Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 8: The Ego > Chapter 4: Detaching from The Ego (Part I)
Detaching from The Ego (Part I)
Our deliverance from the miseries of life hangs solely on our deliverance from the bondage to the ego.
One important reason why the great spiritual teachers have always enjoined upon their disciples the need of surrendering the ego, of giving up the self, is that when the mind is continually preoccupied with its own personal affairs, it sets up a narrow limitation upon its own possibilities. It cannot reach to the impersonal truth, which is so different and so distant from the topics that it thinks about day after day, year after year. Only by breaking through its self-imposed pettiness can the human mind enter into the perception of the Infinite, of the divine soul that is its innermost being.
A correct estimate of the ego's strength will explain why some aspirants make such slow progress.
To all things there is an equivalent price. For awareness of the Overself, pay with the thing that blocks your way--sacrifice the ego.
The least important part of Mind gets our almost undivided attention. The illusion-attacked conscious ego--an illusion itself--forces us to see and hear the sense world, or its own vain thought-forms and dream-images, almost all the time. The real part of the Mind is ignored and left out as if it were illusory!
No ordinary man really knows himself. He knows only his idea of himself. The two are not the same. If he wants to know his true self, he must first liberate himself from this false one, this imagined one, this idea.
He identifies himself with all the movements of thought, emotion, or passion--and thus misses his real being.
The ego which gets a man into his troubles is unlikely to get him out of them--unless it reforms, learns, or lets some wisdom in.
In the absence of this rooting-out of ego, all the solutions of our problem are themselves turned into problems sooner or later.
If a man wants continual access to the Overself, he must remember that it is not free; there is a high price to be paid--the price of continual submergence of the ego.
It is known to everybody that a planet follows a circular trajectory, but it is hardly known at all that the spiritual path follows a similar one where this truth and teaching about the ego are not known, absorbed, and applied. For every spiritual aspirant shelters the ego in his heart, where it takes every possible disguise to keep him on this circular course that ends up where it started--in self. This is why out of thousands who seek, only a few attain, as the Bhagavad Gita laments.
Without some kind of inner purgation, they will merely transfer to the religious or mystic level the same egoism which they previously expressed on the materialistic one.
You may eradicate as many prejudices and eliminate as many illusions as you wish or can, but if their source--the ego--still remains, new ones will spring up to take their place.
The ego is Satan, the devil, the principle of evil, so long as it is not recognized and mastered.
So long as he thrusts his ego forward in every situation, so long does he hinder his best opportunities.
Rebirths, memories, occult powers--all these things exist and continue because they perpetuate the ego--the very thing we should try to escape from!
Consciousness as ego has cut us off from the Source. But it need not do so forever. Through the quest, we can come closer and closer to the reintegration of a subdued ego with its Source, which will thenceforth act through us.
So long as the ego's life is disconnected in its own consciousness from the Overself's, so long will it be unable to avail itself of the benefits and advantages which flow from connection in its subconsciousness.
So long as man is attached to the belief that his ego is real and lasting, or thinks and acts as if it were, so long will he be attached to material possessions and worldly desires. For the one is the root of the other.
Those who turn away, traitor to their higher selves, to follow the ancient lures, must travel the whole road of experience to its bitter end.
If he wants the best that life can offer him, he must in return offer the most that he has. He must offer himself. There can be no hidden reservations or crafty subterfuges in this offering if it is to be accepted.
The ego must be discarded before the Overself can be discovered.
The little ego may suffer under the truth, so tough, so hard. Yet it must in the end recognize that the truth is not harsh but fits neatly into the divine order.
Only when the ego has withered away can he know what real inner peace is.
It is not possible for men to live together amicably while the ego rules them. All they can do until this source of all disharmony is itself ruled is to reduce their friction to a minimum by reducing its chief provocations.
Only by detaching himself from the situation, the person, or the event which he is inspecting can he come to any true understanding of the one or the other.
The Higher Self is forever demanding this conscious relationship; the ego is forever refusing to fulfil the demand.
So long as the little self feels itself wise enough to make all its decisions and solve all its problems, so long will there be a barrier between it and the Higher Power.
The centre from which he lives is the all-important thing in a man.
When humans forget their source and deny their innermost being, they become creatures whose lives are empty of any higher meaningfulness--more than animals, yes, but hardly human enough to justify the dignity of the species.
A man can hold only one thought at a time. Even when he seems to hold two different ones (by doing two different actions simultaneously), close analysis will show that the ideas are successive but so rapidly as to appear together. Applying this, it follows that it is his holding of the thought of his personal separate ego alone which prevents him achieving identification with the Overself. Is this not said, in another way, by Jesus?
These injuries to the ego are the price we must pay for the blessings of the Overself.
