Should we try to understand the ego?

Question: In T-7.VI.11, we read that the whole world of the ego is nothing, so we shouldn't try to understand it. But don't we want to understand a situation so we can see that it is not real?

Answer: The passage in question:

That is all the world of the ego is. Nothing. It has no meaning. It does not exist. Do not try to understand it because, if you do, you are believing that it can be understood and is therefore capable of being appreciated and loved. That would justify its existence, which cannot be justified. You cannot make the meaningless meaningful. This can only be an insane attempt (T-7.VI.11:4-11).

Short answer: The Course doesn't want us to understand the world of the ego in the sense that it doesn't want us to see the ego and its world as truly meaningful. The Course does want us to understand the world of the ego (and the situations that arise in it) in the sense that it wants us to look honestly at the ego and see how it works, so that its unreality can be made apparent and the truth beyond it can be revealed.


This is a good example of how important immediate context is in understanding a Course passage. In this section of the Text (T-7.VI), when the Course speaks of "understanding" something, it basically means "seeing real meaning" in that something. Since in the Course only reality has any real meaning, the only thing that can truly be understood is reality. Anything that is unreal is meaningless, and therefore cannot really be understood. The point the Course is making here can be summed up by the following logic:

Only reality can be understood.
The ego is unreal (it is nothing).
Therefore, the ego cannot be understood.

Because the world of the ego "has no meaning" and "does not exist," it cannot really be understood; that is, no real meaning can be seen in it—it is senseless, insane. To try to "make the meaningless meaningful" (to try to understand it) is "an insane attempt"; only reality can truly be understood, and "therefore…appreciated and loved."

But the Course does want us to understand the ego and its world in a different sense: in the sense of understanding how it operates. Later in the Text we read the following:

No one can escape from illusions unless he looks at them, for not looking is the way they are protected….The "dynamics" of the ego will be our lesson for a while, for we must look first at this to see beyond it, since you have made it real. We will undo this error quietly together, and then look beyond it to truth (T-11.V.1:1,5-6).

This passage tells us that we need to "look first at" the "dynamics" of the ego before we can "see beyond it." In other words, the first step to the truth beyond the ego is to look at the ego and come to understand how it works. The passage also tells us why we need to look at the ego first: because we have made it real in our minds by not looking at it. Looking squarely at the illusion of the ego is the only way to escape it, the prerequisite for looking beyond it to truth. We need to see that its so-called "dynamics" are really nothing; that in truth it has "has no power to do anything" (T-11.V.3:7). We need to flush the ego out of hiding, so that in the light we can see that it is an illusion. We need to see, as our first passage says, that the ego is nothing, absolutely meaningless, and therefore cannot truly be understood.

So, to tie all of this together, we might say that the main thing the Course wants us to understand about the ego is that the ego cannot be understood.

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