The Teacher/Pupil Relationship

In a previous newsletter article (“What is the Manual for Teachers, A Better Way, October 1993), I claimed that the basic assumption behind the Manual for Teachers was something that had heretofore gone virtually unnoticed. This assumption is that older 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. Since then I have received a number of responses to this idea, yet in my memory, all of these responses have missed the single crucial issue: Does the Manual actually teach this idea? Before we discuss whether we like it or not, or whether it will work or not, we have to ascertain whether Jesus taught it or not.

If the Course really does teach this, the implications are extraordinary. It means that the author of the Course actually instituted a plan for the Course’s life in the world, and did so in its very pages. This plan directly addresses the basic problem that Course students face: How do we really do this thing? How can we really understand its message, practice its lessons, embody its teaching and thus find liberation? This dilemma is especially acute for people new to the Course. They walk onto an almost totally unfamiliar scene, as if they have just stepped off the spaceship onto the surface of a new planet. In response to this need, we have evolved many aids over the last twenty years. We have books, tapes, study groups, newsletters, authors, lecturers, seminars, gatherings and centers. All of these can be extremely helpful and I believe that all of them are appropriate. But this scene is missing the most important ingredient: the particular aid instituted by Jesus himself.

Jesus’ idea is very simple. There are those who have gotten somewhere with the Course. They have discovered what to do with it, how to make of it an actual path, how to use it to find release from the basic pain of their existence. Most likely, they are not incredibly advanced, but at least they are somewhat more mature. They have a little more peace and serenity. They are less judgmental and more accepting. They hold fewer things against others, and instead, they tend to look out for them.

In this plan, when a new person steps off that spaceship and onto “planet Course,” instead of being confused and bewildered, she immediately looks for a person like I have just described. She finds this person and then (by mutual consent) adopts him as her personal teacher. Her teacher then shepherds her on her journey with the Course, helping her understand its basic message, helping her go through the Text and work the Workbook lessons, helping her apply the Course’s profound truths to her daily dilemmas. After some years of this, the pupil becomes much like her teacher was when they met. Now she too carries that sense of serenity. She too is the kind of person in the presence of which everyone feels better about themselves.

Think of the possible benefits of such a relationship. It could literally save new students years of muddling through the Course without such help. If you have been with the Course for a long time, you can probably well imagine how many years it could have saved you.

Frankly, I think that this is the only way in which the Course will live up to the exalted promises printed on its pages. Those students in which these promises have come alive must pass the secret onto others. How else could it work? This, in fact, is the way it has always worked. All paths that shoot for high spiritual attainment have relied on a spiritual guide. Without a guide, the best you can reasonably hope for is what our modern churches achieve: the slight raising of the level of human decency. This quote is from the selection on “spiritual guide” in the Encyclopedia of Religion:

Since ancient times, the figure of the spiritual guide has stood at the center of contemplative and esoteric traditions. It would appear that all such traditions stress the necessity of a spiritual preceptor….

The claim I am making raises many, many questions: Isn’t the Holy Spirit the Teacher? Haven’t we outgrown the guru trip? Isn’t the Course a self-study course? Aren’t we all teachers and students of each other? Won’t people inevitably abuse such a role? Won’t it foster dependency, rather than strength? I do think that the Course has answers for all of these questions, and even agrees in part with their implied positions. For the Course’s concept of the teacher—and this cannot be emphasized too strongly—is a basic correction for the traditional role, in which the teacher often usurped the place of the Holy Spirit.

Yet these are not the first question, the foremost question. That question is: Does the Course teach this role? 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 honesty demands that we face it, head on. We must decide either that Jesus blew it and stuck a bad apple among all the Course’s sublime ideas—or rather, a bad volume alongside the first two. Or we must assume that the role of the teacher is an integral part of the Course and that, despite all the evident drawbacks, there is a way to make it work.

So now let us turn our attention to answering that one crucial question. It is my contention that the role of the teacher is clearly described in the pages of the Manual. Granted, this has not been apparent to us. However, it is right there in black and white. Once you notice it, it is inescapable. The question becomes not, How can it be there when virtually no one has seen it? but, How can hardly anyone have seen it when it is so clearly there?

What follows are four points that demonstrate 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. The title, Manual for Teachers, clearly implies this role.

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 understand the text and work through the workbook exercises. The manual for teachers is there to help guide 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 opening two sections, the Manual unambiguously describes the teacher-pupil relationship.

