Robert Perry: ‘Loving Personhood Or Liberation From Personhood?’

Robert Perry: ‘Loving Personhood Or Liberation From Personhood?’

May 03



While the column below was written primarily for students of A Course In Miracles, I am sharing it with all of you because Robert Perry beautifully articulates what I believe is one of the most fundamental issues facing the spiritual path today.

— David Sunfellow


By Robert Perry
The Circle of Atonement
May 4, 2012

Original Link

In recent months, I have been watching video testimonies of two very different kinds. One kind is of people who have had near-death experiences (NDEs). The other kind is of people who claim to have awakened, become enlightened, basically within the context of the Advaita Vedanta tradition (nondualistic Hinduism).

The weird thing is that, while both are essentially accounts of spiritual awakenings, they are really quite different. The Advaita people speak of a radical shift in which they realized that, as it is sometimes put, “there is nobody home.” They had identified themselves as separate beings, but now they saw that reality does not consist of individual beings, but rather of limitless “Presence.” The result was liberation from the awful anxiety of being somebody. The worry fell away, the self-concern fell away, and were replaced by endless peace. To use my words, it’s as if personhood itself is inextricably bundled with suffering, and so the goal is liberation from personhood and all its ills, liberation in “the Emptiness.”

The near-death experiencers, on the other hand, tell a very different story. They often meet a God who is boundless, formless light. Many even merge with this Light. But rather than the picture being about the dissolution of personhood, it seems to be about loving persons in perfect relationship. NDErs are often told they have to return to earth to learn unconditional love, so they can permanently unite with an unconditionally loving God. They are told that all that matters here is our relationships, how we treat others and feel toward them. There is an acknowledgment of oneness — with both God and others — but it is a oneness that is also the union of beings who are in relationship.

It is easy to focus on the commonalities between these different sorts of awakening. After all, people on both sides are feeling liberated from a constricting identification with the separate self. They are experiencing a merging with some greater oneness, and an accompanying state of indescribable peace.

But I am also struck by the differences. The Advaita people say very little about love, about relationships, about God, about being sent on missions to help others (which the NDErs routinely talk about), and about becoming more loving people. Instead, they talk mostly about their own inner journey and about the state of peace and bliss they have awakened to. They key thing is not so much what they do, but what they feel. In their interviews, we learn very little about their relationships and quite a lot about their inner state.

In my mind, the key difference lies in the notion of personhood. What are we? Are we persons who are inherently one with others and with the ultimate Person — God — but have identified with our separateness? Or is personhood itself the problem, the illusion, the knot to be untied?

How we answer those questions profoundly determines our view of reality. It also determines how we see the goal of life, and how we measure progress toward that goal.

For instance, imagine an awakened Advaita teacher having an NDE. I can see two very different scenarios. In one, she encounters a typical NDE scene in which God appears as a vast orb of light, accompanied by Jesus and angels and countless spirits. But then she realizes, this is just a mind-created illusion. There is no God as a being; there are no beings, period. She no longer has an ego that needs to be “loved” by God or Jesus or angels. Having realized the emptiness of personhood, she has gone beyond the need for that kind of personal reassurance. The whole scene is just a mirage, just a vestige of her ego’s old mythologies. Realizing this, she has overcome the final hurdle. The scene vanishes, and she herself dissolves into the infinite bliss of the Emptiness.

In the other scenario, however, she has all the same realizations, but in this case, the scene doesn’t vanish. Instead, God commences to guide her through a review of her life. But this review is not the story as she has told it, with it all revolving around the climactic moment of her enlightenment. Instead, it’s a story of how she has treated the people in her life. She discovers that on both sides of her enlightenment experience, she was often unloving, often callous and self-serving. And she discovers that her salvation lay in seemingly insignificant encounters in which she was genuinely loving, moments that in many cases she had forgotten because they did not rate highly in her worldview. Yet despite the evaluative nature of this review, she is not judged. Instead, she feels embraced by God with a love that is intense beyond anything she has experienced. And then God sends her back to earth and tells her, with infinite tenderness, that she can do better.

