Consciousness ordinarily believes itself to be limited to the physical body. This belief it calls "I," it claims to be the "I." That they are associated together is unquestionable. But further enquiry will yield a further and startling result: it functions through the body and to that extent the connection gives life to the body, thus creating the belief that it is the body when in reality it only permeates it. What happens is that a part (the body) is imposing itself upon the whole (the consciousness).
Normal experience leads a man to identify with his body but he fails to go farther and deeper to ask himself: "Who is present in the body?"
He is no more to be identified with his body than Dr. Samuel Johnson was with his soup-stained coat. But the coat was still part of the scholar's personality.
With his thoughts and feelings centered in the body, a man's self is still not complete nor even as real as it seems to be.
He is but a member of the human ant-colony lodged on a tiny speck in the solar system, which is itself a microscopic dot in the galaxy of the Milky Way. This would be perfectly true if he were nothing more than his physical body.
Is man nothing more than a little animal made perverse and corrupt by the growth of intellect? This is a shallow concept of the human entity.
The final "I" is not the "I" of the senses nor of the desires but a deeper entity, free and unattached, serene and self-sufficient.
Nineteenth-century materialistic science gave birth to materialistic doctrines that man is governed by physical forces alone and that his history is shaped only by physical events, his destiny determined by physical surroundings. This is only partly true and confines man to animal interests. Ideas and ideals, beliefs, also contribute to his making.
This same religious or occult materialism is often carried into so-called spiritual thinking when it is propounded and believed that the soul is an immaterial duplicate of the body.
Much depends on what meaning we put to this word "self." We can put a lesser or a larger one, a shallow or a deeper one, a false or a true one.
Mental attitude is all-important. He may respond to either suggestion--that he is the feeble ego or that he is the divine Overself; it is a matter of where he puts his faith.
The ultimate goal is to regard oneself as primarily a mental being and not a physical one, to cease this idolatrous identification of self with flesh, blood, and bone.
I-sense and memory
How is it that I am--and know that I am--substantially the same man today as yesterday, that I remember the happenings of a year ago? The answer must be that there is a continuous self, or being, or mind, in me, distinct from its thoughts or experiences.
Neither deep sleep nor brain concussion prevents us from recovering the sense of "I" when they end.
If we look for the self in this jumble of contradictory instincts and changing tendencies, we find only a jumble. These things are the content of awareness, not the faculty of awareness.
Even the shell-shocked soldier who suffers from an almost total amnesia, forgetting his personal identity and personal history, does not suffer from any loss of the consciousness that he exists. Its old ideas and images may have temporarily or even permanently vanished, but the mind itself carries on.
The sense may trick us with a physical illusion, but can the self trick us with a mental one? Is not the one certain fact which does not depend upon the sense's experience the fact that we exist as individuals and consciously exist? Is not the right to say "I am" the one certainty which cannot be dispelled, the one truth which cannot be denied?
Ego as limitation
The personal ego of man forms itself out of the impersonal life of the universe like a wave forming itself out of the ocean. It constricts, confines, restricts, and limits that infinite life to a small finite area. The wave does just the same to the water of the ocean. The ego shuts out so much of the power and intelligence contained in the universal being that it seems to belong to an entirely different and utterly inferior order of existence. The wave, too, since it forms itself only on the surface of the water gives no indication in its tiny stature of the tremendous depth and breadth and volume of water beneath it.
Consider that no wave exists by itself or for itself, that all waves are inescapably parts of the visible ocean. In the same way, no individual life can separate itself from the All-Life but is always a part of it in some way or other. Yet the idea of separateness is held by millions. This idea is an illusion. From it springs their direct troubles. The work of the quest is simply this: to free the ego from its self-imposed limitations, to let the wave of conscious being subside and straighten itself out into the waters whence it came. The little wave is thus reconverted into the infinite Overself.
It is ludicrous if that part of the mind which is only within the personal consciousness, the ego, sets itself up to deny the Mind-in-itself--its own very Source. For the ego is shut in what it experiences and knows--a much limited area.
Advaita Vedanta's tenet that the divine spirit has been overpowered by ignorance is unacceptable to philosophy. What the latter would say is that something has come out of or emanated from the divine spirit and it is this that has been overpowered by ignorance. But the divine spirit itself remains quite untouched. That "something" is the ego and it is like the image in a mirror. Although the image is not the object itself, yet it draws its existence from the object. But whatever happens to it does not affect the object.
Yes, we are that Consciousness. But we restrict it to the forms it takes, while we constrict ourselves in the ideas it produces; we shorten and narrow them down to the ego's thoughts.
The supreme quality and august immensity of Mind cannot be cramped into the little ego, nor its truth into the latter's falsity.
When it is said that separateness is the great sin, this does not refer to one's relation with other human beings. It refers to having separated oneself in thought from one's higher self.
