On Sunday, August 15, 2010 Rev. Tony Ponticello addressed the congregation at the Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. What follows is a lightly edited transcription of his talk.
When I was thinking about what I wanted to talk about today, I kept getting the guidance that, in some indirect way, I wanted to do something that sums up A Course In Miracles. I didn’t quite know what that guidance meant. Eventually I got the thought, “What does the Course actually say?” So what does ACIM actually say?
Of course, A Course In Miracles says a lot of things. It says that God is all that there is and not to think of God as some super natural being up in the heavens manifesting an exter-nal world. The Course teaches us that we are all extensions of God, just like my arm is an extension of myself. My arm is still part of me. We are an extension of God. We are still connected to God. We are actually a part of God. We are still part of the Totality. There is no outside world that we live in.
Now these are very lofty thoughts. They are very hard to conceptualize. They are abstract; they belong in the realm of knowledge. A Course In Miracles actually says that these thoughts are not important for us to study. The Course say, “This course will lead to knowledge, but knowledge itself is still beyond the scope of our curriculum. Nor is there any need for us to try to speak of what must forever lie beyond words.” (Tx.Or.Ed.18.95) These lofty ideas about Heaven, Reality, and Oneness are beyond the scope of the curriculum of ACIM. ACIM mentions them here and there, but they are not one of the main themes that ACIM is teaching us. In another place the Course says, “What is everything leaves room for nothing else. – Yet is this magnitude beyond the scope of this curriculum. Nor is it necessary we dwell on anything that cannot be immediately grasped.” (Tx.Or.Ed.26.18.19) This is saying actually the same thing about the “scope of the curriculum.” The Course even uses the same phrase, and these two quotations are eight chapters apart. They are not right after each other. They are quite a distance apart. Yet they are very similar.
Here is another quotation. It doesn’t use they same words, but it has the same idea, “This course makes no attempt to teach what cannot easily be learned. Its scope does not exceed your own, except to say that what is yours will come to you when you are ready.” (Tx.Or.Ed.24.69) Again, A Course In Miracles is saying not to dwell upon what is exceeding our scope. The Course tells us that when we are ready we will be “there,” and we will understand this.
I like this idea that A Course In Miracles keeps repeating its themes. I have heard Ken Wapnick describe A Course In Miracles as symphonic in nature. A symphony will repeat a theme. The symphony will repeat it a little differently each time. The symphony will repeat the theme with different instruments. The symphony may repeat the theme in a different tempo at different times. Maybe the symphony will repeat the theme in a different key, but the symphony keeps repeating and manipulating the theme. This is a big part of what joins the symphony into a whole unified work. This repetition is part of what make the musical piece belong together and not just three or four independent songs. It’s a symphony.
I have always liked Ken Wapnick’s idea that A Course In Miracles is symphonic in nature. The Course’s themes are continually repeated with a little different flavor each time. What idea we didn’t get one time, we may get the next time when it’s expressed differently. If it doesn’t sink in the second time, maybe the third time will be the charm. Eventually we will get these themes because they are always repeated.
I, as a Course teacher, think this symphonic idea is very important when it comes to teaching. To me, it means it is not necessary to dwell on every paragraph until the students have “gotten it.” Some A Course In Miracles classes read every single paragraph of the Course very slowly. These classes discuss every paragraph that they read. They don’t go on to the next paragraph until they feel like they have gotten everything that single paragraph has to say. Only when that paragraph is all talked out are they ready to move on. It takes many, many years to get through the Course when it is taught this way. This is great, if that is what the class is guided to do, and am sure that it is. Our ACIM-1 class moves much faster through the material. Our ACIM-1 class takes only one year, 52 weeks, to get through the Text. I like moving fast through the material. One of the reasons I do our class this way is because I recognize the symphonic nature of the Course. It is not necessary to dissect every paragraph because we’re going to get the same theme a couple of pages later, or a couple of chapters later.
There is another reason why I like to read a whole section before discussion. It is because, like a symphony, A Course In Miracles is music, or as some people say, it’s poetry. To stop at every paragraph and dissect it would miss the music of the Course. It would miss the poetry of the Course. Think about music. If we were to just play one bar of a musical work then stopped to appreciate that single bar, to figure out the notes and the chords before we heard the next bar, we would miss the music. We would not hear the music. There is music: there is a symphony to the Course. This is why I, personally, think it is a good thing to read whole sections and not to get hung up on what I might have missed, because as the symphony goes on that theme will be repeated.
