Written by Wes Annac, The Culture of Awareness
The ego’s an innate aspect of our consciousness that can be used for benevolence or malevolence. Most people who hear the word ‘ego’ associate it with someone who’s full of themselves; who brags about their accomplishments or acts like they’re better than the people around them.
The ego’s usually associated with people who are so confident in themselves that they tend to be overbearing, but there’s much more to it and its mechanisms than simple self-centeredness. As strange as it might sound, the ego’s actually necessary for us to survive and function in the lower realms, and it can only fill us with selfishness if we let it.
I think the mind can be used for good when the ego’s overbearing influence is transcended, and here, I’d like to examine what some of our spiritual teachers have said about it.
I’ve probably done a report on the ego before, but I wanted to talk about it again because I’m fascinated with the idea of transcending it and using the mind for positive purposes.
As you can probably imagine, our teachers encourage us to transcend the ego and its constant wants and desires, and I agree that we’ll have to transcend it if we want to feel, anchor or express spirit with any degree of purity.
One we transcend its influence, we can work with it to produce helpful works that benefit others. We can express unhindered spirituality from right here on earth (as opposed to striving to evolve into a higher realm to feel it), but only when the ego’s transcended will we express it properly.
Sadhu Arunachala describes his experience of ego death, which came in the form of an intense fear he started to feel after meditating for months.
“After I had been meditating in the presence of Bhagavan [Sri Ramana Maharshi] for some months, I reached a certain stage when I would be overcome by fear. … [Bhagavan] explained that it was the ego that experienced the fear as it felt that it was gradually losing its grip.
“It was, in fact, dying, and naturally resented it. He asked me, ‘To whom is the fear? It is all due to the habit of identifying the body with the Self. Repeated experience of separation from this idea will make one familiar with this state and fear will then automatically cease.’” (1)
Paul Ferrini tells us that the ego puts all of its effort into sustaining what’s already known.
“Your ego is terrified of the unknown. No matter how terrible the known past is, the ego prefers it to the unknown present.
“All of its energy goes into trying to make the present into the past. It thinks that this creates safety, but in truth it creates continued terror, a constant aggravation of the wound until the pain is so intense that it must be dealt with. You see, everything, even your ego, conspires toward your awakening!
“So living the past over and over again creates the ultimate terror. Outwardly, life seems safe and predictable. Inwardly, the dynamite has been lit.” (2)
The more we ty to live in the past by sustaining an experience we remember or understand, the more we trap ourselves in the ego’s confines.
Some of you who are on the path of spiritual evolution might notice that you’re sometimes tempted by the desire to fall back into old habitual patterns and ways of living/being that no longer serve you, and this could very well be because the ego’s striving to maintain its grip.
The ego will start to feel like its dying as we continuously fade into our sacred center. It’ll fight, fight and fight some more to postpone its inevitable transcendence, and it’s our duty to stay as centered and materialistically unfocused as we can in an effort to constantly embrace spirit.
If we can embrace spirit, the ego will have less and less control over our ability to think and discern. Let’s feed spirit as much as we can and go out of our way to deny the wants and demands of the ego, which fights to save its own life and influence over our consciousness and the decisions we make.
Adyashanti affirms what Paul told us about the ego’s need to sustain itself.
“The psychological self seeks to continue, to survive. Simultaneously there is a compelling, driving urge to break free of this self.
“However, to break free brings the end of time. When it happens, past and future will be over for you. Questions and answers will cease, and there will be nothing. Out of that nothing, something fresh will flower. You will have to become that flower.” (3)
Paramahansa Ramakrishna advises that to see ourselves as finite humans, and not as Source, is to limit ourselves and feed spiritual ignorance.
“‘I’ and ‘mine’ — these constitute ignorance. ‘My house,’ ‘my wealth’, ‘my learning’, ‘my possessions’ — the attitude which prompts one to say such things comes of ignorance. (4)
We’re much more than the meat suits we embody here on earth, and we can’t take our material possession with us into the higher realms. We can’t even take our physical bodies with us on our journey back to Source.
All we can take with us is our consciousness as it’ll exist when we’re ready to leave this sphere, so we’ll want to make sure we cultivate a wholesome life for ourselves in the realms beyond by living as much in love and centeredness as we can on earth.
