Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 11: The Negatives > Chapter 2: Their Roots in Ego

Their Roots in Ego

The wonder of the human soul which, even surrounded by the depravity and folly of today, can still aspire nobly and think loftily, would be quite puzzling did we not know the dual nature of the human entity and the divine nature of the laws which govern it.

So long as separate egos exist--separate from the cosmic ego in their own view, that is--so long will their ignorance produce what we call evil.

The ego, let loose upon the world, uninstructed and unbridled, cannot in the final reckoning benefit the world. To talk of service, without wisdom or character, may squander its goodwill in egoistic mire.

The evolution of each ego, of each entity conscious of a personal "I," passes through three stages through immense periods of time. In the selfhood, acquires more and more consciousness of the personal "I," and hence divides and isolates itself from other egos. It seeks to differentiate itself from them. It feels the need to assert itself and its interests. This leads inevitably to antagonism towards them. Its movement is towards externality, a movement which must inevitably end in its taking the surface or appearance of things for reality, that is, in materialism. Here it is acquisitive. In its second and intermediate stage, it unfolds its mental selfhood and hence adds cunning to its separative and grasping tendencies, with intellect expanding to its extremest point. Here it is inquisitive. But midway in this stage, its descent comes to an end with a turning point where it halts, turns around, and begins to travel backward to its original source. In the third and last stage, the return towards its divine source continues. Its movement is now toward internality and--through meditation, investigation, and reflection--it ultimately achieves knowledge of its true being: its source, the Overself. And as all egos arise out of the Overself, the end of such a movement is one and the same for all--a common centre. Conflicts between them cease; mutual understanding, co-operation, and compassion spread. Hence, this stage is unitive.

The central point of the entire evolution is about where we now stand. Human attitudes and relations have reached their extreme degree of selfishness, separateness, struggle, and division, have experienced the resulting exhaustion of an unheard-of world crisis, but are beginning to reorient themselves towards an acknowledgment of the fundamental unity of the whole race. Thus, war reaches its most violent and terrible phase in the second stage and then abruptly begins to vanish from human life altogether. The separatist outlook must cease. Most of our troubles have arisen because we have continued it beyond the point where it was either useful or needful.

The unequal state of evolution of all these egos, when thrown together into a conglomerate group on a single planet, is also responsible for the conflicts which have marked mankind's own history. They stand on different steps of the ladder all the way from savagery to maturity. The backward ego naturally attacks or preys on the advanced one. Thus, the purely self-regarding ego, which was once an essential pattern of the evolutionary scheme--a necessary goal in the movement of life--becomes with time a discordant ingredient of that scheme, an obstructive impediment to that movement. If humanity is to travel upward and fulfil its higher destiny, it can do so only by enlarging its area of interest and extending its field of consciousness. It must, in short, seek to realize the Overself on the one hand, to feel its oneness on the other.

The ego's misapprehension of its own nature and misuse of its own capacities, create one form of evil. There are other forms.

We need not deny the presence of evil in the world in order to deny its permanence. It is here, but it is only a transient thing. Moreover, it exists not as a personified power like Satan, nor as a subtle unseen opponent of everything divine, but only as a condition of ignorance in the human mind and as a passing phase of its evolution. In short, it is merely a way of human thinking and it will disappear when deeper thinking reveals the why and wherefore of things. It lasts only as long as the dominance of the ego lasts.

The prehistoric animals are now totally gone and the only monster to be found on earth today is MAN. His history is splashed with war and hate and crime. There would appear to be little of the angel in him so far.

To the extent that man exercises his creative powers he copies, in his limited way, the World-Mind. But to the extent that he uses them to bring misery, injury, and perversity to others, or to himself, he copies the opposing force.

Ultimately he must find fault with himself when he seeks to trace the cause of most of his troubles. But this will require him to bring great moral courage to the examination of his life's course. For the personal ego is an inveterate alibi-hunter. If he is to overcome its insidious suggestions, its slippery arguments, he must see himself in the worst light.

It is not necessary that he should be conscious of his virtues, but it is necessary that he should be conscious of his faults.

The ego's interference shows itself in practical life no less than in mystical life. Under its influence, people create a false and favourable mental picture of a situation or of a person. They then expect one or the other to yield results that by their very nature could not be yielded. This leads to disappointment and unhappiness within themselves. Or the same people create a false but unfavourable picture and then severely criticize another for faults which do not exist outside the picture itself. This leads to disharmony and friction with others. From this simple instance we may see that the elimination of egotistic interference--a goal that philosophic discipline sets for itself--is not merely a theoretical affair for dreamers or hermits with nothing else to do, but is a practical affair promising great practical benefits for everyone who has to live or work in the world. The charge that philosophy is useless can only be made by those who have failed to inform themselves sufficiently about it.

