In these articles on the Course’s program, especially in Part 3 of the Manual/Extension section and Part 1 of the Teachers of This Course section, I present a largely unfamiliar concept for Course students: that the Course teaches that experienced students of A Course in Miracles will join in one-to-one relationships with newer students, taking these beginners under their wing and personally shepherding them in the study and practice of the Course. I also say that, more than any other single idea, this idea transforms our picture of what the author expected us to do with the Course. This idea contains in seed-form an entire vision of the Course’s life in the world, a vision which is a dramatic alternative to the current scene based on the assumption that the Course is a self-study course.
What I suggest is that this concept is openly taught in black-and-white in the pages of the Manual. The evidence is there for anyone to see. In this article I plan to present this evidence so that you can evaluate it for yourself. If you want the short version, you can skip ahead to the conclusion, where I will summarize the evidence.
Before I discuss the evidence, I need to respond to some of the possible objections to this idea. In the years that I have been putting forth this idea I have encountered many objections. Here is a brief list of the ones that I can recall, along with a brief response to each one.
1. A relationship in which one is the teacher and the other the pupil is contrary to Course principles. After all, the Course says that we are all teachers and pupils to each other. The Course is really about inclusiveness and equality, not hierarchy and domination.
The Course is not against relationships in which a person who temporarily has more is giving to one who has temporarily has less. On the contrary, it says (several times) that the entire plan for salvation is based on this exact process! For instance, see (T-1.III.9:1-2) and (T-1.I.8). We can think of several examples of this kind relationship in addition to that of teacher and pupil. For instance, there is miracle worker and miracle receiver, healer and patient, therapist and patient, and of course Jesus and ourselves.
One of the more widespread misconceptions about the Course is that it says that we are all teachers and pupils to each other. The Course does say that everyone is teaching all the time, but it makes clear that most of us are teaching each other wrong-mindedness (M-In.4:4). In contrast, only certain people qualify as teachers of God and these individuals are assigned particular pupils. In these relationships, then, one person is the teacher and the other is the pupil. This difference is temporary, but a temporary difference is still a difference.
2. This idea is too traditional. It sounds like the traditional authority structures that have disempowered so many people. It sounds like we are setting up Course gurus. We know that the role of the spiritual teacher in other traditions is at best obsolete and at worst harmful. And we know that the Course is trying to take us beyond these outmoded structures.
How do we know that the Course would not be so traditional? Study is traditional. Practice is traditional. And how do we know that the ancient role of the spiritual teacher has done more harm than good? In fact, the author of the Course (in Psychotherapy)seems to suggest that truly authentic religion lies in the relationship between a spiritual teacher and his pupil, not in institutionalized (or “formal”) religion (this is my condensation of comments made in Section II of Chapter 2, “The Place of Religion in Psychotherapy”). Thus, rather than transcending it, the Course seems to smile on this traditional idea.
3. Giving a person outside ourselves the power to save us is contrary to the Course. Relying on some external person is what makes a relationship a special relationship. The process the Course guides us in is one of withdrawing any power we have placed outside ourselves.
The Course is filled with examples in which others have power to contribute to our salvation. It specifically says of the Sons of God, “Their influence on each other is without limit, and must be used for their joint salvation” (T-6.I.18:2). It says our brother is our savior. It says that those we heal have power to save us through their gratitude. It says that our holy relationship partner in particular has power to save us. And, of course, it depicts Jesus as a major saving influence.
4. The Course is a self-study course which is strictly about an internal shift in my own mind. It is only about the individual and his or her private choices of how to perceive the world. It is not about any kind of joining out there in the world, with a teacher or anyone else, since, after all, there is no one out there.
The Course, in my view, was not intended as a self-study course. That is one of the things this article, as well as all of these articles on the Course’s program, attempts to show. And it is not solely about me shifting my individual perception. Extending to others and joining with others in holy relationship are major themes in the Course, and truly central to the Course’s program.
5. Yes, we do have a role as teachers, but this role is purely a matter of demonstration, of extending to others in a subtle, inward, invisible way. This extension does not take a concrete form in the world. It certainly does not take the form of teaching another about the words, ideas and practices of the Course, for this kind of talk is actually a substitute for really embodying the Course.
The content of what we extend to others is our demonstration of Course principles. But this content does take concrete forms. This is the meaning of the term “special function.” This term signifies that we all have the same function (to extend forgiveness to others), but this generic function takes a special form for each of us. And why can’t one of those forms be that of helping others do the Course? If that function is good enough for the author of the Course, how can it be beneath us?
