Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 8: The Ego > Chapter 3: Psyche


Ego as knot in psyche

The ego is a knot tied in the psyche of our inner being, itself being compounded from a number of smaller knots. There is nothing fresh to be gathered in, for b-e-i-n-g is always there, but something is to be undone, untied.

The ego is like a repression which must be dug out of the subconscious mind, seen and understood for what it is, and then let go until it vanishes, losing all its secret power thereby.

Most neuroticisms come from refusing to let go of the personal ego. How the ego makes its own anxieties and sufferings is depicted in the famous Buddhist picture called "The Wheel of Life," supposed to be six realms of existence, but which really represents six kinds of psychological conditioning from the beast to the human and the gods.

The ego, although itself a projection, draws from its creative source enough power to project in turn its own small world.

The ego's sphere of activity is fivefold--thought, imagination, memory, feeling, and action.

The ego has two sides to its nature: a dark and a bright one, an animal and a human one.

The character which a man reveals openly to the world is not at all the same as the one hidden in himself. This is not the result of hypocrisy, but of the polarity which divides nature, and hence man.

The place where he was born or lives, the time of day or epoch when he was born, and the parental heritage--all make their contribution to his personality.

We may distinguish the ego by certain signs: it is not stable, for its characteristics fluctuate; it is not sinless, for somewhere in its nature there will be one or more flaws, no matter what the judging test may be; it does not feel totally secure for a fear, a doubt, an uncertainty about the future there will be.

What is the ego but a load of mixed memories?

Thoughts form themselves, emotions rise up, moods come and go in a rhythm; the ego lives and moves behind them all.

He is a pathetic creature, split off from awareness of his Overself and split into two hostile sides in his ego-self.

The network of interests, attachments, desires, ideas, and identifications is the ego.

The body's sense-organs demand satisfactions, but at the root of their desires is the ego, a whorl of emotional-mental tendencies.

The ego is the shadow-self accompanying the light-self, or Overself. The ego holds all that is dark in the man's character.

We talk of the ego, but which ego do we mean? For each of us has several egos within him.

The persona, the mask which he presents to the world, is only one part of his ego. The conscious nature, composed of thoughts and feelings, is the second part. The hidden store of tendencies, impulses, memories, and ideas--formerly expressed and then reburied, or brought over from earlier lives, and all latent--is the third part.

Inside ourselves there is not one ego but several. We live in a condition of recurring feelings that successively contradict one another, deny each other, or shame each other. The "I" is really torn into pieces, each claiming ascendency but none holding it permanently. The animal, the human, and the angel jostle elbows in our hearts. We are degraded today, elevated tomorrow. The quest seeks to integrate all these different egos.

When we talk of the ego we mean the mind, the body, the senses, and the memory. For take them away and we are as nothing.

The many voices within, which beckon for attention, are evidence of the many selves which the ego jubilantly and misinformedly proclaims itself to be.

A man is made up of several different factors: what he has inherited from his parents; what he has picked up from his surroundings; what he has brought over from previous reincarnations; what he thinks, feels and does; what his reactions are to other people. It is the combination of all these elements which make one man.

This split in his ego will be recognized by every man who is honest with himself.

The sum total of our past actions and thoughts, and especially of our tendencies, constitutes our character and makes us what we are today.

The ego moves from childhood to old age, from waking to dreaming, but it moves round in a circle. It does not move toward freedom, reality, or peace.

Each consciousness of the personal self not only includes thoughts, but also feelings and volitions.

We are strange creatures, as remote from the real human ideal as we are from the selfish animal type.

The ``subconscious''

There are forces active below the level of consciousness which belong to two widely different poles of human character--the savage and the spiritual.

There is really no subconscious mind. There is only the thinking mind and the still centre behind the mind.

Jung thought he had found, in what he called the unconscious, the source which twisted, negated, or opposed the ego's ideals. This source was the shadow. He needed to go farther and deeper for then he would have known the shadow to be the ego itself.

What we think touches the surface of consciousness and sinks below to be stored and hidden away.

What is upon the surface of the mind comes more easily to his attention, for it is, in a sense, openly displayed. But what is at the root and the cause of the surface things is hidden within and less easily found. It is there in the so-called subconscious level of the ego, but still a part of the ego--not in that far greater depth or height where the Overself is met.