The mind must be freed from its false beliefs. The illusion which darkens it most is that the I which is most familiar is real. A lifetime of wrong thinking and deluded faith has brought it to enslavement by error, conjecture, and opinion. The way out demands courage to tread new paths and sharp intelligence to comprehend true identity. The personal I separates itself from the real I, misinterprets Reality, ignorant that it is itself but a thought in the ALL-MIND.
Even irreproachable conduct and impeccable manners belong to the ego and not to the enlightenment.
We draw the very capacity to live from the Overself, the very power to think from the same source. But we confine both the capacity and the power to a small, fragmentary, and mostly physical sphere. Within this confinement the ego sits enthroned, served by our senses and pandered by our thoughts.
This narrow fragment of consciousness which is the person that I am hides the great secret of life at its core.
The Infinite Mind refuses to be personalized, and we shut it down to the ego only by shutting it out altogether.
Whoever enters into the philosophic experience for the first time and thus penetrates into the real nature of the ego, discovers to his surprise that instead of being a centre of life as it pretends to be it is really a centre of death--for it immensely minimizes, obstructs, and shuts out the undisclosed life-current in man.
Thoughts rise and fall on the surface of consciousness just like waves on the ocean. Both thoughts and waves disappear again into their source. The ego is a totality of strongly held thoughts with a long ancestry behind them. So it too dissolves eventually into the universal mind. Its supporting consciousness is not lost, is this same permanent Mind. The personal self is an individualization of this mind. It did not emerge from nothing and therefore cannot go back into nothing when it dies; it dies into this living Universal Mind, is absorbed by it.
Being cannot cease; this immortality is possible because of its universality. But its projection, the little personal ego, can cease.
We take part of the human being for the whole being, and then wonder why human happiness is so elusive and human wisdom so rare.
The lower part of man's mind which calculates, analyses, criticizes, blames, and organizes is the part which has no understanding of divine principles, and therefore its plannings are frequently futile. Man has no business to limit himself to the lower mind, and when he understands this he will leave his future in the hands of God, and then his real needs will be met.
What anyone sees of other persons is neither their essential being, their most important part, nor their best part, but only something which is being used for self-expression under greatly limited, deceptive, and obscuring conditions.
It is an irony of life that a man can plainly see the physical ego, but that on which it depends for existence, the Overself, he does not see. Therefore he neglects or ignores the attention it needs and misses much of the opportunity that a reincarnation offers to further his inner unfoldment.
The egocentric view of ordinary men is not final. One day they will evolve to the cosmic view.
In one sense, the ego is a corruption of divine consciousness, as well as a diminution of it.
The ordinary human consciousness has been imposed on a diviner one and hides it, covers it by monopolizing all the attention of thought and feeling.
Whatever imperfections or blemishes we find in the universe, we must always remember that we are making a judgement, a human judgement--and therefore one from a limited point of view.
Beneath the little "I" stretches the universal Consciousness.
Ego as presence of higher
There is no need to lament our situation as an ego confronted by a world, as a duality, as a self aspiring--often vainly--to its Overself.
Only by looking deeper, on another level, in another dimension, can we see that this pitiful creature, this feeble-willed flesh-subservient ego-limited human is not less a showing forth of the Divine Mind, a fragment of the World-Idea, than any other of Its expressions.
The ego to which he is so attached turns out on enquiry to be none other than the presence of World-Mind within his own heart. If identification is then shifted by constant practice from one to the other, he has achieved the purpose of life.
What we find as the attributes of the ego are a reflected image, limited and changing, of what we find in the Overself. They ultimately depend on the Overself both for their own existence and their own nature.
However badly we all reflect the Overself in the personality, however tiny broken and distorted the reflected image usually is, still it is a reflection. It is within the capacity of all to make it a better one, and within the capacity of a few to make it a perfect one.
Let them not waste so many words about or against this little ego of ours, decrying its character or denying its existence, but try to understand what is really happening in its short life. Let them find out what is actually being wrought out within and around it. Let them recognize that the Governor of the World is related to it and that we are steeped in the Divinity whether we are aware of it or not.
It is not quite correct to assume that we are the manifested forms of the perfection from which we emanate. More precisely, we are projections of a denser medium from the universal mind, appearing by some catalytic process in natural sequence within that medium. The cosmic activity provides each such entity-projection with an individual life and intelligence centre through an evolutionary process, whereby its own volitional directive energies are, ultimately, merged with the cosmic will in perfect unity and harmony.
The importance which he gives his own ego is not baseless. It derives, if traced to the deepest ground, from the Overself. He has misplaced his true identity but the false one is not entirely so.
Here, in the miserably limited ego, we have a "sign" of the gloriously unlimited Overself, an indication that it is present as the very source.