Obviously, these are entirely different scenarios, and yet each one, I think, makes sense within its particular worldview. Which brings us back to the question, Which worldview is correct? The one centered on loving personhood, or the one centered on liberation from personhood? I don’t think it is a question that we can leave unresolved. We can’t just focus on the common ground; we have to reckon the differences. Even if we decide the truth falls somewhere in the middle, we still cannot hold to both ends at once. Both of the above scenarios can’t be true.

As students of A Course in Miracles, I think we have to resolve where the Course comes down on this question. Is it all about loving personhood or liberation from personhood? There are those who see the Course as coming down on the Advaita side. In such a view, all the language in the Course about God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and our brothers is really a veil over a nondualism so absolute that no such beings actually exist. There is nobody out there, and we just need to wake up to that.

I believe, however, that the Course comes down firmly on the loving personhood side. Its language, imagery, priorities — and in my view, its teaching — all sound as if they could have come straight out of someone’s NDE. So, while I can’t say that I know for a fact what ultimate reality is, I believe that I am here to learn how to unconditionally love others, so that I can reawaken to a God Who unconditionally loves me. I believe that I’m here to learn true relationship so that I can spend eternity in the One Relationship.


Robert Perry brings to A Course in Miracles many years of private study and public teaching. He began teaching at Miracle Distribution Center in 1986, and has since then taught throughout North America and around the world. His teaching grows out of his dedication to the Course as his own path and his desire to assist others on this path. Over the years he has become a respected voice in Course circles and has written for many Course newsletters and magazines. Robert is the founder of the Circle of Atonement and the author of numerous books and booklets based on the Course. 



• The Formula for Creating Heaven on Earth by David Sunfellow
• How Near-Death Experiences Are Changing The World by David Sunfellow
• The Three Faces of God by David Sunfellow
• The Purpose of Life, Jesus & NDEs by David Sunfellow
• The Dark Side of Buddhism
• Loving Personhood or Liberation From Personhood? by Robert Perry
• Discernment & The Spiritual Path by David Sunfellow
• Loving Our Enemies: The Core of Jesus’ Vision in the Sayings Gospel Q by Robert Perry (pdf)
• Evolutionary Enlightenment by Andrew Cohen (Book)
• Wikipedia on Sri Aurobindo
• The Future of the Body by Michael Murphy (Book)
• The Pathwork Guide Lectures of Eva Pierrakos by David Sunfellow
• Pulse on Jesus

How Near-Death Experiences Are Changing The World
Pulse on Near-Death Experiences
NDE Stories



  1. “Both of the above scenarios can’t be true.”


    Why not?

  2. B fraser

    Both scenarios could be perceived as true but that doesn’t mean that ultimately they are. Which begs the questions… Is Advaita worth pursueing at all? Should one amend Advaita to include more about love, relationships and god? Drop all other pursuits of truth and settle for the CIM because NDE’s support its ideas in this particular instance?

  3. Bruce, Ken Wilber says that there are three God perspectives: a first-person God perspective is when we feel we are God; a second-person God perspective is when we feel like we are in relationship with a Thou (an Other) that feels separate from us; and a third-person God perspective is when we are looking out on the splendor of creation, in one form or another. My issue with people who focus on first-person God paths as the be-all-and-end-all is this: until we acknowledge and, hopefully, embody to some degree, all three perspectives, we don’t have any legitimate claim to master of the universe status which, of course, is what many so-called “enlightened” people claim. They are God, perfect, masters of life. People who make these kind of radical claims, based on run-of-the-mill enlightenment experiences, are, in my view, deluded. Instead of being the exalted examples of human perfection and achievement that they believe themselves to be, they are, instead, stuck at the first level, the foundation level, the primal level from which everything else arises. In terms of development, this level of experience is kindergarden, pre-kindergarden, pre-created universe even. All of us have access to this level. Fewer have access to second and third person God perspectives because these require greater development (or, said another way, greater separation from our Source or Origin). And fewer still who have integrated all three (which requires greater individualization and a reconnection to Source as an individual). At least that’s how it looks to me.

