What does Jesus mean when he says “I am the teacher of the ego”?

Q. I’ve been studying the Urtext and am fascinated by the notion that Jesus is the “teacher of the ego.” I’m just wondering if you could direct me to something you’ve already written or give me some of your thoughts that perhaps you haven’t yet written about this most intriguing idea of Jesus teaching our egos.

A. That is a puzzling passage. Let’s look at it in context. It comes from what is now Chapter 4:

Again, belief is an ego-function, and as long as your origin is open to belief at all, you are regarding it from an ego viewpoint. That is why the Bible quotes me as saying, “Ye believe in God, believe also in me.” Belief does apply to me, because I am the teacher of the ego. When teaching is no longer necessary, you will merely know God. Belief that there is another way is the loftiest idea of which ego-thinking is capable. This is because it contains a hint of recognition that the ego is not the self.

This idea that the ego can be taught is clearly related to an earlier comment in that same chapter: “Nevertheless the ego can learn” (T-4.I.2:13).

Both the idea that the ego can learn and that it can be taught (in this case, by Jesus) are not particularly in keeping with the way in which the Course eventually speaks. The reason for this is that the ego is first rolled out in a significant way in this very chapter—Chapter 4. And in these very early discussions, the term “ego” is still to some extent within the Freudian meaning. That, after all, is what Helen and Bill were familiar with. This ego, then, is the conscious function that mediates between the primitive impulses of the id and the demands of external reality. In this sense, the ego can learn and can be taught.

After this early usage, the term “ego” slowly slides into the eventual Course usage, in which the ego is a mostly unconscious thought system that is totally dedicated to separation and that cannot learn. We are told in Chapter 7, for example, that the ego “does not really learn at all” (T-7.IV.3:2). In this sense, the ego does not change, it just gets let go of, bit by bit, while kicking and screaming all the way. It does not change its colors, you could say, it just gets smaller.

So how should we understand the passage you quote? It seems to be saying that belief is an ego function and that Jesus is the teacher of the realm of belief. I think this is what is meant by Jesus being the teacher of the ego. His job is to teach us a higher form of belief, so that we can eventually go beyond belief to pure knowing, which also means going beyond the ego.

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