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 is a serious charge, and it’s not one that should be leveled either quickly or casually.

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, healing and whatever other spiritual practices and approaches we might want to explore. 

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?

Maybe. For me, Arten and Pursah – and the question of whether they are real beings or literary devices or whatever – 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 – Ken Wapnick and Tara Singh, say. But in the end, if Renard’s work calls to somebody, who am I to criticize? 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 the other person.

In other words, my anxiety over this “other” – be it Gary Renard or Ken Wapnick – 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 and a phony 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.

Reading Marianne Williamson

One of the first “miracle” writers I ever read was Marianne Williamson. I found A Return to Love in the local library, and because it was the only book about A Course in Miracles  they had, I took it out. It’s Williamson’s flagship book – contains the famous quote (our deepest fear . . . ) that is so often attributed to Nelson Mandela.

And it’s a good book. I’m glad that I read it when and where I did. I don’t think of Williamson as being a particularly challenging writer. She’s a good writer, but the ideas that she puts forth aren’t especially hard to grasp. She’s got that New Age therapeutic thing down pat – Oprah’s the master, but Williamson knows the drill. It’s a nice blend of affirmation and challenge, always skirting the implication that you can’t do it or that you’re going to have to change too much.

I think that Williamson would disagree with that last line, actually – that ACIM doesn’t push us to change too much. And, in fairness, lots of people I know find Williamson to be exactly the kick in the pants they need to really ramp up their spiritual practice.

At the beginning of my practice with A Course in Miracles, I needed some encouragement. It felt abstract to me and it was, in subtle ways, kind of undermining my long held beliefs in traditional Christianity. Reading Williamson made me feel like I had a friend on my side. It was like a coach saying, You can do this. You can do this.

And, really, that’s nothing to sneeze at. That kind of support is critical. And I still remember a particular line – here paraphrased – about people who want to star on the world stage but still don’t know how to star in their own life. I’m not sure that’s a “real” ACIM approach to life, but it certainly resonated with me. It still helps me narrow my focus, trying to bring into application the principles of A Course in Miracles.

I’ve tried picking up other books by Marianne Williamson – Illuminata, Everyday Grace, and so forth. I can’t get into them. They just don’t resonate. Even Return to Love doesn’t nurture me the way it once did. Glancing at these days is more nostalgic than anything else.

Do I recommend Williamson? I do. I think she’s a good read, especially for people who are new to the course or are really questioning their worth in relation to the course. She is a good writer in the sense that you aren’t lost in abstraction. And she cares about people and she cares about ACIM. That is not an insignificant thing.

These days I find my reading moving in the direction of Tara Singh and others. I can’t read a page of Singh without feeling a sort of shock in my system. It’s like diving into a frigid river, that sense of waking up or coming to suddenly. Important stuff.

But our paths in A Course in Miracles are different. People come to it in their own way. As the text says, our role in the atonement is very personal and very specific. So are the spiritual or miracle coaches who guide us towards and into that role. I’m grateful to Marianne Williamson for her lucidity and her willingness to share her path with her brothers and sisters. I admire her energy and her politics. And if I’ve “moved on” it’s only because she helped make the next step possible.

A Course in Miracles Text

When Helen Schucman wrote A Course in Miracles, what came first was the text. This is the extensive bedrock of the ACIM program – a massive tome that outlines with great clarity and precision the theoretical underpinnings of the course’s non-dualistic thought system.

The daily lessons, which are contained in the workbook, build on the ideas contained in the text. The text itself is Christian in both language and image, but it parts ways with traditional understandings of Christianity. Its overarching theme is that we are one with God, which is Love, and are confused about this fact. The text and lessons are one form of correction; there are echoes of the course in other traditions.

A Course in Miracles makes clear, it is not possible to have a “universal theology” but a “universal experience” is possible and even desirable. It is that experience to which the text – in conjunction with the balance of the course – aims to direct students.

In order to induce that experience – to lead students into the experience of peace and joy through forgiveness, which is to say, the peace and joy of remembering that we share Creation with God – the text is necessary. It begins somewhat simply – with fifty principles of miracles – but slowly progresses into more complex ideas. Its core ideas are repeated in different phrases, with varying degrees of complexity and explanation. Reading and re-reading the text becomes an exercise in familiarity as its themes echo and chime. Study is helpful.

The aim of the text is to establish an intellectual foundation for shifting our thinking. Without this foundation, the lessons would make little sense. In the same way, without the lessons, the text would be impossibly abstract.

I began my practice of the course by reading the text. Not everybody does this; it’s not a requirement. We meet the course where we are. After a day or two, I began practicing the lessons. That became my pattern of study and practice for many years. In the morning, I would read a few pages of the text – sometimes at random, sometimes focusing on a challenging or comforting section – and then I do a lesson (I always do them in order).

The first few times I read the text, I approached it somewhat as a bible. It felt sacred to me. Yet after a while, I began to make notes on the inside cover of certain pages that contained ideas I thought were useful, that I didn’t want to forget.

After another while, that list became so long that I gave up and just started underlining key passages. Today, that first text – a paperback copy published by the Foundation for Inner Peace – has fallen apart. There’s more text that’s underscored than text that’s not. I have a new copy now – hard cover – and use that for reading. I don’t bother with writing utensils at all, and rarely read more than a few paragraphs at a time. Our experience as students evolves, which is another way of saying that the course meets us where we are. You might read a different ACIM edition than me. Yet the material is always maximally helpful although its helpfulness is not always clear.

I’m a big advocate of actually doing the lessons in a sustained but gentle way. A Course in Miracles is truly meant to be lived, and in order to do that, we need to bring its principles into our lives day after day. It’s the only way to achieve the degree of change – the alteration of mind patterns and shifts in perception – that the course envisions for us.