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The Urantia Book

A couple of years ago, when I was just beginning to seek out ACIM study groups, I ran into a man who would serve as a sort of good-natured mentor. He was a former minister who had “converted” to A Course in Miracles in his early fifties. Closer to seventy now, he had a long history and a deep understanding of the course. One day, after we had finished the meeting and were chatting after, he ducked into his study and came out with a massive tome that he suggested I take a look at. It was the Urantia Book.

My friend introduced it to me this way: if the ACIM Text was the Lord of the Rings, the Urantia Book was  The Silmarillion. As a devoted reader of Tolkien, that analogy resonated right away. I took the book home and immediately began to read it.

The Urantia Book was a channeled text that came into existence in Chicago between 1924 and the mid-1950’s. It’s a huge book that takes into consideration a whole host of subjects – Jesus, God, the Universe, Origins, Science, Personal Destiny. Some critics have noted that it reads more like an incredibly detailed and consistent book of science fiction or fantasy.

The individual who allegedly channeled the material did so in a trance of which he remained relatively unaware. The beings that did the communicating were celestial beings (almost like angels, although the text is more precise with that term) or groups of beings. William Sadler, who was a Chicago-based doctor devoted to uncovering and revealing psychic hoaxes (even those that were benign), was introduced to the person who was receiving the material. Sadler, who took some responsibility for ensuring the text made it out into the world, making it available for humanity, called it one of the few cases where he could not find a logical, scientific explanation.

I first read the sections on Jesus’ life. It is a great read – very entertaining, very revealing. The author purports to know a great deal more about Jesus than the Gospels reveal, and more than scholars and historians are able to discern. Indeed, by the time we get to the end and Jesus is being crucified, the narrative has become far more gripping than any Mel Gibson movie ever was.

The other sections proved harder for me to wade through. The language was a bit stiff and archaic. The names were hard to track and, quite frankly, it seemed pretty far out. That might seem strange coming from a guy who studies and teaches A Course in Miracles – a text authored by Jesus and channeled by an aetheist Jewish psychologist – but it’s true. The teachings in the Urantia book never resonated with me the way ACIM does.

Should you read it? Well, I generally take the position that you should try everything. The text is relatively easy to find – either in hard copy or online – and there are some great resources maintained by the Urantia Foundation that can help you explore the text. I have a copy on my shelf, and although I no longer turn to it with any regularity, and don’t rely on it as part of my own spiritual practice, I remain open to the possibility that I might one day. It feels to me that it’s an important part of the library of channeled texts and other material that signifies some change or alteration in human consciousness. For that reason alone, it’s worth taking a look at.

The truth is – and A Course in Miracles is very clear on this point – there is no one right way or method to the universal experience. There are many paths to waking up. If you are searching, then search with gusto – get the Urantia book and give it a read. It might be what you need. And if it’s not, don’t be discouraged. There is always another way station ahead.

The Gary Renard Fraud Debate

I get asked a lot if I think that Gary Renard is a fraud. In the circles of A Course in Miracles it’s a common question. It’s also a funny question and I am never quite sure how to answer it. The truth is, I don’t know Gary. I’ve never met him, never personally attended any workshops with him. Calling someone a fraud always is serious charge, and it’s not one that should be leveled either quickly or casually.

reading_gary_renard
Finding our own way through the spiritual wilderness can mean many teachers – some of whom work at one juncture and then don’t at another. Nobody can do the work of discernment for us!

My involvement with Renard boils down to the fact that I’ve read The Disappearance of the Universe. In fact, I read it several times. In the early stages of my study of A Course in Miracles,  I found Renard’s book to be accessible and helpful. Even now, when I do not give Gary Renard as much attention as I did in the beginning, I continue to believe that his first book grasps the core concepts of the course, laying them out in a way that’s easy to understand. There is a reason Gary’s work is relatively popular in the ACIM community, and it’s not all because of Arten and Pursah.

Indeed, Gary’s work is really a sexier – and somewhat condensed version – of Ken Wapnick’s. My understanding is that Gary attended many workshops with Ken and interacted with him over a nontrivial period of time. The influence shows! The understanding of the course advanced by Gary’s ascended masters makes them sound less like visionaries than good students of Wapnick. This isn’t a bad thing. Ken was a solid student of the course and lots of us can benefit by reading him closely. However, it does suggest that Gary’s writing is less celestial and spectacular in origin. It flows – like much course writing does – from the student’s engagement with their teacher.

