The Most Basic ACIM Question

This is an extract from Ken Wapnick’s book The Message of A Course in Miracles: Volume 1, All Are Called

The Most Basic ACIM Question

by Ken Wapnick

… from the point of view of the Son’s deluded mind, it did appear as if the impossible had occurred and that this thought of separation had “become a serious idea, and possible of both accomplishment and real effects” (T-27.VIII.6:3). And what were these impossible and unthinkable effects?

This is the anti-Christ; the strange idea there is a power past omnipotence, a place beyond the infinite, a time transcending the eternal. Here the world of idols has been set by the idea this power and place and time are given form, and shape the world where the impossible has happened. Here the deathless come to die, the all‑encompassing to suffer loss, the timeless to be made the slaves of time. Here does the changeless change; the peace of God, forever given to all living things, give way to chaos. And the Son of God, as perfect, sinless and as loving as his Father, come to hate a little while; to suffer pain and finally to die (T-29.VIII. 6:2‑6).

There remains, however, the most basic question anyone could ask at this point, and a book presenting the complete thought system of A Course in Miracles would be remiss if it did not address it. The basic question is this, which I state in different forms: How could such a thought of self-creation, independent of our true Creator and Source, ever possibly have arisen? How could the perfect and awake Son of God ever have fallen into a sleep of imperfection? How, in fact, could the separation have occurred at all?

Unless my memory fails me, my wife Gloria and I—together or separately—have not conducted a class or workshop on A Course in Miracles where someone has not asked this question. Even further, the question is hardly new. It has been expressed by philosophers many times over, and has actually been a very specific concern for all Platonists in one way or another throughout their long and illustrious tradition. For example, in the Gnostic writings, many of which fall within the Platonic philosophical line of inquiry, we find two expressions of these concerns. The first comes from the non-Christian Gnostic text “Zostrianos,” probably dating from the 2nd century, where the protagonist asks:

Now concerning Existence: How do those who exist, who are from the aeon of those who exist, come from an invisible spirit and from the undivided self-begotten?… What is the place of that one there? What is his origin?… How has Existence which does not exist appeared in an existing power?

I [Zostrianos] was pondering these matters in order to understand them. I kept bringing them up daily to the god of my fathers according to the custom of my race…(quoted in Love Does Not Condemn, First Edition, p. 417).

However, this god, as well as other celestial revelatory beings mentioned in the treatise, does not provide a real answer.

The second example comes from the literature of the Mandeans, another Gnostic group whose incredible history actually spans the 1st century to the present day. The same question is also posed, again without answer:

Since you, Life, were there, how did darkness come into being there?… how did imperfection and deficiency come into being? (quoted in Love Does Not Condemn, First Edition, p. 417)

While these are perfectly logical questions to ask, they are nonetheless spurious ones, as Jesus points out in A Course in Miracles. In fact, he addresses the issue in two places. In the text Jesus states, in what was originally a response to a question posed by Bill Thetford as Helen Schucman was taking down the Course: “It is reasonable to ask how the mind could ever have made the ego” (T-4.II.1:1), and then provides a very practical explanation:

There is, however, no point in giving an answer in terms of the past because the past does not matter, and history would not exist if the same errors were not being repeated in the present (T-4.II.1:3).

In other words, why should we persist in wondering how the ego occurred in the past, when we are still choosing it in the present? In the Introduction to the clarification of terms, we find a more penetrating answer to the ego’s question about its own origins:

The ego will demand many answers that this course does not give. It does not recognize as questions the mere form of a question to which an answer is impossible. The ego may ask, “How did the impossible occur?”, “To what did the impossible happen?”, and may ask this in many forms. Yet there is no answer; only an experience. Seek only this, and do not let theology delay you (C-in.4).

And later:

Who asks you to define the ego and explain how it arose can be but he who thinks it real, and seeks by definition to ensure that its illusive nature is concealed behind the words that seem to make it so.

There is no definition for a lie that serves to make it true (C‑2.2:5–3:1).

Restated, A Course in Miracles’ argument is that once we ask how the impossible (the ego) happened, we are really affirming that the ego did happen, duality is coexistent with non-duality, or even that non-duality does not exist at all. Otherwise we could not even think to ask such a question. Thus we are making a statement, not really asking a question at all, as Jesus instructs us in the text:

The world can only ask a double question. One with many answers can have no answers. None of them will do. *It does not ask a question to be answered, but only to restate its point of view.

All questions asked within this world are but a way of looking, not a question asked.…

A pseudo-question has no answer. It dictates the answer even as it asks. Thus is all questioning within the world a form of propaganda for itself. Just as the body’s witnesses are but the senses from within itself, so are the answers to the questions of the world contained within the questions that are asked. Where answers represent the questions, they add nothing new and nothing has been learned (T‑27.IV.3:5–4:1; 5:1-5; italics mine).

It must, then, be only the ego—now apart from God—that would ever pose such a question-statement. This question-statement thus reflects the crux of the God-world paradox, for it appears to make both aspects equally real: the true Creator God and His Heaven, as well as the illusory ego and its miscreated world. By denying the reality of the world (once it is understood to be a miscreated dream), the paradox disappears since what does not exist cannot be held antithetical to what does:

The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite (T-in.1:8; italics omitted).

In other words, once one has had an experience of God’s non-dualistic Love, the inherently dualistic question—ultimately borne of fear or ignorance—could never be asked. This again is what is meant in the above quotation about seeking only the experience of truth, without allowing the defensive nature of theological inquiry to delay the achievement of one’s true goal.

Thus, the issue of how the thought of separation arose (and later, how the separated world arose as a defense against God) is itself unresolvable and beyond comprehension; the ego is unable to understand a reality beyond itself. And so we can understand why no non-dualistic metaphysical system can provide an intellectually satisfying answer to this pseudo-question: even to attempt an answer is to give the ego a reality it does not have. It is similar to the famous question asked by comedians of an earlier generation: “When did you stop beating your wife?” Simply trying to answer the question implicates the comedian’s target in the illusory spousal attack. The truth can only be ascertained by denying the legitimacy of the question in the first place.

One of the best expressions I know of how to approach this pseudo-question comes from an Eastern source, related to me by a friend, in which the spiritual teacher Kirpal Singh taught: “When caught in a burning building, you do not worry about how the fire began; you simply get out as quickly as possible.” Since one of A Course in Miracles’ claims for itself is that it will save its students time, this seems to be the most practical and helpful response to our famous question.

Excerpted from The Message of A Course in Miracles: Volume 1, All Are Called

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