The Flowering of
by Eckhart Tolle
Earth, 114 million years ago, one morning just after sunrise: The first flower ever to appear on the planet opens up to receive the rays of the sun. Prior to this momentous event that heralds an evolutionary transformation in the life of plants, the planet had already been covered in vegetation for millions of years.
The first flower probably did not survive for long, and flowers must have remained rare and isolated phenomena, since conditions were most likely not yet favorable for a widespread flowering to occur. One day, however, a critical threshold was reached, and suddenly there would have been an explosion of color and scent all over the planet – if a perceiving consciousness had been there to witness it.
Much later, those delicate and fragrant beings we call flowers would come to play an essential part in the evolution of consciousness of another species. Humans would increasingly be drawn to and fascinated by them. As the consciousness of human beings developed, flowers were most likely the first thing they came to value that had no utilitarian purpose for them, that is to say, was not linked in some way to survival.
They provided inspiration to countless artists, poets, and mystics. Jesus tells us to contemplate the flowers and learn from then how to live. The Buddha is said to have given a “silent sermon” once during which he held up a flower and gazed at it. After a while, one of those present, a monk called Mahakasyapa, began to smile. He is said to have been the only one who had understood the sermon.
According to legend, that smile (that is to say, realization) was handed down by twenty-eight successive masters and much later became the origin of Zen. Seeing beauty in a flower could awaken humans, however briefly, to the beauty that is an essential part of their own innermost being,their true nature.The first recognition of beauty was one of the most significant events in the evolution of human consciousness. The feelings of joy and love are intrinsically connected to that recognition. Without our fully realizing it, flowers would become for us an expression in form of that which is most high, most sacred, and ultimately formless within ourselves.
Flowers, more fleeting, more ethereal and more delicate than the plants out of which they emerged, would become like messengers from another realm, like a bridge between the world of physical forms and the formless. They not only had a scent that was delicate and pleasing to humans, but also brought a fragrance from the realm of spirit. Using the word “enlightenment” in a wider sense than the conventionally accepted one, we could look upon flowers as the enlightenment of plants.
Any lifeform in any realm – mineral, vegetable, animal, or human – can be said to undergo “enlightenment.” It is, however, an extremely rare occurrence since it is more than an evolutionary progression: It also implies a discontinuity in its development, a leap to an entirely different level of Being and, most important, a lessening of materiality.
What could be heavier and more impenetrable than a rock, the densest of all forms? And yet some rocks undergo a change in their molecular structure, turn into crystals, and so become transparent to the light. Some carbons, under inconceivable heat and pressure, turn into diamonds, and some heavy minerals into other precious stones.
Most crawling reptilians, the most earthbound of all creatures, have remained unchanged for millions of years. Some, however, grew feathers and wings and turned into birds, thus defying the force of gravity that had held them for so long. They didn’t become better at crawling or walking, but transcended crawling and walking entirely.
Since time immemorial, flowers, crystals, precious stones, and birds have held special significance for the human spirit. Like all lifeforms, they are, of course, temporary manifestations of the underlying one Life, one Consciousness. Their special significance and the reason why humans feel such fascination for and affinity with them can be attributed to their ethereal quality.
Once there is a certain degree of presence, of still and alert attention in human beings’ perceptions, they can sense the divine life essence, the one indwelling consciousness or spirit in every creature, every lifeform, recognize it as one with their own essence and so love it as themselves. Until this happens, however, most humans see only the outer forms, unaware of the inner essence, just as they are unaware of their own essence and identify only with their own physical and psychological form.
In the case of a flower, a crystal, precious stone, or bird, however, even someone with little or no Presence can occasionally sense that there is more than the mere physical existence of that form, without knowing that this is the reason why he or she is drawn toward it, feels an affinity with it. Because of its ethereal nature, its form obscures the indwelling spirit to a lesser degree than is the case with other lifeforms. The exception to this are all newborn lifeforms – babies, puppies, kittens, lambs, and so on. They are fragile, delicate, not yet firmly established in materiality. An innocence, a sweetness and beauty that are not of this world still shine through them. They delight even relatively insensitive humans. So when you are alert and contemplate a flower, crystal, or bird without naming it mentally, it becomes a window for you into the formless.