Do I think that Renard’s humor is a little over the top at times? Yes. A little crude? That, too. But it is possible to read Disappearance without having to simultaneously defend Renard’s style. It’s just another ACIM book. If it’s helpful, great. If it’s not, well, there’s no shortage of authors out there writing books about A Course in Miracles, nonduality, Christ mind and whatever else you might want to pursue.

I know that people get bent out of shape about Arten and Pursah, the ascended masters who purportedly taught ACIM to Renard, and who are featured so prominently in his writing. Come on, they say. A couple of ascended masters showed up in his living room? And he recorded them but then destroyed the tapes? Isn’t it a little too perfect? A little too self-promotional? Oh and hey – isn’t he hawking some vitamins now?

It’s not what somebody else thinks is right or helpful – it’s what is right or helpful for you. And only you – in relationship with the Holy Spirit – can discern that.

Maybe. For me, Arten and Pursah – and the question of whether they are real or literary devices or what – never got in the way of my reading. If Renard said tomorrow that he made them up – which, I should add, I’m pretty confident he’s not going to do – I’d still be grateful for the help the book offered at a critical stage of my learning. And if somebody asked me should they read it, I wouldn’t say no right away. I’d try to get a sense of where they were at in their study, and talk about other authors – Wapnick, Tara Singh, David Hoffmeister and so forth. But in the end, if Renard’s work calls to somebody, who am I to naysay it? We are all finding our way.

The thing is, it always tempting to find something wrong with other course students or teachers. And in truth, we can almost always find something wrong with their teaching. Yet being right is not necessarily synonymous with inner peace (and may even be an impediment to it).

Seek not outside yourself. For all your pain comes simply from a futile search for what you want you want, insisting where it must be found. What if it is not there? Would you rather be right or be happy? (T-27.VII.1:6-9)

That latter question is so essential to our study of the course – especially when we start deciding that this or that teacher, or this or that approach or perspective is right to the exclusion of all others. As Proverbs 28:19 points out, the secret to joy and abundance is to work our own garden and avoid fantasies and idleness.

When I find myself focusing on all the reasons not to read someone, or not to listen to them, or even brainstorming ways to discredit them, it is almost always a reflection of my own guilt and fear and has nothing to do with this other person.

In other words, my anxiety over this “other” – be it Gary Renard, Ken Wapnick, or Liz Cronkhite – is simply a call to heal my own experience of internal conflict, which is always my own experience of the separation from God. And that is what I am trying to heal; I am not trying to right the ACIM ship itself.

One of the gifts of studying A Course in Miracles, at least for me, was that it helped me look at the external world – which includes my feelings and thoughts – and recognize it as a form of projection. “Projection makes perception” (T-13.V.3:5).

We might more accurately say that projection and perception are inter-related, the one influencing the other in the construction of our experience of a world.

We look inside first, decide what kind of world we want to see and then project that world outside, making it the truth as we see it. We make it true by our interpretations of what it is we are seeing (preface xi).

Thus, if I am walking around feeling like Renard or any other ACIM teacher is a fraud, a phony, a cheat with good marketing skills or whatever, then I know that I have already rendered that judgment against myself. It’s my guilt that I am looking at. So I don’t need to “fix” Renard – or anybody who finds his work helpful or interesting – so much as I need to be cognizant of my own brokenness and the need for healing it engenders.

My suggestion? If you are curious or feel called to do so, then read Renard’s books. Check them against your gut, against your existing understanding of the course, talk to friends, reflect on it in prayer and so forth. Don’t worry so much about the personality or the motives behind the writing and don’t get hung up on the story behind the sales. It’s not what somebody else thinks that is right or helpful – it’s what is right or helpful for you at this particular point in your study and practice. And only you can discern that.

When our focus is on healing, and when we are related to our capacity for the healing power of attention, then we begin to perceive a world in which everyone is a blessing because we are blessing them. All things work for good in that world, because all things are “echoes of the Voice for God” (W-pI.151). Gary Renard, too.

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Working Miracles: Does A Course in Miracles Work?

Yesterday was tough. I didn’t get my routine, my start – a walk in the pre-dawn darkness with my dog, hours alone with tea and A Course in Miracles. My teaching obligations were doubled and there were institutional demands on top of them that necessitated more preparation, both emotional and administrative, than usual. Our beloved old cat is dying, and so Chrisoula – who is both grieving and nursing her – needed me to pull more weight at home.

Isn’t that life?