If it is indeed a manual for Course mentors who will personally shepherd Course pupils, we could expect it to introduce this role in its opening sections. That is precisely what it does. Sections 1 and 2, “Who Are God’s Teachers?” and “Who Are Their Pupils?” sound the keynote to the whole Manual. Let’s retrace their description of the teacher-pupil relationship. I will do so using the notation from the Second Edition of the Course (for instance, 1.1:1 means section 1, paragraph 1, sentence 1).

1.1 The teacher of God is someone who has reached a certain (minimal) state of spiritual advancement. Everyone starts out a teacher of ego, who “teaches solely to convince himself that he is what he is not” (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” (1.1:2). This choice bumps him ahead spiritually, qualifying him to be a teacher of God. In other words, to qualify as a teacher of God, one must have reached a certain, albeit minimal, level of spiritual development.

1.3:1 Every teacher of God has a spiritual path assigned to him by the Holy Spirit. This paragraph states, “There is a course for every teacher of God.” The word “course” here is synonymous with “spiritual path.”

2.1:1 Each teacher is assigned specific pupils. “Certain pupils have been assigned to each of God’s teachers, and they will begin to look for him as soon as he has answered the Call.”

2.1:2 What the teacher teaches to his pupils is his spiritual path. According to the Manual, a teacher’s pupils “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.” This says that the teacher is teaching his spiritual path (his “form of the universal curriculum”). His pupils, in fact, are drawn to him for this very reason, because this is the appropriate spiritual path for them “in view of their level of understanding.”

2.5 Teacher and pupil join in learning the same path. The Manual states that pupil and teacher “join together for learning purposes. The relationship is holy because of that purpose” (2.5:3-4). This is an example of the Course’s formula for the holy relationship: two people joining in a common purpose. The common purpose in this case is “learning,” which is a Course synonym for “spiritual development.” Teacher and pupil have therefore joined in the pursuit of spiritual development. Yet this general goal takes a very specific form: they join in learning the same course, the same spiritual path. This is stated with extreme clarity just a few sentences later: “Those who would learn the same course share one interest and one goal” (2.5:7). The word “course” here refers to any path, yet it would be valid to make it more specific and say: “Those who would join in learning this course share one interest and one goal.”

2.5 Through the process of learning the same path (via the teacher teaching it to the pupil), the two unite ever more fully over time. The Manual implies a long-term relationship in which teacher and pupil become increasingly united over time. This long process is suggested by the following line: “The demarcations they have drawn between their roles, their minds, their bodies, their needs, their interests, and all the differences they thought separated them from one another, fade and grow dim and disappear” (2.5:6).

They learn the same path, but they do not learn in the same form. The teacher learns through teaching; the pupil learns through receiving that teaching. Without this difference, the terms “teacher” and “pupil” become absolutely meaningless. This differentiation of roles is a sore spot with many Course students, and many spiritual students in general. It feels like an offense to make one the teacher and the other the pupil. It seems to be a statement of inherent inequality. Thus, some conclude, the Course cannot be teaching that.

Yet, whether we like it or not, the Course is advocating this differentiation of roles, making two points in the process. One, the difference is a blessing. It allows one the blessing of giving, the other the blessing of receiving. Two, the relationship aims at undoing all differences, including this difference in roles. The following material that Jesus communicated to Helen and Bill makes these points very clearly:

It is not true that the difference between pupil and teacher is lasting. They meet in order to abolish the difference. At the beginning, since we are still in time, they come together on the basis of inequality of ability and experience. The aim of the teacher is to give them more of what is temporarily his….The confusion here is only because they do not gain the same things, because they do not need the same things. If they did, their respective, though temporary roles would not be conducive to mutual profit (Absence from Felicity, p. 273).

To summarize the above sub-points: A teacher of God is someone who has reached at least some minimal level of spiritual development. The Holy Spirit assigns him both a particular spiritual path and particular pupils. When his pupils reach him, he teaches them his spiritual path. Teacher and pupils join in learning this path. And through the teaching-learning process, they unite ever more fully. This path, then, is not some sidelight in their relationship. It is the central focus, the glue that binds one to the other. It is the reason they are in relationship. It is why they are together.

The Course is here describing a fairly traditional spiritual teacher role. Whatever corrections the Course may be offering for how that role has traditionally been seen, we cannot escape one central fact: The Course is depicting a spiritual teacher who is imparting his spiritual path to a pupil.

