FORGIVE AND BE FORGIVEN
The Core Teaching of A Course in Miracles
by Robert Perry
What is the core teaching of A Course in Miracles? Is there something fairly specific we can latch onto and that can guide our whole journey to God?
Discussion: We all know that forgiveness is the central teaching of the Course, but we need to make it more specific than that. In particular, who do we forgive? Do we forgive the other person or ourselves?
We forgive our brother first and then ourselves Forgiveness, truth’s reflection, tells me how to offer miracles....Your holy Son is pointed out to me, first in my brother; then in me. (W–pI.357.1:1–2)
This passage could not be clearer. Through forgiveness (see first sentence) I recognize God’s Son “first in my brother, then in me.” The purpose of the first phase of today's practice periods [in which you say “God is the Love in which I forgive you” and name the person, going through a number of people in this way] is to put you in a position to forgive yourself. After you have applied the idea to all those who have come to mind, tell yourself: God is the Love in which I forgive myself. (W–pI.46.5:1–3) Here we have the same progression. First we focus on forgiving others, then we forgive ourselves. In fact, the purpose of the phase of forgiving others “is to put you in a position to forgive yourself.” Discussion: Putting one’s main focus on forgiving oneself is such a popular idea these days, both among Course students and outside the Course, in the recovery movement, for instance. Why do you think this idea is so big these days?
Forgiving another is how we forgive ourselves The following passages are similar to the ones above, but slightly different. Their point is not so much that we first forgive others and then ourselves. Rather, their point is that through forgiving others we forgive ourselves. Forgiving others is how we forgive ourselves.
You understand that you are healed when you give healing. You accept forgiveness as accomplished in yourself when you forgive. (W–pI.159.2:1–2) Forgiveness has already been accomplished in you, but you only accept it as accomplished when you forgive others. There’s that passage that says, “Ask not to be forgiven, for this has already been accomplished” (T-14.IV.3:4). That passage, in fact, makes an identical point, for it goes on to say, “Ask, rather, to learn how to forgive [others], and to restore what always was [the fact that you’ve been forgiven] to your unforgiving mind” (T-14.IV.3:5). In both passages, through forgiving others you accept the fact that forgiveness has already been accomplished in you. This next passage makes the same point again.
Having forgiven, I no longer see myself as guilty. I can accept the innocence that is the truth about me. (W–pI.rI.58.1:3–4) This lesson is not difficult to learn, if you remember in your brother you but see yourself. If he be lost in sin, so must you be; if you see light in him, your sins have been forgiven by yourself. (W–pI.158.10:3–4) How do you forgive yourself according to the above passage? You see your brother as not lost in sin; you see a light in him; you forgive him. That is how “your sins [are] forgiven by yourself.” You cannot give yourself your innocence, for you are too confused about yourself. But should one brother dawn upon your sight as wholly worthy of forgiveness, then your concept of yourself is wholly changed. Your “evil” thoughts have been forgiven with his, because you let them all affect you not. No longer do you choose that you should be the sign of evil and of guilt in him. And as you give your trust to what is good in him, you give it to the good in you. (T–31.VII.2:4–8) This is an important passage. It says that you cannot grant yourself your innocence. In other words, you can’t give yourself forgiveness directly. I think the reason is that you are likely to give it to yourself in a confused way: “I’m forgiven because what I did really was understandable,” which means “someone else’s action pushed me into it,” which is a thought of blame. Only by seeing another as wholly innocent do you see yourself as truly innocent. Why? Because by not allowing your “evil” thoughts to determine your perception of him, you can stop seeing yourself in their light. You can stop seeing them as the definitive commentary on who you are.
As we learn to recognize our perceptual errors, we also learn to look past them or “forgive.” At the same time we are forgiving ourselves, looking past our distorted self-concepts to the Self that God created in us and as us. (from What It Says)
Each one [holy relationship] is another chance to forgive oneself by forgiving the other. (from What It Says)
Both the above passages are from the What It Says section in the Preface, a section dictated by Jesus after the Course was published. Both make the same basic statement—that in the act of forgiving another is contained the act of forgiving ourselves.
I will forgive all things today, that I may learn how to accept the truth in me, and come to recognize my sinlessness. (W–pI.rIII.119.2:2) This is a beautiful practice from Review III. I would encourage you to take a day and practice it. You might want to substitute a person’s name for “all things” in the first line.
According to key formula statements, this is the core teaching of the Course Forgive and be forgiven. As you give you will receive. There is no plan but this for the salvation of the Son of God. (W–pI.122.6:3–5) Forgiveness is the only gift I give, because it is the only gift I want. And everything I give I give myself. This is salvation's simple formula. And I, who would be saved, would make it mine, to be the way I live within a world that needs salvation, and that will be saved as I accept Atonement for myself. (W–pII.297.1:1–4) These two passages are immensely important. Let’s look at what they have in common:
Lesson 122 Lesson 297 By giving forgiveness, you will receive forgiveness.
By giving forgiveness, you will receive forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the only thing you want to receive.
This is the only plan for salvation.
This is the simple formula for salvation.
Since I want salvation, I would make this my formula, my way of life.
For many years now the view has been solidifying in me that this idea (by giving forgiveness, you will receive it) is the core teaching of the Course. Why is this “salvation’s simple formula”?
1. Guilt is our core problem; forgiveness is our great need.
2. Giving is the way to receive.
1. Guilt is our core problem; forgiveness is our great need.
Think of these three lists:
· The things in your life that cause you pain · The things in your life that cause you fear · The things that block you from the total awareness of God All three of these lists are one-item lists, and all three items are the same item: guilt.