If we could pin down this sense of "I"-ness which is behind all we think, say, and do, and if we could part it from the thoughts, feelings, and physical body by doing so, we would find it to be rooted in and linked with the higher Power behind the whole world.
The ego's consciousness is a vastly reduced, immeasurably weakened echo of the Overself-Consciousness. It is always changing and dissipates in the end whereas the Other is ever the same and undying. But the ego is drawn out of the Other and must return to it, so the link is there. What is more, the possibility of returning voluntarily and deliberately is also there.
Unless the human ego were itself an emanation of the Overself it would be quite unable to identify itself with the sensation of severance from the body during the process we call dying.
This thing which the Overself has projected in space-time has not lost all link with its source, whatever outward appearances suggest to the contrary.
Just as a shadow bespeaks a light, so the ego bespeaks its source in the Overself.
The personality is rooted in the Overself. Hence its own power and movement do reflect, albeit minutely, slightly, and distortedly, some of the Overself's own attributes.
Expressed in more familiar religious language, it may be said that God has put something of Himself into each one of us. But it is there only as a potential; we must make the necessary effort to make ourselves more and more conscious of it.
Two views of individuality
The essence of his human personality is a divine individuality.
The "I" of the ego is supported by the "I" of the spiritual being, the spiritual self. Indeed the first derives its reality from the second and the second survives when the first passes away.
The personal ego has its singularities and particularities, its present aims and past memories, its life within time, its own temperament and special characteristics. All this amounts to this: it is unique. The individuality is the highest, subtlest, and finest, even divinest part of being. It is out of time. It is pure essence, the other is a compounded entity. For it the hours do not pass; for the other there is a constant sequence, a moment-to-moment existence. Sometimes men catch a glimpse of it, this other self which is really their own best self and which is not something to be attained by a progression since it is forever present. It does not have or need thoughts. Every moment which they give to identifying themselves with it is their salvation. If this takes one far from kith and kin, from all speech with all persons, it also carries him into a diviner relationship and communication with them.
As egos they are certainly individual lives and beings. Their separateness is unquestionable. But as manifestations of the One Infinite Life-Power, their separateness from It is a great illusion.
It is what stands behind the individual, and not the individual himself, that really matters.
The whirling dervish who revolves on his own axis while, at the same time, revolving in a larger circle with his fellow dervishes, is symbolic of the ego's own centricity side by side with its unconscious evolutionary movement.
Whether I look within or without, the "I" is found to be my centre. This statement keeps true whether I descend into the narrowest limits of selfish personality or ascend to the widest freedom of will; from the lesser nature to the highest and noblest, the ego changes its nature but not its centrality.
Losing the ego is to surrender it to a higher Power, but to lose the individuality is not the same.
The ego is the centre of human individuality.
That which separates a man from others, which makes him a person, an individual being, is his ego.
Could he be minutely examined it would be found that each human being was uniquely individual, with his own intrinsic essential character, his own inborn ways, compulsions, and tendencies. The human species is infinitely varied.
No one ego is exactly the same in characteristics and outlook as any other ego in the whole world. Each is unique, stamped with its own individuality. But all egos are exactly the same in this, that their attachment to the "I" and their consciousness of self are overpowering.
The conscious thinker, the "I," the ego.
One's ego, oneself, "I," lies behind and beneath thoughts and acts, feelings and passions.
The individual man, the person that he is, is unique: he is distinct from others in form and character, separate from others in existence. He is himself, his own self with his own aura.
His individuality must be noted if he is a separate human being. Outwardly all differ but in the deepest root of consciousness all are the same.
A student said, "How can anyone--however much he is spiritually self-realized--say that he has no ego? For without it how could he function in this world? It is the ego which tells the body what do do--raise a hand, walk, and so on." What he could properly say is that it has become a channel. But to avoid confusion it would be better to call this channel, "the individuality."
Perfection through surrender
How can man fully express himself unless he fully develops himself? The spiritual evolution which requires him to abandon the ego runs parallel to the mental evolution which requires him to perfect it.
Despite all the talk disparaging the ego, it is not wrong but praiseworthy to develop the best personality one can and then use it. Its character can be purified, its passions controlled, its weaknesses overcome, its ignorance dispelled. New virtues can be introduced and new power developed. One can then make better use of such a personality--for one's own advantage and for service of others--and one should.
He must learn to transcend his own ego, and yet demand his place and keep his balance in the world; to transcend his family's egoism, and yet respect their dues and rights.
All experiences play their part in developing the whole consciousness of the ego. In the earlier stages this development is limited to seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling things; but in the later stages it expands to understanding them. Still later, the ego's attention is turned to its own self and, through the intuitive faculty, learns to recognize the hidden creative principle which brought it forth.
We came to this earth to understand ourselves, bit by bit.