In fact, I believe that Jesus sees the relationship between spiritual teacher and his pupil as the true earthly temple of religion, as the ideal physical receptacle for the human spiritual quest. I say this based on a section in the Psychotherapy pamphlet, called “The Place of Religion in Psychotherapy.” There, Jesus claims that “formal religion” is a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron. By formal religion, of course, he means institutionalized religion. Thus, according to Jesus, the traditional church is not the Holy Spirit’s true temple on earth. Instead, “Relationships are still the temple of the Holy Spirit…” (Psychotherapy, p. 5; P-2.II.1:5).

In the rest of the section he compares religion and psychotherapy, talking about each one in the context of a relationship. Under psychotherapy, he discusses its central relationship, the therapist-patient relationship. Under religion, he discusses what he appears to consider its central relationship: the teacher-pupil relationship.

If you put all this together, you get a sweeping and startling conclusion: The traditional church is not the true temple of religion on earth. That temple is the relationship between a spiritual teacher and his pupil. This, of course, would come as no surprise in the East. But in the West, it would change everything.

Let’s, however, get back to the Course. Now that we have established what the Manual means when it talks about “teacher,” let’s apply this to the specific purpose of the Manual itself.

1.4:1 The Manual is a manual for teachers of A Course in Miracles. “This is a manual for a special curriculum, intended for teachers of a special form of the universal course [A Course in Miracles].” This line plainly states that the Manual is for those who will teach the Course. In light of the preceding sub-points, it is extremely clear what a teacher of the Course is. He is a spiritual teacher who is imparting his spiritual path, A Course in Miracles, to a pupil.

To be fair, I must acknowledge that there are many places in the Course where the term “teacher” is used in a much broader sense, referring to the way all of us are teaching all the time in every relationship, teaching either fear or love. The presence of that broader usage, however, does not negate this more specific definition of teacher as Course mentor, nor does it in any way diminish its importance.

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 used the concept of a traditional spiritual teacher. Yet from these two vantage points, they both painted the exact same picture.

#3. Pupil and teacher are in their roles because of their differing degrees of experience with A Course in Miracles.

From the previous two 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 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 same 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 (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.” I think we can infer two things from this:

  1. Has roughly completed the Workbook’s practice periods according to its instructions. The very next sentence restates the phrase “has gone through the workbook” in the following way: “completion of the more structured practice periods, which the workbook contains…” (“more structured” here means that Workbook practice is more structured than the kind of practice we do after the Workbook). This suggests that we are to at least roughly complete the Workbook’s “structured practice periods,” which means roughly follow the daily instructions for practice. This, in fact, is the attitude displayed throughout the Workbook.
  2. Has studied the Text. As its opening line states, the Workbook assumes that we have studied the Text. In saying that the qualification for being a teacher of the Course is having completed the Workbook, surely the Course means having completed the Workbook and studied the Text. After all, this is the implication of the whole three-volume progression of the Course. You study the Text and practice the Workbook, and then go on to the Manual for Teachers. In other words, you have now become a teacher and so are fit to help others study the Text and practice 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. This section is counselling the teacher in the same way that it says the Holy Spirit might counsel him: “He might be advised that he is misusing the belief [in reincarnation] in some way that is detrimental to his pupil’s advance or his own” (5:5). In two different paragraphs (3 and 5), these pupils are characterized as beginners.

In paragraph 3, the teacher is warned that taking a definite stand could complicate a pupil’s encounter with the Course, either by adding “sectarian controversies” (3:5) to his ego’s difficulty with the Course or by leading to a “premature acceptance of the course because it advocates a long-held belief of his own” (3:6). Surely the situation described here is that of someone’s beginning encounter with the Course.

Later, paragraph 5 again talks about the pupil as a beginner, making specific reference to what is “required of the beginner” (5:8)—what the beginner must accept in order to embark on the path of the Course. “He need merely accept the idea that what he knows is not necessarily all there is to learn. His journey [with the Course] has begun” (5:9-10).

“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. One is qualified to be a teacher by virtue of his experience with A Course in Miracles. The other is a pupil because he is a beginner of A Course in Miracles. If someone were to ask you what is being taught in this situation, what would you say?