Men suffer from various illnesses, for which they flock to physicians, clinics, and hospitals to find a cure. But they ignore the only illness which is more deeply rooted than all the others and which never leaves them. It is the ego's octopus-like hold upon every atom of their being.

The ego explorations of psychoanalysis are not directly concerned with securing a liberation from the ego itself, but only with improving, adjusting, or altering its mental attitudes and emotional stresses.

The So-called Liberation of Psychoanalytic and Dianetic Therapy

The Infinite is a wonderful machine which remembers, compares, and recalls experience. It does this in words or pictures.

But it holds so many recordings of the past that matter of its present living is unconsciously a response of memory stirring up the past.

Psychoanalytic and dianetic therapies try to eradicate these past patterns by using the reaction to impulse or the recall of the subconscious with particular reference to childhood. But to say, as psychoanalysis says, that the mind which is successful in retreat is free, or, as dianetics says, clear, is to make an unwarrantable claim and to overlook the tremendous size of its task. For all that such therapy has really done is to liberate the patient from a few of his known compulsions. But what about the enormous number of the unknown ones? What about the most terrifying compulsion of all--the ego itself? How can an analyst who is still governed by so many complexes himself, of which he is not even aware, completely liberate other persons? He himself is the victim of an illusion-making mechanism that is incredibly ingenious.

In every mind there is an unconscious conflict which he is ordinarily powerless to deal with--the conflict between the line of evolution which the Overself has marked out for the person, and the line of blind desire which the ego is trying to pursue.

Again, what is the use of taking a few small sections of the past, such as childhood or adolescence, and attempting to deal with them only, when the true past of the ego contains innumerable subconscious memories of former lives on earth and numerous tendencies which arise from episodes belonging to that vanished history? The only thorough and complete way to deal with the ego is not only to deal with its surface manifestation, but to get at its own hidden existence on the one hand, and to work by aspiration, meditation, and reflection upon the Overself on the other hand.

Egoistic motive notwithstanding, it forever feigns its absence, hides in our deeds all the time. Freud demonstrated the strength of the unconscious motives, and without accepting his view of the human personality, which is as erroneous in some respects as it is correct in others, we may honour him for this restatement. He was certainly right in pointing it out.

The prejudices and the biases in favour of one's own ego play mostly an unconscious part.

Trickery, cunning of ego

At every chance of a forward step he will be tricked, deceived, misguided, or even driven back by the ego--if he will not be alert enough to recognize the endeavour.

To say that the ego keeps us captive is only one way of stating the problem. That we are infatuated with it, is another way.

The ego simulates some of the Overself's qualities and reflects some of its consciousness. But the image which is thus created is a false one.

The "I" gets angry when someone provokes it, then remembers it must gain self-control, and thus forms a higher and calmer state for itself but one which is still within the personal ego-sphere. It has not escaped from itself but only replaced a negative emotion by a positive feeling.

Men not only permit themselves to be deluded by their ego-bred illusions, but even welcome them.

It is natural for the ego to react negatively to its experiences when these bring loss or opposition. But this is so only when, as is most common, man is still unawakened, untaught, uncontrolled, and unable to enter into higher states of being.

The ego is forced to ape the non-ego, is compelled to hide the narrowness of its attitude behind a mantle of supposed justice, truth, or even altruism.

If the ego can keep your energies entangled in its psychical doings, or your time absorbed in developing its occult powers, it will keep you from devoting them to seeking the Overself and thus preserve its own existence.

The ego finds every kind of pretext to resist the practice required of it.

It requires a subtler intelligence or a simpler heart to realize that a man's best course is to put his forces at the service of a worthier cause than the mere perpetuation of his faulty ego. The parable of the Prodigal Son then assumes an intimate meaning for him. While reading it again, he may derive an astringent wisdom from remembering all the unpleasant consequences of the lower ego's activities. These are too often like a blind man tremblingly feeling his way and moving from one mishap to another and making one false step after another.

How few are willing to suspect their own motives until the flash of light from the Overself shows them the truth by enabling them to stand away from themselves and benefit by the new perspective.!

