THE NATURE OF EGO part II
The Self-Enclosed Ego
The Self-Enclosed Ego
Most of our relationships with other people and with our environment are based on a sense of separateness, thereby blocking the awareness of wholeness and the unity of all existence. “The only hindrance to the clear perception of our natural state is the forceful idea of being a separate individual living in a world with other separate beings. This fanciful idea of a self is a contraction, a limitation of wholeness, real being.” The sense of a personal existence – “I-am-so-and-so” – obscures the changeless state of pure awareness, producing alienation and suffering. “Diversity in unity is natural and good. It is only with separateness and self-seeking that real suffering appears in the world.”
In many traditional spiritual teachings the human ego is identified as the major impediment to self-realization. The illusion of a separate “I” or ego disconnected from the rest of life and the universe causes ignorance and suffering:
The Bliss of Self is always yours and you will find it if you seek it earnestly. The cause of your misery is not in your outer life; it is in you, as your ego. You impose limitations on yourself and then make a vain struggle to transcend them. All unhappiness is due to the ego. With it comes all your trouble. What does it avail you to attribute the cause of misery to the happenings of life when the cause is really within you? What happiness can you get from things extraneous to yourself? When you get it how long will it last? If you would deny the ego and scorch it by ignoring it you would be free. (6) Ramana Maharshi
Human suffering arises from the creation of a separate self which is a mere fraction of our real nature. The dominant role of the ego gives rise to all the myriad problems of life. Until we clearly observe the workings of the ego, real human transformation is impossible:
Ego is the unobserved mind that runs your life when you are not present as the witnessing consciousness, the watcher. The ego perceives itself as a separate fragment in a hostile universe, with no real inner connection to any other being, surrounded by other egos which it either sees as a potential threat or which it will attempt to use for its own ends. The basic ego patterns are designed to combat its own deep-seated fear and sense of lack. They are resistance, control, power, greed, defense, attack. Some of the ego’s strategies are extremely clever, yet they never truly solve any of its problems, simply because the ego itself is the problem. (8) Eckhart Tolle
Human unhappiness is largely self-created and a reflection of the workings of the ego, which is constantly reacting to other people and events, blocking and distorting the natural flow of life. Memories of past events leave traces which act as conditioning elements and reinforce the self-centered activity of the ego:
The ordinary man’s activity is made up of reactions which are the expressions of his egotistic makeup. He is a self surrounded by pleasant and unpleasant, friendly or hostile objects, and everything which impinges on him incites him to react according to his desires and his fears. Consequently, all his reactions are false, fragmentary, inadequate, because they are rooted in his egoistic outlook which is born of his delusion that he is a separate self. All the traditional doctrines teach us methods by which we may come to discard this state of reaction and reach an egoless state where all reactions cease to be, giving place to impersonal actions which are true, impartial and adequate. (9) Jean Klein
The operation of the self-centered ego is the chief obstacle to wholeness and self-realization.
In order to embark on the journey of self-transformation, it is necessary to objectively examine and question why we think, feel and act as we do:
As long as the egoic mind is running your life, you cannot truly be at ease; you cannot be at peace or fulfilled except for brief intervals when you obtained what you wanted, when a craving has just been fulfilled.
Since the ego is a derived sense of self, it needs to identify with external things. It needs to be both defended and fed constantly. The most common ego identifications have to do with possessions, the work you do, social status and recognition, knowledge and education, physical appearance, special abilities, relationships, personal and family history, belief systems, and often also political, nationalistic, racial, religious, and other collective identifications. None of these is you.(10) Eckhart Tolle
Behind the illusion of separate egos lies the timeless background of pure awareness. The Indian sage Ramana Maharshi taught that “the ego functions as the knot between the Self, which is pure Consciousness, and the physical body, which is inert and insentient.”
As long as we imagine ourselves to be separate personalities, one quite apart from another, we cannot grasp reality which is essentially impersonal.
First we must know ourselves as witnesses only, dimensionless and timeless centres of observation, and then realize that immense ocean of pure awareness, which is both mind and matter and beyond both.
Q: Whatever I may be in reality, yet I feel myself to be a small and separate person, one amongst many.
