In 1992, two beings appeared to Gary Renard, told him they were ascended masters, and, over a period of years, gave him their interpretation of A Course in Miracles, later to be published in his book The Disappearance of the Universe. The Course is a profound work, almost 1,300 pages, poetically expressed and difficult to understand, which was spiritually dictated by Jesus to a psychologist, Helen Schucman. It enables a person who studies and practices its teachings and mental exercises to gradually eliminate the ego.
In spiritual teachings, the ego is one’s false sense of identity, of who and what one really is. It is like a collection of related thoughts that arises from and includes the basic, underlying thought that we are separate from God. It keeps one oblivious of the fact that they are standing in the presence of God. It causes us to believe we are limited, mortal beings, instead of unlimited, eternal Spirit, one with God.
From the ego arise guilt, fear, attachment to the body, selfishness and suffering. God and our true identity, the immortal Self, are blocked from our awareness. The purpose of the Course is to dissolve the ego and its false ideas so that we can directly experience God, God’s extension as Spirit (also spoken of as the collective Son, the Self, or Christ), and Heaven. The Course contains many powerful declarations about the nature of God, Spirit, and their creations, and the truth that the seemingly separate Sons of God are divine, created in the image and likeness of God. These declarations help to dissolve the ego and its illusions and lead us toward direct knowledge of our reality as Spirit.
In the Course, Jesus speaks of God as being transcendental, beyond form and duality, in other words, beyond the world, or universe, as we perceive it. In order to dispel our illusions and heal our minds, God created the Holy Spirit to work with us in the world, guiding and inspiring us through the “inner voice” and through divine messengers. The Holy Spirit leads us out of darkness into the light and love of the Christ. When all our illusions are gone, we are filed with love and light, and realize our eternal oneness with God.
The Course teaches that the world is not real. This makes sense if we think of “reality” in terms of the glorious, transcendental reality of God as the Absolute, beyond form and duality. This kind of reality is very different from the reality we ascribe to the world as it is experienced with the physical senses, brain, and ordinary thought processes. Truly enlightened beings, who through oneness with the Christ Mind are able to experience the blissful, eternal reality of God, Spirit, and Heaven, teach that the world, as seen with the body’s eyes and the thoughts of the ego, is an illusion, although some of them speak of it as having existence. By this they mean that the illusion of it exists.
Arten and Pursah – the two beings who interpreted the Course for The Disappearance of the Universe – say that, before the illusion of the world arose, there was only God and the Christ Mind (a glorious extension of God, wholly identified with God, Its Creator). Then, a very small aspect of the Christ Mind wondered what it might be like to be on its own, in other words, apart from the rest of Spirit. From the creative power of this thought arose the ego and the actual experience of being separate from God. They go on to say that this tiny aspect of the Christ Mind came to accept the ego as part of itself and the ego’s thoughts as its own. Next, feeling guilt for having separated itself from God, it made the universe and bodies as a “hiding place” to escape imagined punishment for what it had done, and, dividing itself into many individual minds, it entered these bodies. Since they were under the influence of the ego’s physically oriented, false concepts, these minds had lost their awareness of being one with their Creator and, thus, identified themselves with the physical body and its limitations. According to Arten and Pursah, this is how humanity came into being. The entire scenario (Disappearance, Chapter 4) took place in thought only – not in reality, as reality is understood in the context of the Course – hence it is an illusion.
Arten and Pursah’s teachings about why and how the universe and human bodies were made are not found in the Course. The Course says that the Sons of God made a world of their own imagining, but does not give any details about the sequence of events or try to put into words the nature of the “substance” from which the world was made. However, many enlightened masters have taught that the universe and bodies were created by God or an aspect of God and infused with Spirit, and that humans, or at least many of them, having been given the gift of free will to think and act as they chose, imagined themselves as separate from each other and God, and fell from grace. Some sacred writings mention that God is still creating and explain the nature of the Fall. Though different masters describe the Creation from different perspectives, they all concur with the teaching of the Course that the world is unreal, in the sense that we perceive it in terms of dualities (opposites), relativity and change. From their own, personal experience during exalted states of awareness, they are familiar with the glorious, eternal, unchanging reality of God, Spirit, and the highest heaven – the Heaven spoken of in the Course – and they teach that, in contrast, the world, as we experience it, is an illusion and not real. They usually speak of it as a cosmic motion picture or dream, projected onto the screen of human consciousness, which is unlike God, Spirit, or the highest heaven, or even the divine light that is the substance of this cosmic dream. In addition, each person’s experience of the world is subjective, colored by the nature and content of that person’s mind. Even time is an illusion, for, as Jesus and the masters tell us, only the eternal present is real.
