Interview with Ian Hamilton

The Spirit of Things

ABC National Radio Australia /March 3, 2001
Executive Producer Rachael Kohn, Producer Geoff Wood

Rachael Kohn: Like the Bible, The Course in Miracles is a book that is open to interpretation. A former teacher in the Endeavour Academy branch at Byron Bay, who is no longer a member, says it got the interpretation of the Course in Miracles wrong. Rather than being liberating he claims it was oppressive. But as he says here, he doesn't blame The Course in Miracles.

Ian Hamilton: I think actually knowing it very well got me out of the group to some extent because I realised they weren't teaching the Course in Miracles.

Rachael Kohn: Ian Hamilton was once a member of the Endeavour Academy branch in Byron Bay that taught a Course in Miracles. Although he became a leader and his wife a devotee, what ensued was shattering to both of them. Part of that story was told on the American investigative program, '48 Hours'. Ian Hamilton's book is called Awake among the Sleeping and it raises the question whether it was A Course in Miracles or a road to nowhere. Ian Hamilton, welcome to The Spirit of Things.

Ian Hamilton: Thank you, Rachael.

Rachael Kohn: Ian, you've written a book, Awake Among the Sleeping which is a penetrating critique about your experiences in a group that taught The Course in Miracles. Had you known about that book, The Course in Miracles, before you joined?

Ian Hamilton: Rachael I had one along with all my other spiritual books which I'd never really read because I found it too hard going. So no, I didn't really know it.

Rachael Kohn: What was your life like actually at that point? I mean why did you even consider joining a group that taught The Course in Miracles?

Ian Hamilton: Well Rachael, I lived in Byron Bay with my wife at the time, April. We had sold our business, which we had plenty of money. We had been to India, we were meditation practitioners in a big way, and I think what meditation does do of course is open you to the yearning for God, the experience of God. So when this came along, it appeared to give the more immediate experience of God, so I think that was the original reason.

Rachael Kohn: So you were in fact, both you and your wife, were spiritual seekers?

Ian Hamilton: Oh, very much so, and practitioners. We meditated two hours a day, we lived the yogic life, if you like in Byron Bay.

Rachael Kohn: Why wasn't that sufficient?

Ian Hamilton: Are you a spiritual seeker? It's never sufficient. I think the nature of spiritual seeking is that it's not sufficient. We always want union with God, we always want that holy instant, and we perform our spiritual seeking in pursuit of that. So it presented what appeared to be, as they called it at the time, an opening, we're getting out of here, we're going to another place, and you can do it immediately. And the phenomena associated with the group was very, very strong. So I guess in terms of what we saw, it certainly looked like an accelerated path.

Rachael Kohn: So you and your wife joined the group. But in your account of that really period, you do indicate that some of the things you saw were a little bit disturbing, some of the expressions of this spiritual ecstasy were a little bit alarming.

Ian Hamilton: They were.

Rachael Kohn: Can you describe what you saw?

Ian Hamilton: Well we ended up in a little farmhouse outside of Toowoomba, that was just my wife and myself. There were about 12 people there at that time in a small room there. And what was happening was that they were actually having what you'd have to call extreme ecstasy, or so it looked. They had amazing facial expressions, they were jumping up and down on the spot, they were whooshing and making strange noises. It was actually a bit like a madhouse, and yet they were experiencing enormous ecstasy, and the actual expression of it was something that made you say, 'Well golly, what's wrong with me? Why can't I have that?'

Rachael Kohn: So the aim of the group was to perpetuate this state for as long as possible?

Ian Hamilton: The group used The Course in Miracles as a source text, and The Course in Miracles says as a fairly fundamental premise that this world is not real, this world is an illusion created by your own mind in denial. So that the teacher there was saying that she had come from that place of non denial. She had gone, as she called it, 'beyond the veil' and she'd come back at my calling, at my individuated mind, to bring me back beyond the veil again, into that place where there is no judgement, where there is only peace and love.

