A Commentary on “Who Are Their Pupils?”
Jean Petersen’s response to my article on the teacher-pupil relationship raised a commonly-asked question: If we are in fact meant to have a human teacher of A Course in Miracles, how do we find this person? For most of us, this simple and obvious question contains a world of thought behind it. How do I locate someone who could be anyone and anywhere? And if some person out there is significant for my salvation process, what if I don’t find him or her? Does this mean that I cannot awaken, or that my awakening will be seriously delayed? Further, if someone out there is critical to my awakening, doesn’t that mean I am dependent on something outside of me? As if to add insult to injury, doesn’t it mean that I am dependent not just on this person, but also on physically locating him or her?
Implied in these questions are two typical responses to the hypothesis that there is someone out there who is vital to our awakening (whether that someone be a teacher or another kind of partner). The first response is to worry that we simply will not find this person. It’s a wide world; there are so many people out there, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance seems so weak and sporadic in the face of the tangible forces that move this world. Thinking that He can maneuver us around all the obstacles and through all the right doors to meet that one particular person sounds as likely as winning the lottery.
The second response (which looks suspiciously like a reaction to the first) is to deny that there is anyone out there who is vital to my spiritual progress. This may take the form of saying that if I meet this person, fine; if I don’t, fine as well. Or it may claim that there is no plan for my journey that includes particular people which, for the sake of my spiritual progress, I must meet. This response emphasizes that my only Teacher is the one in my heart, the Holy Spirit. After all, relying on Him is not depending on someone outside of me. And He does not have some form out there which I must locate; He goes with me wherever I go.
The very immediacy with which these responses arise makes them suspect to me. True wisdom is rarely so quick to surge into our minds and out of our mouths. Thankfully, we need not be left in the hands of these rather knee-jerk reactions. A Course in Miracles speaks directly and very clearly to this issue. Section 2 in the Manual, “Who Are Their Pupils?” is largely devoted to the very question of how we find our teacher, and answers it in a very different way than we ever would on our own. I doubt that anyone could have predicted how exactly the Course would handle this one.
Let us, then, look at the Course’s answer. It may help if you turn to this section and have it ready to refer to (unless otherwise specified, all references below are from this section, according to paragraph and sentence). This section sketches a very clear progression that teacher and pupil go through. First, as described in section 1, the teacher makes a crucial choice, a “choice in which he did not see his interests as apart from someone else’s” (M-1.1:2). This choice sets off massive reverberations, both in his own mind and in the world. First, this choice qualifies him to be a teacher of God, establishing a new road, a new direction for his life: “He has entered an agreement with God even if he does not yet believe in Him” (M-1.1:6). Second, the choice sets off some kind of homing beacon which beams out to all of his chosen pupils: “they will begin to look for him as soon as he has answered the Call” (1:1).
What does this mean, “look for him”? I don’t think this means consciously look for him, although it may include that. Rather, I think that some signal goes off deep in the unconscious minds of the pupils, which sets in motion profound changes, both internal and external. The net effect is that the pupils will go through all kinds of motions, which they may think are motivated by various conventional reasons, but which are really driven by the unconscious impulse to find their teacher. They may suddenly decide to move to the geographical area where they will find their teacher. They may take a new job, or go to a party, or get lost and ask directions of a stranger. As the next section in the Manual says, they may step on an elevator or walk home with someone from school. They may acquire new interests; they may be drawn to begin the spiritual path for the first time. Whatever circuitous routes they might travel to reach this point, they will eventually find their teacher. “And thus it is that pupil and teacher seem to come together in the present, finding each other as if they had not met before” (4:3). The Course makes very clear that this “finding” is not meant abstractly, but is a physical meeting: “The pupil comes at the right time to the right place” (4:4).
Now they begin a teacher-pupil relationship, or, as the Manual terms it, “a teaching-learning situation” (5:1). They “join together for learning purposes” (5:3), uniting in the common purpose of learning “the same course” (5:7), the same path of awakening. Along the way, they go through a process of slowly losing sight of all the “demarcations they have drawn between” (5:6) their identities. As they transcend all boundaries between them and experience a truly holy relationship, each one of them is bumped to the next level of spiritual advancement. The teacher becomes an advanced teacher of God, acquiring those ten characteristics which the Manual says are “born in the holy relationship toward which the teaching-learning situation is geared” (M-4.1:6). And the pupil “becomes a teacher of God himself” (5:8). How so? He has made that crucial choice, the choice that made his teacher a teacher, the choice that set that signal off in his mind and drew him to that fateful meeting: “He has seen in another person the same interests as his own” (5:8-9). The situation has come full circle. And now his pupils will be mysteriously drawn to the right place and the right time to meet him.