According to ancient, Hindu teachings, God as the Creator (in Sanskrit, Prakriti), invested with power from God as the Transcendental Spirit (often called the Absolute), manifests, sustains, and dissolves the world. (For a complete explanation of the concept of Prakriti, see God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita, by Paramahansa Yogananda, Self-Realization Fellowship.) Through the power of God’s light, the illusion (or cosmic dream) of the universe takes place, which we perceive in terms of the concepts and judgments in our minds.
Through explanations, affirmations and mental exercises, the Course helps us to change our concepts and the way we think about the world. It helps us to forgive all perceived injustices and sins, thereby releasing ourselves and others from guilt and condemnation, with which we have made the world into a place of fear and attack. Also, it makes us more aware of the voice of the Holy Spirit. As we replace thoughts of evil, sin, and guilt with thoughts of forgiveness, love, gratitude and peace and let the Holy Spirit guide us, we begin to see divine beauty in the world and all beings and eventually are able to perceive everything in the oneness, light, and love of God. With a transformed and illumined mind, we see the world in a new light. From the beauty of this “forgiven world,” it is but a small step into the ultimate reality of God. This is a sacred path to enlightenment.
However, there are other sacred teachings, which do not deny the reality of the world but lead one to enlightenment simply by helping one to affirm and eventually experience the presence of God in the world. Although some of them regard the world as an illusion or dream manifested by God, these paths do not deny the existence of the world, but simply teach us to see beauty and divinity in nature and in every soul. Many of the writings of saints and sages, from Hindu, Christian, Muslim and other traditions, encourage us to focus on the good in life. By so doing, we become more aware of the beauty in nature and the goodness in human hearts. We learn to embrace all that is, with love, seeing God in all. Thus, God becomes a living presence in our lives. Even though the world is not real in the way that God is real, and is an illusion, nevertheless, it is part of God as the One, and the presence of God is reflected in it.
The path of seeing God in the world appears to contradict the Course’s teaching that the world is unreal. Yet, even a dream or a movie – though an illusion and, in a sense, unreal – can reflect beauty, love, and truth, and many have found God by seeing the good in the world. In the Course, Jesus helps us to experience the world with the light of Christ shining on it in our minds – what he calls the forgiven, or real, world. But before we do this we begin by denying the reality of sin and evil, and the world as most of us experience it, in order to remove feelings – such as guilt, unworthiness, and fear – that keep us from freely expressing and accepting love. As we shed unconscious guilt and a host of other deeply rooted illusions that block awareness of the goodness and divinity in the world, it becomes much easier for us to meaningfully affirm and eventually experience the presence of God, Spirit, and Heaven just behind the ever changing phenomena experienced by the body.
In Messages from Jesus by Mary Ann Johnston, Jesus speaks of love and tells us how, by living in love, we can experience God in everything. He explains that love leads to awareness of our oneness with God and all creation and says that God embraces all things, even our illusions. Once we are fully realized, in other words, fully enlightened, we experience the presence of God, as the One, in all things, and all things in the One. This truth is found in the mystical teachings of many religions, for example, the Bhagavad Gita and other scriptures of India and the writings of such Christian saints as Teresa of Avila. Although God, experienced as the Absolute beyond name and form, is apart from the world, God, experienced as the One, includes everything. In The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna by Swami Nikhilananda (1942, p. 328), Sri Ramakrishna is quoted as saying: “The phenomenal world belongs to that very Reality to which the Absolute belongs; again, the Absolute belongs to that very Reality to which the phenomenal world belongs. He who is realized as God has also become the world and its living beings.”
