Curriculum or Perennial Wisdom
Walsh, a professor of psychiatry, anthropology and philosophy
at the University of California at Irvine, discusses
A Course in Miracles:
States of Mind
Walsh, a native Australian for whom the Church of England
constituted his earliest religious influence, says that
he was "pretty much of an agnostic" by the time he arrived
at Stanford University for his psychiatric training.
"I was a hardcore neuro-scientist oriented toward behavior-modification
therapy and a related outlook on life."
major turning point in Walsh’s life occurred when he
entered psychotherapy in 1974, "opening up a whole new
world of inner feeling and imagery that I’d been totally
out of touch with." Sampling a wide variety of trainings
and workshops while pursuing psychiatric training and
then his postdoctoral psychiatric research, Walsh found
himself gravitating toward meditation practice and contemplative
traditions—"although I didn’t know exactly why, since
I still regarded religion as the opiate of the masses."
Then came another turning point. "I experienced a blinding
moment of insight," recalls Walsh, "when I realized
that the contemplative core of the world’s great spiritual
traditions offered technologies for the induction of
transcendent states of mind."
Walsh observed, "This means that the deepest spiritual
wisdom may not be fully comprehensible to us unless
we too train ourselves to experience appropriate states
of mind"—through such traditional spiritual technologies
as meditation, yoga, contemplation, and devotional practices.
In fact, Walsh believes that the world’s spiritual traditions
were inspired in part by the altered-states experiences
of the great teachers and prophets such as Jesus, Buddha,
this perspective, the early-seventies arrival of A
Course in Miracles with its unique blend of psychological
and spiritual language plus an explicit discipline for
mind training, could not have been more perfectly timed.
But in Roger Walsh’s view, what makes the Course so
effective is not only its modernity but also some core
character. "One of the hallmarks
of a profound teaching is that when you go through it
again, you find what philosophers call "higher grades
of significance," wrote Walsh. "This seems to happen
each time I go through the Course. I’m now at the point
where I feel it’s on a par with any other material or
discipline I’ve seen...I’m inclined to think that this
document may be a spiritual masterpiece."
Walsh’s view, then, authentic spiritual traditions are
"those capable of inducing appropriate altered states,
transcendence or higher development." A Course in
Miracles, he says, shares at least four similarities
with older teachings:
the teachings were revealed
- What the teachings
say about the human condition
- What the teachings
say about our potential
- What the teachings
say about the means for realizing our potential
How The Teachings Were Revealed
still terribly embarrassed to be associated with something
channeled," confesses Walsh, "as were Bill Thetford
and Helen Schucman. But
as far as I can see, religions have usually been produced
from very unrespectable sources. Jesus was condemned
as a common criminal, Lao-Tzu wandered off into the
desert as a total unknown, Confucius couldn’t hold a
job, and Mohammed was a suspect camel driver whom a
lot of people waged war on."
admits that there’s an "enormous amount of nonsense
to be found in channeled material. The problem is that
there’s also some good stuff. It’s much rarer, but it
defies common-sense explanations. It seems pretty clear
that some of the Bible was produced this way, as well
as part of the Koran. In Judaism there have been scores
of mystics who produced works by the process of inner
dictation, and in Buddhism, many Indian and Tibetan
texts were produced this way."
is particularly impressed by the voice of the Course
in comparison to other channeled teachers he has sampled.
"If I try to sense the mind of Emmanuel, for instance,
I feel a wonderful, compassionate presence, but there’s
still a feeling of individuality. By contrast, the mind
behind the Course feels boundless."
What The Teachings Say About the Human Condition
the most common feature of the great spiritual
traditions is that they take a dim view of the
human condition in its everyday, unspiritual
state. "The teachings make it clear that things
aren’t good and there’s an enormous amount of
suffering going on," says Walsh. "They point
to the sorrows and shortness of life; the inevitability
of sickness, old age, and death; the ever-present
confrontation with meaning, purpose, and the
questions of relationship and aloneness; and
the uncertainty and fickleness of fate."
first Noble truth of the Buddha points to the
inevitability of suffering in life, which Walsh
cites alongside a passage from Psalms: "In the
immensity of the universe we seem as dust. Our
lives are but toil and trouble; they are soon
gone. They come to an end like a sigh; like
a dream. What person can live and not see death?"