While preparing today’s lecture I also had some thoughts about the ancient Chinese philosopher named Lao Tsu. That’s Lao Tsu on the cover of your program. One of Lao Tsu’s more quoted statements is, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a signal step.” That is an ancient Chinese sayings that is attributed to Lao Tsu. It’s in the book that he apparently wrote, so many centuries ago, named The Tao Te Ching. The Tao Te Ching formed the foundation for a couple of our worlds well known religions. I’m sure Lao Tsu would not have thought that he was forming a religion, or even a spiritual philosophy, when he wrote The Tao Te Ching.
We have a well known, world spiritual program named Taoism. It is spelled with a “T” but it is pronounced more like a “D.” Taoism also figures prominently in Zen Buddhism. There are many translations of what “Tao Te Ching” actually means. I have read that “Tao” means “the way” or “the path” and in Taoism it is used to refer the to the essential, unnameable process of life – the way life moves, the path life follows. “Te” means “personal virtue” or “integrity.” “Ching” means “great book” or “classic.” “Tao Te Ching” can thus be translated as “the great classic book about the way, or path, of personal virtue and integrity.” I like the Taoist idea of the way or the path because it reminds me of how A Course In Miracles talks about the journey. The Course talks about moving along, one step at a time. The practice is not about a particular goal or the end as I was talking about a few minutes ago. That’s beyond the scope of the curriculum. The Course is about moving along one step at a time through the journey. Sometimes, ACIM talk’s about this journey poetically and abstractly. The Course says, “The journey to God is merely the reawakening of the knowledge of where you are always and what you are forever. It is a journey without distance to a goal that has never changed.” (Tx.Or.Ed.8.51) That’s a very beautiful, poetic idea that resonates with a creative part of our mind. However, sometimes it talks about the journey very technically. The Course says, “To you who seem to find this course to be too difficult to learn, let me repeat that to achieve a goal you must proceed in its direction, not away from it. And every road that leads the other way will not advance the purpose to be found.” (Tx.Or.Ed.31.39) Here the journey is a very practical. Keep going in the direction; keep taking that next step.
A Course In Miracles teaches us that the world is not real and all the people in it are projections of our own minds. When they do things that appear to hurt us we have to remember that. We have to remember that people in the world are only projections of our own mind. In one ACIM Workbook lessons it says, “I trust my brothers, who are one with me. – Trusting your brothers is essential to establishing and holding up your faith in your ability to transcend doubt and lack of sure conviction in yourself.” (Wk.Or.Ed.181) Every year we come across this lesson and I think that it gets misinterpreted a lot. I think what we can trust our brothers to do is to bring us the exact lesson that we need to learn in that moment. That’s what we can absolutely trust them to do. It’s not that we trust them to continually to be nice to us, because certainly that’s not the experience we all have in the world. However, we can trust that whatever is going on with them is what we need to experience. It is the next step in our journey, the next single step we have to take in that journey of a thousand miles Lao Tsu was talking about.
In another place A Course In Miracles says, “Your brother is the mirror in which you will see the image of yourself as long as perception lasts. And perception will last until the Sonship knows itself as whole.” (Tx.Or.Ed.7.73) Our brothers are mirrors. We see an image of ourselves in them. Whatever they are doing is something inside of us. That’s why we are not to get to upset about it. That’s why we have to offer it up. That’s why we must perceive it as something that is going on within us that we have to look at and reperceive.
You know I always like to talk about practical things that are happening to me. Many of you know that I am involved in a legal process. My lawyer and I have made our legal petition challenging Rev. Larry’s will/trust that was drastically changed just three days before he died. We presented our petition to the court. Yesterday we got in the mail the legal response from the other side that is going to defend their position. Of course they’re going to defend their position and say that our petition is wrong. In our petition we talked about the relationship I had with Rev. Larry and how our relationship was a romantic relationship for the first sixteen years. In the response that we got yesterday it said Rev. Larry and I never had a romantic relationship, and we had a strictly a business relationship for the twenty six years that we knew each other. That’s a lie. It’s just a lie. I, of course, know that the person who wrote this statement knows the statement is a lie. Rev. Larry and I did have a romantic relationship. I could get an untold number of people to testify that Rev. Larry and I had a romantic relationship. We spent nights together. We don’t have to talk about the sexual part of our relationship. We spent nights together. We went on trips together. We were affectionate with each other. We had affectionate names we called each other. People know these affectionate names because they heard them a lot. Rev. Larry and I had a romantic relationship and our relationship continued to have an element of romance even after we were not partners any more.