Your handicap is the strong ego, the "I" which stands in the path and must be surrendered by emotional sacrifice in the blood of the heart. But once out of the way, you will feel a tremendous relief and gain peace.
Until he learns that his enemy is the ego itself, with all the mental and emotional attitudes that go with it, his efforts to liberate himself spiritually merely travel in a circle.
We must get a standard of knowledge which transcends mere individual opinion. That we can do, however, only if we look impersonally and not personally, if we drop the ego from our measuring and calculating.
While the mind remains so fixed in its own personal affairs, be they little or large, it has no chance to open up its higher levels. When attention and emotion are kept so confined, the chance they offer of this higher use is missed. The peace, truth, and goodness which could be had are untouched.
He who lives totally within his ego, lives in a closed world even though it is within himself. He can get no direct knowledge of the divine Overself, no confirmatory experience of those truths which the revelations of great prophets have passed on to him. This is one reason why he can doubt or even oppose them.
The ordinary man is the unenlightened man. He lives in a kind of darkness, although he seldom understands this fact. His state is determined by the position which his "I" holds in his consciousness. Does it dominate everything else, or is it dominated itself by the Source from which it springs and borrows its reality?
When the ego is acknowledged as being only an existent, not a reality in the ultimate sense, then the ego's life, being in duality, will be transcended at each moment that it is being lived. Such transcendence makes ordinary everyday routine a holy and divine thing; nevertheless the routine remains quite normal, quite ordinary, undramatic, not special or apart from the spiritual life.
We shall discover the truth about what we really are in the measure that we discover the error of believing that we are the ego and nothing more. This discovery will take effect and bring us on the way towards realization and liberation only to the extent that we live it, for philosophy is not philosophy unless it is practised in life.
Man begins his search for the highest Truth with his ego and rises to its higher and higher levels, but in the end he must leave the ego if the Truth is to be found. The manner of finding truth is such that he must leave the ego's limitations and look to its origin, its universal source.
We sit in the ego with all its limitations as in a prison and we do not know that we are prisoners, for we identify ourselves with it and blind ourselves by those very limitations. It is there and it has to be there, but it need not be there to imprison us or to narrow our outlook. The ego imprisons us, for instance, with its memories which keep us steeped in the past when the wisdom of the spirit is to live in the eternal now--which is all we have in reality and which alone is real for neither past nor future possess any reality.
The more he is adequately prepared for the impact of the experience, the truer will be the enlightenment. The more his ego has been purified and controlled, the less will it mix itself into that enlightenment.
If you wish to be in harmony with the order of the universe, to work with it and not force yourself against it, you must stop imposing the ego--your ego--upon it.
The soul's presence is to be realized, its consciousness is to be attained. But the ego's conceit overshadows the one, its turbulence obstructs the other.
The ego is the centre of conflicts which lead to sorrow. There is no way of liberating ourselves from the latter without prior liberation from the former.
Man moves from Overself to ego and hence moves into suffering.
The man who has no other support for his activities and ventures than the ego, and no other centre for his thoughts and feelings, is verily insecure. He passes through the events and situations of life in fears and anxieties derived from the past or drawn from the future.
When ego confronts ego, and neither will yield, not to the other but to truth, then both will and must suffer.
In the consciousness of ego a man must compete with other men and the most aggressive or the most talented may win. But in the consciousness of Overself, there is no competition against him.
If the Overself stubbornly stays out of your range of consciousness, it is because your ego stays too much within it.
How true is the Bible's metaphorical statement that man shall not look upon the face of God and live. Yes, he, the ego, must die if God is to be present.
Imitating the example set by a spiritual leader, emulating his actions and ways and speech, may contribute helpfully toward the improvement of the self but cannot eradicate it. However improved it may become, it still remains the old self. The man is still unliberated from its thraldom and still caged inside thought patterns provided by someone else.
What he believes himself to be, in egoic fact, hides what he really is, in spiritual essence.
So long as his ego asserts its supremacy in everything he does, so long as it arranges everything for him, so long will he be the victim of its own ignorance and blindness.
So long as the ego is the centre of his being, he is impelled by desires and cravings, his mind covered by the cloud which hides the Source from him.
There are various obstacles which get in the way of truth but the biggest is the seeker himself--his limitations, his attachment to the ego.
No one is keeping him out of this enlightenment except himself.
He who asserts his own ego in conflict with others will thereby provoke them to assert theirs!
Truth cannot be found on the basis of what will give pleasure to one's ego. That very feeling of gratification may be a hindrance to its discovery as well as a misleading of the mind.
We must take care not to become straitjacketed by our identifications, by the different aspects of our ego.
By keeping his ego out of the way, his outlook is no longer blocked with illusions or obstructed with passions.