There is an inner opening, however slight, into the realm of spirit. This is
why these three “enlightened” lifeforms have played such an important part in the evolution of human consciousness since ancient times; why, for example, the jewel in the lotus flower is a central symbol of Buddhism and a white bird, the dove, signifies the Holy Spirit in Christianity. They have been preparing the ground for a more profound shift in planetary consciousness that is destined to take place in the human species. This is the spiritual or mind awakening that we are beginning to witness now.
Creating Heaven on Earth
April 10, 2012
The New Story of what it means to be Human and what it means to be Humanity by Martin Rutte
The significant problems we’re facing aren’t being solved: wars drag on, millions suffer severe drought and famine, ice caps melt, global financial markets collapse, terrorism continues. People have lost faith in many of our institutions — schools that don’t teach, governments that can’t govern, marriages that don’t endure, religions that fail to use their moral authority to end the world’s sufferings.
Add to this the underlying belief that we as individuals can’t make any impactful difference, not just in making these situations better, but in ending them. The prevailing sense is that none of us can make a difference, that one individual can’t take on a problem—war, hunger, disease—and end it. We’re led to believe that one individual can’t take on an institution — government, the financial industry, the church—and make it work. There’s nothing we can do, the world’s problems are too overwhelming. We are blocked by hopelessness, powerlessness, and resignation.
The world’s current story is not helping the world work; it doesn’t empower us with optimism; it doesn’t cause us to engage the major sufferings and solve them. It gives us no sense that we’re moving in the right direction with a momentum that’s growing and expanding. It has run its course. It is tired and ineffective. It can, and it must change.
Hope lies in creating a new story of what it means to be human and what it means to be humanity. We need a new narrative that touches our souls and engages us to participate in creating the kind of life and world we long for. We need a new vision that unleashes what we already know deep in our souls about the kind of lives and world we want, that helps set free our optimism and energy, and that supports us in taking the steps to make our vision for our world real.
At present, we know how to create Hell on Earth. Why not create its opposite? Why not create Heaven on Earth? And why wait? We can start right now. After all, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.
Historically, the problem with world visions is that they seek to impose their view, “Follow my way and it will all work.” But imposing a vision never works. It can’t because it removes the freedom to choose. The vision of creating Heaven on Earth is different in a very significant way. It doesn’t impose, it evokes. It evokes the global vision that already lives within each of us.
People do know the kind of world they want, but they’re overwhelmed at the thought of making it happen, or embarrassed at what people might say if they talk about it. Once people are given the opportunity to discover their own truth about the kind of world they want and feel free to talk about it a powerful transformation occurs. A part of themselves they’ve always known, but haven’t met, is revealed. And once this evoked vision of Heaven on Earth is unleashed, a simple, powerful, and effective creativity emerges that begins positively impacting the world.
We can begin to have the kind of world we long for. We can begin living a new story of what it means to be human and what it means to be humanity. We can begin creating Heaven on Earth here and now.
Martin Rutte is a co-author of the New York Times business best-seller, Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work. He is Chair of the Board of the Centre for Spirituality and the Workplace, Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax,Canada. He is also the founder of Project Heaven on Earth and is a management consultant specializing in corporate social responsibility and strategic visioning.
Evaluating A Course in Miracles
by Roger Walsh, M.D., Ph.D.
A Course in Miracles — what a curious name! But if ever there was an occasion not to judge a book by its cover, this may be it. For despite its curious title and origins, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, from all around the world are studying the Course, and finding it more than a match, not only for their intellect, but also for their deepest spiritual longings.