6. There are too many difficulties associated with carrying this idea out. Finding a teacher, or the right one, will be too hard. The relationship may do more harm than good. The teacher may abuse power. The pupil may become overly dependent.
Whether or not the idea seems too difficult to carry out in the world does not affect the primary question, the question that in my mind must always come first: Does the Course actually teach this idea? If Jesus did not put this idea in the Course, then there’s no point in talking about it. End of discussion. But if he did, then we either have to find a way to make it work or we must simply admit that Jesus made a mistake and stuck a bad apple among all the Course’s beautiful ideas—or rather, a bad volume alongside the first two. Personally, I would rather admit he made a mistake than try to convince myself that he didn’t say what he clearly did.
This leads into my primary response to all the above objections. For they all have one essential thing in common. They claim that the Course simply could not and would not teach this. They do not say, “We’ve looked at the passages that seem to teach this idea, and we believe they mean something else. Here is our argument for another interpretation of those passages.” Instead, they say, in effect, “We don’t have to look at those passages, because there is no way they can mean what you say they mean.”
This is not much of an argument in my opinion. My response to it is simple: In assessing what the Course teaches, it does not matter what we think it could not or would not teach. All that matters is what it does teach. For that, we must open the book and look long and hard at its words.
Let us, therefore, go ahead and do that now. What follows are six points that I believe conclusively establish that the Manual for Teachers describes a one-to-one relationship in which an older student of the Course shepherds a newer student in walking the path of the Course.
1. By calling itself a manual for teachers, the Manual clearly implies that it is for teachers who will guide pupils through this particular course’s text and workbook.
If we were going on the Manual’s title alone, what would we think the Manual was for? We all know what a normal manual for teachers is. The setting is an educational course. It has a text and workbook, which are there to instruct the students in their understanding and application of the subject matter. It also has a teacher, who is there to teach that particular course, to help the students through its text and workbook. The manual for teachers is there to aid the teacher in this role.
The implications for A Course in Miracles are obvious. A Course in Miracles is the educational course. It too has a Text and Workbook. Its Manual for Teachers must therefore mean that it too has teachers, who are there to teach this particular course, to help students understand its Text and work through its Workbook lessons. The Manual for Teachers must be a manual for those in this role.
The only problem with the title, “Manual for Teachers,” is that it implies that the above takes place in a formal classroom setting, rather than informally. Yet this is the implication of all of the volumes of the Course, as well as of its title. A Course in Miracles, with its Text, Workbook and Manual for Teachers, sounds like a course that is presented by an educational institution and learned in a formal classroom. Yet, as students of the Course, we know that this is not so. Hence, when we hear those titles, we mentally adjust for the informal nature of the Course.
Making this adjustment, the title, Manual for Teachers, can yield only one meaning: It is a manual for teachers of the Course who are teaching students on their own, informally, rather than in a formal classroom under the aegis of an educational institution. In other words, by mentally adjusting for the informal nature of this particular course, the title of the Manual yields the exact role that I am claiming.
2. In its first two sections, the Manual says that the teacher will shepherd particular pupils along a specific path, and that this manual is for teachers who will shepherd pupils along this path, A Course in Miracles.
If the Manual is indeed a manual for Course mentors who will personally guide Course pupils, we could expect it to introduce this role in its opening pages. That is precisely what it does. Its first two sections are entitled “Who Are God’s Teachers?” and “Who Are Their Pupils?” As their titles indicate, these two sections sketch in clear terms the role of the teacher in relation to his pupil. In other words, they set forth, here at the Manual’s opening, the teacher-pupil relationship. Section 1 tells us that once someone qualifies to be a teacher of God he is given a specific path to teach. Section 2 tells us that he is assigned particular pupils because the path he will teach is the one they need to learn. Once this relationship is defined, it is discussed further in Sections 3 and 4. Section 3 discusses the “levels” of this relationship (casual encounter, intense but short-term relationship, lifelong relationship). Section 4 discusses the characteristics of the advanced teacher, which he acquires from this relationship as it reaches maturity.
What follows is a point-by-point sketch of the teacher-pupil relationship as it unfolds in Sections 1 and 2. To give a sense of how it unfolds, the following points are presented in the same order as they are in the Manual itself.
a. The teacher qualifies to be a teacher by having reached a certain level of development.
Everyone starts out a teacher of ego, who “teaches solely to convince himself that he is what he is not (M-In.4:4). Then he makes a choice of great importance, “a deliberate choice in which he did not see his interests as apart from someone else’s (M-1.1:2). This choice bumps him ahead spiritually, qualifying him to be a teacher of God.
b. Having qualified, the teacher will teach a particular form of the universal course, a particular path.