All our relations with others will be markedly affected by the way we use our own ego and function in it.
Men discuss gently or debate fiercely under the influence of their personal standpoints and tendencies. They are not aware how much the ego colours their thoughts and statements.
A man cannot extract the pure truth about a situation or about the universe if his personal prejudice and ulterior motives prevent him from seeing beyond his own selfish interest in the situation or the universe.
It is this personal ego which tricks us into believing that it is ourself, our true self, ever grasping and ever desiring, ever creating fresh illusions and false beliefs; it is this ego, with its wily ways, which keeps us from discovery of reality.
How can people find peace while they live in inner contradiction, the deeper part of their being smothered by the surface part?
When every thought and every feeling is directed upon his little ego, when the great questions of life itself are never asked because never relevant, a true judgement must declare his private failure whatever his public success may be.
While the human entity lives apart from the consciousness of its own real Self, it cannot live in peace. But when it is able to repose completely in that Self, there will be no second thing to draw it away from that peace.
Lost in the ego's misery, they do not hear the joyous voice which is calling out to them from a deeper level of their own being, do not know that there is a grace to be hoped for.
The ego digs itself into all our emotions and must be dug out again, if we are to be free.
When his various thoughts and feelings begin to appear as objects to his "I," it is a welcome sign that he is no longer so bound to his ego as before.
Such is the separative ego's hold on most men that although they carry the divine treasure with them they regard it not.
When the mind is clogged by memories, hoarded from the ego's past experience, it cannot free itself from the ego, and "come home."
The ego is a screen which a man finds between himself and the truth.
The patterns of habit in thinking and behaviour become so rigid with time that the introduction of a new style of life, however desirable it may seem, initiates a long struggle.
We are prisoners of our ego because we are prisoners of our past.
The ego is caught in its own theories and concepts, held prisoner by its own ideas. These are not necessary to enlightenment.
Most people are prisoners of their own opinions and judgements, their own point of view. The intellectual humility required either to loosen or even let go what they hold so tightly and often defend so arrogantly or ignorantly, is one of the first qualities they need to cultivate if they are to begin the quest of truth aright. So long as men are so strongly attached to their own personal wills and limited judgements, they cannot be expected to heed the impersonal teachings and intellect-transcending injunctions of the great prophets.
Thoreau: "It is as hard to see oneself as to look backwards without turning round." The self is involved in the very act of seeing and may colour, distort, or obstruct the observation.
Ordinarily, men do not escape from their own point of view. This is one aspect of Anatole France's meaning in his phrase: "All is opinion." For all rests on the ego itself, since the latter participates in all events, both in the making of them and in the thinking about them.
The constant movement of thoughts and the ego's fascination with itself hide from us the divine Overself, from which both are derived.
People will not look at what is actual if it contradicts their expectation, but only at what they think ought to be there.
If anyone complains that despite all his efforts he is unable to see the Overself, it can only be because he stubbornly persists in seeing his own "I" with every effort. It is this which blocks the other from his sight. Hence it is this that he must remove.
Wherever he goes he brings this ego with him, looks at the world with the same eyes, the same desires and limitations.
The ego accompanies him wherever he goes. Let him therefore not fall into gross self-deception and imagine he has removed it.
Even if the highest truth were to appear in all its glorious fullness before his mind, he would be unable to recognize it for what it is--much less understand it--if there had been no preparation or purification for it. He would not even be free to look at it if the ego held him tight in its encircling network.
The ego can perceive only what is within itself; hence it never gets beyond its own shadow. Even when its thoughts are operating on high truth, this fact still holds.
The barrier to a totally clear view of truth is the ego.
The ego gets in its own way and shuts out the truth. It is so immersed in itself that it sees nothing else than its own views, its own opinions. And this is true even when it apparently undergoes a mental change or emotional conversion, for in the end it is the ego itself, which sanctions the newly accepted idea or belief.
The ordinary man is never out of himself but always inside his ego.
The ego obstructs its own view, whether it is looking at a situation in its life or at God in meditation.
The ego should be sustained and inspired by the higher nature, but instead of that we find it barring the way to that nature.
The desires which operate in him, in his conscious mind and unconscious self, sway his outlook, beliefs, opinions, but are not the only factors to do so. Family, surroundings, events, and circumstances play their part, too.
His way to the goal is blocked by the ego; his glimpses of truth are subverted by the ego; his aspiration for the Overself is contradicted by the desires of the ego.
He takes only that portion of truth which suits his ego and rejects the rest.
Driven by the ego toward undue emphasis on one side or another, he has no interest in finding the truth. Indeed, if the emphasis is too strong, his interest lies in avoiding the truth!
Opinions exist where the "I" dominates; truth is where the ego does not dominate.