This very egocentricity has prepared the way for its own collapse, and thence for the spiritual mentality which transcends it and which is next to be developed.
If, on the one side, philosophy bids him follow the line of Nature in building up the ego and developing all these four elements of his personality--will, thought, feeling, and intuition--on the other side it paradoxically bids him to negate all personality. If the ego is to be accepted because it cannot be destroyed, it is still to be mastered and its hold destroyed.
The ego is a part of the divine order of existence. It must emerge, grow, enslave, and finally be enslaved.
This is the paradox, or irony, of evolution: that first the ego grows into full being through plant, animal, and human form; then it reverses the objective and assents to its own alteration and death.
The paradox of the human situation is a tremendous one. He has to give up the self-life and yet to develop the self-nature. He has to crush the ego's desires and yet permit its fullness to unfold.
If the teaching minifies the importance of the human ego in certain ways, nevertheless it magnifies the sense of human worth in other ways.
If he will stop looking at his own life from the shut-in standpoint of his little ego and instead look at it from the wide-angle standpoint of its place in the reincarnationary cycle of development, it will become filled with new meanings, rich with higher significances. To bring his personal idea into alignment with the World-Idea will then become both his duty and his happiness.
Is it not ironical that the Overself projects the ego so far that it denies its source, and then waits indefinitely for the ego to give itself back?
It is time to talk of impoverishing the ego--let alone of annihilating it--when the ego has become developed and enriched enough to have something to offer or to lose. It is also time to talk of renouncing the world when there are enough worldly possessions or personal attachments, or enough position, to make renunciation a real sacrifice.
After the physical, intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual capacities of the ego have been developed, then it is the correct time to renounce, not before. But the selfishness and indiscipline of the ego may and should be renounced at any time.
When the ego discovers that it is a part of the whole, it will naturally cease to live only for its own good and begin to live for the general good also.
If the earlier experiences of life are intended to develop the ego from the primitive animalistic to the fully humanistic stage, the later experiences are intended to induce the man to give the ego as an offering to the Overself.
The ego is not in itself evil, but what seems to make it so is its refusal to recognize and then take its subordinate place to the Overself, which it ought to serve.
If it is true, the human equipment has to be sufficiently developed and sensitive to be capable of recognizing it as such. Not only that, but the human willingness to accept self-discipline in thought and deed must also be present if it is to be a lived truth, that is, Egohood. Without these conditions, it is still possible to find a fraction if the whole is rejected. There is a risk here in that case of distortion and adulteration to suit the ego's desires, but a full and frank sincerity may avoid it.
Although Nature's unfoldment of the ego first blinds it with ignorance, her further unfoldment enlightens it with knowledge.
Ego subordinated, not destroyed
When the consciousness of true and real primary being is finally discovered, thought out, and felt as himself, the secondary being need not be disowned, denied existence and suppressed, as so often taught. But because of its tyranny, its usurpation certainly must be stopped and its proper secondary place imposed upon it; and because of its ignorance a re-education into mentalism must also be imposed upon it.
It is not so much a matter of destroying the ego as of balancing it with the Overself, for its need of development must be recognized. Such an act will not give it equal power but put it in its proper place, as a child's individuality needs to be balanced with its parents'.
(1) How, why, and to what extent is ego real? (2) It is absurd to dismiss ego as non-existent when without it no individual experience would be possible, since it includes the physical body. (3) Semantic confusion is here when Advaitic statements dismiss it and deny the world. "Who denies his own existence is a fool."--The Dalai Lama
Every individual life from the mighty elephant down to the microscopic cell is a self-evolving entity moving through time and space. It has meaning, a purpose, and eventually, a fulfilment here. Why then talk of destroying the one with which you are most intimate--your own ego?
Is the ego to be built up through so many lives only that it may be destroyed in the end?
To free himself, for however short a period, from the consciousness of self may seem an impossible achievement. But the statement of it often leads to a confused understanding and needs to be more narrowly confined. It applies to the surrender of personal consciousness to the impersonal Overself consciousness. There is some kind of self in both.
The ego will not end its existence but it will end its dominance.
Nothing can annihilate the ego during the body's lifetime, but its function can be reduced to one of mere subservience to the Overself.
The ego must live in the world, must satisfy its needs out of its environment. It is therefore entitled to its point of view. The mistake lies in tyrannically making that the only point of view.