The ego lays its crafty plans to catch him through his better side where it cannot do so through his worse one.

Let him examine himself and see how his ego leads the whole troop of other faculties or hides among them for refuge, asserts itself or deludes him. If it can perpetuate its hold through grandiose vanity, it will parade his highly magnified virtues and make him sticky with smugness; if through humility, it will over-emphasize his sad crew of faults, and make him neurotically self-centered and morbid.

Few beginners have either the will or the perception, the knowledge or the guidance to get past their ego's tricks to circumvent their aspirations, and so few arrive where they set out to go.

There is no limit to the ego's pretensions. It will pose as the humble pupil today but as the pontifical master tomorrow.

The ego hides from them the ugly motives which prompt their actions.

The ego knows that it will be in deadly danger if it allows him to penetrate to its lair and look it straight in the eyes.

The ego knows well enough how to protect itself, how to prevent the seeker from straying away from its power over him.

The ego is just as powerful whether it is condoned or condemned, for in both cases it keeps the man engaged on a self-centered quest.

Every move made by the ego has as its basis the desire of its own survival, its own self-perpetuation.

The ego is perfectly capable of making all sorts of compromises or truces with itself--moral ones with its conscience, logical ones with its intellect, spiritual ones with its aspirations--and perfectly capable of all sorts of dodges, quibbles, evasions, and disguises, whether dealing with matters on the highest or lowest level of reference.

How much do these declamations of serving mankind really point in the opposite direction--serving the ego? How much does even the babble about sacrificing the ego really give it excessive attention and end by making it stronger? And how often does it really mask the desire for greater power?

If the ego cannot assert itself openly, it will insert itself insidiously.

The ego poses as being the only self, the real self, the whole self.

The ego has many hiding places. Exposed in one of them, it soon occupies another.

The ego seems to have a colossal capacity for trickery and deception concerning its own motives.

The ego will accept discipline and even suffering rather than let itself be killed.

The ego may be dormant and not really dead. Or it may seem inanimate and yet be biding its chance.

The ego can find many dodges and give many pretexts to prevent him from making the first humiliating gesture of mental surrender. They are intended to protect its own life or power and to keep him, through pride, from making any space for the Overself's entry.

The ego has set up for itself, which it could do only by turning a fiction into reality, by supposing that it is what in fact it never has been.

If this truth sounds too cold to some hearers, too cruel to others, the emotional reaction is understandable and pardonable. But does that make it less true?

There are various ways in which the ego wriggles out of his grasp when he tries to catch it.

No aspirant knows how much the ego can do to deceive his mind with fantasy and to mislead his steps with vanity.

All those types, encased in the ego and its desires as they are, are kept out of the kingdom by no other hands than their own.

The ego uses all the cunning of its logical intellect and all the seduction of its pleasure-loving nature to keep a man away from the quest.

The ego may warp his mind with feelings of unwarranted despair and imaginations of unjustified defeatism or with feelings of exaggerated achievement and imaginations of unjustified optimism.

If he tries to set up opposition to the ego, he may by that very act simply shift its area of activity, yet be deluded into thinking that he has weakened its activity!

The ego naturally resents and is implacably opposed to the only course that will lead to its final overthrow.

The ego can mask its desire for power and prominence with a concern for the service of humanity.

Is the ego ever really happy? At best it is only for the occasional moments when it forgets or loses itself in something higher, but ordinarily how could it be? It is never fully satisfied with its lot, always craving for something needed or desired. Oh yes! It may hide its unhappiness, even from itself, but the trick must have an end.

In trying not to look at the real image of themselves, they look at the more comfortable one--the ego. In refusing to come to the full consciousness of themselves, they come under the sway of passions and desires, tendencies and feelings which smugly but deceitfully replace it.

The ego is defiant, cunning, and resistant to the end.

The ego is by nature a deceiver and in its operations a liar. For if it revealed things as they really are, or told what is profoundly true, it would have to expose its own self as the arch-trickster pretending to be the man himself and proffering the illusion of happiness.

Everyone is crucified by his own ego.

The ego is arrogant, haughty, conceited, and self-deceived.

