Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Docetism revisited after the Course

The other day my reading of The Book of Andrew caused a sort of a flash of recognition of the meaning of docetism post ACIM, simply because the details of the story are a bit at odds with the Gary Renard material, but internally the teaching is very consistent with A Course in Miracles. The form of our experience of Jesus is a function of our mind, the content is the Holy Spirit's... and for that docetism is merely a somewhat dated, overly theological explanation.

In parallel, I was working on the translation of Margot Krikhaar's The Great Liberation, specifically the final part of Chapter 6, where she talks about the meaning of Jesus in the Course in the context of the two levels. Margot discusses the issue very much in line with what Ken Wapnick has said about Helen Schucman's experience in this regard, in Absence from Felicity,his biography of Helen. Ken's favorite expression for this phenomenon is: "Jesus is a What that looks like a who, as long as you think you're a who," or in the words of the Course, Jesus is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. In terms of our individual experience what this means is that Jesus always seems very familiar, sometimes in surprising ways, but his presence comes with a deep awareness of authenticity and authority, that is beyond question because at some deeper level we recognize our own. Here is what Margot says:
 The ‘paradox’ of the person of Jesus who is so important in the context of a non-dualistic teaching, can newly be explained on the basis of the two levels on which the Course is written. You could say that ‘Jesus’ belongs on level two of the Course—the practical level where the Course meets us in our present experience of ourselves as a person in relationship with other persons. As a result the in and of itself completely abstract love can appear to us as a person. As one who for many in the Western world has become the personification of complete and boundless love: Jesus.
Metaphysically (on level one of the Course) this Jesus is only symbolic. As a ‘person’ he is part of the dream. But as we saw earlier (see paragraph 3.3) in fact everything in the dream is a symbol, and what matters is what the symbol points to, to fear (ego) or love (God). Jesus is a powerful symbol that points directly towards the Love of God. In other words: the form ‘Jesus’ is purely a symbol and not real in and of itself, but the ‘content’ is altogether real. And exactly because of that content is the symbol so powerful and effective.
From a metaphysical point of view, hearing Jesus’ voice means that someone’s mind (like that of Helen Schucman) is able to reach so high that it reaches the very highest levels of consciousness that is possible within the realm of perception. That is the level that lies just below the truth. This level of consciousness therefore is also the highest level of perception, right before it is transformed into knowledge. Knowledge, or Heaven, is not consciousness, but a pure and completely loving ‘being’ or oneness. (Margot Krikhaar, The Great Liberation, Chapter 6.7)
It all boils down to understanding the relationship of content and form, of a non-dualistic reality versus a very dualistic world of perception that we think we live in. The ancient theological struggles over the divinity of Jesus, which rested on such passages as the discussions of the apostles in the Acts of John, about how different their respective experiences of Jesus were (post the resurrection), gave rise to the construct of docetism. Predictably, it was roundly rejected by the church, because it was closer to the truth than the mythology they created about Jesus, as the person who died on the cross, and then experienced a bodily resurrection, in which case he would only have one body and look the same to all. Having said that, the modern explanation based on the metaphysics of the Course contains a way of reconciling both, to a degree which was never before possible. The key insight is the notion that duality is metaphor--everything in this world of appearances is only... an appearance, a perception, and never the truth. Thus the appearance is colored by the mind of the perceiver, as it does not have objective reality of any kind, but the abstract truth that is expressed is the same everywhere regardless of the appearance.

This is how at one point Helen had a dream of Jesus, in which she found that he looked like Bill Thetford. When she expressed her surprise, Jesus responded: "Who else would I look like?" I.e. of course he would appear "somehow familiar" to us. This is the same in the discussion in the Acts of John, he looks different to all of them, but completely familiar and authentic at the same time.
Helen Schucman's Jesus was an ace in advanced statistics, knew his King James Version, was a student of Shakespeare, and for the sake of Bill he also knew the Bhagavadgita very well. He spoke English. After all if Jesus really is who he is, why wouldn't he speak your language? Learning to recognize his voice in whatever form is part of our learning process in the Course in developing our relationship with our own inner teacher.

Through these experiences, and by accepting these differences in form, we learn to tune into content more than form, which is essential to learning to follow the guidance of our own inner teacher, and learning to distinguish his voice from the voice of the ego.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Book of Andrew and docetism 21st century style.