This widely held concept that the ego is (a) man's biggest enemy, and (b) a non-existent non-thing, vanishes with his newer insight. "A" is an idea which arises with the beginner's glimpse. "B" arises when an attempt to communicate with others is made, for it ends in a miscommunication; no words can be fully accurate when describing what is a paradox, a bafflement for human intellect. Silence alone holds truth. "A" can be corrected later but is a useful stage if not allowed to become a stop. "B" is a concept expressed in words and reaching someone else who tries to turn it into his own thoughts. But just as consciousness seems non-existent after entering deep sleep, so ego can be lulled and lost; but, like consciousness, it returns later. What happens, then, if the man really is absorbed into the Overself? The ego is put into its place, the little circle finds itself held in, and surrounded by, the larger seemingly measureless one. It is no longer the despotic ruler. Its tyranny is gone. It sees the game being played out, the scene being enacted, yet the initiative no longer comes from itself but henceforth from the World-Mind. If the Great Teachers preach its denial, that is their way of persuading others into self-control morally and self-detachment intellectually.
At every point of his progress the ego still functions--except in deep, thought-free contemplation, when it is suppressed--but it becomes by well-defined stages a better and finer character, more and more in harmony with the Overself. But total relinquishment of the ego can happen only with total relinquishment of the body, that is, at death.
The highest goal of the quest is not illumination gained by destruction of the ego but rather by perfection of the ego. It is the function of egoism which is to be destroyed, not that which functions. The ego's rulership is to go, not the ego itself.
In all human activity the ego plays its role, and so long as this activity continues the ego continues. There is much confusion and much misunderstanding about this point. We are told to kill out the ego; we are also told that the ego does not exist. The fact is it must exist if activity exists. What then is to be done by the spiritual aspirant? He can bring and eventually must bring the ego into subjection to the higher Power. It is still there, but it is put in its proper place. Now why are we told to kill out the ego if it is not possible? The answer is that it is possible, but only in what is the deepest point of meditation, called nirvikalpa in Sanskrit, where all thoughts are blotted out, all sense reports cease to exist, and a kind of trancelike condition comes into being. In this condition, the ego is unable to exist; it becomes inoperative, but it is certainly not killed or it would not return again after the condition ends as it must end. It does not really help to assert that the ego does not exist or if it does exist that it must be killed. The fact is it must be taken into account by everybody who seeks the higher life; whatever theories he entertains about the ego, it is there, must be reckoned with, must be confronted. Some of the confusion is due to the fact that the ego is a changing thing; it changes with time and experience, whereas the Infinite Being, the Ultimate, is changeless. In that sense reality cannot be ascribed to the ego, but only in that ultimate sense. We however are living down here, in time and in space, and to ignore that fact is to cultivate intellectual deaf and dumbness.
An ego we have, we are; its existence is inescapable if the cosmic thought is to be activated and the human evolution in it is to develop. Why has it become, then, a source of evil, friction, suffering, and horror? The energy and instinct, the intelligence and desire which are contained in each individualized fragment of consciousness, each compounded "I," are not originally evil in themselves; but when the clinging to them becomes extreme, selfishness becomes strong. There is a failure in equilibrium and the gentler virtues are squeezed out, the understanding that others have rights, the feeling of goodwill and sympathy, accommodation for the common welfare--all depart. The natural and right attention to one's needs becomes enlarged to the point of tyranny. The ego then exists only to serve itself at all costs, aggressive to, and exploitive of, all others. It must be repeated: an ego there must be if there is to be a World-Idea. But it has to be put, and kept, in its place (which is not a hardened selfishness). It must adjust to two things: to the common welfare and to the source of its own being. Conscience tells him of the first duty, whether heeded or not; Intuition tells him of the second one, whether ignored or not. For, overlooked or misconstrued, the relation between evil and man must not hide the fact that the energies and intelligence used for evil derive in the beginning from the divine in man. They are Godgiven but turned to the service of ungodliness. This is the tragedy, that the powers, talents, and consciousness of man are spent so often in hatred and war when they could work harmoniously for the World-Idea, that his own disharmony brings his own suffering and involves others. But each wave of development must take its course, and each ego must submit in the end. He who hardens himself within gross selfishness and rejects his gentler spiritual side becomes his own Satan, tempting himself. Through ambition or greed, through dislike or hate which is instilled in others, he must fall in the end, by the Karma he makes, into destruction by his own negative side.
This does not mean destroy the ego--as if anyone could!--but destroy its tyranny, harmonize its personal will with that of the World-Idea.
The ego may be suppressed but not eradicated, as when a person is used by the higher power to give a message, a guidance, or a revelation.
At every stage of this quest, from that of the veriest postulant who has just entered upon it to that of the well-advanced proficient, the need of subduing the ego is ever-present.
The separateness of the person is denounced as illusory by the Hindu Upanishads and most Buddhist texts; but as an illusion it is still there, still experienced, still lived. This is the peculiar predicament of the human being. Let us not make it more complicated, more enigmatic, by denying this experience which all of us have, rishees and unenlightened alike. Let us see things as they are: this will not diminish our higher nature or lessen our spiritual dignity. Why not accept it for what it is, but put it in its lowly place?