It’s easy to fill our heads and hearts with material possessions and concerns, but we’ll make life much harder for ourselves when we’re back in the higher (or lower) realms if we do.
Where we go when the physical body perishes depends entirely on the choices we make in life, and if we make choices that are in alignment with our spiritual paths, I’m sure we’ll experience pure bliss when we’re back in the higher realms.
We’ll experience exactly what we create for ourselves, and if we create love and joy here on earth, that’s exactly what we’ll experience.
As Ramakrishna also tells us, the ‘I’ we’re familiar with isn’t intended to be our physical selves, but Source him/herself.
“By discriminating you will realize that what you call ‘I’ is really nothing but Atman. Reason it out. Are you the body or the flesh or something else?
“At the end you will know that you are none of these. You are free from attributes. Then you will realize that you have never been the doer of any action, that you have been free from virtue and faults alike, that you are beyond righteousness and unrighteousness.” (5)
As long as we empower the ego, he tells us, we’ll continue to live in the illusion of polarity.
“[Virtue and vice] both exist and do not exist.
“If God keeps the ego in a man, then He keeps in him the sense of differentiation and also the sense of virtue and sin. But in a rare few He completely effaces the ego, and these go beyond virtue and sin, good and bad. As long as a man has not realized God, he retains the sense of differentiation and the knowledge of good and bad.” (6)
The idea that only a select few people can find enlightenment seems a bit outdated, and I can only say this because of the opinions of the readers who commented on one of my recent articles about the concept of enlightenment only being attainable to the few seekers who are diligent enough to completely transcend the ego.
Even though inner work is still an absolute requirement, I think the portal has widened since Ramakrishna’s days and more seekers can now find enlightenment.
I suppose this perspective is partially influenced by modern day ascension beliefs; by the idea that all of humanity’s experiencing a gradual yet direct physical/spiritual evolution. The feeling I (and plenty of others) get is that enlightenment’s now widely available as long as we can do the inner work that’s always been (and always will be) necessary.
The ego, Ramakrishna tells us, “is like a stick that seems to divide the water in two. It makes you feel that you are one and I am another.” (7)
Spiritual ignorance, he advises, “lasts as long as one has ego. There can be no liberation as long as the ego remains. ‘O God, Thou art the Doer and not I’ — that is knowledge.” (8)
He expands on one of his quotes above.
“’My house,’ ‘my wealth’, ‘my learning’, ‘my possessions’ — the attitude which prompts one to say such things comes of ignorance. On the contrary, the attitude born of Knowledge is: ‘O God, Thou art the Master, and all these things belong to Thee. House, family, children, attendants, friends are Thine.” (9)
Becoming a conduit for Source’s energy and inspiration is worth our time and effort. When we can recognize that our finite physical selves are only capable of achieving things that resonate with our surface perception, we can open up, break the barrier and do things we never expected to do.
Source works through us to the extent that we’re willing and able to open up, and our creativity will flow (along with our general spirituality) when we allow Source to express his/her omnipotent love and intelligence through us. We’ll no longer stress or worry about how other seekers see our work, because we’ll know we didn’t create it by ourselves – we received divine assistance.
According to Krishnamurti, “It is the mind with its demands and fears, its attachments and denials, its determinations and urges, that destroys love.” (10)
He tells us how religious and political ‘propaganda’ have shaped the way we think.
“The experience of pleasure and pain is direct, individual; but the understanding of the experience is after the pattern of others, of the religious and social authorities. We are the result of the thoughts and influences of others; we are conditioned by religious as well as political propaganda.” (11)
Hazrat Inayat Khan affirms that seeing ourselves through an ego-driven lens causes a lot of unnecessary misery.
“A person who likes to say twenty times in the day, ‘I’, does not like to say, ‘I am not, Thou art’. But he does not know that this claim of ‘I’ is the root of all his trouble. It is this claim that makes him feel hurt by every little insult, by every little disturbance.
“The amount of pain that this illusion gives him is so great that it is just as well he got rid of it. But that is the last thing he would do. He would give up his last penny, but not the thought of ‘I’. … That is the whole difficulty and the only hindrance on the spiritual path.” (12)
According to Sri Krishna, ‘cutting free from desire’ will liberate us and show us the way to the heart.