The ego sees its own picture of the world, coloured by its own characteristics and contained within its own limitations. Because of that it seldom sees people as they really are.
Through its ignorance of karmic operations and effects, the ego provokes many of its own oppositions and much of its own troubles.
Memory creates for us the patterns, traditions, values, and habits by which we live. It is the dominant authority. But it is also the tyrant which keeps us captive and denies us freedom--a deprival which effectually prevents the finding of truth and effectually builds a barrier to reality. Anyone can remember the ego-coloured past in this way, but only the sage can forget it and dissolve all these patterns.
Every discussion which is made from an egoistic standpoint is corrupted from the start and cannot yield an absolutely sure conclusion. The ego puts its own interest first and twists every argument, word, even fact to suit that interest.
I am dubious whether anyone can be perfectly sincere if his actions do not come from this deeper source. He may believe that he is, and others may believe the same of him, but since his actions must come from his ego, which is itself spawned by deception and maintained by illusion, how can they achieve a standard which depends on complete truth and utter reality?
To describe the ego as "little" and the personality as "petty" is to look at it from outside, where it is lost among such a multitude of others; but to look at it from within the man himself is to find it vastly important, dominating his consciousness, a giant holding him down. It is there, and after all the verbal analyses which reduce it to nothing, its presence reasserts itself.
Under the surface of ordinary consciousness he recognizes and remembers the truth when it is presented to him by a man or a book. But the false beliefs bequeathed to him by his parents and the prejudices instilled in him by his environment cause him to resist it.
With one part of himself he honestly seeks truth, but with another part he tries to evade it.
Whether he is only the victim of his own ego or also that of other men's egos--because he accepts the suggestions they force upon him from childhood--the end result is the same.
The ego may in the beginning miss a truth, if it is unwelcome and unpleasant, by subconscious aversion to it. In that case it will look anywhere else than the right place, if it claims to be a seeker.
The emotionalists are betrayed by their personal fencing-in of feeling; the intellectuals are betrayed by their shrivelling-up into personal analysis and criticism; the fantasists are betrayed by their personal imaginations. In all three classes, the personal ego limits and shapes their results. They look for God where God is not.
Our view of life is usually too personal to permit us to fathom its deeper truths. For the person imposes its intellectual limitations and emotional desires upon the very operation of seeing and understanding what it sees. Its hidden attachments manipulate its operations and becloud its intelligence, thus tying it to a surface view and an oversimplified understanding.
He is not always aware of his motives and sometimes deceives himself about them. This is either because some of them lie in the dimmer parts of his being or because they are hidden by the illusion-making power of the ego itself.
His personal interests put a bias into his judgements whilst his external conditions shape many of his thoughts.
He lives almost wholly in the impressions made upon his senses and in the emotions which may be aroused by them.
He tries to avoid recognizing that he is held prisoner in ignorance and in suffering by his own ego, that its condition is unhealthy and unbalanced, and that he must find some way to liberate himself from its thraldom.
He stubbornly persists in following his ego, not because it is superior to that of other men but simply because it is his own. Such is the condition of the average man and such the obstruction to his knowing the truth.
The light cannot get past his ego, or if the latter is momentarily lulled, cannot abide with him even when it succeeds in doing so.
The ego gets in the way, except for rare moments when the man forgets himself or when a glimpse of truth comes.
So long as the personal intellectual and animal ego rules the consciousness, so long will it go from error to error.
The ego, with its petty conceit and private desires, shuts him in on itself and cuts him off from the universal life, with its truth and reality and power.
The neurotic has contracted both attention and interest into his little self.
Each ego has its own personal version of truth, which coincides with other ego's versions only so far as they reflect its prejudices and desires, fears and favouritisms, and especially its limitations. Hence it is sure to disagree with many.
A situation as it appears to be on the surface may contain factors not visibly present to those who are involved in it. For egoism or emotion may cover their eyes in this matter.
It is an old, known fact that the truth can be very disturbing and that is why it is more honoured than practised. Let us ask, "To whom is it disturbing?" and we shall find that the answer refers to the personal ego.
It takes a long time, many a lifetime, before the mind discovers that its own imaginative and speculative activities hinder its path to truth or that it is the victim of powerful suggestions received from outside, and nurtured or strengthened by such activities.
The experience is all in his head. He thinks it is unique to himself, so it is not too easy for him to separate what is the contribution of his phantasy or his ego and what comes from the authentic source of the Overself.
The kind of mind which a man has will naturally put limits upon his attempts to find and comprehend the Truth. Those limits are not only the ones which all human beings possess in common, but also they will vary from one person to another.
We ourselves put up certain limitations, deliberately or unwittingly, which fence our thinking and our attitudes, or which may be the cause of harm to self or others.