There was this lie, and there was a temptation, of course, to hold a grievance about this. This person told a lie, told a lie to hurt me. Why did he do that? I was upset. Yet, A Course In Miracles is saying there isn’t anybody out there telling a lie. It is actually something that I have manifested because I have to learn a particular lesson. That’s why the event is there. This person is bringing me a lesson. The obvious lesson brought to me yesterday was when have I lied? The truth is I have lied, and I have hurt people with lies that I have said. Now I get an experience of what it is like to be on the other side, and this is a big experience. I guess I needed a big lesson because I was ignoring the little ones. I needed a stronger one to wake me up. So, I got it! I have not always told the truth and I have done pain and damage because I did not. That has a lot to do with why this is happening to me. The Course says, “Trials are but lessons which you failed to learn presented once again, so where you made a faulty choice before you now can make a better one and thus escape all pain which what you chose before has brought to you.” (Tx.Or.Ed31.87) This legal lie is a learning device. It’s another step on the journey of a thousand miles that I am taking.
A Course In Miracles is very clear on how we are supposed to perceive things. If we hold the grievance we are holding that person as a prisoner, and we’re saying that person is separate from us. The Course says, “Therefore hold no one prisoner. Release instead of bind, for thus are you made free. The way is simple. Every time you feel a stab of anger, realize you hold a sword above your head. And it will fall or be averted as you choose to be condemned or free. Thus does each one who seems to tempt you to be angry represent your savior from the prison-house of death. And so you owe him thanks instead of pain.” (Wk.Bk.192.9) Wow! I need to be thankful to this person who has said a bold faced lie in a legal document, because it is the way I’m going to insure that I have eternal life, that I am aware of my eternal life. If I hold a grievance and focus on how this is hurting me then I am causing the sword to behead me! I’m actually working towards my own death. That’s a pretty powerful statement, and I think that is what ACIM actually says. I must thank this person and not hold a grievance against this person. It’s a tough lesson. The Course says, “All things are lessons God would have me learn – Forgive and you will see this differently. – Certain it is that all distress does not appear to be but unforgiveness. Yet that is the content underneath the form. It is this sameness which makes learning sure because the lesson is so simple that it cannot be rejected in the end. No one can hide forever from a truth so very obvious that it appears in countless forms and yet is recognized as easily in all of them if one but wants to see the simple lesson there.” (Wk.Bk.193.4.5)
This event is a lesson. It’s a lesson God wants me to learn. I need to forgive. If I forgive and offer up my thoughts I will see this differently, and I will get the learning. I will be able to move past this lesson. This will be another step along this journey of a thousand miles that I need to make. I think that is what Lao Tsu was talking about. Don’t focus on the end goal of the journey. We just have to keep taking the steps. We will eventually get to the end, but the end isn’t the important thing now. The important thing is to continue to take the steps. We will eventually have knowledge. We will eventually know our eternal nature. That’s not what A Course In Miracles is primarily about. The Course helps us to take the small single steps.
Lao Tsu apparently wrote the book we call The Tao Te Ching. There is some dispute about the authorship, but it truly doesn’t matter to me. Lao Tsu was an ancient Chinese philosopher. No one knows exactly when he lived, anywhere between 600 years B.C. to 300 years B.C. There’s a three century window for his life. The Tao Te Ching is a very small book as many of you probably know. It has eighty one small chapters. A few of the chapters are very small, only a couple of sentences. Many chapters are longer, a few paragraphs. Some chapters are a page or more. These chapters are like eighty one poems. The lessons are symbolic in nature, and often use nature itself as a symbol. These chapters make the mind think in different ways. They teach.
I did find out today when I was doing a little research that The Tao Te Ching is the second most translated book in the world. Obviously, the most translated book in the world is the Bible, but The Tao Te Ching is the second most translated book in the world. I also learned that the story of Lao Tsu and his book is all a legend. It’s all a myth. Nobody knows anything about it for sure. Nobody knows if there even was a person named Lao Tsu. Maybe somebody else wrote The Tao Te Ching. Nobody knows any of it for sure. I like that, because I think that’s the way I relate to Jesus. I have talked about that many times. What do we really know about Jesus? We can’t truly know what happen or what Jesus really said. It is an interesting myth, and we can learn from the myth. We can keep holding the myth in our minds, but we can’t actually know any of it.
One of the myths about Lao Tsu says that he once met the Chinese philosopher Confucius. Historians do have a better idea of when Confucius lived. He was born in 531 B.C. and died in 479 B.C. That would date Lao Tsu’s life mostly in the sixth century B.C., because the myth about their meeting says that Lao Tsu met Confucius near the end of Lao Tsu’s life when Confucius was a younger man. The most accepted myth about Lao Tsu tells us that he was the librarian for the emperor of the kingdom. He had access to all the books of knowledge that the kingdom had. Therefore, Lao Tsu was a learned man who could read, a rare ability for that time in history. Lao Tsu learned a lot as librarian. People kept coming to him for wisdom and advice. People kept asking him to write his wisdom down, but he kept refusing thinking that wisdom needed to be free. Wisdom had to come up from deep within. To write wisdom down would, in some way, ruin it.
