[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
There is so much confusion around the term “teacher of God” among students of A Course in Miracles. In what follows, I answer a series of questions about the teacher of God in an attempt to clarify this puzzling issue.
Is everyone a teacher?
The Manual’s attitude is that everyone is a teacher, but that the vast majority of people are teachers of the world’s curriculum, teachers of the ego. Percentage-wise “only very few” (M-12.3:3) are teachers of God.
Does the Course speak of me being your teacher because I push your buttons?
This is a very popular idea among Course students and spiritual students in general—that I am your teacher because my ego causes your ego to flare up, which then allows you to see your ego so that you can let it go. However, out of the 337 references to “teacher” and “teachers” in the Course, not one of them refers to this notion of teacher.
What does it mean to be a teacher?
All of the references to “teacher” in the Course—whether they refer to the Holy Spirit, to the ego, or to one of us—have in common a single notion: a teacher teaches the thought system that he himself believes in to those who are willing to learn from him. Teaching, in other words, is the act of instilling your thought system in others. This means that if I am pushing your buttons with my ego, then what I am teaching you is the thought system of my ego. That is being a teacher, but not a teacher of God.
How do we teach—with our words or our actions or our thoughts?
We teach with all three, of course. But what really does the teaching is the thought system behind our words, actions, and thoughts. The Manual says that the real content that you are teaching is “what you think you are, and what you believe the relationship of others is to you” (M-In.3:1). For this reason, our words only become truly effective teaching devices for God when they are backed up by our life, when “we exemplify the words in us” (W-pII.14.2:5).
When do we qualify to be a teacher of God?
The Manual’s comments on this add up to the following idea: We become a teacher of God only when we are ready to truly teach—with our thoughts, words, and deeds—God’s thought system. In other words, we become a teacher of God when we have reached a certain place on the spiritual ladder. “Generic” teachers of God—all teachers of God, including those who teach paths other than the Course-reach this place when they are able to make a single deliberate choice in which they do not see their interests as separate from the interests of another person (see M-1.1:2). This is not a choice people make every day. If you look at the lives of Helen and Bill, they made that choice when they joined in search of a better way. That single moment changed their lives.
For teachers of God within the framework of A Course in Miracles, my interpretation is that the beginning teacher of God is someone who has completed “the Course proper,” meaning the Course up until the Manual for Teachers. This means that the Course teacher of God is someone who has a) studied the Text all the way through and b) has completed the Workbook to the point where he or she can practice morning, evening, and throughout the day without the support of the Workbook (this is clearly indicated in M-16.3-10). How many students of the Course have truly studied the Text and completed the Workbook to the point where they can continue the practice taught them by the Workbook without its support? Not many-less than one percent of the total population of Course students, I’d say. That’s how many beginning teachers of God there are within the framework of this course.
Are we all teachers and students to each other?
It is a very popular idea among Course students that we are all equally qualified to teach and that in each relationship we are both teacher and student. However, the Course never says this, and what it does say is not compatible with this. There is an important statement in the Manual that says, “Only time divides teacher and pupil” (M-29.1:4). That brief statement says a lot. It means that the pupil will one day be a teacher, but is not a teacher now. Only time divides teacher and pupil, but time does divide them. Pupil, teacher, and advanced teacher are different rungs on the spiritual ladder, a ladder we climb over time. The ladder is illusion, so that in our true nature nothing divides teacher and pupil. But within this world, on that ladder, one becomes first a pupil, then a teacher of God, then an advanced teacher of God, and then steps off the ladder entirely to become a Teacher of teachers.
What is an advanced teacher of God?
The advanced teacher of God is such a highly evolved being that we have probably never met such a person. If you read sensitively and carefully Section 4 of the Manual, which details the characteristics of the advanced teacher of God, then you will see what I mean. This is from something I wrote recently about the person described by those ten characteristics:
Imagine what it would be like to be around such a person. He trusts you. He always tells you the truth, for he has no image to protect. He is supremely tolerant of you; no matter how you behave, he considers you his dear friend. He is always gentle, never harsh. He simply doesn’t get defensive, regardless of what you say. He is uncommonly generous; he notices your needs and gives freely, even lavishly, to meet them. Even when you are impatient with yourself, his patience with you knows no bounds. And whatever mistakes you make, he forgives you, for he realizes that any perception of his that you are not perfectly holy must be his own mistake, which he gladly gives over to the Holy Spirit.
The advanced teacher of God has an absolutely impeccable life, a life that is virtually a pure manifestation of the Course’s principles. I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of people held up as the world’s great spiritual lights are not advanced teachers. If you think of how many Eastern masters have fallen from grace due to one sort of scandal or another, you can probably see what I mean. The advanced teacher is an extremely rare being.
All of the answers above add up to a single picture: There is a ladder of development on which we gradually progress from a person pursuing a normal egoic life, to a spiritual pupil, to a beginning teacher of God, to an advanced teacher of God, to a Teacher of teachers (who has transcended bodily existence altogether). At each point along the way, the percentage of people at that stage sharply diminishes. Yet, the author of the Course has faith that we will continue to climb that ladder, reaching higher and higher and higher. On the way up that ladder, it will do us no good to claim to be higher than we are-a massive temptation along the spiritual path. That just slows our progress. It just lures us into complacency. It amounts to trading in real development for the hollow pleasure of boasting. But we do have it within us to reach the very top, to become a person of pure and uncommon goodness, a shining light to everyone we meet.
The author of the Course has perfect faith that one day we will reach that place, and then jump off the ladder altogether. It is only a matter of time.