Men are locked up within their little egos. They are in prison and do not know it. Consequently they do not ask, much less seek, for freedom.
No mind which works behind such a screen of preconceived assumptions can arrive at truth.
Why most people won't do it
We have to accept the fact that most people have an immense capacity for being quite comfortable within the limits of the ego, and have no wish to get away from them to a higher level.
They are so satisfied with their ego that they do not even question its right to dominate their minds and dictate their policies.
Believing in themselves rather than in God, in their ego rather than in their Overself, they act in a way detrimental to their true welfare and obstructive of their higher interests.
The obstacles which prevent the spread of philosophy amongst the masses are not only the lack of culture, the lack of leisure, and the lack of interest. The most powerful of all is one which affects all social classes alike--it is the ego itself. The stubborn way in which they cherish it, the passionate strength with which they cling to it, and the tremendous belief which they give to it combine to build a fortress-wall against philosophy's serene statements of what is. People demand instead what they desire. Hence it is easier to tell them, and easier for them to receive, that God's will decides everything and that the patient submission to this will is always the best course, than to tell them that their blind attachment to the ego creates so large a part of their sufferings and that if they will not approach life impersonally there is no other course than to bear painful results of a wrong attitude. This is the way of religion. Philosophy, however, insists on telling the full truth to its students even if its detached, still voice chills their egos to the bone. Acceptance of the philosophic standpoint involves a surrender of the selfish one. This is an adjustment that only the morally heroic can make. We need not therefore expect any rush on people's part to become philosophers.
So precious is our petty ego that we strongly begrudge yielding it up to the seeming void of nonduality.
Human beings in general do not care to be reminded of their end, their mortality. How much more would they dislike this concept of their non-selfhood!
Philosophy is for the strong. Weak souls shiver in its presence and cling more strongly to their petty egoisms.
Most people are so unable or else so unwilling to see their faults that even when the latter are pointed out, they refuse to give assent. They prefer to wear the mask of self-deception. Why? Because the shattering truth hurts their ego.
The fact is that they fear to be given the answer to the question, "Who am I?" It might require them to desert their little egos.
No one is eager to lose himself as a person.
The average human being has little or no awareness of any spiritual element in his personality.
They would like to have their heaven and their ego too. They would like to unite the largeness of the one with the littleness of the other. But this is impossible.
They are too preoccupied with passing judgement upon other persons ever to do so upon themselves.
Engrossed as they are in personal and family life, they fail to open themselves to the delicate radiation from their innermost being and live as if it were not there.
In taking transport to other lands to spend their leisure or their holiday, they try, in vain and without awareness, to take transport out of themselves, out of the compulsions of littleness to the freedoms of the larger being.
It is perhaps not that the multitudes of people are evil as that they get so immersed in working for a livelihood, rearing a family, finding some pleasures, that the little ego provides their sole being. How much they lose if they attend only to this and never to the supreme question: Why am I here?
They are so accustomed to thinking in terms of the ego that it seems impossible (to them) to think in any other way.
The experience of being torn from one's roots is so unpleasant that the universal refusal to accede to Jesus' request to give up the ego is easily understandable. People feel the demand is an impossible one to fulfil.
Most people are hiding away from themselves or living only in a little part of themselves.
Wrapped in the narrow confines of his little self, rarely seeking to expand beyond it, without interest or aspiration outside a half-animal existence, he perishes forgotten.
As genuine spiritual path
If we succeed in detaching ourselves from the claims of past memories and the anticipations of future results, we succeed in detaching ourselves from the ego. This is a practical method of reaching the goal, a veritable yoga-path.
To surrender the ego is to surrender the thought of it, and this is done by stilling the mind whenever, in daily life, one becomes self-conscious. This silenced, ego vanishes. It is deep, mental effacement of the thought of being "XY," this quick stilling of the idea of being a particular person, this serene rejection of the intellectual movement and emotional agitation of the ego, that constitutes the "giving up of the self" which Jesus and all great mystics have insistently enjoined. This art of effacing the ego by stilling the mind, by suddenly stopping its whirling flood of thoughts, could not be practised at will and at any time if one had not practised it previously and frequently in deliberate exercises at set times. It is not an art into which the man in the street can straightway plunge. He is not ready for it. He must first get a disciplined mental nature through daily work in meditation as well as a subjugated emotional nature through hardened will. These endeavours must be brought to perfection first before the feat of giving up the ego can itself be brought to perfection.
Only day-by-day practice in the art of working deliberately and understandingly with the Overself by denying the ego will bring him eventually to the higher stage where he can work consciously with it.
Until it is brought to his attention, he may not know that the idol at whose feet he is continually worshipping is the ego. If he could give to God the same amount of remembrance that he gives to his ego, he could quite soon attain, and become established in, that enlightenment to which other men devote lifetimes of arduous effort.