Before going on, I need to establish a critical point: These opening sections use several different synonymous terms: “course” (1.3:1, 2.5:7), “special curriculum” (1.4:1), “special form of the universal course” (1.4:1), “form of the universal curriculum” (2.1:2). These all mean the same thing. They all mean “particular spiritual path” or “particular path of awakening” (for it seems clear that this “path” is in many cases not overtly spiritual). From now on, I will freely substitute the word “path” for these various synonyms.
Section 1 of the Manual says, “There is a course for every teacher of God” (M-1.3:1). Does this mean that every teacher has a path that he will learn from or one that he will teach? I used to assume the former. But this sentence is actually referring to the latter, as we can see from the sentences directly following it:
The form of the course varies greatly. So do the particular teaching aids involved. But the content of the course never changes….It can taught by actions or thoughts; in words or soundlessly; in any language or in no language; in any place or time or manner (M-1.3:2-6).
I highlighted “teaching aids” and “taught” because they show that the passage is talking about the act of teaching a particular path. It says that the means the teacher will use to teach his path are many, and will vary from one setting to another. In other words, “There is a course for every teacher of God” means, “Every teacher of God has a particular path he will teach.”
c. The manual is written for those who will teach this particular path, A Course Miracles.
Directly following the above paragraph, which says that every teacher has a particular path he will teach, comes this important line: “This is a manual for a special curriculum, intended for teachers of a special form of the universal course [ A Course in Miracles]” (M-1.4:1).
This line states that the Manual is for teachers of this particular path, this “special form of the universal course.” It is for those who will teach A Course in Miracles! This means that we can take the generic pattern of teacher and pupil as described in Sections 1 and 2 and apply it to the special case of the Course. I will do this when I am finished describing that generic pattern.
d. The teacher will teach his path to selected pupils. They are selected for him because the path that he will teach is the path they need to learn.
One of the most crucial passages in my entire argument is the following:
Certain pupils have been assigned to each of God’s teachers…They were chosen for him because the form of the universal curriculum that he will teach is best for them in view of their level of understanding (M-2.1:1-2).
I see no way around what this passage says. The teacher is assigned particular pupils. Therefore, in this relationship one is the teacher and the other is the pupil. What is the teacher teaching? His path, his “form of the universal curriculum” (just as we saw in the previous two points). What is the pupil learning? This same path. Why have these pupils been assigned to this particular teacher? Because the path that he will teach is the one they need to learn. This particular path, then, is both what draws them together and what passes from one to the other. It is the whole basis of their relationship. The next point will reinforce this idea.
e. The common goal that knits them together and makes their relationship holy is the goal of learning the same path.
The Course teaches that a relationship is made holy when two people join in a common goal (also called a common purpose). This is true of the relationship between teacher and pupil. It, too, is knit together and made holy be a common purpose. The Manual mentions this, saying that teacher and pupil “join together for learning purposes. The relationship is holy because of that purpose.” (M-2.5:3-4). The common purpose given here is rather vague, being labelled simply as “learning.” A few lines later we are given a more specific purpose: “Those who would learn the same course share one interest and one goal.” (M-2.5:7). Now we can see with perfect clarity what the common goal is that joins teacher and pupil. It is the goal of learning the same course, the same path.
As I said, these points describe both a generic pattern for teacher and pupil and say that this pattern applies to the Course. So let’s apply it to the Course. We can do so by rewording the generic points (a,b,d,e) so that now they are speaking specifically about the Course:
The teacher qualifies to be a teacher by having reached a certain level of development (presumably in the path of the Course). Having qualified, the teacher will teach this particular path: A Course in Miracles. He will teach the Course to certain pupils, who are selected for him because that path that he will teach—the Course—is the path they need to learn. The common goal that will knit them together and make their relationship holy is the goal of learning A Course in Miracles.
We have now arrived at the same conclusion from two different directions. The Manual’s title used the image of a conventional school teacher; the Manual’s opening sections drew upon the concept of a traditional spiritual teacher. Yet from these two vantage points, they both painted the exact same picture. They both suggest that qualified students of the Course will take certain pupils under their wing and personally guide them in the study and practice of A Course in Miracles.
3. The Manual calls the learner a “pupil,” not a “student.” A pupil is a person who is learning something under the close supervision of another person. The Manual’s pupils, then, are learning A Course in Miracles under the supervision of another person.