If the ego can trick him into deviating from the central issue of its own destruction to some less important side issue, it will certainly do so. Its success in this effort is much more common than its failure. Few escape being tricked. The ego uses the subtlest ways to insert itself into the thinking and life of an aspirant. It cheats, tricks, exalts, and abases him by turns, if he lets it. Anatole France wrote that it is in the ability to deceive oneself that the greatest talent is shown. It is a constant habit and an instinctive reaction to defend his ego against the testimony of its own activity's unfortunate results. He will need to guard against this again and again, for its own powers are pathetically inadequate, its own foresight conspicuously absent.

The ego lies to itself, lies to the man who identifies himself with it, and lies to other men.

So long as the ego's rule is preserved, so long will the karmic tendencies which come with it be preserved. But when its rule is weakened they too will automatically be starved and weakened. To start this process, start trying to take an impersonal detached view.

True altruism of a philosophic kind is not done by the self but through the self, not by the ego but by the Overself using the ego. Few make this grade. Most practise their altruism by blending it with selfish motive or, in other cases, by masking that motive entirely so as not to upset their own or other people's illusion.

Words which sting by their truth usually tell the ego what it prefers not to hear.

That the Neo-Vedantist refuses to recognize the sinful nature of man hardly helps him. What he is in his inmost being must certainly be declared, but what he is in his outer and everyday being must not be ignored. The philosophic view of man, being a properly balanced one, puts together both appraisals at the same time. It says man is essentially divine but immediately sinful. Hence it proclaims the need of self-purification.

The ego does not have to struggle for supremacy; it is supreme.

To retain its hold, the ego will devise subterfuges in his action and insinuate concealed evasions into his thinking.

Where reason serves vanity, and imagination moves only at the ego's behest, a man makes his own pitfalls.

The ego makes every concession to its own weakness, and finds every support for its bad habits.

The Overself is there but the ego intercepts its communication.

Without understanding either themselves or the workings of the World-Mind, men arrogantly deliver judgements upon other men, upon life in general, and upon God.

Such is the strength of the ego that it can soon efface the idea of a new moral reform that a time of inner silence revealed as necessary.

The rationalizations by which the ego can persuade him that he is loftily motivated when he is not, are many and subtle.

The ego is soon appeased by flattery, soon bruised by criticism; but the man who transcends its tyranny is able justly to evaluate both.

The ego's point of view is too often a distorted one, a prejudiced one, and so a wrong one. In a more advanced person it may be a mixed one and therefore confused.

The ego's posturing can take various forms: high as well as low, so-called spiritual as well as outright materialist.

Outwardly he may seem to be working solely for the sake of the cause, the movement, the party, or the institution. He may profess and even believe this to be so. But inwardly he may really be working for his own ego, that is, for himself.

One of the ego's chief delusions takes the form of believing that its advance planning, its reasoned management, and its apparent solutions of problems are more important than they really are.

Deceived by their strong personal self-interest, their perspicacity is often non-existent when it is believed to be most active!

The ego plays up his emotions through all their wide range, using the most opposite and conflicting ones at different times to suit its purpose.

A man may be the biggest fool in town yet his ego may be still bigger and not allow him to see what he is.

Defense mechanisms

The ego, which is so quick to complain about other people's bad treatment of it and so slow to confess its own bad conduct, is his first and worst enemy.

The ego has very powerful defenses, mostly emotional ones, to which it turns instantaneously.

The ego will always seek, and find, ways to excuse itself. It will do anything else it can rather than honestly confess its own vileness or weakness or erroneousness. It will cling stubbornly to them rather than admit the need for a thorough change.

The ego has an infinite capacity for putting a favourable construction or justification on all its actions, however wrong or foolish.

When the ego sees a danger to its own continued existence in any proposed move or decision, it creates fears, invents false hopes, and exaggerates difficulties in order to prevent it.

The ego's self-justifications are a match for all its follies and sins. Its self-contradictions are a display of lofty aspirations mocked by lower acts.

When the ego is hurt, feelings of pride arise.

All are ready to justify self and judge others; few are ready to judge self and justify others.

If the ego were as prone to condemn itself as it is to justify itself, or to justify others as it is to condemn them, how quick and easy would the quest be.