Many notable thinkers–including Glen Olds, the former president of Kent State University, Willis Harman, former professor of Engineering at Stanford University, and Ken Wilber, one of the world’s foremost philosophers and scholars of religion—have described the Course in extremely positive terms, and compared it favorably with the world’s great contemplative traditions.
So what then is A Course In Miracles? From one perspective it is simply a set of curiously titled books. From another, it is a spiritual discipline comprising a systematic thought system and set of practices that claims to offer an effective and sufficient path to awakening.
This is obviously quite a claim! In fact it may be one of the most remarkable claims one can make: to claim to provide a discipline capable of guiding practitioners to the ultimate goal of life and of the world’s great religions: the goal of enlightenment, liberation, moksha, wu, fana, ruah-qodesh, atonement, satori or salvation.
Assessing the Course
This raises an obvious question: how can we assess this claim? The easiest approach would be to simply ask practitioners. However, this is hardly a valid or reliable method. After all, a glance at any newspaper or history book makes painfully clear that there is hardly any philosophical foolishness or spiritual stupidity which does not appeal to some people, and sometimes to large numbers of people.
So how can we accurately assess the Course’s value and validity, authenticity and effectiveness, legitimacy and liabilities? These are questions that will probably consume practitioners, scholars and researchers for decades. But what about those of us who would like some answers, even if only preliminary and provisional, right now?
One approach is to compare the Course’s practices and thought system to those of the time honored great spiritual traditions, and especially to their common core of practices and wisdom. For example, looking at the Course’s practices, we might ask, “to what extent do they contain the central and essential practices common to the world’s great spiritual traditions?”
There seem to be seven practices that each of the world’s great religious traditions assume to be central and essential for anyone who would awaken to their true nature and highest potential.1 These practices are:
1. Redirecting motivation away from egocentric material cravings toward
altruistic, transpersonal and transcendent goals.
2. Transforming emotions. This includes two components: reducing
painful, destructive emotions such as fear, hatred and jealousy; while
cultivating positive, beneficial emotions such as love, compassion and
3. Fostering an ethical lifestyle.
4. Calming and concentrating the mind.
5. Refining awareness and developing sacred vision.
6. Cultivating wisdom.
7. Practicing service and generosity.
One simple measure of a tradition may therefore be suggested by the number of these practices that it contains. For example, in its initial form Confucianism offered a wonderful teaching emphasizing ethics, wisdom and service. However, it lacked other practices, such as for concentrating and calming the mind, and therefore constituted an extremely valuable way of life, but not yet a fully effective spiritual discipline.
Centuries later, when it merged with Taoism and Buddhism to create neoConfucianism, a full and authentic spiritual tradition of enormous value and influence was created.How then does A Course In Miracles measure up on these seven practices? In short, it seems to embody them all:
1. It places great emphasis on motivation. In fact, it states that a teacher’s
first and foremost challenge is to inspire a redirection of motivation. It
certainly emphasizes the importance of reducing both egocentric
craving and aversion, and of redirecting desires away from the “toys
and trinkets of the world” to healthier spiritual goals. And it suggests
we do this for both our own benefit and in order to benefit others.
2. Emotional transformation lies at the heart of the Course. It offers
devastating critiques of the dangers lurking in emotions such as fear,
guilt and anger, offers multiple exercises for releasing them, and also
contains a wealth of exercises for the cultivation of love, joy and
3. It also scores well on the ethical dimension. It emphasizes that all
behavior, and even all thought, is to be directed away from egocentricity
and attack, and towards loving and serving one’s neighbor as one’s Self.
Certainly the Course would agree with the claim that “The
foundation…of all authentic spirituality is a universal ethics.”2
4. The Course recognizes the importance of cultivating concentration and
calm. It paints a painful portrayal of our usual agitated state of mind
and suggests that “a quiet mind is not a little gift.” One of its central
goals is the realization of “the peace of God,” which according to both
St. Paul and the Course, “surpasses understanding.”3 One of its
central, and for some people most evocative, lessons states “I want the
peace of God.”