Course in Miracles agrees completely," remarks
Walsh. "It says this is an insane world of sorrow
and death, and it is not where you ultimately
belong. Then why are we here? Both ACIM and
the contemplative core of the great traditions
say that the problem the world represents is
really the state of our minds. We’re
driven and dominated by unhealthy desires and
fears, obsessed by wanting to get more variations
and intensities of sensation and feelings. Plus,
we’re dominated by egocentric concerns, driven
by the twin powers of addiction and aversion.
From these spring the seven deadly sins of Christianity,
the hindrances of Buddhism, the pain-bearing
obstructions of yoga—different names for similar
and the Course are very similar in their suggestions
that our way of thinking literally creates the
world we see, says Walsh. The message of ACIM
is that "you’re so insane you don’t know you’re
insane. You’re suffering from a shared, unhappy,
psychotic dream, and the Course offers an alternate
thought system you can substitute for that dream."This
point about dreaming is very important," continues
Walsh, "because a lot of the deeper meaning
of the great traditions is hidden unless you
get the implications of this message: that what
we ordinarily take to be a fully wakened state
is actually a dream."
feels that the Course’s explanation of our waking
hallucinations is among the best available in
the world’s traditions: "Dreams show you
that you have the power to make a world as you
would have it be, and that because you want
it, you see it. And while you see it you do
not doubt that it is real. Yet here is a world,
clearly within your mind, that seems to be outside...You
seem to waken, and the dream is gone...And what
you seem to waken to is but another form of
this same world you see in dreams. All your
time is spent in dreaming. Your sleeping and
your waking dreams have different forms, and
that is all."
What the Teachings Say About Our Potential
can get some sense of our true nature if we
look at the opposite of our unenlightened condition
as it usually is," comments Walsh. "Instead
of finitude and limits, we find descriptions
of infinity and boundless being. In place of
time and change we find descriptions of the
eternal and the changeless. In place of birth
and death we have the unborn and the deathless.
In place of angst and fear we have love, bliss,
says Walsh, the great tradition's suggest an
enormous potential for the mind. "Enlightened
mind is said to be free of the ravages of fear,
greed, hatred, and anger. Christ called it the
‘peace which passeth understanding’;
for the Buddha it was nirvana, for the
yogi it’s the bliss of samadhi." As the
Course says, "A tranquil mind is not a
universal message here is that to the extent
we quiet the raucous activity of our untrained
minds, to that extent we will find our true
Self, a place of boundless peace and bliss.
This is the Buddha's recognition of anatta,
the awareness that the ego was an illusion all
along. It’s the goal of yoga, which means union
of self with Self.It’s Taoism’s alignment with
the Tao, and for Christian mystics it was deification,
Christ-consciousness, or oneness with God. In
the Course’s words, it’s "Let me remember I
am one with God, at one with all my brothers
and my Self, in everlasting holiness and peace."’
"This all sounds like nice stuff," Walsh concludes.
"The questions is, how do we get there?"
What the Teachings Say About the Means for Realizing
to Walsh, authentic spiritual traditions offer
not just a belief system but an explicit guide
to training the mind so that one becomes open
to higher states of being and awareness. Thus,
all great paths offer what Walsh calls a "technology
of transcendence." Looking across all these
paths, Walsh finds five common elements of such
cultivation of wisdom
common thinking of religious morality is do this
or God will get you," says Walsh. "This is not
the perspective of the universal curriculum or perennial
wisdom, which views ethics as a means for training
the mind. If we look closely we find that unethical
behavior both arises from and reinforces painful and
destructive mind states: anger, fear, greed, hatred,
and jealousy. On
the other hand, ethical behavior tends not to reinforce
these mind states, hence reducing them and cultivating
their opposites: generosity, love, joyfulness. So
one becomes ethical not out of fear or guilt, but
simply because one recognizes that this is what leads
to greater well-being for oneself and others. Ethics
is a skillful strategy."
minds are a mess!" declares Walsh. "If you’ve ever
tried meditation, you know the experience of sitting
down to concentrate on following your breath, then
realizing twenty minutes later that while there was
certainly some breathing going on, you weren’t around
for it." The
Bhagavad-Gita says, "Restless man’s mind is.