Our only enemies are those inside ourselves. They are our weaknesses and vices, our lower passions and intellectual deformities. It is better to fight them than to fight other men.

When the last word of the last argument against the realization of the principles has been uttered, it will be found that all the obstacles lie inside and not outside us. There are mountains of selfishness, ignorance, and inertia in the human heart, but--as Jesus pointed out--faith can remove them.

All history--recent, medieval, ancient, Occidental, and Oriental--tells us that we do not have to look very deep into the hearts of men to find the presence of tigers, demons, savages, and brutes.

The struggles and conflicts, within men and between them, come from the ego's presence.

The philosopher has to look very far into human history and very deep into human nature for the ultimate causes of human errors.

The ego is behind each point of resistance in a man which holds him down from advancing further on this quest.

What lies at the root of all these errors in conduct and defects in character? It is the failure to understand that he is more than his body. It is, in one word, materialism.

It is a man's own internal defects which often conspire against him and which show their faces in many of the external troubles that beset him. Yet it is hard for him to accept this truth because his whole life-habit is to look outwards, to construct defensive alibis rather than to engage in censorious self-inquisition. Sheikh al Khuttali, a Sufi adept, addressing a disciple who complained at his circumstances, said: "O my son, be assured that there is a cause for every decree of Providence. Whatever good or evil God creates, do not in any place or circumstance quarrel with his action or be aggrieved in thy heart." Therefore, the aspirant who is really earnest about the quest should develop the attitude that his personal misfortunes, troubles, and disappointments must be traced back to his own weaknesses, defects, faults, deficiencies, and indisciplines. Let him not blame them on other persons or on fate. In this way he will make the quickest progress whereas by self-defending or self-justifying or self-pitying apportionment of blame to causes outside himself, he will delay or prevent it. For the one means clinging to the ego, the other means giving it up. Nothing is to be gained by such flattering self-deception while much may be lost by it. He must bring himself to admit frankly that he himself is the primary cause of most of his ills, as well as the secondary cause of some of the ills of others. He must recognize that the emotions of resentment, anger, self-pity, or despondency are often engendered by a wounded ego. Instead of reviling fate at each unfortunate event, he should analyse his moral and mental make-up and look for the weaknesses which led to it. He will gain more in the end by mercilessly accusing his own stubbornness in pursuing wrong courses than by taking shelter in alibis that censure other people. Like a stone in a shoe which he stubbornly refuses to remove, the fault still remains in his character when he stubbornly insists on blaming things or condemning persons for its consequences. In this event the chance to eliminate it is lost, and the same dire consequences may repeat themselves in his life again.

The faith of the lower ego in itself and the strength with which it clings to its own standpoint are almost terrifying to contemplate. The aspirant is often unconscious of its selfishness. But if he can desert its standpoint, he shall then be in a position to perceive how large an element it has contributed in the making of his own troubles, how heavy is its responsibility for unpleasant events which he has hitherto ascribed to outside sources. He shall see that his miserable fate derives largely from his own miserable faults. He is naturally unwilling to open his eyes to his own deficiencies and faults, his little weaknesses and large maladjustments. So suffering comes to open his eyes for him, to shock and shame him into belated awareness and eventual amendment. But quite apart from its unfortunate results in personal fortunes, whenever the aspirant persists in taking the lower ego's side and justifying its action, he merely displays a stupid resolve to hinder his own spiritual advancement. Behind a self-deceiving facade of pretexts, excuses, alibis, and rationalizations, the ego is forever seeking to gratify its unworthy feelings or to defend them. On the same principle as the pseudo-patriotism which prompted the Italians to follow Mussolini blindly throughout his Ethiopian adventure to its final disaster, the principle of "My country! right or wrong," he follows the ego through all its operations just as blindly and as perversely, justifying its standpoints merely because they happen to be his own. But the higher Self accepts no rivals. The aspirant must choose between denying his ego's aggressiveness or asserting it. The distance to be mentally travelled between these two steps is so long and so painful that it is understandable why few will ever finish it. It is only the exceptional student who will frankly admit his faults and earnestly work to correct them. It is only he whose self-criticizing detachment can gain the upper hand, who can also gain philosophy's highest prize.