The loose talk about detachment from the ego coming from modern expounders or propagandists, both Eastern and Western, of the ancient "philosophy" is sometimes delusory, sometimes derisory, too often illusory, and too seldom practised or practicable. These persons are theoreticians, dreamers, who use their own egos to tell others to get rid of theirs! As if anyone could! But what one can do--and ought to--with the ego is beyond their wisdom. For, being based on the philosophy of truth, it is the only practicable way. When examined, the ego is found to be a complex of body and thought, physical senses and mental tendencies. Preaching to men that they should detach themselves from all these things is usually wasted energy, for the consciousness is so linked with them that it cannot be taken away from them. How could anyone be active in the world without them! Detachment--if full and real--would mean having no awareness of the world: the ego is a necessary part of existence. If a man were utterly freed from his ego, he would become utterly unable to attend to the ordinary affairs of his own existence! But let us turn aside from this nonsense and look at the body and the world in the light of the philosophy of truth. We learn that they are only appearances within the personal experience, that at the end this is mental despite its solidity and intensity, that the "I" is reducible to a single thought, that its relation to, and dependence on, its real being and essence can be brought to light, that the mind can then be re-educated and controlled so that the ego falls back into its proper place, no longer tyrannizing over him. This may happen by itself in a sudden sunburst or, more likely, slowly imperceptibly, and subtly. This process can be called detachment and his work is to co-operate with it. But remember: the understanding gained from reflection upon the philosophy of truth, combined with the meditations prescribed by it, detaches him naturally. There is no forced, artificial, and false effort.
There is much confusion about this matter of the ego and much looseness in the use of words concerning it. We are told to eliminate the ego and to eradicate the personal self. But the fact is that so long as he is upon this earth he is using a body and a mind and inheriting a whole combination of factors, tendencies, characteristics which have come down from former lives and together now constitute his personality. They will still be present so long as he is alive. To destroy the ego completely would necessarily mean to destroy the physical body, which is a part of it, and to remove his particular individuality which sets him apart from others. This cannot be done, but what can be done is to render the ego subservient to the higher self, an obedient instrument of the higher will.
Jung believed that the meditational effort to transcend the personal ego would end in utter oblivion because without it all awareness would vanish. In this he erred and, I believe, in the last years of his life changed his view.
Despite all religious preachments and moralizing arguments, all intellectual analytical dissertations, does not the ego seem an irreducible and irresistible element in human nature? Despite all the tall talk which has issued from the institutions or glibly flowed from the mouths of those concerned with religion, mysticism, and metaphysics, the ego still remains as the very foundation of their own existence, their own activity. The very person who denies its reality must use an ego to make his denial!
For a man to deny himself may seem to be the denial of all that is human. But this is not necessarily so, except where imbalance or fanaticism reigns. No one in fact escapes his humanity: he only ennobles, debases, twists, or shrivels it.
Philosophy denies to the ego the final rulership of man but allows to the ego the necessary activities of man. How else can he live in this world? The ego may stay in its proper place attending to the needs and sustenance of his body and intellect, but always as a subordinate to the higher self and obeisant to the higher will.
From a long-range view, individual consciousness is not lost. There are times when it is attenuated temporarily and even plunged into complete oblivion for a while. This happens both during life in the body and out of it. When, as through a blow or through being gassed, it vanishes, it has merely gone into a latent state and will be revived again.
Perhaps one day some bright mind will write a book entitled Inspired Egoism to bring people into the understanding that the ego too has its place in the scheme of things. It is the little circle within the larger one of the Overself, and if it remains conscious of its true relationship to the Overself, it may still rest there and carry on with its functions.
Without the ego how could we live and act our role in this world? It is a tool which we use. A man whose ego has broken down and collapsed is usually considered insane and is segregated.
What is wrong with the idea of personality if it is correctly understood, if its signs and patterns are kept down to inferior status? Let it be accepted as a changing passing thing, if you like; let it always be subservient to the ever-present reality of Overself: but why fear its expression?
It is both true and untrue that we cannot take up the ego with us into the life of mystical illumination. The ego is after all only a reflection, extremely limited and often distorted, of the Higher Self . . . but still it is a reflection. If we could bring it into correct alignment with, and submission to, the Higher Self, it would then be no hindrance to the illumined life. The ego cannot, indeed, be destroyed so long as we need its services while in the flesh; but it can be subjugated and turned into a servant instead of permitting it to remain a master. When this is understood, the philosophical ideal of a fully developed, mastered, and richly rounded ego acting as a channel for the inspiration and guidance of the Higher Self will be better appreciated. A poverty-stricken ego will naturally form a more limited channel for the expression of the Higher Self than would a more evolved one. The real enemy to be overcome is not the entity ego, but the function of egoism.