So strongly shaken in the grip of the senses, gross
and grown hard with stubborn desire for what is worldly,
how shall we tame it? Truly I think the wind is not
wilder." Ramana Maharshi said, ‘All scriptures without
any exception proclaim that for attaining salvation
mind should be subdued.’ And then we have the Course
saying, "You are much too tolerant of mind wandering."
of the path, Walsh suggests, the method of attentional
training is basically the same: a continuous bringing
back of attention to a predetermined object. The yogi
returns again and again to the breath. The Course
Workbook asks us to come back to our thought for the
day. The aim is to constantly recollect the mind,
returning it to what we have decided to focus on—and
this gives power.
Buddhism there are four imponderables," adds Walsh.
"these are four things that you can’t fathom, and
or how the universe began;
or karma, how things are caused;
scope of the mind of the Buddha; and finally,
power of the fully concentrated mind.
a fully concentrated mind has awesome power at its
names two components to this element: 1) the reduction
of negative, "unskillful" emotions and 2) the cultivation
of positive, useful ones. As mentioned earlier, the
perennial or universal philosophy sees all unskillful
emotions emanating from the obsessions of addiction
Course has a variety of approaches to reducing our
attachment to what it calls idols—all the things we
crave," says Walsh. "There is a whole series of Workbook
lessons on this, including ‘The world I see holds
nothing that I want.’ It’s not that we can’t live
with joy and love here in the world; the Course and
other traditions make it clear that we can. But as
long as we think that fulfilling our desires is what
will makes us happy, we’re actually destined for unhappiness."
and hatred are the two chief emotions rooted in aversion,
says Walsh, and he cites a pungent Buddhist image
for this assessment of anger’s value: They say we
should regard anger as stale urine mixed with poison.
The Course maintains that "Anger is never
justified. Attack has no foundation." "The Course’s
primary tool for reducing anger is forgiveness," adds
Walsh, "and it provides an exquisitely detailed variety
of approaches to forgiveness, more so than any other
path I have found."
second component of emotional transformation is the
cultivation of positive or skillful emotions, believed
to lead the spiritual aspirant towards states of unlimited
love and compassion. "These states are what Buddhism
calls the divine abodes," observes Walsh, "what Christianity
calls agape, what the bhakti tradition calls divine
love. In one lesson the Course likewise suggests ‘God’s
will for me is perfect happiness.’"
believes that the universal or perennial philosophy
encourages a number of shifts in one’s deepest motivations,
chief among them being the shift from wanting to
acquire things, attention, or power, to pursuing
inner development as the only lasting means of
shift is simply from getting to giving.
"Traditionally this has been called purification,"
reports Walsh. "Psychologists would recognize it as
moving up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. For Kierkegaard
it was epitomized in the saying, ‘Purity of heart
is to will one thing.’ Jesus said, ‘Seek ye first
the kingdom of heaven and all else will be given to
then is the highest motivation, the highest desire
to focus on?
Mahayana Buddhism, we have the ideal of the boddhisattva:
to awaken with the aim of using that awakening for
the helping and healing of all beings. This may be
the highest ideal the human mind has ever conceived,
and in Buddhism it’s believed to take place over many
lifetimes in order to liberate all sentient beings."
Course in Miracles is a bodhisattvic path as well,
claims Walsh, making it very clear that none of us
are going to get out of this game until all of us
get out of it. You can’t clean up your mind only—because
all minds are one and interconnected, according to
the Course. It also makes clear that the work involved
is in no way a sacrifice, because as one lesson says,
"All that I give is given to myself."
The cultivation of wisdom.
identifies two kinds of wisdom that play a part in
achieving our spiritual potential: initial and
final. Initial wisdom is what starts one on
the path—trying meditation and reading the Course
or whatever. One recognizes the suffering and unsatisfactoriness
of the world and thinks, as Bill Thetford did, that
there must be a better way. In Buddhism it’s
the recognition of duhkha—that unenlightened living
does indeed lead to suffering."
wisdom is a profound insight into the nature of
mind, self, and reality," Walsh continues. "This is
a direct, transcendental intuition, not of the mind
or intellect. In the East it’s called prajna,
in the West gnosis, and in the Course knowledge.
wisdom is also known to be profoundly empowering and
liberating. In Christianity it’s ‘the Kingdom of Heaven
is within you’, in the Upanishads it’s ‘by understanding
the Self, all this universe is known’, in Siddha Yoga
it’s ‘God dwells within you as you.’ This is enlightenment,
satori, moksha, wu, liberation, salvation," Walsh
comments, "different words for the same realization.
The message of the great traditions as well as A Course
in Miracles can thus be summarized very simply: WAKE
A COURSE IN MIRACLES
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