In 1929, at the age of 30, the Belgian painter René Magritte offered the world a perplexing work of art.
Though he was steeped in the surrealist tradition, this piece defies all convention - and logic.
He called it The Treachery of Images and it is a painting of a pipe.
An otherwise ordinary tobacco smoking pipe, oil on canvas.
But what makes it extraordinary is the script he painted below the pipe, which reads:
Ceci n’est pas une pipe
In English, “This is not a pipe.”
You can see the painting at this link.
While Magritte passed away a few years before the scribing of A Course in Miracles, his paradoxical masterpiece provides a wonderful introduction to the course’s metaphysics.
It’s a pipe. But it’s not a pipe.
We experience ourselves as a body in a world. But it’s not a body, and there is no world.
To understand, let’s back up a moment to Magritte’s insight.
Everything is a symbol. The pipe in The Treachery of Images is not a pipe, it’s a painting of a pipe. And Magritte’s message, the betrayal for which the image is titled, is the confusion of symbol for source. A mistake we make all the time.
Our bodies, our brains, our relationships - all our experiences - are symbols. They are not source. And the trouble with mixing that up is we look in the wrong place in our attempts to effect change.
As we read in the course:
Neither sign nor symbol should be confused with source, for they must stand for something other than themselves. (T-19.IV.C.11)
Everything we think of as reality is not. It stands for something other than itself. The source to which everything points is the mind, an existential realm beyond sense - and logic. Yet it’s the provenance of all experience - despite our certain protestations otherwise.
We believe the reason we’re distressed has to do with occurrences in the world at large or our bodies in particular. We further contend that peace is a function of situations working out a certain way.
Yet the realization they are all symbols opens the doors of perception to true peace.
When we return awareness to the mind, we sense the universal oneness and union of all. From such a vantage point we understand that all the bodies we see: our body, the bodies of others we care about, the bodies of everyone and everything in the world - all bodies are nothing more than a fantastic Magritte painting - a colossal treachery of images.
When we look at the fine print below every one of them, we see an unearthly ink clearly scribed: “This is not a body.” And at that moment, we experience the true peace that surpasses all understanding.
Join me in Thursday’s class where we’ll explore the nature of symbol and source, illusion and reality - and practices we can learn to return awareness to the mind. I look forward to seeing you then.