I can’t count – because they are so numerous – the number of times in this life where I have groused, complained, and caused no end of conflict because I didn’t get my spiritual way. What’s the point of having a practice if the cat’s going to die right in the middle of it? I’m trying to find God here.

But yesterday I knew – and willed into application – a different concept. What is the point of having a practice if the cat can’t die right in the middle of it?

A big part of the spiritual journey is learning that how little we actually have to do. There is nowhere to go because we are already there. There is no learning because we already know. There is no improvement because we’re already perfect.

Undoing – doing nothing – can feel passive and for much of my life I was an enemy of passivity. Take massive action! Do it now! It’s bred into us, isn’t it? We have to accomplish things – eat the right diet, make a lot money. Accomplishments stacked one on top of the other, no one of them sufficient on its own, and the height of them together all the measure of our life.

Yet there is a creativity in stillness, in quiet of which I am beginning to be aware. Reality is here, now. I need to do nothing. So easy to say – so frustratingly easy to say – and yet so hard to convey, in an experiential way.

How do I know ACIM helps? How do I know it’s working?

Because on a morning when I can’t burrow into the text, or devote myself to a lesson, or spend hours tweaking a blog post in which I expound on my latest iteration of the Happy Dream, I don’t lose my sense of gratitude. I don’t feel unhappy. I remain interested in helping others – thanking the cashier at the co-op, listening carefully to students, tickling my kids, baking comfort food for C.

The miracle is that brief moment – just a flash – when we realize that our interests and the interest of another are identical. So much understanding and love can flow from that seeing! It brings a real clarity, a real direction.

So the Course points beyond itself. There is that great old Zen story of the monk who asks his teacher to show him the moon. The teacher points to the moon. The student looks at the teacher’s finger and says, “Ah, thank you. The moon is very beautiful.”

I think on day-to-day basis, it is helpful to make as much of your day as possible about others. What can you give? How can you help? And in the moments of prayer or meditation or study – however you define it – it is helpful to cultivate gratitude. That will inspire a state of awareness, of being alert, and from that state an interior shifting will occur. The clouds break, the veil lifts. We need do nothing. Love will do the rest.

Help Comes In Many Forms

Our need for help is obvious. Our own efforts are insufficient and likely to spill and roll in chaotic directions, like marbles spilling across the floor. We need texts and teachers – Zen masters, the Psalms, A Course in Miracles, good psychotherapists. Something. Without help, our spiritual exile is unnecessarily prolonged.

Thus, it is critical to be open both to our need for help and the actual form that help takes when it arrives. Because it always does arrive. Truly, we are not bereft.

Last night I read Yaeko Iwasaki’s enlightenment letters. She was twenty-five years old when she attained enlightenment. Less than two weeks later, she was dead. Her letters – which are written to her teacher, Harada-Roshi – are contained in Philip Kapleau’s The Three Pillars of Zen.

I’ve had this book for years – a close friend twenty years ago was a devoted Buddhist and follower of Kapleau, and I sort of dabbled with zafus. My efforts were sincere but more or less half-assed and in time I drifted along – back to Catholicism, back to Christianity, and eventually – long story – short – to A Course in Miracles. Recently, I pulled Kapleau’s book back out because I wanted to read something that was a bit more grounded than the opacity of the course.

I say that carefully, of course. I don’t object to the opacity, so much as need to step away from it at times. And it’s not really fair to call the course opaque – it is actually quite practical and simple. But our minds are capable of complicating anything, and when that happens – when I perceive that happening – it is sometimes helpful to gently step away for a few days or weeks or even longer just to breathe. It’s not a crime against God. God goes nowhere and our attention directed at other traditions or teachers is simply God another way. It’s no big deal.

Zen was fascinating to me – still is, in a sort of academic way – in my early twenties. It seemed practical in a way that Catholicism – my Christianity of choice back then – was not. Sure, I could read Thomas Merton and follow his efforts to unite Zen with Jesus and Christianity. There’s no doubt his work resonated for me in helpful ways. But I liked the instructions I was given at the Zendo. Sit like this, count your breaths and let’s talk again in a few years. There was a formality to it. There were these non-negotiable boundaries. I needed that then.

Reading Yaeko Iwasaki was inspiring. Her letters are very grateful and loving and lucid and they neatly track her experience of awakening. Reading them, I didn’t feel a need to make it Buddhist or Christian, if that makes any sense. It just seemed like what can happen to any of us if we pay attention in a disciplined way. Most fascinating was the way she cycled through her enlightenment. At first blush it has the air of a good acid trip or something – like she woke up in an amusement park where all the rides and treats are free. But then the experience evens out and becomes much more natural and grounded. It becomes almost ordinary.