There is ultimately but a single source of all power--the cosmic source--and of all intelligence--the cosmic mind. But the ego greatly attenuates and narrows down both the power and the intelligence by obstinately clinging to its own petty individuality alone. If, through the practice of philosophical mysticism, it enlarges its outlook and attunes its mentality to the cosmic mind in which it is itself rooted, then the resultant inspiration will blossom forth in a tremendous transformation of its whole life.
Whatever helps to lead him out of the ego's tyranny, be it an idea or a situation, an induced mood or a particular service, is worth trying. But it will be easier, and the result more successful, to the extent that he releases himself from his past history.
It requires a heavy effort and involves constant difficulty to live such a life. The ideal of curbing and wearing down the personal ego can be made bearable only by holding cheerfully before the gaze a picture of the satisfying spiritual condition of the ego-free man.
If he could stop being in love with his ego and start being in love with his Overself, his progress would be rapid.
The question arises: Is it possible to approach life with a mentality free from egoism? This is a question that philosophy has taken very seriously and it says: If the wish exists and the effort is made, there will at least be a less egoistic approach than there would otherwise be. It has therefore evolved a system of training the mind and feelings which, relatively and as far as is humanly possible, does free the human being from excessively egoistic approaches to Truth.
There is a useful technique to help attain this purpose. It is to refuse to identify oneself, one's "I," with the personal ego. This calls for frequent, if momentary, awareness of thoughts, emotions, and the body. It can be done at any time in any place and is not to be regarded as a meditation exercise.
The first thing to be cleared away is the arrogance and conceit, the pitiful vanity of the earthly-wise and body-held ego.
The more he tries to fight the ego, the more he thinks about it and concentrates on it. This keeps him still its prisoner. Better is it to turn his back on it and think about, concentrate on the higher self.
A man begins to come into his own the day he rejects the ego. His rejection may not last more than a minute or two, for the false self is strong enough to reclaim its victim. But the process has started which will bring it to an end.
It is not only that he thrusts the ego aside during certain uplifted moods but also that he steadfastly maintains this denial of self during the moment-to-moment experience.
They dedicate their lives to worship of the ego when they might dedicate them to worship of the Infinite Power that sustains their souls and bodies.
The amount of energy he pours into sustaining the ego and holding to illusions to his own detriment could just as well be poured into sustaining a quest of the Overself to his own gain.
It is more prudent to be habitually suspicious of his own ego, and its motives, than not.
If he is willing to look for them, he will find the hidden workings of the ego in the most unsuspected corners, even in the very midst of his loftiest spiritual aspirations. The ego is unwilling to die and will even welcome this large attrition of its scope if that is its only way of escape from death. Since it is necessarily the active agent in these attempts at self-betterment, it will be in the best position to take care that they shall end as a seeming victory over itself but not an actual one. The latter can be achieved only by directly confronting it and, under Grace's inspiration, directly slaying it; this is quite different from confronting and slaying any of its widely varied expressions in weaknesses and faults. They are not at all the same. They are the branches but the ego is the root. Therefore when the aspirant gets tired of this never-ending Long Path battle with his lower nature, which can be conquered in one expression only to appear in a new one, gets weary of the self-deceptions in the much pleasanter imagined accomplishments of the Short Path, he will be ready to try the last and only resource. Here at long last he gets at the ego itself by completely surrendering it, instead of preoccupying himself with its numerous disguises--which may be ugly, as envy, or attractive, as virtue.
It is not a change of the ego's contents that is really needed, however attractive that may well be, but a change that will enable us to step out from the ego altogether.
The ego has enthroned itself. It asserts its supremacy in all matters. This situation may be allowed for ordinary people in the ordinary affairs of everyday living but it cannot be allowed for truth-seeking people in the graver issues of the quest. The seeker must indeed cultivate the habit of looking on his ego as his enemy, must resist rather than flatter it.
All this is simply to recall man to his best self, deep within, where he is made in the image of God.
If it could be both that which is observed and the observer itself for a single second then surely the two mental conditions would instantly annihilate each other. The task is as hard and as foredoomed to failure as trying to look directly at one's own face. Thus the inherent impossibility of such a situation stands revealed. There is only one last hope for success in such a quest and that is to abandon all attempts to know it by the ordinary methods of knowledge. What would such an approach necessarily involve? It would involve two factors: first, a union of the personal "I" into the hidden observer, of which it is an expression, although the merger must not be so absolute as to obliterate the ego altogether; second, an abandonment of the intellectual method which breaks up consciousness into separate thoughts.
The actual change-over from being the ego to becoming the watcher of the ego is a sudden one.