An interesting new addition to the modern Jesus literature, connected to A Course in Miracles, has arrived on the scene. The full title is The Book of Andrew: A Past-Life Memoir, by Charles Cale Lehman, edited for print by Bruce Gregory. The interesting details include that Charles Lehman was at one time the partner of Bill Thetford, who with Helen Schucman was responsible for the recording of the Course. Later Bill Thetford and he remained life-long friends. As a child Charles sometimes said his name was Andrew, and when Ken Wapnick met him in the seventies, he had a visionary experience--uncommon for him--of seeing the name "Andrew" on his forehead. Bruce Gregory is a regression therapist, who was recommended to Lehman by Bill Thetford, and who was instrumental in guiding the regressions that ultimately led to the material for this book.

The book is a joy to read, and it is very consistent in content with A Course in Miracles, and in as much as it pertains to Lehman's past life memories of his lifetime as Andrew, a disciple of Jesus, at the same time it reminds me of the docetic paradox in writings such as the Acts of John, which have traditionally befuddled the Christian Church because it thought Jesus was the character in Palestine whose story was reported by Peter and Paul, to the notable exclusion of many of the other apostles. There are interesting discrepancies in the form of the story, which make it clear once again that individual people experience Jesus differently.

Jesus is a what that looks like a who, as long as you think you're a who
That is one of my favorite sayings of Ken Wapnick. It makes the point that we experience Jesus as a person, and we tend to think of him as someone we would recognize. Helen had a dream at one point in which Jesus figured, and she later asked Jesus how come he looked like Bill, and Jesus answered her: "Who else would I look like?" Clearly, Helen's mind was learning to see the face of Christ in all her brothers. Another similar experience was her subway experience. In the acts of John we have the accounts of different apostles all comparing notes and realizing they experience Jesus (post resurrection) in totally different ways. And now, in the form of the Book of Andrew, we have a modern memoir, a past-life recollection of Jesus, and some of the other apostles, which clearly differs from another account that still stands within the Course tradition, namely Gary Renard's Disappearance of the Universe trilogy. Gary's Judas is a drunk, and a very different character from what is described in the Book of Andrew, although Jesus reaffirms in both that Judas is a brother and a Son of God, and thus Jesus stays remarkably true to his Course, as Gary might quip. Mary Magdalen is not in evidence in the account in the Book of Andrew, and the apostle John shows up in a more traditional role as the favorite disciple. In other areas the two books confirm each other. In short, Charles Lehman and Gary Renard differ on the details, though both accounts are consistent in content with the teachings of Jesus as we learn them in the Course.

An interesting twist in the Book of Andrew is that Jesus tells Andrew he would have to write things down later, because Peter and Paul would distort his teachings, which is of course exactly what happened. It is called Christianity. Much like the Buddha was a Hindu, Jesus was a Jew, and neither one ever intended to instigate yet another religion, because they very much recognized that the truth is one. But for the ego, that's too simple, and it always wants to see truth as exclusive not inclusive. Yet Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna were all evidently teachers of a non-dualistic reality that transcends all worldly specifics, for the simple reason that only truth is true and everything else is of necessity a lie, so that any teachings that would proceed from separation and differences would necessarily be untrue. The problem always is that we have to grow up to embrace truth, we have to climb the mountain to get to the level of Jesus, Buddha or Krishna, instead of dragging them into this world to fix our self-created problems for us. If they were to do so, they would merely attest to the reality of problems designed to prove the ego right and them wrong. But Jesus taught his disciples to leave their familiar patterns behind and follow him where he was going.

Familiarity and remembrance
Reading a book like The Book of Andrew, or Gary Renard's Disappearance of the Universe trilogy is not about them learning to hear the voice of Jesus, but about us doing so. The only reason we recognize the voice of Jesus, when we do, without any hesitation is because it is totally authentic, namely because it is the voice of who and what we really are in truth. The more we recognize that, the easier we will let go of our ego, because that scratchy voice is completely false, fake, and not at all who we are. As long as we are identified with our ego, we will feel like we are here, and yet at the same time we will feel shut out, alone and like a stranger, the authenticity of the voice of our inner teacher draws us towards the truth and the love which is what we really are in truth, and in realizing that the world will lose all grip on us and fade away, even while we may still appear to be here for a while.