It was interesting because it tied in very much with my yogic philosophy, where it uses the concept of Maya in the Vedas. They talked about the illusion of where we live, the illusion created by our denial. So it did seem to tie in very well, and the only thing was it was expressed in a very high powered, I hesitate to say American way, which was very in your face, and it was really saying that 'You're the reason that you are not having this experience. You need to change your mind', and the real miracle will be when you change your mind.

Rachael Kohn: So the Lightmeister as she was called, one of these master teachers who help you get elevated to that state, you describe her in the book, she was none too gentle, was she?

Ian Hamilton: Oh no, she was very, very strong, and again of course, that affected me because we westerners read about the Wild Men of India you know, and she was pulling no punches, she was fundamentally looking at me right there, and saying 'You're all the death there is, you're all the suffering there is, you're all the pain there is, and it's because of your mind.'

Now in a group situation where everybody in the room seems to be having the experience except you, it gets pretty darned powerful, because I came to understand that we are extremely social animals. 'Lord of the Flies' was no joke. So when you have no input from anywhere else, you have no point of reference, except for all of these people that seemed to be having that experience. She's got you right where she wants you.

Rachael Kohn: Well what sort of feelings then did you have when she abused you?

Ian Hamilton: At first I had outrage, and I should put it into context Rachael, because my wife by this stage had really decided to be involved in the group. We had been married just under 25 years and the only thing I could do was stay with her if I was to retrieve my marriage, so I decided at that point to join the group and follow through with our 25 years.

Rachael Kohn: So she was clearly having ecstatic experiences by this time?

Ian Hamilton: She was, she was. She did. People were having ecstatic experiences. The only thing is, most of us know by now the ecstatic experience is not what it is.

Rachael Kohn: So you stayed to, in a sense, hold on to your wife, but the trouble with that group it seemed, was that they didn't really want you to stay together, did they?

Ian Hamilton: Eventually no. There was a great deal of power put into the teachings that what they called 'the special relationship' was to be broken and torn apart at all costs. The special relationship being as The Course in Miracles used to say, 'a bargain you cannot keep, it's a bargain between two people who love each other, and to turn away from all of the things that they don't like about each other.' They were saying that was a very false relationship.

April my wife took that on immediately and with a lot of help from the Lightmeister, as we called her, and decided that after all of this time our relationship wasn't up to much and I just didn't understand. So yes, there was a lot of pressure put on it to break up relationships. Of course when you break up a relationship there's usually a divorce, and when there's a divorce there's a lot of money flowing around too. So I would have to cynically say that that had a lot to do with it too.

Rachael Kohn: Ian are you saying that the group itself was perhaps interested in the property settlement that might arise out of the divorce between yourself and April?

Ian Hamilton: There were many, many cases Rachael, at the time. I was in it for five or six years, and many, many situations that I saw where the same thing happened, where people were pulled apart based on the unholiness of the so-called special relationship, but even people that came in who had maybe previously been divorced, they were all checked very carefully to see how much money they had, how much money they could get, and in many cases you would have a situation where there'll be 200 or 300 people in a room and one person getting picked on because they were causing all of the pain and suffering of the world because they didn't know how to give. And the way to fix it was to give away their money. We had one lady I saw gave away half a million dollars that way.

Rachael Kohn: Goodness. Well in the meantime, what was happening to your wealth? Because I understand that you had a chain of restaurants?

Ian Hamilton: We did. We had sold that before we entered in. I basically gave everything we had to the group, we gave all of our household furniture and yes, because that seemed to be the way that the teaching went; the teaching in A Course in Miracles has this line that says 'To have all, give all to all', and of course the Biblical reference of the rich man and the camel was used as well to continue to say that you really don't understand until you've given everything.

Rachael Kohn: Well despite what you said about The Course in Miracles at the beginning of the interview, it sounds like The Course in Miracles has a lot to answer for, not just the group.

Ian Hamilton: I have my own relationship with The Course in Miracles, Rachael. The group itself was I guess you'd call them a fundamentalist Course in Miracles group. They took it exactly as it read, and you know, we know from the Bible that there are many people who do the same with the Bible.