Thus in his onward march the aspirant has to overcome his sensations and emotions, his thoughts and reasonings, all indeed that he has hitherto known as himself, before he can wake up to the existence of the hidden observer.
His work is first to discover where the "I" begins; second, and much more important, where it ends and is no more.
It is much easier to identify with our own ego than with the Overself. This is why incessant return to these ideas and exercises is needed.
My dear Ego: "It is obvious that in this world I cannot live without you. Your presence is overwhelming, fills every instinct, thought, feeling, and action. But it is also obvious that I cannot live with you. The time has come to adjust our relationship. So I have one request to make of you. Please get out of my way!"
We cannot help living in a human ego or feeling its wishes and desires, for most of us are infatuated with it. But it can be put in its place and kept there, first through a profound understanding, next through a lofty aspiration to transcend it, and third through a following of the Quest until its very end.
In analysing ourselves we are helping to crush the ego. But this is true only if analysis is unbiased and if it is balanced by the Short Path attitudes. Otherwise there is excessive and morbid preoccupation with oneself, which suits the ego very well!
In all situations he must strive to distinguish and follow the lead of the Soul, subduing the clamour of the ego. The former will so guide him that all things will work out for the best in his spiritual welfare, the latter may merely make bad situations worse.
What is in your heart? Ramakrishna's was full of the Divine Mother, as he called God. Before long he found her. Saint Francis of Assisi gave humility highest place in his own. He became the humblest man of his time. Fix an ideal in your heart. That is the first step to finding it.
This inward exploration must be extended until it penetrates the final mystery of the I's existence.
In the end he must untie the knot of his ego and then smooth out his consciousness.
Most men are very eager to appease their egos, but the earnest aspirant must fight this tendency.
When the lower ego consents to resign its own life into that of the higher ego, the great evolutionary turn of our times will have fully manifested itself.
This divided state of personality must be led to a holy integration, this civil war within himself must be brought to an end in a righteous peace. How much mental exhaustion, discordant nervousness, and emotional upset may be attributed to it!
The work begins by removing whatever obstructs the mind from viewing the truth, those qualities and conditions which made it impossible to see reality as it is.
The real struggle is not the apparent one. The real enemy is a hidden one.
For short periods every day he is to practise something which the ordinary experiences do not allow him to practise--going inside, being impersonal and knowing the "I."
Those who feel frustrated because of the absence of mystical experience in their lives, needlessly depress themselves. For their progress to higher values, their rise above egoism to principle, their choice of true well-being over mere pleasure, show their response to the Overself and mark their real advancement better than any transient emotional experience.
We have to learn to recognize the individual self, the person, the ego, as a mind-made thing and therefore to withdraw from it, away from it, to put space between ourselves and it, and to detach ourselves more and more and more from it. As this process develops we come more and more into the Truth, the enlightenment.
The more we try to put impersonality into our thought and life, the less we are likely to identify ourselves with the ego. This makes way, makes room, gives place for that which is behind the ego to begin to manifest itself.
It gives a definite point to one's life as also something to redeem the periods of trivial routine and the boring encounters with semi-animal, wholly egoistic people.
That Consciousness which men seek so variously in ecstasy or despair is already there but covered up, suffocated by their own little self-consciousness. Day and night they stay only in the narrow, the personal, be it again in ecstasy or despair. They run to others, to gurus or gods, begging to be liberated. But in the end they have to liberate themselves.
Surrender is necessary
The tightness with which we hold on to the ego and thus separate ourselves from the Overself's life and the tenseness with which we shut ourselves in the old miserably limited existence are the results of habit. If we are to escape from it into the free creativity of the greater life, we will have to break its vicious circle. This may be enforced upon us by the shock of drastic events or it may be made possible for us by the grace of an illumined man or it may be achieved by us through the determined arousal of a desperate will. Whichever way it happens, it will be the beginning of the end for the ego and the beginning of the best for ourselves.
A master counselled patience. "Can you break iron with your hands?" he asked. "File it down little by little and one day you will be able to snap it into two pieces with a single effort. So it is with the ego."
"Blessed are the poor in spirit," said Jesus. What did he mean? To be "poor" in the mystical sense is to be deprived of the possession of the ego, that is, to become ego-free.
It was a wise teacher who said to me: "Do not demand from human beings a selflessness they are not capable of giving; demand only that they understand this is the direction toward which the divine World-Idea is pushing them. Through one way or another, they will come in the end to suffer attrition of the ego until it is finally reduced to complete subservience to Overself."
He will advance most on the Quest who tries most to separate himself from his ego. It will be a long, slow struggle and a hard one, for the false belief that the ego is his true self grips him with hypnotic intensity. All the strength of all his being must be brought to this struggle to remove error and to establish truth, for it is an error not merely of the intellect alone but also of the emotions and of the will.