At a certain time, in his elderly years, Lao Tsu decided to retire. The myth says that Lao Tsu got weary of the evil ways of the world. Some myths simply say he was old, and it was time for him to retire. When Lao Tsu left the emperor’s palaces he rode north on a water buffalo. You can see a water buffalo in the picture. He rode up to the Great Wall of China. Somebody at the Great Wall, maybe a guard who knew who Lao Tsu was, begged and pleaded Lao Tsu to write down the knowledge that he had. Lao Tsu finally relented. He took a little time and wrote down these eighty one little chapters. Lao Tsu gave his writings to the person who had asked, and then he moved on north, past the Great Wall. No one knows what happen to him after that.
The Tao Te Ching says many things that are very interesting. Many ancient Chinese sayings that we hear come from The Tao Te Ching. One of them is, “He who knows does not speak. He who speaks does not know.” I am up here speaking so that must mean I don’t know. (laughter) I have a warm spot in my heart for The Tao Te Ching because when I moved to San Francisco, back in 1979, it was the only book that I took with me. I had it in my backpack. I read it on the plane. When I got to San Francisco with two suitcases and a backpack, trying to find a place to live, it was the only book that I had to read. I really loved The Tao Te Ching, and I thought if I needed inspiration during my first difficult days in San Francisco this was the book for me to have. I have read The Tao Te Ching in several different translations. There are many different translations of The Tao Te Ching, and they actually sound very different. This is because of the symbolism of The Tao Te Ching is very poetic using symbols that were appropriate for that time in ancient history but which are meaningless or misinterpreted today. The translations have to use appropriate poetic symbols and this gives translators great leeway. It also means that The Tao Te Ching itself is open to vastly different interpretations of what some passages actually mean. Another passage from The Tao Te Ching says,
When the people of the world all know beauty as beauty,
There arises the recognition of ugliness.
When they all know the good as good,
There arises the recognition of evil.
When there is agreement about what beauty is then, by definition, there is something that isn’t beautiful and therefore ugly. When there is agreement about what good is then, by definition, there is something that we call evil. A Course In Miracles actually says something very similar to that. The Course says, “... remember that a ‘good world’ implies a ‘bad’ one, and a ‘satisfying world’ implies an ‘unsatisfying’ one.” (Wk.Bk.Or.Ed.5) In many ways, just like all of are great spiritual teachings: ACIM, The Tao Te Ching, Taoism, ..., there are a lot of similarities. They also have certain ways that they are different. They all can teach us.
If I said that there was a person who told the honest truth and that really helped me, I also set myself up for saying that there was one who lied and that really hurt me. I have to see it all as neutral. I have to able to meet the world without judgment. I have to be willing to learn both from the things that I think are truthful and helpful and I have to also learn from things I think are lies and harmful. A Course In Miracles says, “When you have learned to look upon everyone with no reference at all to the past, either his or yours as you perceived it, you will be able to learn from what you see now.” (Tx.Or.Ed.12.46) That’s what ACIM actually says. We have to be able to look at everyone with no reference at all from the past as if we were meeting them new for the first time. In another place, four chapters away from the previous quotation, the Course says, “When you meet anyone, remember it is a holy encounter. As you see him, you will see yourself. As you treat him, you will treat yourself. As you think of him, you will think of yourself. Never forget this, for in him you will find yourself or lose sight of yourself.” (Tx.Or.Ed.8.19) Again, the symphonic nature of the Course is shown. Ideas are presented and repeated in later chapters and then in other even later chapters. We have to learn to look on everyone with no reference at all to the past like we are meeting them anew. Then, we are able to be open to them.
If I meet this person who said what I think are lies about me during these legal proceedings – let’s say that we find ourselves in the bathroom together at adjacent urinals – could I say, “Hi” to him with a genuine smile on my face? Now, that does not mean I have to say “Hi” to him. The point is, if I am guided to say “Hi” to him, could I? If I got that guidance, could I look over, say “Hi”, and have a smile. As I think about that, I think I could. I truly do think I could. I think it would be a genuine smile. That actually gives me a lot of peace. That means, in many ways, I do actually know what A Course In Miracles says. I have taken it into my heart. I get a lot of peace and calm because of that, and I am very grateful for that. I am grateful for that realization. I am looking at the blessing that all of this is bringing into my life.
That’s my talk for today. Thank you very much. ♥
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the September 2010 (Vol. 24 No. 7) issue of Miracles Monthly. Miracles Monthly is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members, Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.