Nisargadatta: Your being a person is due to the illusion of space and time; you imagine yourself to be at a certain point occupying a certain volume; your personality is due to your self-identification with the body. Your thoughts and feelings exist in succession, they have their span in time and make you imagine yourself, because of memory, as having duration. In reality time and space exist in you; you do not exist in them. They are modes of perception, but they are not the only ones. Time and space are like words written on paper; the paper is real, the words merely a convention. (15) Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
Estrangement from the Source
The phenomena of the natural world provide many examples of separation and eventual return to the source of life: “The waters of the ocean evaporate, form clouds which are moved by winds, condense into water, fall as rain and the water rolls down the hill in streams and rivers, until they reach their original source, the ocean, reaching which they are at peace.” In a similar vein, traditional spiritual teachings speak of a forgetting or turning away from the Self or ground of Being, leading to a sense of alienation and suffering. This idea often appears in the form of an allegory such as the Gilgamesh epic or the legend of the Holy Grail. “We are completely unaware of our true nature because we constantly identify ourselves with our body, our emotions and our thoughts, thus losing sight of our unchanging centre which is pure consciousness and happiness”:
We live in a world of objects which are forever changing. Even our mind is in a state of perpetual change. We have an impression of universal becoming. This is because we have completely forgotten that the Self (the supreme subject) underlies the ego and the world of which it is an unmoving motive power and the ultimate knower. Sadhana (spiritual practice) is nothing else but a return to the consciousness of the unmoveable and blissful Self which is the root of our-selves and all objects. This losing sight of the consciousness of Self is described in the Vedantic tradition as a process of identification with objects. It is a kind of forgetfulness, of fascination, of attraction. From this moment onwards, the Self has forgotten itself, paradise is lost and an ego arises, an ego which says: “I do this, I suffer, I think.” By virtue of this identification, what is impersonal becomes mistakenly personal. The search for happiness becomes a desperate search, for the ego – having lost its consciousness of the Self, of perfect bliss – now seeks happiness in finite and passing objects. Sooner or later, however, the ego will be impelled to see the impossibility of finding true happiness in objects and in separate beings. (16) Jean Klein
The major obstacle to self-realization is the habitual identification of the mind and body with the experiences and phenomena of life rather than the underlying source of all existence. “When the mind merges in the Self, the body presents no problems. It remains what it is, an instrument of cognition and action, the tool and the expression of the creative fire within.” Buddhist teachings point to the separation of human beings from the greater dimensions and significance of the One Reality as the fundamental cause of human suffering:
Our estrangement from the real Self is reflected in the unsatisfactory quality of our life – the pain, the existential anxiety, the unfulfillment. The human predicament can be compared to a wheel not running true on its axle and thus grinding. Fragmented and frustrated, we long for wholeness and freedom. We are split off from our true Self in yet another way. Even as we exist in time and space, in a world that is finite, impermanent, and material, simultaneously we inhabit a world that is infinite, eternal and formless. Owing to our bifurcating intellect, which divides and separates, we are alienated from our Essential-mind. This Mind cannot be perceived until we are in an awakened state. Thus we are the flawless children of Mother Earth and Father Spirit. Living in our temporary home, the biosphere, with its pain, its beauty, its joy, we are estranged from our permanent abode, the Void. (17) Philip Kapleau
When ignorance of our real nature is dissolved in the light of understanding, the sense of separation from the Self or Source vanishes. There is really nothing to add to our lives, only self-imposed obstacles to be removed in the realization of our true Being or the Self:
Truly there is no cause for you to be miserable and unhappy. You yourself impose limitation on your true nature of infinite Being and then weep that you are but a finite creature. Hence I say that you are really the infinite, pure Being, the Self-Absolute. You are always that Self and nothing but that Self. Therefore, you can never be really ignorant of the Self; your ignorance is merely a formal ignorance. Know then that true Knowledge does not create a new Being for you; it only removes your “ignorant ignorance.” Bliss is not added to your nature; it is merely revealed as your true and natural state, eternal and imperishable. (18) Ramana Maharshi
(6) Ramana Maharshi The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi (New York: Samuel Weiser, 1978), pp. 36-37.
(8) Eckhart Tolle The Power of Now (Vancouver: Namaste Publishing, 2003), p. 152.
(9) Jean Klein Be Who You Are (Dorset, England: Element Books, 1989), p. 2.
(10) Eckhart Tolle The Power of Now Vancouver: Namaste Publishing, 2003), pp. 37-38.
(15) Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj I Am That (Durham, North Carolina: Acorn Press, 1982), p. 205.
(16) Jean Klein Be Who You Are (Dorset, England: Element Books, 1989), pp. 45-46.
(17) Philip Kapleau The Wheel of Life and Death (New York: Doubleday, 1989), p. 41.
(18) Ramana Maharshi The Spiritual Teachings of Ramana Maharshi (Boston: Shambhala,
1989), p. 79.