Ego after illumination
Is the ego totally lost, utterly obliterated in this attainment? I can only say that none of our usual concepts fit the actual result, that it is hard to describe, and that suggestion must here replace description. For the ego and the Overself fuse and unite, yet the union does not destroy the ego's capacity to express itself or to be active in the world. Its own annihilation is a transient experience during the contemplative state. Its resumption of worldly life while permanently established in perfect harmony with, and obedience to, the divine Overself is the further and final goal.
If a man could withdraw sufficiently from his ego to stop letting its interests and desires overpower him, he would thereby let peace come to triumph in his heart. The true paradise, the real heavenly kingdom, which has been postponed by an ignorant clergy to the post-mortem world, thus becoming far-off and elusive, is in fact as near to us as our own selves, and as present as today. If we are to enter it, we can and must enter while yet in the flesh. It is not a time or place but a state of life and a stage of development. It is the ego-free life. The ego is not asked to destroy itself but to discipline itself. The personal in a man must live, but only as a slave to the impersonal. These two identities make up his self.
If the ego continues to perform its functions, as it needs must even after Fulfilment, it no longer does so as his master, no longer as his very self. For henceforth it obeys the Overself.
For the man in that high consciousness and identified with it, the ego is simply an open channel through which his being may flow into the world of time and space. It is not himself, as it is for the unenlightened man, but an adjunct to himself, obeying and expressing his will.
At such a stage the ego becomes a mere instrument, put down or picked up at any and every moment by the Overself. No longer are its own thoughts, emotions, desires, or lusts in control; instead, they are fully controlled by the higher power.
He will possess the power to dismiss his ego at will.
The ego totally ceases to exist and is fully absorbed into the Overself only in special, temporary, and trance-like states. At all other times, and certainly at all ordinary active and everyday times, it continues to exist. The failure to learn and understand this important point always causes much confusion in mystical circles. The state arrived at in deep meditation is one thing; the state returned to after such meditation is another. The ego vanishes in one but reappears in the other. But there are certain after-effects of this experience upon it which bring about by degrees a shift in its relation to the Overself. It submits, obeys, expresses, and reflects the Overself.
When he clearly realizes and intensely feels that his ego is non-existent, unreal, and fictitious, how can he assert that he has found God, Truth, or Illumination? For he will then just as clearly see that there is no one to make the assertion. The others who do so, thereby show that they still have an ego; consequently they still remain outside the Truth. Their claim to enlightenment is, by their own words, stamped as false.
If he loses his ego utterly and completely so that no trace of it exists at all, he would have to die, for his body is part of the ego. But he lives on. This shows that what he really loses is not the ego-nature but the ego-will. It is replaced by the higher will.
The ego lives entrenched in the seeker's inner world. If he becomes a saint, it is lost from time to time in meditation but it is found again whenever he emerges from it. If he becomes a sage, it is lost forever. That is one difference.
Yes, the ego as individuality, a separate identity remains. But it becomes reborn, purified, humbled before the higher power, no longer narrow in interests, no longer tyrannizing over the man, no longer selfish in the sense of the word. For as an enlightened being it may remain, harmless to all beings, benevolent to all creatures, respondent to a timeless consciousness enfolding its ordinary personality. The smaller circle can continue to exist within the larger one until the liberation of death. It is no longer the source of ignorance and evil; that ego is dissolved and obliterated. The new being is simply separate in body, thought, feeling from others but not from the universal, mass being behind them. There all are one.
In this mysterious new relationship he is not stopped from being aware of the ego, even though the Overself now directs him. But there is a unity between them which was absent before.
The ego fades away into a kind of non-entity, subsides like a wave into the ocean of universal life.
If the individual merges into pure Being, what is the ego which ceases to exist? For the physical body still remains and must be included in a man's consideration. This is one reason why even the highest mystical attainment must be naturalized, integrated even with his normal life as householder, professional, or intellectual. He then functions on three levels--animal, human, and angelic--but they fit together in harmony like a mosaic tiled wall. Whoever thinks otherwise is confusing two different situations, is superimposing the seeker upon the fulfilled man. If, for instance, he grants the possibility to monks alone, then he puts a limit on the Limitless and narrows the area of its presence. For the man who is established in the Light will act from within and by it, no matter whether he be engaged in the world's work, no matter whether married or not.