When talking about this idea, I noticed that other people often used a slight variation from my terminology, calling it “the teacher-student relationship” rather than “teacher- pupil relationship.” “Pupil,” however, is the actual word the Manual uses for the junior in this relationship. It calls this person a “pupil” 20 times; it never once calls this person a “student.” Over time I realized that this slight difference in terminology makes a massive difference in meaning. A student could be a student of anything: of the Course, of the spiritual path, of life. The word “pupil,” on the other hand, carries a far more specific meaning—a meaning that actually makes my entire point about the teacher-pupil relationship.
I looked up the word “pupil” in Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary. What I found was significant:
1.A person, usually young, who is learning under the close supervision of a teacher at school, a private tutor, or the like; student.
2.Civil Law. an orphaned or emancipated minor under the care of a guardian.
3.Roman Law. a person under the age of puberty orphaned or emancipated, and under the care of a guardian.
Of course, the definition we are concerned with is #1. This definition makes clear a critical point, that inherent to the meaning of “pupil” is the idea of learning under the supervision of another person. Definitions #2 and #3, while specialized meanings that do not directly concern us, also affirm the theme of being under another person. If we take the common denominator of all three definitions, we see a significant fact: A pupil is not always someone who learns, not always a student, but is always a person under the guardianship or tutelage of another person. This is the essential meaning of the word, which comes from the Latin pupillus, meaning orphan or ward.
The dictionary then gives a list of synonyms, providing both the meaning they hold in common and their special variations on that common meaning:
—Syn. 1. Apprentice, Novice, Pupil, Disciple, Scholar, Student refer to one who is studying, usually in a school. A pupil is one under the close supervision of a teacher, either because of his youth or of specialization to some branch of study: a grade school pupil; the pupil of a famous musician….A student is one attending an institution of higher learning, or one who has devoted much attention to a particular problem: a college student; a student of politics.
Here we can see the clear difference between a pupil and a student. A pupil studies under the close supervision of another person, a teacher. A student just studies; no human teacher is implied. This is why, for instance, you would not call yourself a pupil of A Course in Miracles. And no one does. You cannot be a pupil of a book, only of a person. Using the example from the dictionary, for instance, you can be a student of politics, but not a pupil of politics.
Because the meaning of the word “student” is more broad, if the Manual used that word it might be talking about all kinds of situations. However, because the Manual uses “pupil,” the meaning is far more specific. Through that word, the Manual signifies that these pupils are pupils of another person. They are pupils because they study under someone else. They may in fact be students of the Course (and we know they are from other things the Manual says), but the term “pupil” does not tell us this. Instead, it tells us that they are studying something under another human being. That is their defining characteristic. That is what a pupil is.
This single word, in fact, makes my entire case on this subject. To see this, let’s go back to the dictionary definition. It told us that someone is a pupil for one of two reasons: “either because of his youth or of specialization to some branch of study.” Since the Manual is talking about adults, the situation must be the latter. The Manual’s pupils are such because they are learning a specialized branch of study.
All we need do is apply this definition to the context of the Course— making the Course the “specialized branch of study”—and we get the very situation I am arguing for. Simply by mentioning pupils in terms of this course, the Manual specifies a whole set of interrelationships between three things: the pupil, the teacher and the Course. It says that there is a teacher who is closely supervising a pupil in a particular branch of study. And it says that A Course in Miracles is that branch of study.
Now we have the exact same conclusion from three different angles. The title of the Manual, its first four sections and its use of the word “pupil” all depict the exact same situation: There are teachers who will personally supervise certain pupils in the study and practice of A Course in Miracles.
4.Pupil and teacher are in their roles because of their differing degrees of experience with A Course in Miracles. This shows that the Course is what is being taught by the teacher to the pupil.
From the previous four points we have established that A Course in Miracles is the subject being taught by the teacher to his pupil. This is further cemented by the fact that, according to the Manual, what makes one the teacher and the other the pupil is degree of experience with the Course. Is this not true of any subject being taught? In a science class, the reason you are the student and the teacher is the teacher is that he has more experience in the subject of science. The author of the Course made this same point to Bill Thetford about teachers and pupils: “At the beginning…they come together on the basis of inequality of ability and experience.” (Absence from Felicity).
This same thing is true in the Manual’s teacher-pupil relationship. Pupils are beginners of the Course, while teachers are required to have extensive experience with the Course. I will take these points one at a time.
The teacher is qualified to teach by virtue of his experience with the Course. Here is the passage:
He cannot claim that title [“teacher of God”] until he has gone through the workbook, since we are learning within the framework of our course (M-16.3:7).
The point here is that since he is teaching “within the framework of our course,” the teacher must be experienced within that framework. What could be more obvious? The qualifications listed are that “he has gone through the workbook.” However, as I argue near the end of Part 1 of the “Manual/Extension” section, this actually means “has studied the Text and genuinely completed the Workbook.”