“Self-controlled, Cut free from desire, Curbing the heart And knowing the Atman, Man finds Nirvana That is in Brahman, Here and hereafter.” (13)
The Buddha tells us that “The world does not know that we must all come to an end here; but those who know it, their quarrels cease at once.” (14)
Everything in existence has a purpose, the Buddha shares, and living in love is the best thing we can do with this existence.
“All things that exist are not without cause. However, neither Ishvara, nor the absolute, nor the self, nor causeless chance, is the maker, but our deeds produce results both good and evil.
“The whole world is under the law of causation, and the causes that act are not un-mental, for the gold of which the cup is made is gold throughout. … Let us surrender self and all selfishness, and as all things are fixed by causation, let us practise good so that good may result from our actions.” (15)
When we can live purely and unflinchingly in the heart, the karma we manifest will uplift us and those around us who’d benefit from our love and positivity. The afterlife we create for ourselves will be much more blissful, because we’ll have made a real and solid effort to make it pleasant for ourselves with our continuously loving actions on earth.
Sometimes, I want to shout from a mountaintop that love is the most important and powerful force in existence, second only to Source him/herself.
Love will help us see our way through the confusing earthly maze we have to try our best to navigate, and with love in our hearts and the willingness in our minds to consistently transcend the ego, we’ll align our thoughts, feelings and actions with a higher power.
Abba Alonious tells us that the destruction of his ego was necessary so he could rebuild himself from the ground up.
“If I had not destroyed myself completely, I should not have been able to rebuild and shape myself again.” (16)
The ‘water of God’s grace’, Paramahansa Ramakrishna tells us, “cannot collect on the high mound of egotism. It runs down.” (17)
He also tells us that we won’t truly connect with Source until we renounce the self-serving ways of the ego.
“Unless one renounces the ego, one does not receive the grace of God.” (18)
‘Narendra’, who later became Swami Vivekananda, rejoiced at the transcendence of his ego and his experience of heaven on earth.
“Thou One without a Second, all Peace, the King of Kings! At Thy beloved feet I shall renounce my life And so at last shall gain life’s goal; I shall enjoy the bliss of heaven while yet on earth!” (19)
Sri Aurobindo encourages us to drive the ego out of all of its clever disguises and hiding places so we can finally and justly transcend it.
“The centre of all resistance is egoism and this we must pursue into every covert and disguise and drag it out and slay it; for its disguises are endless and it will cling to every shred of possible self-concealment. … There is no I nor thou, but only one divine Self equal in all embodiments, equal in the individual and the group, and to realize that, to express that, to serve that, to fulfill that is all that matters.” (20)
In a Q&A, Ramana Maharishi tells us that renunciation doesn’t just entail giving up the ego – it entails giving up the false self who’s influenced by it.
“Q: What is renunciation?
“M: Giving up the ego.
“Q: Is it not giving up possessions?
“M: The possessor too.” (21)
In order to ‘give up everything’ materialistic, he advises, we’ll have to understand that the ego feeds all of it.
“If the ego is, everything else also is. If the ego is not, nothing else is. Indeed, the ego is all. Therefore the enquiry as to what this ego is is the only way of giving up everything.” (22)
Krishnamurti tells us that we’ll eventually care so much about others that we’ll have little desire to stimulate the ego.
“You must distinguish between the selfish and the unselfish. For selfishness has many forms, and when you think you have finally killed it in one of them, it arises in another as strongly as ever. But by degrees you will become so full of thought for the helping of others that there will be no room, no time, for any thought about yourself.” (23)
After so much diligent work, we’ll care less about our wants and desires and more about helping others find what they need to physically and spiritually thrive. We’ll stop wanting to stimulate the ego as we steadily learn to care more for the plight of others, and our selflessness will affect everyone who’s been lost in the confines of the ego.
We’ll serve others with and open and loving heart, and they could in turn awaken to their potential and start helping others find a spiritual perception or simply get a leg up in this difficult world.
The people out there who are feeding the hungry, giving drinks to the thirsty and giving clothes and shelter to the homeless probably don’t think much about themselves. Even though enlightenment isn’t their goal, they’re still doing selfless things that spirit will most likely reward them for when they’re back in the higher realms.
A lot of them probably don’t think about spirituality or the possibility of an afterlife – they simply see atrocities that need mended and seek to mend them. This is true selflessness, and in time, everyone will grasp it and finally start helping others.