5. The Course certainly emphasizes the importance of refining perception.
In fact, it suggests that this refinement can be carried to remarkable
degrees, in which we and others are seen as Christ and the children of
God, and the world is recognized as a school house for our awakening.
The Course describes this transcendental vision as “seeing with the
eyes of Christ” or as “vision,” and this vision has obvious analogies to
Plato’s “eye of the soul,” Taoism’s “eye of the Tao,” Sufism’s “eye of
the heart,” and Tibetan Buddhism’s “pure perception.”4, 1
6. “Get wisdom, get insight, do not forget” urges the Jewish Torah
(Proverbs, 4:5). We can define wisdom as deep understanding of, and
practical skill in responding to, the central existential challenges of life.
Certainly the Course aims very explicitly at fostering wisdom, and it
explores all the major existential challenges, such as meaning and
purpose, sickness and suffering, aloneness and death.
It recommends first looking unflinchingly at them and the amount of
suffering they engender, a recommendation that any good therapist
might offer. But it then goes on to make a second specifically spiritual
recommendation. It suggests that the optimal strategy is to awaken
from the ego-based identity which suffers to the transcendent Self
which witnesses, but is not identified with or affected by, this suffering.
Here, as in many places, the Course offers good psychology, but it also
goes well beyond psychology.
7. The final, and in some ways culminating component of the seven
practices is fostering service and generosity. “The best people among
you,” taught Mohammad, “are the ones who are benefactors to
others.”5 This is clearly one of the Course’s strong points. It
emphasizes repeatedly that spiritual practices are not done for
ourselves alone, because actually we are not alone, or even
separate. into and strengthen the illusion of separateness.
Rather, the Course emphasizes that service is both a means to, and an expression of, awakening and recognizing our true identity. In fact it goes even further to recommend that we explicitly aim to practice and awaken for the benefit of all. Students of comparative religion will recognize this as a contemporary restatement of the Buddhist Bodhisattva ideal.
This may well be the highest ideal the human mind has ever conceived. For what goal, what aspiration could be more altruistic, more encompassing, and more sublime than to aim to actualize and awaken ourselves in order to optimally serve the awakening, and wellbeing of all? While the Course shares this Bodhisattva ideal with Buddhism it also offers unique perspectives and practices for realizing it.
Specifically, its primary focus is on healing and optimizing our relationships, with the goal of truly loving others as our Self. This emphasis on transforming our peer relationships, and the many practices it offers for doing this, are unmatched by any other spiritual tradition, and are probably a large factor in its wide appeal.
So A Course In Miracles seems to aim for the highest spiritual goals and to include all seven of the central and essential practices for reaching them. However this raises further questions: how effective is it in helping people realize these goals? How many people does it speak to, and how quickly and completely does it transform them? And how does it compare to other spiritual traditions on these measures? As yet we have no firm data and nothing beyond testimonies to answer these crucial questions. Here is a fertile field for future researchers.
How Sophisticated is A Course In Miracles?
Looking through the religion and spirituality section of any bookstore can be a disquieting experience. So many popular books offer simplistic thought systems, disciplines that include no discipline, and precious little in the way of authentic practices. Superficiality sells. Is this also true of A Course In Miracles? Could this be why it is so remarkably popular? Here the answer seems clear, and it is a firm “No.” No, the practices it offers are far from minimal. In fact, as described earlier, they are systematic, rigorous, and include all seven of the central practices.
And no, the Course’s thought system is anything but superficial. In content it is a restatement of the perennial philosophy, or what we might call the sophia commonalis—the common core of wisdom and philosophy at the heart of the world’s great religions. In addition it also offers a version of what Ken Wilber calls the “psychologia perennis”– the common contemplative understanding of the nature and workings of mind.6
Not only does the Course offer a version of the perennial philosophy and perennial psychology, but it offers a highly sophisticated version at that. However, we can take the Course’s discussion of forgiveness as a useful example, since forgiveness is probably the practice that the Course most emphasizes.