The pupil, on the other hand, is clearly a Course beginner. There are two sections in which the pupil’s new status is referred to. “Is Reincarnation So?” (Section 24) talks about how the teacher should handle issues like reincarnation with his pupils. In Paragraph 3, the teacher is warned that taking a definite stand on reincarnation could complicate a pupil’s encounter with the Course. The pupil here is clearly a beginner. Only a beginner would be in danger of a “premature acceptance of the course.” (M-24.3:6) This impression is reinforced when, two paragraphs later, the author discusses what “the beginner” (M-24.5:8) of the Course must accept.
“As for the Rest…” (Section 29) again talks about the pupil. The first two paragraphs of that section discuss the question of how the pupil should begin the Course. There are several choices: 1) the pupil should “read the manual first”; 2) the pupil should “begin with the workbook”; 3) the pupil should “start at the more abstract level of the text”; 4) the pupil is “as yet unready” for the Course and simply needs the teacher’s “prayers” or “smile.” Again, the pupil is being characterized as a beginner of A Course in Miracles.
Picture the following, if you will: There is a situation in which a teacher and pupil come together. You don’t know what subject is being taught, but you have a couple of clues: The teacher is qualified for his role by virtue of his experience with A Course in Miracles, and the pupil is a beginner of A Course in Miracles. What subject is being taught here?
Obviously, we are seeing the same pattern over and over again. There is a teacher and a pupil, and what is being taught by one to the other is A Course in Miracles.
5.The Manual invents its own special term for the teacher-pupil relationship (“the teaching-learning situation”). This demonstrates the distinct and important nature of this concept in the Course’s system.
I have been calling this relationship “the teacher-pupil relationship,” but this is a term of my own invention. However, if this concept is so important to the Course, why doesn’t the Course have its own term for it?
Actually, it does. Its term is one that (as far as I know) has gone unnoticed since the Course’s publication. The term is “teaching-learning situation.” This term is used exclusively in those first four sections of the Manual (actually, Sections 2-4), the very ones that introduce and discuss the teacher-pupil relationship. It is used only 9 times, but this makes it used more times than many well-known terms in the Course, such as the little willingness, the Great Rays, level confusion and wrong-mindedness.
“Teaching-learning situation” sounds rather vague, as if it could refer to any situation in which teaching and learning is taking place. However, its meaning in the Manual is far more specific than that. It is the term the Manual uses to refer to the relationship between teacher and pupil (and, as I said, uses only in those sections that discuss that relationship). We can see this in sentences like this one: “When pupil and teacher come together, a teaching-learning situation begins.” (M-2.5:1). The meaning of this sentence would be unchanged if it read, “When pupil and teacher come together, a teacher-pupil relationship begins.” Since the two terms mean the same thing, everything we said about the teacher-pupil relationship in point #2 also applies to “the teaching-learning situation.” Now we can understand the exact meaning of this seemingly vague term. A teaching-learning situation is an ongoing situation between two people in which a teacher is teaching and a pupil is learning.
When you give a concept its own term you set it apart and signify its importance. By inventing a term for the teacher-pupil relationship, the Course shows that this concept is a distinct and important part of its system.
6.Six of the Manual’s final sections counsel Course teachers in how to shepherd their pupils along the Course’s path. They instruct teachers on how to respond to various needs of their pupils, such as determining which volume of the Course the pupil should begin with.
If it is indeed a manual for Course mentors, then, by definition, the Manual must provide actual instruction in how to carry out this role. And again, this is precisely what it does, in six of its final sections. These sections are 17, 18, 21, 23, 24, 29, all but one of which use the word “pupil.” My claim is that the real intent of these sections has generally gone unnoticed. To fully understand a section, one needs to understand its context. The context of these sections is the teacher-pupil relationship, and more specifically, particular problems or issues that will commonly arise in that relationship. Because we have not seen this context, we have missed the real point of these sections. We have been like someone walking in on a conversation and misinterpreting what we hear because we did not hear how it began. Below are my summaries of the specific problem or issue that each section addresses and the answer that it gives.
Sections 17 and 18, “How do God’s Teachers Deal with Magic Thoughts?” and “How is Correction Made?”
The issue: Your pupil comes to you with a magic thought, a belief that he can be saved by something outside of him rather than by the Course’s thought system. He is thus divided about the goal on which the two of you joined.
The answer: Realize that any anger you feel is a mistaken interpretation that will arouse guilt and fear in your pupil. Let your own mind be healed. Only then can you be of help to the pupil. Your healing will unify his mind behind your common goal.