    From my perspective, the evidence is overwhelming that while non-dual perspectives are vital, essential, and foundational — and that they need to be incorporated into our spiritual path and philosophy if we are going to be truly healthy — there is a very real danger, that has been demonstrated untold times in the real world, of people having these experiences, and because they feel themselves to be God, they flippantly dismiss all need to develop their personalities, work on shadow issues, or cultivate healthy relationships in the world. Which means, in my mind, that they have completely missed the point of creation. Yes, it’s a dream, but it has been created for a purpose. And that purpose wasn’t simply to go back Home where we all came from, and still are.

    Moreover, it’s clear to me that the universe is set up to force souls to learn this lesson — which is why we all keep getting sent back, whether through near-death experiences where we want to stay on the other side but are constantly told, no, you have to go back because you work to do; or through processes like reincarnation where we are told essentially the same thing.

    My question is why are we so confused about this? Why have so many religious, spiritual, and philosophical traditions been able to hock non-dual paths as the be-all-and-end-all for so long? Why haven’t we caught on that there is something fundamentally wrong with so-called perfect masters who end up in endless scandals that call into question their overall development — moral, sexual, human, and otherwise? What’s up with that? Is it because we haven’t had enough time to put the pieces together? Because it’s hard to leave the nest and there is some kind of invisible tractor beam that keeps pulling us back to our primordial beginnings? Are we afraid of the created universe? Shocked, frightened, not brave enough to enjoy the show? I’m still trying to figure that out. Actually, I’m still trying to figure all of it out. The bottom-line for me is that I think this is a subject, with an institutionalized, sacred cow, too-holy-too-touch aura around it, that really needs to be explored. And let’s not forget that non-dual traditions were passed on to us by people who lived thousands of years ago. Where they, and their spiritual traditions and understandings, more evolved than we are? And what about the kind of people that are drawn to these paths? Should we really be listening to people who were often motivated by a very low regard for the world and a desire to get out of here?

    Food for thought.

  4. B fraser

    Is that what’s written in between the lines here? I didn’t get that. Part of the problem is spirituality can be a pretty narrow and rigid path no matter where one is on it. Because everryone is sitting around saying it’s not this, its that and so on. Everyone seems to know what they are talking about (and boy are we sure about it), when really spirituality is a great unknown. Is it really that big of a deal that people get confused at “higher” levels of development? Are we literally unable to map the subtlties of these levels? It appears everyone else has the answers except for the person(s) who is being spoken of.

    I will ask the question again. What does one do if spirituality is a process of development and one does not know that one does not know what the next step is in that process? Which appears to be the case for most of us. This is the crux of any spiritual path. Where is the forgiveness for this fact? And how do we deal with this fact? I see everyone massively confused and undone about this central question. I’ve not seen an answer that adequately answers the question that is not laden with the answerers own beliefs which are limited by where they are, and how they see things at they’re level of development.

  5. Joan

    One similarity that I see between ACIM and the people who have awakened is the letting go of the identification with the “ego” self or false self. Thus, even though the paths seem to differ, isn’t the eventual awareness the same? The language used is often awkward, but I do hear people who have awakened refer to themselves as “the apparent so and so,” so there must be some sense of personhood left since there is still a person here functioning in this world.

    I would like to hear more about the experiences after awakening, because the stories do tend to focus on the subjective experience. It is only an assumption, but one would think that if a person is in peace and aware of oneness he/she would act in a way that is loving, compassionate, forgiving., etc., i.e., the feeling state would extend itself into relationships with others.