Having now devoted some 30 years to researching the world’s religious and spiritual traditions, I can say that I have found nothing that matches the sophistication of the Course’s analysis of the value of, and mechanisms underlying, forgiveness. Each tradition has its own strengths, and one such strength for the Course is its sophisticated understanding of, and many practices for fostering, forgiveness.
Dangers, Traps and Cults
One potentially painful question that must be asked of any spiritual tradition is, “to what extent it is liable to misuse?” After all, there is no ideal so high, no tradition so venerable, no text so transcendent, that it cannot be misused by somebody.7 What is the likelihood of the Course being misused? For example, is the Course a cult, or could it become one?
To answer this question we must first look at exactly what a cult is. A cult is a membership organization with a hierarchical, authoritarian power structure, which places authority outside the individual in the leader or authorities. It usually sees its members as uniquely special and superior to other people. It enforces rigid adherence to its belief system and behavioral norms, limits any questioning of these beliefs and norms, and often limits access to dissenting opinions and beliefs. Finally, it is easy to get into and hard to get out of. A Course In Miracles is almost the exact opposite.
There is no organization to join, and no hierarchy of power. There is no outside authority to obey; in fact, it suggests that the highest authority lies within us. There are no limitations on questions or access to other views, no methods of enforcement, and it sees all people—Course practitioners and others—as equal children of God.
Finally, it is supremely easy to get out of; all one has to do is close the book. Anyone who believes that A Course In Miracles is a cult probably knows little about either the Course or cults, or both. This is not to say that the Course could never be misused by cultic groups, but it is to say that there is little in the Course itself which supports such misuse.
Likewise, the Course appears to score well on more formal measures of health and pathology in spiritual traditions such as the Anthony Typology or Ken Wilber’s spectrum model.8 As such, the Course seems to be a refreshingly safe and low risk path.
Surveying all these issues what conclusions can we reach? In A Course In Miracles we have a new spiritual discipline that uses Christian language to express the perennial philosophy, the perennial psychology, and the perennial practices in a surprisingly systematic, sophisticated and compelling way.
It speaks to large numbers of people, yet certainly not by watering down either its message or its practices. In fact, it offers both a highly sophisticated thought system and an eminently practical set of exercises.
You may not agree with A Course In Miracles and you may not decide that it is your path. However, the weight of evidence suggests that it is a most impressive document and an effective path that warrants serious attention by practitioners and scholars, and that the many people around the world who practice it are probably benefiting both themselves and others.
Roger Walsh, M.D., Ph.D. graduated from Australia’s Queensland University with degrees in psychology, physiology, neuroscience, and medicine, and then came to the United States as a Fulbright Scholar. He is now at the University of California at Irvine where he is professor of psychiatry, philosophy, and anthropology, as well as a professor in the religious studies program.
1. Walsh, R. (1999) Essential spirituality: The seven central practices to awaken heart and mind. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
2. Feuerstein, G. (1989). Yoga: The technology of ecstasy. New York: Tarcher/Putnam.
3. St. Paul, Philipians: 4:37, Bible, Revised Standard Version
4. Smith, H. (1993). Educating the intellect: On opening the eye of the heart. In L. Rouner (ed). On Education. University of Notre Dame Press.
5. Angha, N. (1995). Deliverance: Words from the Prophet Mohammad. San Rafael, CA.: International Association of Sufism Publications.
6. Wilber, K. (2000). The spectrum of consciousness. The complete works of Ken Wilber, Vol. I. Boston: Shambhala.
7. Trungpa, Chogyam. (1975). Cutting through spiritual materialism. Boston: Shambhala
8. Anthony, D.,Ecker, B. & Wilber, K. (Eds.). (1987). Spiritual choices:The problem of recognizing authentic paths for transformation New York: Paragon.
“You are not IN the universe, you ARE the
universe, an intrinsic part of it. Ultimately you are not a person, but a focal point where the universe is becoming conscious of itself. What an amazing miracle.”
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