Section 21, “What is the Role of Words in Healing?”
The issue: Your pupil has come to you with a “presented problem” (M-21.5:3) and is seeking your help. Do you use words, and, if so, how? (Note: This section’s main focus is on healing. Like Section 23, however, it seems to be aimed at both teaching and healing. It mentions teaching in this line: “Is the teacher of God, then, to avoid the use of words in his teaching?” [M-21.4:1]) .
The answer: Do not control the direction of your speaking. Let the Holy Spirit speak through you and do not judge His words.
Section 23, “Does Jesus Have a Special Place in Healing?”
The issue: What a teacher can offer his pupils “is limited by what he learns himself.” (M-23.6:7). “Would it be fair if their pupils were denied healing because of this?” (M-23.1:3).
The answer: Turn to Jesus, teach with him. “Do you, then, teach with him.”(M-23.7:8). For he went beyond all limitations. Thus, by working through you, he can offer your pupils what you cannot.
Section 24, “Is Reincarnation So?”
The issue: The teacher of God must decide how to represent the Course to his pupils on “issues such as the validity of reincarnation.” (M-24.4:2).
The answer: The teacher of God should not take “any definite stand” (M-24.3:1) on such controversial issues that are peripheral to the Course’s goal of “complete reversal of thought” (M-24.4:1). He should instead emphasize the fact that salvation is available now. This is “the sole criterion” (M-24.6:12) by which all beliefs should be measured.
Section 29, “As for the Rest…”
The issue: You are faced with the question of how to start your pupils off with the Course. You need to know, either which volume they should begin with, or whether they are not yet ready for the Course and simply need your prayers or your smile.
The answer: You, the teacher, should not try to answer these questions by yourself, but should “refer the questions to Him,” (M-29.2:10) the Holy Spirit.
These final two sections are of special importance. The other four could be interpreted as talking about teaching pupils in the vein of the Course, but not specifically teaching them about the Course itself. These final two cannot. Let’s look at these a bit closer. ”
“Is Reincarnation So?” overtly depicts a teacher representing the Course in response to the questions of pupils about controversial issues like reincarnation. Paragraph 3 explains why the teacher should not teach reincarnation to pupils as part of the Course’s thought system:
For our purposes, it would not be helpful to take any definite stand on reincarnation. A teacher of God should be as helpful to those who believe in it as to those who do not….Our course is not concerned with any concept that is not acceptable to anyone, regardless of his formal beliefs. His ego will be enough for him to cope with, and it is not the part of wisdom to add sectarian controversies to his burdens. Nor would there be an advantage in his premature acceptance of the course merely because it advocates a long-held belief of his own (M-24.3:1-2,4-6).
This, I believe, is the best paragraph in the Manual for demonstrating that the teacher is teaching pupils about A Course in Miracles. It is not simply saying that the teacher should not take a stand on reincarnation. It says he should not tell others that reincarnation is advocated by >the Course (the Course mentions itself twice here). Who are these others? Let’s look at what is said about them. Some of them will not believe in reincarnation. For them, the idea would add unnecessary burdens to all the difficulty the Course is giving their egos. Some will believe in reincarnation. For them, the idea might prompt them to prematurely accept the Course, and there is no advantage in this.
Now we can see who they are. They are beginning students of the Course. As I mentioned earlier, the fact that they are in danger of “premature acceptance of the Course” makes this especially clear. Paragraph 5 reveals their identity even further. It talks about these beginning students as pupils of the teacher: “He [the teacher] might be advised [by the Holy Spirit] that he is misusing the belief [in reincarnation] in some way that is detrimental to his pupil’s advance or his own.” (M-24.5:5).
Here, then, we have an unmistakable example of the relationship I am talking about. A teacher is representing A Course in Miracles to beginning students of the Course who are also his pupils.
“As for the Rest…” (Section 29) is also of great importance, for two reasons. One, it gives us a flavor of the teacher-pupil relationship. Two, its actual meaning has, I believe, gone entirely unnoticed. This is despite the fact that most Course students are well aware of the relevant opening two paragraphs, and many of us have read them countless times. Let’s look at those opening paragraphs, beginning with the fourth sentence:
While it is called a manual for teachers, it must be remembered that only time divides teacher and pupil, so that the difference is temporary by definition. In some cases, it may be helpful for the pupil to read the manual first. Others might do better to begin with the workbook. Still others may need to start at the more abstract level of the text.
