that those typewritten notes indicate that some material needs to be removed because it’s intended solely for Helen and Bill, but that’s actually a pretty small percentage. What about the rest? I think this is what motivates a lot of Ken Wapnick’s critics, the sense that he overstepped by effectively editing Jesus Christ.

But if you are close to that material, then you are less likely to challenge the need to edit it – which is a separate question from the quality of the actual editing. The early chapters of the first edition are sort of . . . clumsy. It’s true there are some real gems tucked in there, but by and large it reads like a first draft. Whatever channel Helen was using to reach Jesus, it was a bit clogged. And so you get the wisdom but it’s compromised. In this sense – over and above the personal material – editing was obviously called for. Personally, I think Ken did a fine job – I doubt I could have done better. When we make more of that issue – defending this or that edition, this or that teacher – then we are indulging the ego and using the history of the writing and editing to keep us from practicing the very healing ACIM offers us.

In other words, I don’t think it matters which edition of A Course in Miracles you choose. Or rather, it’s not actually possible to pick the wrong one. I still prefer the FIP edition. Yet my understanding of the course has been undeniably enhanced by reviewing the earlier versions, including the Urtext. Pick one that works for you (what works is what’s helpful) and then stick to it. Even Ken acknowledged in his defense of the FIP edition, we should never feel guilty for reading a different version.

The question is what is it for – why are you reading the course? Why are you leaning into the conflict around which edition to read? We are here to be healed of fear, and guided by the Holy Spirit – the light in our mind that was in the mind of Jesus as well – to love. Don’t shake off what helps. Let it do its work, and you do yours. Read, listen and love. What else is there?

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  1. Hi Sean,

    From my understanding, Wapnick didn’t edit the UrText. It was the HLC version that was further edited at Wapnick’s insistance.

    In the UrText, the author says that Bill should be in charge of the editing process, due to Helen’s bad habit of over-editing in general. The result is the HLC version.

    Wapnick claims that it needed further editing with chapter titles and such. Yet, this is not accurate. Soul was removed, except in a couple of instances, passages were re-worded, etc.

    While I am grateful to have found the FIP version and have a couple of copies of it along with the entire combined volume on my iPod, compared to the HLC version, the FIP version feels over edited and cold and clinical in comparison. There is a warmer feel to the HLC version in my opinion.

    The claim that it is substantially unchanged I don’t think is accurate. Sure, we may be able to look at the over all message and say this, but the claim that only some of the more personal information is removed and some chapter titles and sections put in as the changes that were made is completely inaccurate.

    1. Hi Eric.

      I have a policy here of not deleting posts (long story having to do with being honest and so forth), but if I did not have that policy, and was inclined to delete posts, this one would be amongst thefirst to go.

      I’d like to make a couple of general points in response to ou with the up front caveat that I can’t really go down this particular rabbit hole anymore. For me it has just stopped being helpful in any way and seems to distract way too many of us.

      1. I truly want people to use whatever version speaks most clearly and resonantly. I don’t especially care what that is, though like all students I have an opinion about what is best for me.

      2. There is some disagreement and confusion about what the ur-text actually is. I think you are more right than not when you say Wapnick did not edit it; but I also think the lines we draw between versions are somewhat less bright than we’d like. The early versions bleed into one another in ways that we are still figuring out.

      I have not really edited this post to stay current with my level of scholarship and I’m not going to. It’s just not that important to me; though I am grateful to those students who are doing the work to keep everything in the light for us.

      3. Gently and respectfully, I stand by belief that the differences pale before the similarities. I am not denying the differences – nor denying that some of them feel significant and can be quite helpful. I am just saying that I don’t think anybody is being deprived by choosing a later version over an earlier one.

      4. Your sense of tone – one being warmer than another – is absolutely right. And absolutely personal! That is what I mean when I say people should just go with what works and with how they feel guided. I am in a minority it seems because I actually think Wapnick’s edits are brilliant and cohesive, but who cares? It’s just an opinion. You know what I mean?

      Thank you so much for your attention here – your long and thoughtful and erudite comments are a real blessing on this blog an I am thankful for that. I would also like to ask you a favor: though I will prefer to do so outside the comment stream. If you see this and are amenable to an email exchange, would you drop me a line via the contact page? Or if you’ve got my email through earlier exchanges, use that.

      Thanks again, brother!

      1. you understand when I say posts I mean my original post about the ACIM urtext – not your comment, right? Your comment is healthy and fine and welcome!

  2. Hi Sean,
    As you can see from the website address, this is personal to me.

    At the beginning of my awakening I was “…compelled” to make ACIM free, online. My first three attempts/websites were taken down, by injunction from FIP. The site which you link to in this post is the final public domain version. It is still a work in progress.

    Just so you know, I have been through a side by side comparison of all the versions and can tell you that there was 67 typed pages from the urtext not in the FIP version. Yes, some of it was so personal it didn´t transfer but that would only be one or two pages worth, in my opinion.

    The workbook, on my site, is the original typed version also, which mostly had subtle changes but usually were not warrented. A VERY good example is lesson 132:

    If you do a comparison with your blue book, you will notice a sudden shift in the paragragh stucture of the lesson. Which places “There is no world! This is the central thought the course attempts to teach…¨ in the middle of a paragragh instead of at the beginning, where it belongs. Then as you read on, the paragraghs line up again. This is ego at it´s best. God bless Ken.

    Anyway, I just thought you and your readers might find that interesting.

    1. Hi Tony,

      Thanks for all your hard work – and your persistence!

      I am most familiar with the urtext manuscripts that are edited (with added appendices) by Doug Thompson. I read them quite closely at one point, and tracked – probably less intensely than you have done – their similiarities/differences with subsequent editions. I was pretty into this whole what was edited, what shouldn’t have been, which edition is best and so forth. It’s true that I have gravitated away from it over the years. It feels right and natural to do that. I tend not to see the differences between textual editions as being significant in the big picture, but I understand that other people disagree, and I respect that. I think a good case can be made on both sides.

      Mostly I’m grateful that people can do their own research into the subject and make an informed choice about what’s most helpful to them.

      Thanks again, Tony.


  3. The only one who knows the TRUTH of the Course is an AWAKENED one. Until we are awakened we are reading in our SLEEP.

    1. Perhaps, Laurie, but we are not without a Guide who knows both illusion and truth. Even in our sleep there is cause for hope, and a means by which to move from sleep to wakefulness.

      Thank you for reading . . .

  4. Notably ACIM wanted give it to us as Jesus Christ is ideal. and fall into no controversy is evident that lack of LOVE so is fear and attack. More thinking about the privacy of the scribes is contrary to what the course postulates: THERE ARE NOT PRIVATE THOUGHTS. As we are one Being. are falling back on the false perception

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