My experience with The Course in Miracles was what happened to me as a result of reading The Course in Miracles. I think that The Course in Miracles is this amazing experiential document that brings you to places that you need to come to understand who you are. In that sense I have nothing against it. What it does say, as many listeners would know, it is purported to be channelled by Jesus, but what it does say as Jesus, it says, 'Do not take another teacher, I am all you need, I am your elder brother, and I'm just a little bit ahead of you in time. I can help you.' But of course the group use teachers and ignore that part of it.

Rachael Kohn: And in fact you went to America to meet the head honcho as it were. You were two years in the Endeavour Academy getting the teaching from master teacher?

Ian Hamilton: I was a year over there, and we went back a second time. The teaching in America was very similar to the teaching in Australia. It was fundamentally that you had to be in session at 9 o'clock and it went to, well, as long as the teacher wanted to keep talking. Usually 12, sometimes 1 sometimes 2 o'clock. And that was five days a week, and then church another day, and one day, usually Tuesday, off. There was also what they call vespers at night which went for an hour or two hours, so you were actually in session for a minimum of four hours every day, more likely five or six hours every day. And you were in the group and you were encouraged to stay in there and sever all ties from outside.

Rachael Kohn: And what happens in that session, because it's not exactly the same as church, is it, or chapel?

Ian Hamilton: No, it's not, it's basically a monologue by the so-called Master Teacher who calls himself the whole mind or awaken mind. You are told not to ask questions, in fact if you do you get attacked quite often viciously by the master teacher. You basically have to stand there or sit there, and as they call it, and go to light. And that's all you do.

Rachael Kohn: Is this sort of competitive? Do people have a desperate need to display their experience of going to light?

Ian Hamilton: I don't think it's so much competitive as defensive Rachael, because yes we can have a light experience, I call it an endorphinous base experience or an upper chucker experience, there is a bliss experience available that we can train ourselves into, and many yogis and I can still do it on demand, but I choose not to do it any more. In actual fact, eventually going to light is a defence mechanism because if you go to light you don't get attacked by the teacher.

Rachael Kohn: Now you quote a passage by the Buddhist Jack Kornfield in your book who warns, and let me just read this out. 'The dazzling effects of lights and visions, the powerful releases of rapture and energy are a wonderful sign of the breakdown of the old structures of our being body and mind. However they do not in themselves produce wisdom.' Ian, were the followers after wisdom?

Ian Hamilton: Everybody thinks they're after wisdom, Rachael, but in your experience you would have seen many, many so-called new outbreaks of we might call it spiritual energy, and the problem always is that I think God always gives us opportunities to learn and to achieve wisdom through spiritual practice and often through, I like to call it a divine effulgence. But it's the human way to re-establish and try to hold that in time, and I think that that's what happened with these people.

They started off being promised that they'd be completely released from the world, that they would never have to worry again, that they would never die, and they ended up being trained as so-called pastors for this kind of strange fundamentalist cult from Wisconsin.

Rachael Kohn: Yes well it sounds to me that there's not much wisdom there, but certainly a great desire to be blissed out all the time, almost as if it's another way, a cheaper way of having a kind of drug experience.

Ian Hamilton: Well you know...

Rachael Kohn: Or maybe it's not cheaper, on second thoughts.

Ian Hamilton: Right on both counts. This is a tough one. I can't say that it's wrong to ask for an experience of bliss, I mean much of my meditation was in pursuit of the ananda, the bliss, you know, truth, light, bliss.

So we often say we're in pursuit of God, but we westerners are pretty confused I feel in that sense, that we're often actually in pursuit of peace of mind, or if peace of mind doesn't come, something that signals to us that we're on the way, and bliss is a beauty, I mean bliss really gets you going. Unfortunately what happens eventually with this practice of bliss is that it becomes the escape from everything.

Rachael Kohn: Is it like an addiction?

Ian Hamilton: Oh absolutely. I've termed it spiritual addiction in the book, and it's absolutely, I've spent a little time on the net and I look at other addictions. It's significant that many of the people in it come from al anon or AA or NA, and the Master Teacher was actually an ex-alcoholic as was his second in charge.