Which is for which? Who would profit more from prayers alone? Who needs but a smile, being as yet unready for more? No one should attempt to answer these questions alone. Surely no teacher of God has come this far without realizing that. The curriculum is highly individualized, and all aspects are under the Holy Spirit’s particular care and guidance. Ask and He will answer. The responsibility is His, and He alone is fit to assume it. To do so is His function. To refer the questions to Him is yours. Would you want to be responsible for decisions about which you understand so little? Be glad you have a Teacher Who cannot make a mistake. His answers are always right. Would you say that of yours? (M-29.1:4-2:14).
We have all read this passage. It is the well-known place where the Course says that a new student can start with either of the three volumes, and that he or she should ask the Holy Spirit which one it should be, right? Not exactly. What this passage really says is so important that I want to spend some time demonstrating it.
Let’s start with the second paragraph, which begins by asking a series of questions. These questions can be condensed into two: 1) Which volume is for which pupil? 2) Who is not yet ready for any of the Course’s volumes and “would profit more” from prayers or a smile? The mystery to solve here is: Who is being asked these questions?
The key to cracking this mystery lies in treating the questions as related questions, as two parts of one overall question: Should this person start with the Text, Workbook or Manual, or is he even ready for the Course?
Could the person being asked this question be the new student himself, as we have all assumed for so many years? This is flatly impossible, for two reasons. First, on what basis would someone brand new to the Course decide whether or not he is ready for it? Second, if he somehow decides that he is not ready for the Course, he must also decide that he is only ready for prayers and smiles. What does that mean? Focusing on the smiles part, does it mean that he goes off and smiles a lot, or that he goes around asking others to smile at him? The whole thing stops making sense at this point.
No, the person being asked the question is the teacher. The situation is very simple: the teacher is faced with a beginner and must decide if this person should start with Volume I, II, III, or is simply not yet ready for the Course. He must decide whether to give the beginner advice on choice of volume or to merely give him love, in the form of praying for him or smiling on him. Now the whole thing makes sense.
The rest of paragraph 2 makes this even clearer. The next sentence says, “No one should attempt to answer these questions alone” (2:4). In other words, the person being asked these questions should answer them only under the Holy Spirit’s guidance. This person is named in the very next sentence: “Surely no teacher of God has come this far without realizing that” (2:5). There it is. The teacher is being asked these questions. He is the one who has come far enough along the Course’s path to realize that he cannot answer such questions alone, that he instead must refer them to the Holy Spirit. As we have seen, the teacher is someone who has completed the Workbook. Having done so, two things are true for him: 1) he has some training in how to hear the Holy Spirit’s Voice and 2) the question of which volume to start with is no longer relevant for him personally. Thus, he is asking the Holy Spirit, but doing so for his pupil, not for himself.
Shortly after this sentence, the paragraph switches to directly addressing someone as “you,” giving this person direct injunctions like, “Ask and He will answer” (2:7). In light of the recent mention of the teacher, this person is clearly the teacher. He is the one being addressed in this paragraph, just as he is the one that has been addressed throughout the entire Manual. It is, after all, a manual for teachers. Thus, when this paragraph tells someone to ask the Holy Spirit (2:7) and to refer questions to Him (2:10), that person is the teacher.
In asking these questions, the teacher is asking for someone else, for his pupil. This is made clear by the words “responsibility” and “refer.” Let’s look at these. In sentence 11 it says, “Would you want to be responsible for decisions about which you understand so little?” That phrase, “responsible for decisions,” carries the definite implication that you are making decisions that affect others. The specific meaning is clear: Do you want to be responsible for guiding your pupil’s spiritual journey, especially when you do not understand all of the special needs of that journey? Don’t you want to give that responsibility to the Holy Spirit? “The responsibility is His, and He alone is fit to assume it. To do so is His function. To refer the questions to Him is yours” (2:8-10). Note that word “refer.” To “refer” is “to send or direct for treatment, aid, information, or decision” (Webster’s Dictionary). The word implies that someone has come to you for help and you are sending him on to a more qualified source. In this P 3 case, your pupil has asked you for a decision, and you are referring that decision to a higher Authority (by asking the Holy Spirit on the pupil’s behalf).
Now the whole situation is clear. Let us look at the second paragraph again, with the implied meaning inserted in brackets. Bear in mind that the whole paragraph is speaking directly to the teacher:
Which [volume] is for which [pupil]? Who would profit more from [your] prayers alone [than from the Course]? Who needs but a smile [from you], being as yet unready for more [such as the Course]? No one [including you] should attempt to answer these questions alone. Surely no teacher of God [and this means you] has come this far without realizing that. The curriculum is highly individualized [different for every pupil], and all aspects are under the Holy Spirit’s particular care and guidance. Ask and He will answer. The responsibility [for guiding your pupil] is His [not yours], and He alone is fit to assume it. To do so is His function. To refer the questions [your pupil asks you] to Him is yours. Would you want to be responsible for decisions [that affect your pupil] about which you understand so little [since you do not understand all of your pupil’s “highly individualized” needs]? Be glad you have a Teacher Who cannot make a mistake [since your pupil’s teacher—you—is capable of abundant mistakes]. His answers [concerning your pupils] are always right. Would you say that of yours?