As mentioned previously, Arten and Pursah say that the universe was made – in thought, not in reality – by the collective Mind of human beings (a very small aspect of the Christ Mind conjoined with the ego) before it divided itself and entered human bodies. In the Course, Jesus says that we did not make the world, only illusions; that what is true in earth and Heaven is beyond our naming (Workbook, p. 346). This invalidates what Arten and Pursah claim and, further, it means that the world is more than illusion! Jesus doesn’t say what it is that is true in earth and Heaven, but he goes on to talk about the unity within the world, “the one Identity which all things share,” which ties in with what he says in Messages from Jesus (Third Edition, 2009, pp. 125-126, 229): that God, as infinite love and oneness, embraces diversity and is in the world as the unifying essence of everything. The subtle truth in these teachings of Jesus is that things in the world or in Heaven not only can be distinguished from each other, but also are unified in oneness. Arten and Pursah say that only one thing exists, namely God, and God is without variety or distinctions (p. 124). For example, because God is one, God cannot be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Arten and Pursah introduce teachings like this in Disappearance and use them to explicitly contradict other teachings and the experiences of fully enlightened beings, such as Ramakrishna. The Course, however, does not put down other paths to God, and, as Jesus tells us in Introduction to Clarification of Terms, a universal theology is impossible. The Course simply helps us to realize God and the eternal Self by denying the reality of the world we see with the body’s eyes and affirming the reality of that which is unchanging and eternal.
According to Anandamayi Ma, a great saint of India (1896-1982), just as denying the reality of the world is a valid path for some, worshiping God in form is a valid approach for others. For example, some people attain enlightenment by constantly thinking of God in the form of a fully realized, or Christed, being. She also says that, in the supreme state of oneness, the Self experiences God in all forms – in plants, animals, water, human beings, even in a grain of sand. The One is in the many and the many are in the One (The Essential Sri Anandamayi Ma, World Wisdom, 2007, pp. 115-130). In India, spiritual teachers often have their disciples affirm the unreality of “this” and “that” to help them find the one Reality that underlies our experience of the many. Then, after attaining enlightenment, the disciple realizes that The One has become the many and is present in everything and everyone.
In the Course, when Jesus speaks of the world, he usually means the world as we perceive it with the physical senses and lower, or ego-oriented, mind. But, he also speaks of the world as perceived by divine vision in the light of Christ, which he refers to as the “real” or “forgiven” world. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the ego’s thought system is exposed and shined away by the light of the Christ through study and practice of the Course. Some of its teachings and affirmations help us to give up the ego’s belief in sin, condemnation and death, which we project onto and see in the world; others bring forth our innate spiritual awareness, and we begin to perceive peace, holiness and love in the world. The world is like a cosmic motion picture – perceived as occurring in time and space and materialized by invisible, divine light – giving rise to every conceivable experience and manifesting events that are related to the kinds of thoughts we think as individuals and as groups of people. The intelligence within the world is beyond human comprehension: every galaxy, substance, and living thing unique, interrelated with everything else, and playing a part in the wondrous cosmic drama.
In sharp contrast, Arten and Pursah teach that the world is insignificant, totally unreal, and entirely the result of the ego’s negative thoughts. They do not accurately represent the Course, for it not only teaches that the darkness we perceive in the world is our own darkness projected onto it, it also teaches that, by beholding peace, beauty, innocence, and love in the world, we transform it into the real world. The many statements and affirmations in the Course that speak of the real world of peace, beauty, light, and holiness are not even mentioned in Disappearance. Arten and Pursah make it appear as if the world is empty of divinity, whereas, according to the Course, although the world is nothing in itself, our thoughts give it meaning (Workbook, Part I, Lesson 132), and loving thoughts reveal the light of heaven shining on it (Workbook, Part II, Lesson 265). Only the ego and its unloving, delusive thoughts are empty of divinity. Yet even these are part of the all-embracing reality of God as the One, although for the purposes of the Course and from the perspective of God as the Absolute, they are unreal and need to be denied. For what the ego thinks it knows, working with the bodily organs of perception, veils from our awareness the holy, unifying light and love of God.
In Messages from Jesus, Jesus says, “All realms, heavens and creation abide in oneness with God – of pure love, absent of vengeance. Through your prayers and goodness, this omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God of love may intervene in all matters of unlimited, universal creation. Think of it as one world – in which you, God, and all creation exist as one – embracing all of humankind’s misconceptions, delusions, evil tendencies, love and terrorism. When you can see the One, you will experience all as divine love.” In another part of the book, Jesus also says, “There is no fixed reality except for the light of God. Everything is all one, including time. This oneness dwells as the light of God, the only reality. In this oneness and light you dwell – with free will, by the grace of God – to increase the light of your soul through loving actions and to vanquish your darkness.”