In short, you will be led to your teacher, even if you do not know that you are being led. This, however, is not such a unique answer. And, while it can be comforting, it leaves many of us in the exact same place as before—wondering if this process will actually work, worrying that it won’t. What makes the Course’s answer totally unique, and what makes it uniquely reassuring, is something we have not yet touched upon.
In the second paragraph of this section, we are told that in order to really understand how this all works—how, for instance, the pupil finds the teacher—there is something else we must first grasp: “In order to understand the teaching-learning plan of salvation, it is necessary to grasp the concept of time that the course sets forth” (2:1). This section then goes on to briefly describe the Course’s concept of time and how it relates to the teacher-pupil situation. Be warned, however: If you are not already familiar with the Course’s view of time, this section may seem impenetrable. The following is my attempt to encapsulate what it describes.
Time as we experience it is an illusion, a shadow of something that already happened long ago, a reliving of an “ancient instant” (4:5). What is this instant? The answer lies in this sentence:
The instant the idea of separation entered the mind of God’s Son, in that same instant was God’s Answer given (2:6).
To rephrase: There was this instant in which the idea of separation entered our minds, causing us to fall asleep to reality, and in which God’s Answer, the Holy Spirit, entered our minds and lifted us back into awakening. In other words, in this instant was contained the entire separation saga, from the first hint of sleep to the final glory of awakening (this ancient instant is what the Text calls “the tiny tick of time”).
This means that in that ancient instant we not only made the wrong choice—the choice to separate—we also made the right choice—the choice for God. In that instant we already learned all there is to learn, which means that we all became great spiritual masters and woke up. This idea of already completed learning is emphasized in the third paragraph, which tells us that we have already fully learned our path of awakening, and that this learning merely waits for us to accept it as our own (3:5-8).
So, the original instant contained all the learning, all the spiritual progress, that we one day will make. Furthermore—and this part is crucial—it contained all the specific events that we will experience. For example, in that ancient instant we met our teacher. This section and the following one constantly speak of “apparent strangers” (M-3.2:2) who find each other “as if they had not met before” (4:3). These sections are not saying that we met before in a previous lifetime. They are saying that we met before in that original ancient instant.
Now we need add only one more point, a point already referred to above: All of time as we experience it is a reliving, a replaying of that ancient instant.
Time really, then, goes backward [hearkens back] to an instant so ancient that it is beyond all memory, and past even the possibility of remembering. Yet because it is an instant that is relived again and again and still again, it seems to be now (4:1-2).
In other words, the events of your life are not really happening now. They already happened at the dawn of time. You are simply remembering them now, reliving them as if they were currently unfolding to an unpredictable future. You reading this newsletter, this very sentence on the page, is something you already did. Any insights you might glean from this article, you already gleaned billions of years ago when you very first read it. Those insights are not new; they are remembered from an ancient past. And in that ancient past you learned them, incorporated them and went on to higher insights. Thus, they only seem new. “What has been learned and understood and long ago passed by is looked upon as a new thought, a fresh idea, a different approach” (3:4).
Remember, the entire separation saga was contained in that ancient instant. Every single detail we experience now was already there in that instant. There is nothing that can be added. There are no novel elements, no events or situations that were not there in the beginning. Time as we experience it is a simple repetition. It is a viewing of a movie already shot. Elsewhere, the Course does intimate that we can, via the miracle, fast-forward past certain scenes (see Text, p. 6; T-1.II.6:7). Yet we still will be fast-forwarding to a scene already filmed.
Now we can see the Course’s logic:
You already met your teacher in the ancient instant.
Time is just a replaying of that ancient instant.
You will inevitably meet your teacher in time.
The Course states the punch line very plainly: “The pupil comes at the right time to the right place. This is inevitable, because he made the right choice in that ancient instant which he now relives” (4:5). Looking carefully at the previous paragraph, we can surmise that this “right choice” he made was the choice to learn—to learn his path, his form of the universal curriculum, and to learn from his appointed teacher of that path (see 1:2). We are told that the teacher will also inevitably make his choice to teach, because he made that choice in the ancient instant. “So has the teacher, too, made an inevitable choice [in the present] out of [as a reliving of] an ancient past” (4:6).
Thus, there is no possible way you will not meet your teacher. As the Course says, it is inevitable. “…it is only a matter of time” (1:4). The movie is already shot, and the meeting of your teacher is an essential part of the plot. The chances that you will not meet him or her are literally the same as the chances that next time you watch Gone with the Wind it will end with Rhett saying, “Frankly, Scarlett, I think I’ll stick around.”
Now we can see just how different the Course’s answer is from our answers. As I said at the start, when faced with the possibility that there is someone out there who is important to our spiritual progress, we usually take one of two mental stances: We either worry that we will not meet that person, or we decide that such a person is not vital to our spiritual journey. As we can see, the Course takes a radically different stance from both of these. It says, you will meet this person. There is not the slightest chance you could possibly not meet this person. In its brief words, “This is inevitable….”
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]