In other words, this is the well-known passage that we have all misunderstood for so many years. It is the place where the Course says that a new student can start with any of the three volumes, and that his or her personal Course teacher should ask the Holy Spirit which volume that should be.
From this corrected interpretation we can gain some sense of the immense significance of the teacher-pupil relationship. As Jesus conceived the Course it plays a truly central role. In his vision, one begins the Course by finding a teacher and asking him, “Which volume does your guidance say I should start with?”
Now we can look at the argument as a whole. We have six solid reasons for thinking that the Manual describes a relationship in which a more experienced Course student acts as a mentor for a new student:
- By calling itself a manual for teachers, the Manual clearly implies that it is for teachers who will guide pupils through this particular course’s text and workbook.
- In its first two sections, the Manual says that the teacher will shepherd particular pupils along a specific path, and that this manual is for teachers who will shepherd pupils along this path, A Course in Miracles.
- The Manual calls the learner a “pupil,” not a “student.” A pupil is a person who is learning something under the close supervision of another person. The Manual’s pupils, then, are learning A Course in Miracles under the supervision of another person.
- Pupil and teacher are in their roles because of their differing degrees of experience with A Course in Miracles. This shows that the Course is what is being taught by the teacher to the pupil.
- The Manual invents its own special term for the teacher-pupil relationship (“the teaching-learning situation”). This demonstrates the distinct and important nature of this concept in the Course’s system.
- Six of the Manual’s final sections counsel Course teachers in how to shepherd their pupils along the Course’s path. They instruct teachers on how to respond to various needs of their pupils, such as determining which volume of the Course the pupil should begin with.
These six points produce what I consider an air-tight case. They represent six different, independent ways in which the Manual is saying the exact same thing. They represent an overall pattern in which passages, sections, terms and title all converge on a single idea.
This is a lot of evidence to explain away. If you want to deny that the Manual teaches this concept, you have to convincingly explain away every single one of these six points. To do so, you must demonstrate that what each point is based on—the title, or passages, or terms—does not mean what it seems to mean. Once you do that, you then have to explain how this overall pattern got there. Why does the Manual repeatedly, in many different ways, seem to teach an idea that it does not really teach at all? Then you also have to explain why the author did not clarify himself. If he was going to include this entire misleading pattern, why didn’t he mention somewhere that he didn’t really mean it? Finally, you have to provide a good reason for reading this pattern differently than what it seems to say. You have to show why this pattern, if read literally, would so deeply violate the Course that we are forced to re-interpret it.
I myself am unable to explain away any of the above points, let alone all six, and especially not the overall pattern they form. Most importantly, I see no need to. As I indicated at the beginning, I believe that only mistaken views of the Course would make us feel forced to re-interpret this pattern. I believe that a proper understanding of the Course would not only tell us that the Course could teach this, it would even allow us to predict that it would teach this.
The evidence compels me to acknowledge that the idea of teachers guiding pupils through the Course is indeed taught in the Manual. And it is not taught in one or two isolated, hard-to-understand passages. Rather, it is central to the Manual. The Manual’s title promises that it will guide teachers in carrying out this role. The first four sections describe what this role is and discuss it . Then several of the final sections offer specific advice for performing it. When the Manual is read carefully, we suddenly see that this role is not only present, it is front-and-center.
And being central to the Manual, I am compelled to admit that this idea must be crucial to the Course. In reflecting on this, I find every reason to believe that it is. For one, this is the only thing the Course ever says about how its life in the world should go, about what we should do with it beyond the individual level. For another, this idea seems to provide the crucial bridge between new students and the lofty, unfamiliar world of the Course. Without such a bridge, students may never fully cross over and truly embody the Course’s teachings. For more than twenty years we have seen the obvious need for such a bridge and have built a great many—study groups, books, tapes, centers, newsletters—but we have failed to erect the one bridge the Course itself designed. Perhaps the author knew what he was doing when he designed it. Perhaps this bridge is truly the missing key to passing his course. Perhaps our willingness to erect this bridge will decide whether A Course in Miracles accomplishes its purpose or remains a set of beautiful but unfulfilled promises.
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
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