So strong and deep is the hold which the ego has over him, that the flattery which condones that hold is accepted smilingly, whereas the criticism which weakens it is rejected irritably.

The ego's cunning endeavour will be to persuade him to ascribe his irritating troubles to anything but the correct primal cause--within himself--and to anyone but the correct primal person--he himself.

There is opposition from the ego, threatened for its life. It seeks to cajole, tempt, or terrify us at different times.

The ego knows well how to cover up its ugliest activities with the noblest self-justifications.

The personal ego is surrounded by defense mechanisms which make difficult the operation of penetrating to its lair.

The more he advances intuitively, the more will the ego's sophistries seek to lure him astray.

The ego automatically assumes the posture of rectitude, spontaneously comes to its own defense, rather than to examine whether it really is right.

Freud gave out much that in the end has wreaked more harm than good. But his positive contributions include the unmasking of defense mechanisms.

The ego's lower nature becomes fearful of being dislodged at last. To avoid this fate it goes into battle with every weapon from open resistance to smooth deception.

Alas! the ego pursues him wherever he goes. This is bad enough but when he fails to recognize it and blames other egos only for his troubles it is pathetic and even saddening.

The ego is full of subterfuges to keep him from getting away. These go all the way from sheer megalomania to the suggestion that it does not exist. It resents criticism, however truthful, but accepts praise, however undeserved.

The ego always looks for, and finds, excuses for its indiscipline, justifications for its misdemeanour, defenses against accusations written by its own personal history.

The ego may carefully suppress its more obvious manifestations, both from other people and from himself.

The ego can be depended on to give every reason for his troubles but the right one. In that way, it secures self-protection and prevents aggression against itself.

The ego will persistently lead him to indulge in wishful efforts to rationalize his past mistakes. He must choose between such pleasant deception and the unpleasant truth.

The ego's ingenuity shows itself in many different phases through which he may have to pass. In all these phases, it will seek to perpetuate its own rule by fostering misleading illusions and stimulating wrong impulses.

To claim that the familiar and the habitual are the right and proper is a semantic deception whereby the ego diverts attention from its own failures.

The ego senses the peril in which it is placed and resorts to tricks, deceptions, and subterfuges to save itself.

The ego uses the most specious arguments to keep him from attaining truth, appealing to his subconscious selfishness or his intellectual gluttony or his occult-power-seeking vanity.

When his conduct is indefensible, the ego will prompt him to defend it.


He must start by admitting with complete frankness that the ego worships not God but itself, and that it carries this idolatry into a Church, if religious, or onto the Quest, if mystical.

Take it as a truism that nearly every man is in love with himself. If the divine influence is to enter and touch him, much more if it is to possess him, he must be deprived of this self-love.

It is only idolatry on another plane, a more refined and subtle one than the physical, to worship one's ego.

His personal affairs are treated as cosmically important.

The ego seeks its own interest as its first consideration and also its last one.

Despite all setbacks, the ego continues to retain its misplaced confidence in itself.

The ego is enamoured of itself.

How the little ego wants to be admired, whether worthy of admiration or not! How it admires itself and, especially, how it thinks all the time about itself!

The egoist has eyes only for himself.

The self-love which the ego unvaryingly displays or cunningly disguises, in all circumstances and through its yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows alike, is simply a complete extroversion of the love which the World-Mind bears for itself, and which it reflects towards the whole universe. The ego, as a projection which is ultimately traceable to this divine source, carries with it what is nothing less and nothing other than divine love. But personalized and narrowed as it then becomes, this holy force is no longer recognizable for what it really is. However ugly or vicious, detestable or criminal, human selfishness shows itself to be at times, its essential nature remains unchanged--the love which is at God's heart, and even at the world's heart. It comes to this, that if God did not love himself, man could not do the same nor crave for love from his fellow man or give it to woman. And if God did not love man, no man and no woman would love God, seek God, and deny himself or herself for God. The corollary of all this is that since hate is the very opposite of love, and is so often the cause of murder, its birth in the human heart shuts out the human mind from the Overself's light more decisively than any other negative passion. No one can find redemption in whom it is active, nor will warring mankind be blessed with peace until it is expunged.