In our final quote, Adyashanti encourages us to transcend our fixation on failure and success. Only when we cease to care about ‘our story’, which is meant to be blank so we can perceive Source with a greater degree of purity and clarity, can we embrace love.
“The biggest challenge for most spiritual seekers is to surrender their self importance, and see the emptiness of their own personal story.
“It is your personal story that you need to awaken from in order to be free. To give up being either ignorant or enlightened is the mark of liberation and allows you to treat others as your Self. What I am describing is the birth of true Love.” (24)
It’s easy to stay fixed on our accomplishments and our failures, but as we’ve heard endlessly, only when we can empty ourselves of any thoughts that aren’t aimed at Source or service (I.e., when we can transcend egotistical thoughts) can we do anything pure or significant with our time on earth.
Once our sense of self is transcended, we’re basically infinite. We can explore our Christ consciousness with meditation, creativity and various other spiritual tools, and along the way, we can openly and lovingly serve others with the understanding that our service makes not only their lives, but ours more enjoyable
We obviously won’t serve others for the karmic rewards that are involved.
We’ll do it because we’ll have moved past our desire to help ourselves, which we’ll have replaced with the desire to help others. The whole world would benefit if even two seekers could transcend their sense of self and start serving this planet, and we definitely need more humanitarians and spiritual teachers.
We only need more spiritual teachers in the sense that we need more people who are willing to selflessly help show the way back into the higher realms, and it goes without saying by now that we’re our best spiritual teachers and inspiration or clarity can only come from within.
In the face of the ego’s constant schemes, I think the best thing we can do is live humble lives and serve others with an open heart, free of any ego-driven concerns about how the world sees us. We aren’t here to please the egos of others – we’re here to help the world find a higher state of consciousness that’ll liberate us all the stress and drama we’ve come to see as ‘normal’.
When we can do our work with no mental concerns or attachments, we’ll unlock our true potential; the true secret of life. This planet would change in an instant if everyone opened up to this, and the world will eventually awaken as long as we can continue to live in love and set an example.
- Sadhu Arunachala (A.W. Chadwick), A Sadhu’s Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi. Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanasramam, 1961, 40.
- Paul Ferrini, Silence of the Heart. South Deerfield, MA: Heartways Press, 1996, 22.
- Adyashanti, http://www.members.shaw.ca/adyashanti/, 16 May 2004.
- Swami Nikhilananda, trans., The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1978; c1942, 105.
- Ibid., 208.
- Ibid., 328.
- Ibid., 387.
- Ibid., 204.
- Ibid., 105.
- J. Krishnamurti,Commentaries on Living. Second Series. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1967; c1958, 223.
- J. Krishnamurti, Commentaries on Living. First Series. Bombay, etc.: B.I. Publications, 1972; c1974, 61-2.
- Hazrat Inayat Khan, Way of Illumination. Delhi, etc.: Motilal Banarsidass, 1988, 197.
- Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, trans., Bhagavad-Gita. The Song of God. New York and Scarborough: New American Library, 1972; c1944, 61.
- Edwin A. Burtt, ed., The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha. New York and Toronto: New American Library, 1955, 53.
- Paul Carus, The Gospel of Buddha According to Old Records. Tucson: Omen Press, 1972, 61.
- Benedicta Ward, trans., The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. London and Oxford: Mowbray Books, 1981, 35.
- Swami Nikhilananda, trans., The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Ibid., 111.
- Ibid., 790.
- Ibid., 120.
- Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1983, 3-16.
- Paul Brunton and Munagala Venkataramaiah. Conscious Immortality. Conversations with Sri Ramana Maharshi. Rev. ed. 1996, n.p.
- Sri Ramana Maharshi. Forty Verses on Reality. Trans. Arthur Osborne. Mountain Path, October 1964. Downloaded from http://www.realization.org/page/namedoc0/40_verses/40_verses_0.htm, 25 August 2005, Verse 25.
- J. Krishnamurti, At the Feet of the Master. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1974; c1910, 34-5.
- Adyashanti, “How You Treat Others,” 1998, downloaded from http://www.adyashanti.org, 2004.
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I’m a twenty-one year old writer, musician and blogger, and I created The Culture of Awareness daily news site.
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