To live in intellect and passion alone, unguided and unvivified by higher ideals, is to be unregenerate.

How often in history there is a record of fierce, blind, and fanatic hatred directed against those of marked difference in race, caste, religion, class, custom, or habit. With time and strength it explodes into persecution, violence, or war. The root of this evil may be fear, suspicion, envy, greed, or unbalance; but all these find their roots in the ego, and can only be radically removed by transcending egoism.

The root of all the trouble is not man's wickedness or animality or cunning greedy mind. It is his very I-ness, for all those other evils grow out of it. It is his own ego. Here is the extraordinary and baffling self-contradiction of the human situation. It is man's individual existence which brings him suffering and yet it is this very existence which he holds as dear as life to him!

Either man does not hear the interior message or else he does not want to hear it. That which causes him to be so deaf may be mere heedlessness, but it is more likely to be worldly desire and personal conceit.

What are the blockages which prevent the soul's light, grace, peace, love, and healing from reaching us? There are many different kinds, but they are resolvable into the following: first, all negative; second, all egoistic; and third, all aggressive. By "aggressive" I mean that we are intruding our personality and imposing our ideas all the time. If we would stop this endless aggression and be inwardly still for a while, we would be able to hear and receive what the Soul has to say and to give us.

These are some of the negative traits of erring human character--undesirable for their own sake, as well as for the sake of their bad effects--hatred, irritability, jealousy, maliciousness, excessive criticism and suspicion, destructiveness and cruelty.

It is not that they lack intelligence, but that they let their intelligence be guided by their baser qualities.

When the results are pleasant for the moment, we like to deceive ourselves. We like to put a pretty mask on an ugly passion, for instance, or wear a magnificent cloak around a wretchedly selfish act. But karma cannot so easily be deceived and works out its own results with time. And these depend not only on the appearance of what we are and do but also on the real character and hidden nature behind it.

So what are depressions and sadnesses but the ego pitying itself, shedding silent tears over itself, loving itself, looking at itself and enwrapped in itself? What is a happy calm but a killing of such egoism?

The complacence with which men view themselves, the satisfaction with which they fit into their ego, acts as a barrier to the influx of spiritual influence and understanding.

Identically the same facts will be used by different groups parties and persons to support widely or quite divergently varying conclusions! The ego, with its prejudices, passions, selfish motives, or desires, is the real cause of these differences.

Everything is used by the ego to affirm itself. Even the aspirations and practices and experiences of a quester are used to his own deception and to its profit.

Few persons have either the capacity or the wish to stand back sufficiently far from themselves to see what it is they are really doing and where it is they are really going. We play different roles in the cosmic drama at different levels, and this is true of all men. We all have to rise from the animal to the human, from the human to the divine. The ego is there, but consciousness can either use it as free being or get stuck in it and be used by it. When consciousness is free that means it is free of all the negatives too and especially free of all those identifications with undesirable conditions of the ego and unworthy manifestations of it.

Wide travels among all kinds have shown me more and more that the endless wars and strifes between races, nations, classes, tribes, and individual persons must be met on two levels if they are to be brought to any end. It is not sufficient to meet them on the level of their outward visible causes; that has to be done, of course, but it is even more important to get out of the seething cauldron of hates and wraths, resentments and egotisms and greeds, for here are the unseen causes of the visible ones. This calls for a leap: the recognition that one's real enemy is not so much the person outside as the person inside oneself.

The inner life is the root of the outer one. What is created there, is eventually expressed here.

Out of the immense and varied past, in previous births man has transmitted to him and accumulated in him the tendencies which today obscure his inner light and drive him toward evil acts.

Post-war clash, hatred, greed, and tension are rife, between nations or between different groups in a single nation. At the bottom of it all lies a selfishness which always places its own gain above justice or above mercy and sometimes even seeks that gain at the unwarrantable expense of others. The ego-worship which filled the Nazi with his "I" was only a monstrously swollen form of the same idolatry as it existed in other people all over the world. Instead of trying to curtail their inflated ego, deluded groups and leaders yield to it and enlarge it still more. The meaning of spirituality has ceased to register with millions of such people.

Where the ego rules in the business world, it is trying to get more than it gives. This is an offense against the law of justice, an attempt to get what is not its fair due. The dark karma of such an attempt may be seen in the strife and conflict and clash of interests and lack of peaceful harmony which sound as discords in politico-economic relationships today.