I like this, in particular:

 . . . now that I have penetrated deeply and have acquired an unshakable aspiration to Buddhahood, it is clear to me that I can continue in my spiritual discipline forever and in this way perfect my personality to its fullest, impelled by the vow, which rises naturally within me, to save all sentient beings.

The truth is that we can become as addicted to crucifixion as well as to enlightenment. I think you can fool around for a long time – lifetimes maybe – in any practice. The conditions that Yaeko Iwasaki – especially with respect to service, the lovingkindness extended to all creation – resonates deeply with my understanding (which of course is always evolving, always growing sharper and more useful) – of A Course in Miracles.

***

I woke up from a pleasant dream at 2 a.m. and couldn’t sleep last night. I remembered Yaeko’s letters, and my friend with whom I have lost touch, and I felt very happy. I like the night a lot. The stars through the window, faint light on the neighbor’s white barn. It is very quiet and beautiful. I have been focusing on a review of the first five ACIM lessons, and they came through with unusual simplicity last night. I sat in bed and didn’t feel a need to do much of anything else. Every now and then that electric feeling of no-thoughts swept by. It is still so hard for me to trust the Holy Instant, to say yes to God, to awakening. But it is nice when that’s okay, when I can let it be what it is and not need to fix it or improve it.

Help comes in many forms, from many directions. We just never know.

Putting Aside the Metaphor

I have been reading Krishnamurti lately. Tara Singh – the only ACIM teacher that I read with any frequency – was an associate of Krishnamurti’s and often refers to him and his teachings with great respect. Somewhere on the FACIM website – probably their very helpful online question and answer archives – they note that Krishnamurti’s teachings are not substantially different from those in A Course in Miracles.

Where they do differ, of course, is in the mythological overlay in which they are presented. ACIM is unabashedly Christian; Krishnamurti, at least in my reading, shuns any overt reference to religion or psychology. In fact, it seems to me that he goes to great pains to avoid using language that can envelop us in any kind of system – be it religious or spiritual or psychological or whatever.

Singh is similar. Reading him, you encounter only brief references to Jesus. It is as if – having studied with Krishnamurti – he saw beyond the theological overlay of Christianity into the heart of A Course in Miracles.

Reading Singh has always felt liberating to me. Liberating and expansive.

I mention all this because I have been struggling lately with the course’s presentation of Christianity. Who is this Jesus? Who is this Holy Spirit? As a lifelong Catholic and as someone who, even when not practicing a traditional mode of Christianity, it is very hard for me to utilize that language. In fact, sometimes it seems to be setting me back. I cannot say “Holy Spirit” without imagining or picturing or fantasizing a separate being, willing apart from me.

Now, from a strict course interpretation, this is all just another great opportunity to forgive. I realize that. And I value it.

But I am increasingly feeling drawn to a language that is plainer and that does not force me to do so much interpreting or reinterpreting. In other words, I don’t want to take “Holy Spirit” and have to remind myself that “Holy Spirit” is akin to my right mind. Et cetera.

Krishnamurti encourages us to resolve the fear problem by resolving the authority problem by simply looking at it. We are the author of the fear. Once we have this clear – really clear, not just intellectually clear, not just clear in language – then we are forever free of fear.

There is a clarity to that that I enjoy. The language of the course – which is elevated and lovely in its own right – has been off-putting lately. Another level or layer that one needs to forgive.

It moves me to ask how we can undo – it is not an action so much as no action. As Tara Singh says (I paraphrase), There is nothing to do and nobody but you can do it. I love that! Krishnamurti says we can wake in all of ten minutes if we will just focus our attention, follow our thinking, understand how we are doing this to ourselves.

The course locks me into Jesus, the Holy Spirit, questions of God. But I want to put them aside. I want to let them all go.

I understand – because I have both read and heard testimony – that the course, too, moves beyond this. The extended Christian metaphor eventually fades. We see through it to the truth. Perhaps. Maybe I am at the beginning of that process, that particular undoing.

I was telling a student of mine about the importance of remaining open to different teaching styles, different methods. Don’t close doors, because we never know what is going to work. We don’t really know from which direction help is going to come.

I am practicing forgiving A Course in Miracles, forgiving the language, forgiving the metaphor. I want to put it down, lay it aside. I want to wake up in my real home.