2. Giving is the way to receive.
Look at all five of the passages below and notice how they all connect the idea of forgiveness to the idea that giving is the way to receive, which yields the idea that by giving forgiveness we will receive it.
The unforgiving mind does not believe that giving and receiving are the same. Yet we will try to learn today that they are one through practicing forgiveness toward one whom you think of as an enemy, and one whom you consider as a friend. And as you learn to see them both as one, we will extend the lesson to yourself, and see that their escape included yours. (W–pI.121.9:1–3) This first one is a little subtle. The idea is this: Today you’ll learn that giving and receiving are the same, by giving forgiveness to two people (an “enemy” and a friend) and seeing that, once you do, you will receive forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the only gift I give, because it is the only gift I want. And everything I give I give myself. (W–pII.297.1:1–2) Forgive and be forgiven. As you give you will receive. There is no plan but this for the salvation of the Son of God. (W–pI.122.6:3–5)
True forgiveness, as the means by which [salvation] is attained, must heal the mind that gives, for giving is receiving. (W–pI.126.7: 5) To offer forgiveness is the only way to have it, for it reflects the law of Heaven that giving and receiving are the same. (What It Says)
Notice how strong that last passage is. “To offer forgiveness is the only way to receive it.” That one passage, all by itself, sweeps away our notions that we should mainly focus on forgiving ourselves.
Why is giving the way to receive?
I have thought of the answer to this in two ways:
· If you teach an idea, you will learn that that idea is in you, is yours “Teach only love, and learn that love is yours…” (T-6.III.4:9).
This is the notion, mentioned twice in the Course, that “giving is the proof of having” (T-29.III.1:8; see also W-pI.187.1:2). By giving something, you prove that it must have been in you to give.
· If you teach an idea, you will learn that that idea is you “Teach only love, and learn that love is yours and you are love” (T-6.III.4:9).
I consider this second idea perhaps even more important than the first. What you give becomes, in your mind, a commentary on what you are. If you give love and goodness, you naturally conclude that love and goodness are part of your nature. If you give attack and evil, you naturally conclude that those things are a part of your nature. Whatever comes out of you becomes evidence about what you are. The Course puts it this way: “Therefore, what extends from the mind is still in it, and from what it extends it knows itself” (T-6.III.1:2). You draw your conclusions about yourself based on what extends from your mind.
Forgiveness is an ego-transcending gesture. It is the opposite of our usual self-centered, me-first stance. Real forgiveness is something the ego can never do. Thus, by constantly forgiving, we teach ourselves that we are not an ego.
Discussion: If the last thing the ego wants to do is forgive, can you imagine seeing forgiveness go forth from you eventually convincing you that you are not an ego? If “to err is human, to forgive divine,” then can you imagine seeing forgiveness go forth from you eventually convincing you that you are divine?
To really embrace “salvation’s simple formula” we have to really embrace those two ideas—that forgiveness is our great need and that giving is the way to receive. Yet that is no small feat. The Course points out that both ideas are incredibly hard for us to really understand.
The first idea is extremely hard for the mind to understand Of one thing you were sure: Of all the many causes you perceived as bringing pain and suffering to you, your guilt was not among them. (T-27.VII.7:4) This passage says that before you started studying the Course, you were sure of one thing—that your guilt wasn’t a significant source of the pain in your life. Yet elsewhere the Course tells us “guilt is...the sole cause of pain in any form” (T-30.V.2:4).
All blocks to the remembrance of God are forms of unforgiveness, and nothing else. This is never apparent to the patient, and only rarely so to the therapist. The world has marshalled all its forces against this one awareness, for in it lies the ending of the world and all it stands for. (P–2.II.3:3–5) This is an important passage. It’s from the Psychotherapy supplement, which teaches that the whole problem therapy is there to heal is the patient’s guilt, which comes from his unforgiveness. Thus, the whole goal of therapy is to relieve the patient’s guilt through forgiveness. Yet, amazingly, the therapist is hardly ever aware of this, and the patient never is! The blocks to this awareness must be heavy indeed.
The second idea is incredibly alien to our thinking A major learning goal this course has set is to reverse your view of giving, so you can receive. For giving has become a source of fear, and so you would avoid the only means by which you can receive. (W–pI.105.3:1–2) Today's idea [“All that I give is given to myself”], completely alien to the ego and the thinking of the world, is crucial to the thought reversal that this course will bring about. (W–pI.126.1:1) To the teachers of God, it [the term “generosity”] means giving away in order to keep. This has been emphasized throughout the text and the workbook, but it is perhaps more alien to the thinking of the world than many other ideas in our curriculum. Its greater strangeness lies merely in the obviousness of its reversal of the world's thinking. (M-4.VII.1:5-7) These passages are striking in the consistency of thought contained in them:
The idea that giving and receiving are the same...
Lesson 105 Lesson 126 Manual, Section 4 is central to the Course “a major learning goal this course has set” “crucial to the thought reversal that this course will bring about” “emphasized throughout the text and workbook” is alien to our current thinking “completely alien to the ego and the thinking of the world” “alien to the thinking of the world” requires a reversal of our current thinking “reverse your view of giving, so you can receive” “crucial to the thought reversal that this course will bring about” “its reversal of the world’s thinking” Thus, if we are really going to embrace this core idea of the Course, we have to really get these two extremely alien ideas:
1. We have to have some sense of just how guilty we feel, some sense that guilt is the pain within all our pains, some dim recognition that to feel forgiven is our only true need in this world.
2. We have to experience a reversal of how we currently see giving, so that we really get that giving is not loss, not sacrifice, but receiving.