The ego's self-flattery keeps out most suggestions that its motives may be tainted, its service not so disinterested as it seems, and its humility a pretentious cloak for secret vanity.

The earth wheels on its course through space outside and on its own axis inside. Each person who is carried by the earth has his own unseen axis, too, round which his inner nature revolves: this is his ego.

The ego is always its own centre of gravity.

The ego's self-love is so strong, its attachment to old attitudes so tenacious, its justification of wrong or foolish deeds so blind, that the likelihood of vanquishing its rule is a thin one. All this shows how absurd is man's complacent self-righteousness and smug virtue.

It is the ego's self-love which makes us try to defend ourselves in every situation where we are plainly at fault. It is done to justify our actions where consequences have shown that they are grievously wrong.

A man's pride in his own capacity to find truth, gain enlightenment, and achieve purity shuts out the humility needed to let the ego go and let the Overself in.

Egoism, egocentricity

Egoism, the limiting of consciousness to individual life as separate from the one infinite life, is the last barrier to the attainment of unity with the infinite life.

The egoist has as much chance of finding real peace of mind as the historian has of finding truth in politics.

Egotism may take different forms and the one wherein it most successfully cloaks itself is that religio-mystical form whose theme is all "me" or "I," or the expectation of personal gain. But whether this is to be preferred to a hard, soulless materialism is questionable and arguable.

So long as the ego lives in him, so long will all his motives, acts, impulses, and aims be infected with egoism.

Those whose egoism is impenetrable by inspired wisdom or religious injunction must have it punctured by adversity.

When his own egoism becomes offensive to himself, and even insufferable, he may regard it as a sign of progress.

A man has many burdens to bear at different times during his life, but the heaviest of them all is the burden of his own ego.

All our movements occur within the "I." All our decisions and judgements, inner experiences and intellectual perceptions are the product of egoistic activity.

The disease of egoitis is neither easily nor quickly cured.

All his thoughts and imaginations are based on egoism, are immersed in the belief that the ego exists and is real.

This extension of personal egoism, this pseudo-conversion of the singular into the plural, this selfishness dressed as altruism, may easily deceive the aspirant.

They can keep their thoughts only upon themselves, can never relax and let go of the ego.

If his egoism is too strong, the highest part of the Overself's light will be quite unable to get through into his consciousness, no matter how fervent his aspiration for it may be.

If I love the ego, then I fear other men or the opinion of other men. I will so act as to please them rather than the higher will.

It is not wrong that we love and serve ourselves--for who else is closer?--but only that we do so by excluding the higher purpose of life.

The man who asserts his ego in everyday life is often the man who is more successful than his modest fellows. But it still remains open to question whether his kind of success is worth having.

Everybody is devoted to his own "I" quite naturally and inevitably. But the meaning of the term "egoist" must be narrowed down to one who habitually tries to use others for his own advantage or tries always to get his own way irrespective of the needs of others.

He may escape from situations and from surroundings, but there is one thing from which he cannot escape, and that is himself.

However insignificant it be in the eyes of others, the ego carries itself with an air of grotesque self-importance. However trivial its problems, they are vast to its own thinking.

If egoism is a sin, we must remember that underneath it lies the basic truth that man is important to himself, and, in lesser degree, to others.

When egoism strongly rules the emotional life, it plainly writes itself on the physical face. You cannot have mean thoughts continually alongside of a fine countenance.

There is some sense in a man's holding the view that since he is not responsible for the creation of the world, he is equally not responsible for its betterment. If he takes care not to harm anyone, he cannot justly be accused of selfishness, only of self-centeredness.

Both emotional reactions and reasoned convictions may be wrong so long as a man is not purified of this egoism.

From the moment that the lower ego manifested itself, it embarked on a career of ever-expanding separativeness from the other egos and ever-increasing externalization from its sacred source.

The ego looks in every direction for support so that inevitably it contradicts itself from time to time.

His ego alternates between hating itself and adoring itself.

The ego is there to serve him, but the mistaken unenlightened man thinks it is to be served by him.

The same mixture of egoism and idealism will show in his character through most of the Quest. Only in the more advanced stages will the egoism thin down and down until its final elimination.

The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.