The ego hates another and sorrows over its troubles: these are negative feelings.

Despite all the tall talk about love and charity, service and selflessness, it still remains that most people serve others only because consciously or unconsciously they are serving their own interest.

The problems raised in connection with my radio talk on "Is Hitler a Mystic?" are very pertinent and interesting, but I do not suppose that any tribunal would take my theories into account seriously. Indeed it could not afford to do so. Once it entered into the metaphysical and psychic aspects of crime it would find itself in a deep abyss. For instance there is the Catholic Christian doctrine that sin is the consequence of yielding to the inner promptings of Satan. My own view is that, speaking generally and with due allowance for special cases, the practical responsibility for a man's crime must lie within himself--even though he be a spiritualist medium who has been led step by step to perform crimes from which he would have shrunk at the beginning of his downward path.

There are some who are so insane as to proclaim evil to be their good and Satan to be their worshipped God. But most men have to justify evil by disguising it as good. They do so either consciously or unconsciously, either to others or to themselves, or to both.

They never hear the voice of conscience, never feel any sense of what is right or wrong. The only moral code which exists for them is that of success or failure. Anything that assists them to get what they want is ethically good; anything that hinders them from doing so is ethically evil!

How can men be saved who are not aware that they need salvation, not awake to their predicament, not able to come away from the distraction of personal affairs or the stupefaction of sensual pleasure?

Those who are enemies to their own real good, and so to their own selves, will necessarily be enemies to one another.

Man unhelped by the divine, depending on his own human efforts, must fail.

If a man could keep himself out of his thinking and feeling, he would more easily arrive at truth. If he could believe his personal views to be nothing, but truth everything, he would sooner receive its grace.

Special tests for questers

Because of what he is and what he seeks to do, the quester has special trials, special experiences and temptations, apart from the ordinary ones which accompany all human activities.

Elaborate traps are set at intervals along his road, made up of a combination of his own weaknesses with persons or events related to them. He must be wary of relapsing into complacency, must be prepared for tests and temptations in a variety of forms.

It is tantalizingly hard to effect the passage from the lower to the higher state. For between them lies an intermediate zone of consciousness which possesses an ensnaring quality and in which the ego makes its last desperate effort to keep him captive. Hence this zone is the source of attractive psychic experiences, of spiritual self-aggrandizements, of so-called messianic personal claims and redemptive missions, of great truths cunningly coalesced into great deceptions.

A man may travel quite a distance on the way towards this goal of self-conquest and then, as success begins to appear on the horizon, may fail and fall from it in the last few tests. His very success may begin to generate vanity, pride, self-importance, ambition, and arrogance. In this way his ego is once more stimulated instead of being subjugated. Thus he steps aside from the path although he has already gone so far along it.

Certain negative tendencies of his character, by now controlled and largely suppressed but still lying latent in the subconscious, may rush up to the surface at intervals if impulsiveness is present. When he is taken off his guard, they appear in speech or even action until he recovers himself. The damage is done and although he returns to normal freedom from these faults, the consequences may remain and make him suffer for a disproportionate period. The farther he advances, the more important is the lapse.

Deep down in the lowest layers of the subconscious nature there lurk evil tendencies and evil memories belonging to the far past and not yet wholly wiped out by the spiritual rebirth. It is these tendencies which rise to the surface layers and challenge us at crucial moments when we seek initiation into the Higher Self or when we seek acceptance from a Master. In their totality they have been named by the Western Rosicrucians as the "dweller on the threshold." No man can be taken possession of by his Higher Self or enter into a permanent relation with a Master unless and until he develops within himself sufficient calm and sufficient strength to meet and overcome these arisen tendencies, whose character is marked by extreme sensuality or extreme cunning or extreme brutality, or even by a combination of two or three of these.

They are crude remnants and ugly reminders of the savage violence which he has inherited from pre-human reincarnations.

His failure follows inevitably from his attempt to serve two masters. The ego is strong and cunning and clamant. The Overself is silent and patient and remote. In every battle the dice are loaded in the ego's favour. In every battle high principle runs counter to innate prejudice.

If the ego cannot trap him through his vices it will try to do so through his virtues. When he has made enough progress to warrant it, he will be led cunningly and insensibly into spiritual pride. Too quickly and too mistakenly he will believe himself to be set apart from other men by his attainments. When this belief is strong and sustained, that is, when his malady of conceit calls for a necessary cure, a pit will be dug unconsciously for him by other men and his own ego will lead him straight into it. Out of the suffering which will follow this downfall, he will have a chance to grow humbler.