One last crucial point on this topic: The passages I just mentioned in which pupils are said to be beginners are the only mentions of beginners of the Course. This means that whenever the Course talks about beginners it refers to them as pupils of a Course teacher. Thus, not only are pupils beginners, but beginners are pupils. In other words, in Jesus’ mind, people would ideally begin the Course by becoming the pupil of a long-term Course student. Perhaps he knew that it would take decades for this to get started. Perhaps he knew that many people would resist becoming someone else’s pupil. Yet this is clearly how he wanted it to work, in complete contrast to how it has worked for the Course’s first twenty years. In his mind, you ideally begin the Course by joining with a mentor, who would take you under her wing and draw you into the path which had become her way of life.

#4. Six of the Manual’s final sections instruct teachers of the Course in how to shepherd a newer student of the Course.

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” (5:3) and is seeking healing. Do you use words, and, if so, how?

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” (6:6). “Would it be fair if their pupils were denied healing because of this?” (1:3)

The answer: Turn to Jesus, teach with him. “Do you, then, teach with him…” (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” (4:2).

The answer: The teacher of God should not take “any definite stand” (3:1) on such controversial issues that are peripheral to the Course’s goal of “complete thought reversal” (4:1). He should instead emphasize the fact that salvation is available now. This is “the sole criterion” (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” (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 the Course itself. These final two cannot. “Is Reincarnation So?” very specifically and overtly depicts a teacher representing the Course in response to the questions of pupils about controversial issues like reincarnation.

“As for the Rest…” is particularly important, 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? (Manual, p. 67; 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 that answers these questions should do so 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 case, your pupil has asked you for a decision, and you are referring that decision to a higher Authority.

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?”

Of course, there will probably be a wide spectrum of teacher-pupil relationships. On one end, the teacher’s role would not be openly acknowledged, and what he or she teaches would only be general Course-like principles, not the Course itself. On the other end of the spectrum, the teacher’s role would be openly acknowledged by both, and he or she would be overtly teaching the Course. The Manual clearly seems to have in mind something more like the latter. Only toward that end of the spectrum does it make sense for the pupil to ask the teacher, “How does reincarnation fit into the Course?” or “Which volume does your guidance say I should start with?”


Now we can look at the argument as a whole. We have four 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:

  1. The title, Manual for Teachers, clearly implies this role.
  2. In its opening two sections, the Manual unambiguously describes the teacher-pupil relationship.
  3. Pupil and teacher are in their roles because of their differing degrees of experience with A Course in Miracles.
  4. Six of the Manual’s final sections instruct teachers of the Course in how to shepherd a newer student of the Course.

These four points produce a totally concordant and interlocking picture: The Manual indicates the role of the teacher in its title (#1), describes that role in its opening sections (#2), provides qualifications for that role (#3) and finally acts as a manual for the carrying out of that role (#4).

If you want to claim that the Manual does not describe such a role, you have to convincingly explain away all four points, for though they support each other, they do not depend on each other. Each one stands solidly by itself.

A didactic, expository argument such as the one I have set forth here may not appeal to many students. However, if this argument is correct—and I believe it is absolutely air-tight—then we are compelled to see the Course in a whole different way. Some of our most basic assumptions about it have been incorrect. For instance, it is universally acknowledged that A Course in Miracles is a self-study course. If my argument is correct, it is not. True, it can be studied by oneself, but the point of its third volume is that the author ideally wanted it to be studied (at least to begin with) under the guidance of a more experienced student. I don’t know what would be the appropriate term for that state of affairs, but “self-study” is not it.

This is a lot to swallow. Seeing the Course in a whole new way is no small task. Yet again, the question is not whether or not we like this teacher-pupil idea, or whether or not we think it is workable, but whether or not the author taught it. And if we answer that first and foremost question with a “yes,” our next and more difficult question is: What do we do about it? Such a relationship dumps in our laps huge issues, gigantic possibilities of abuse and excess, as well as untold potential benefits. Frankly, my first question is: Do current Course students have a sufficient handle on its message and its application to be useful mentors to someone else? Have we yet made the Course enough of a living path for ourselves to have something valuable to pass on to others?

As followers of Jesus, I believe that our only recourse at this point is to take a deep breath and begin wading into these issues, guided by his words in the Course and by his presence in our minds. In that vein, I invite your responses to this article. Depending on the interest shown, I might do a series of articles in future newsletters on different issues relating to the teacher-pupil relationship.


[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]