The addictive state of daily going to light takes you to a situation where actually you can't cope with daily life as such, and this is reinforced by the group which says, No, daily life is hell, this place is hell and it's all sickness, pain and death, and there's no reason for you to be here. So they say Go to light, it will solve the problems, but in my experience nobody really changes by going to light. In fact what happens is it becomes virtually autonomic, and if any stress comes into your life you trip into this place, and you actually don't process it. You don't actually go into the source of the release, which is the stress itself.

Rachael Kohn: That's Ian Hamilton, author of Awake Among the Sleeping. The book is available by email, that's This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

People experience The Course in Miracles in different ways. Not everyone can handle being blissed out on a daily basis.

Well your wife ended up plunging into despair, can you talk about that?

Ian Hamilton: She sure did. Yes, actually she died on November 13th, Rachael, she committed suicide.

Rachael Kohn: Could you see that coming?

Ian Hamilton: There was certainly a possibility there because she was left with absolutely nothing. This is my ex-wife, by the way, I'm very happily married to Cassie now, this was April, because I say ex-wife because she refused to have any part of our relationship.

I think it was the first year in the cult, but she was one of their shining lights. They called her a Light Body, that she was so bright and so blissed and so wonderful that everybody should take notice of her. She was doing this going to light thing, all session, every session. Little did they realise she was completely out of control, she could hardly eat, she could hardly get up in the morning, she was burning energy at an amazing rate, and she was having hallucinations which were really the worst you could possibly imagine.

If you've read any things about bad kundalini wakings this is exactly what she had, and in fact you mentioned Jack Kornfield - in his book A Path with Heart there is an exact description of her experience.

So eventually she wasn't physically even capable of going to session any more. The Master Teacher here in Australia told her that she'd die in six months if she didn't keep coming. When she came out of it, she had all of the signs of this bliss addiction in that she really couldn't come down, she was totally unearthed, and the psychiatrist said she had broken her ego boundaries, which meant, (and he said permanently) that she was experiencing all of the emotions of all of the people around her. You can imagine going through Woolies and experiencing everything, it was utter hell.

So that turned into depression and we did everything we could to help her. We got her to work in a local nursery, we got her to volunteer, but frankly she'd been terminally damaged. So it didn't come as a surprise when she suicided. But it certainly came as a terrible shock and a terrible thing.

Rachael Kohn: Had you ever gone to the place that she experienced and eventually got yourself out of it? I mean how did you snap out of it? She obviously couldn't.

Ian Hamilton: Well this is a funny thing, Rachael, and I think it's a great reflection on how all of these movements establish. I came out here, I became a teacher, I was I guess you'd say a powerful teacher, I had many people coming every day here in Byron Bay, and I invited out one of the teachers from America who liked it so much he decided I was in the way and he should stay and I should go.

Rachael Kohn: A little power mongering there.

Ian Hamilton: Big time actually. He had psychic powers, he used them very strongly on everybody that came. He had ways of inducing bliss and also, although he'd always deny it, he had ways of creating pain in people. I nearly died with that man. He got me out. In that sense I'm grateful but he wanted my patch, as he called it, he said, 'Go and get your own turf.' And I'm very grateful that he did that in retrospect, because that's what got me out.

Rachael Kohn: What is your turf now?

Ian Hamilton: My turf is my family and the place I live. I'm producing a magazine called Byron Underground which I'm enjoying greatly, which as Cassie said, it's a magazine of the heart. We look for things to write about which inspire people and make people feel good. That's what I do now.

Rachael Kohn: Well your book certainly is also a pretty dire warning about the excesses that are most certainly available around Byron Bay. Do you feel that's your role as well, that's your other role?

Ian Hamilton: I was damaged to quite a large extent by the group. It's taken me nearly three years to get over it. I can say that I'm 99% there, I still get some shakes and effects from certain people around, but no, I wouldn't want that to be my life, but I certainly understand a great deal about cult psychology, cult methods and yes, if people come to me and need help I'll certainly do that.

Rachael Kohn: Well thank you for talking to me, I think your book is very revealing and very important, and I appreciate your coming on The Spirit of Things, thank you.

Ian Hamilton: Thank you, Rachael.

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