  6. Dear Robert,
    This topic is one of the hottest in spiritual circles these days as you probably know. Non-dual teachings have become incredibly popular and their ultimate message does seemingly create an unresolvable conflict with God/Love/Self Realization teachings like the Course. What compounds this, in many cases, is that non-dual or Enlightenment teachings seem to nullify or extremely diminish the goals of other paths and teachings where a personal self is involved. I personally feel that the belief/perception that Enlightenment/non-dual realization is the end all and super to all others is not only untrue but is potentially a major cul-de-sac for many. What is asked at this pivotal time is a state of realization that is integral to all aspects of God’s/Our Being. Enlightenment is the result of the awakening of but one of three dimensions of our/God-One-All That Is’s full nature. In my experience there is no conflict at the absolute level and all paths eventually lead to the same place, the consciousness demonstrated by a few beings such Christ Jesus, Ramalinga Swami and all the ascended masters.
    I need to do a bit of development to get back to the issue of personhood, so if you can bear with some reading I promise to circle back around.
    All paths are about awakening to or realizing oneness with God and Self which are one. Why then don’t we all wind up at the same types of realization at the same time. The reason is that there are three different dimensions to our nature as souls, which are also the three dimensions of God/One/All That Is. There is (1) God as Absolute Source of All That Is whose nature is Creator(Father), (2) Goddess the form, substance, matter(mater/Mother) of all life and (3) the union or fusion of the two which is the myriad of soul presences which are the consciousness/mind of the Source incarnate within it’s creation(the holy son/daughter). There are three soul centers within our subtle anatomy which are deeper and more pervasive and causal to our experience of being than the chakras. Each one of these soul centers unfolds one of the three dimensions of God’s/Our Being. The center in the very center of the head is often called the Cave of Brahman in the east. It is where we experience unity with God as Source Creator and absolute being. When this center fully unfolds we experience Enlightenment or Oneness with the Light(of pure consciousness) of God. There are a number of different facets to this realization of God as Source Creator or Brahman the dreamer of the dream of creation and the absolute state prior to this which is pure conscious being. In the vedas they refer to this as Sat-Chit-Ananda or existence-consciousness-bliss. In enlightened state(the awakening of the head soul center alone) there no objective reality separate from Self. In fact, there is no definable, or even discernible self. If one looks within for the sense of the “I” or self it can be found no where. All manifest phenomena whether they be subtle ie thoughts, emotions etc. or actual forms are perceived as “maya” or illusions dancing in the mind or field of pure consciousness. Even the thought of God as creator seems irrelevant. So souls on this path can’t relate to teachings like the course at all as they seem limited. Any idea of personal self is also seen as an illusion.
    The second soul center is often called the cave of the heart, high heart, heart of the soul,etc and is just above the physical heart in the center of the chest. When this soul center unfolds there there is the realization of our oneness with God as a soul. We realize that God is our deepest nature, and the most fundamental quality of God’s/Our nature is Love. The goal is to fully merge our sense of self with the divinity in the core of our soul and become an individualized expression of God, in the east this is called the Self which is also how the Course in Miracles refers to our true nature. This is the path of God realization that is the path of the saints of all religions.
    The last center is the belly soul center or hara/tan tien which is a few inches below the navel deep within our being, deeper than the sacral chakra. This is the abode of the Goddess/Mother. It has largely been absent from most spiritual paths for thousands of years since the male or father aspect of divinity ascended into prominence a few thousand years BCE. There are a few paths that seek to open this center such as Taoism, Shaministic and the Goddess Paths and to a degree deep psycho/spiritual modalties which seek to heal and make whole the human psyche. Union with this dimension of being is realized as oneness of one’s being with all forms of life. Damage to the Earth for example is experience as damage to one’s one being. In this state of consciousness the primal intelligence of the Mother/Goddess aspect, which knows all about what sustains and furthers life, is inherent in consciousness.
    The full, integral awakening that is unfolding as humanities next step of evolution is about awakening and realizing all three dimensions of being. This emergent being is enlightened, god realized and fully one with with all of life at an embodied level. As mentioned above we have models of this. I will use Christ Jesus because I feel he was the one who took it to completion. Jesus realized his true nature as one with God as he stated “I and the Father are One”. He had ascended his consciousness into full oneness with the light of Source or Father. Yet, he also embraced his humanness when he referred to himself as the Son of Man. He also realized his oneness with all of life which was demonstrated by his both his fierce advocacy for equality, love, forgiveness and non violence but most supremely through his resurrection and ascension. What demonstration of oneness with infinite life could there be but transcendence of the illusion of death.
    Non dual teachings miss the two also crucial dimensions of our souls being which are essential to birthing the divine, luminous human being which Christ Jesus was the most profound prototype demonstration of. This is the next stage of human evolution. We are the Second Coming…Hope this is helpful. Much more on our website in the just completed Birthing the Luminous Self trilogy.

  7. For those of you who are interested, Robert’s article is also being discussed, from many different angles, by many different people, on NHNE’s primary NDE network:

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