The risk is greater because a human emissary of the adverse element in Nature will automatically appear at critical moments and consciously or unconsciously seek hypnotically or passively to lead him astray as he or she has gone astray. Our own world-wide experience, embracing the written reports and spoken confidences of thousands of individual cases of mystical, yogic, and occult seekers, both Oriental and Occidental, has gravely taught the need of this warning.

Whoever seeks to tread a path such as the one shown here will sooner or later find that these forces set themselves in opposition to his interior journey. His way will be blocked by external circumstances that entangle him in hopeless struggles or heart-breaking oppressions and enslavements, or by psychical attacks which seek to sweep him off his spiritual feet and destroy his higher aspirations. Persons in his immediate environment may be moved by these invisible forces to work against him, causing uprisings of hatred and misunderstanding; one-time friends may turn into treacherous enemies more virulent than the poison of a cobra. Public critics will appear and endeavour to nullify whatever good he is doing for humanity, or to prevent its continuance. The single aim and object of all these attempts will be to prevent his alignment with the Overself, to render mental quiet impossible, or to keep his heart and mind crushed down to earth and earthly things. He must needs suffer these things. Their power, scope, and duration may be diminished, however.

The path is beset not only by the pitfalls arising out of one's own human failings, but at critical times by unconscious or conscious evil beings in human form who seek to destroy faith through falsehoods and to undermine reliance on true guidance through sidetracks and traps.

The advancing mystic has to undergo a very real temptation at certain points of his career--a temptation not unlike that of Jesus by Satan to great worldly honours or that of Buddha by Mara to great sensual indulgence. It may come through the crafty instigations of his enemies or through the innocent flatteries of his friends. He must beware especially of those whose excessive faith would exalt him to the role of a master, or perchance even glorify him as a new messiah! He must be on guard against being seduced by the attractions of power or the disguises of sensuality.

He may have to suffer the hostility of unseen malignant force besetting the path at certain stages, especially at advanced stages.

H.P. Blavatsky (in a private talk with W.Q. Judge): "You force yourself into a Master's presence and you take the consequences of the immense forces around him playing on yourself. If you are weak in character anywhere, the Black Ones will use the disturbance by directing the forces engendered to that spot and may compass your ruin. It is so always. Pass the boundary that hedges in the occult realm, and quick forces, new ones, dreadful ones, must be met. Then if you are not strong you may become a wreck for that life. This is the danger. This is one reason why Masters do not appear and do not act directly very often, but nearly always by intermediate degrees."

As that esteemed Indian yogi and philosopher, the late Sri Aurobindo, more than once mentioned, those who are working for the survival of Truth in a truthless world thereby become targets for powerful forces of hatred wrath and falsehood. Whoever publicly bears a deeply spiritual message to humanity, has to suffer from evil's opposition.

These are warped minds who, fumbling on the lower levels of human existence, spit venom and spill hatred over the man who declares the existence of higher ones.

These hostile manifestations invariably make their appearance after the teacher has made an appearance anywhere. Light must inevitably cast a shadow. Yet on the credit side they served a useful purpose. They help him and they help his probationers. They remind him that he must not stake a claim on any part of this earth's surface or in any human heart. They test the intuition and keenness of the probationers. When these have survived all the tests, he may accept them and begin their real inner work together; thereafter God himself cannot prize them apart from their teacher, for then they know with whom they are dealing.

The course of life brings encounters with those who are either inspired by, or symbolically represent, the adverse powers which at times beset it.

Subconscious evil creeps out of its cage in moments of temptation.

A Kabalist adept: "The neophyte who enters the portals becomes at once a victim of the malicious attention of Shaitans (demons) who plague him with a multitude of temptations and work on his mind. Rare is he who does not succumb."

Tests can appear in very ordinary, quite prosaic situations.

The things which hamper the student's progress are varied, and although they may bring despondency and discouragement, impatience and rebellion, they need not and should not be permitted to bring the loss of all hope. Difficulties there must be, but they need not make us cowards. The times of swift progress are generally followed by times of slow moving; success alternates with failure as day with night. He must go on with the faith and trust that obstacles are not for all time, that fluctuations on the path are inevitable, and that his own inner divine possibilities are the best guarantee of ultimate attainment. The trials of the path, as indeed the trials of life itself, are inescapable. He should endure the tribulations with the inner conviction that a brighter world awaits him; hope and faith will lead him to it.

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