The proof that most mystics contribute something from their own personal self to their mystical experience, something from their own ego, lies in the fact that the vast majority of Christian mystics do not generally have inner experience concerning any spiritual leader other than Jesus Christ. Similarly, the vast majority of Indian mystics do not have such experiences except concerning Indian spiritual leaders, such as Krishna. This is because the religion which they hold, the faith in which they believe, the ideal saviour or guru to whom they direct their prayers or worship, is constantly held in their mind; he becomes the dominant thought, since it is by his Grace, they believe, that the experience has come to them. If they get a mystic experience they expect it to be associated with their own particular faith and so this is what has happened. But the interesting point here, psychologically, is that the ego is present in some way, either just before the experience or just after it--before in expectancy and after in interpretation. Then what happened between these two moments when the experience actually occurred? Well, if thoughts went into abeyance at the time, if all thoughts were lulled, then the thought of the saviour or guru was lulled too; but it was lying there on the very fringe of the experience at the beginning and at the end and it was the very first thing they picked up when they began to think again. It is however a rare occurrence for thought to be utterly stopped, for that state is equivalent to what the Hindus call nirvikalpa samadhi. They have another state, not so far gone, which they call savikalpa samadhi, where thoughts subsist inside the mystic experience and the thinking goes on but is held, so to speak, by the higher experience. This is what usually happens in the majority of cases of the mystics. The traits of character, the tendencies of the mind, may vanish during the experience and he emerges from it as if he is a new being, utterly changed; but then the effect of the experience gradually fades and with it he discovers he is still the old being. The ego has not vanished in his normal life because he is using it in order to attend to his affairs of waking consciousness. If in addition to the practice of meditation he has undergone the training in philosophy, then real changes take place in the man's character and the negative side of the ego gets less and less, the higher and positive side gets more and more until his character reaches a point where he is called selfless and egoless; but such terms are misnomers. They are correct perhaps if used in the moral sense, but not in the psychological sense. He is an individual and an individual he remains throughout life.
Yes the ego is there and must be there if we are to live on this plane. But it can undergo a spiritual rebirth and no longer be a tyrant who denies us our spiritual birthright and our spiritual consciousness but rather a channel serving that consciousness.
The ego will always have its problems. By always, one means from birth all through the years until death. This is true of every human being, although a superior human being will deal with them in a superior way.
If the ego is not there, something else is; some agent which does what it is presumed to be doing.
The differences between persons are differences of bodily and mental tendencies. In their totality these belong to the ego. Even the spiritually enlightened man has them still although they no longer tyrannize over him. It is not correct to say to an aspirant that they must be gotten rid of, killed, and destroyed. Rather they have to be transcended. For even the enlightened person still uses the ego to direct his body's activities, whether simple ones such as taking a meal or complicated ones such as solving a problem. His ego, having become a channel because it is transcended, does not get in the way. The ordinary man and his activities are ruled by it.
Body is part of ego; the vital body (etheric double) and astral emotional body are also a part of it; the mental body of thoughts is part of ego, too. All these bodies continue to exist even after realization since they are necessary to human life; to say there is then no ego is NONSENSE. These bodies are to be purified and surrendered.
The illumined man is still conscious of his individuality but it is a different, a transformed individuality.
The "I" is still here, not the old familiar petty uncertain creature but another "I," a gloriously transformed one.
The ego, the person, is there still; whoever denies its existence, must deny the body's existence, and with it all his physical experience. Would it not be better, less muddled, to admit the ego to its proper place, and deny it any reality above that of an idea?
That part of man which is within the physical world, the ego, must in the end come to recognize and revere his higher individuality, unseen and unknown though it may be. This requires a growth through time, through many rebirths.
What he calls the "I" does not get reborn in further bodies, as he believes, nor did it do so in the past. But it does appear to do so. Only deep analytical thought associated with mystical meditation can de-mesmerize him from his self-made idea.
It would be an error to believe that it is the Overself which reincarnates. It does not. But its offspring--the ego--does.
"My Emanation far within/ Weeps incessantly for my sin." How wrong was William Blake when he wrote these lines!
This is the ego that we falsely think of as being our real self. This is the ego to which memory ties us. This is the illusive part of our dual personality; this is the known part of our being, a mere shadow thrown by the unknown part which is infinitely greater. This moves from one earthly body to another, from one dream to another through the phantasmagoria of existence without awakening to reality.
Immortality of the kind for which most human beings yearn can be found in one aspect of the Overself, which retains a sort of individuality because of its historical and psychological relation with its offspring. Hence, when it was written that the immortality of the True Self is relatively permanent, the term "relative" was used from the highest possible standpoint and not from the human standpoint. It is sufficient and quite true from the human outlook to accept the statement that the immortality of the Overself is true immortality, if not the ultimate, because the former must be attained first.
The entity which lives in the spirit world after death is the same ego that dwelt on earth, emanating from and sustained by the same Overself. In this relationship, they are still distinct and separate entities, even though as intimately connected as parent and offspring.
How senseless it is to demand permanency and immortality for an ego which has already undergone countless changes of inner nature and outer form, only the resolute truth-seeker, unwilling to live by illusions, can perceive.
A perpetual survival of the little personal ego throughout endless time is impossible, undesirable, and ridiculous. But heaven as a temporary state is both a need and a fact.
Immortality in its truest sense is, and can only be, the total surrender of individuality and ultimate merging of the little mind with Absolute, Undifferentiated Mind.