Jesus bade his hearers forsake their ego-selves if they would find the Overself. But how is a man to forsake that which he has loved so long, so intimately, and so ardently. What, in definite and precise details, is he to do?
When all of a man's thoughts are put together, this total constitutes his ego. By giving them up to the Stillness, he gives up his ego, denies his self, in Jesus' phrase.
He is to loosen himself from the ego's tyranny and thus, without unnecessary further struggle, transcend it.
If a man wants to come to the awareness of his Overself, he must let go the awareness of his littler self, must shut himself off from its own narrow world. But this can only be effectively done if it is done inwardly.
"Lose yourself if you would find yourself," said Jesus. Lose the false conception that the self is something by itself, able to stand separate and alone, capable of being regarded as an object knowable by you, the subject. Let this untruth go, and you will find the truth. Cease this identification with the personality, and you will find the Overself.
So long as we know only the ego, that in which it abides remains unknown. The way out is to give up the I.
Every attempt to disassociate himself from his ego, to observe it in thought and action, to unbind himself from its desires and lusts will be successful only as it is merciless.
Any direct frontal attack upon the ego as it shows itself openly involves the use of the ego itself. It may succeed in vanquishing some faults, but it cannot succeed in vanquishing that which is behind all faults--egoism. Only surrender of the will and the mind can be effectual in doing so.
It is a matter of changing his self-image, of moving over from the picture of a personal ego to the non-attempt to form any image at all, remaining quite literally free from any identification at all. It is not an active work of negating ego but a passive one of simply being, empty Being! For the ego will always strive to preserve itself, using when it must the most secret ways, full of cunning and pretense, camouflage and deceit. It takes into itself genuinely spiritual procedures and perverts or misuses them for its own advantage.
He clings stubbornly to his ego and cannot relax into the beautiful anonymity of the Overself.
It is necessary to forestall a possible miscomprehension. Subordinating one's own ego does not mean submitting it to someone else's ego.
The readiness to surrender his lower nature to the higher one, to give up his own will in obedience to God's will, to put aside the ego for the sake of the Overself, puts a man far in advance of his fellows, but it also puts him into certain dangers and misconceptions of its own. The first danger is that he has given up his own will only to obey other men's wills, surrendered his own ego only to fall under the influence of other men's egos. The first misconception is to take lesser voices for God's voice. The second danger is to fall into personal idleness under the illusion that it is mystical passivity. The second misconception is to forget that although self-efforts are not enough of themselves to guarantee the oncoming of Grace, they are still necessary prerequisites to that oncoming. His intellectual, emotional, and moral disciplines are as needed to attract that Grace as are his aspirations, yearnings, and prayers for it. He cannot expect God to do for him work which should be done by himself.
No one else can do for a man what Nature is tutoring him to do for himself, that is, to surrender the ego to the higher self. Without such surrender no man can attain the consciousness of that higher self. It is useless to look to a master to make for him this tremendous change-over within himself. No master could do it. The proper way and the only way is to give up this pathetic clinging to his own power, to his own littleness, and to his own limitations. To turn so completely against himself demands from a man an extreme emotional effort of the rarest kind and also of the most painful kind. For to surrender the ego is to crucify it.
"The truth shall make you free," promised Jesus. What kind of freedom was he talking about? The answer can only be--from the ego! And this is corroborated by his own statements, uttered at other times, concerning the need to die to oneself.
Where the crushing of a man's ego may be beyond his capacity to absorb profitably and may even paralyse his inner growth, the kicking of his ego may be exactly what he needs and what will promote his further growth.
The ego can effect tremendous achievements in the domain of worldly life but it can do nothing in the domain of spiritual life. Here its best and only achievement is to stop its efforts, silence itself, and learn to be still.
If he is willing to give the intuitive forces mastery within himself, then he will have to exert his will against the egoistic ones.
Those who are unable or unwilling to destroy the ego's rule from within must suffer its destruction from without. But whereas the first way brings emotional suffering and mental perturbation, the second brings that along with troubles, disappointments, sicknesses, and blows in addition.
All personality must be transcended finally. Even the Master's is no exception to this rule.
Not only does the ego, at some point on its way, have to undergo humiliation, but it also has to undergo crucifixion.
Every pilgrim on this quest can finish it only by dying upon his own cross. He can rise to the union with his higher self only after the lower one is crucified.
Before we can cultivate the best in us, we must crucify the worst in us. The ego must be hung and nailed by degrees if the Overself is to be resurrected in our consciousness. This is why it is so important to cleanse our emotions and correct our thoughts. The desires and the negatives must be overcome to make a way for the truth, the beauty, and goodness.
The self-crucifixion of the ego is the terminal of a long line of self-humblings, the culmination of years spent in gradually withdrawing from its thraldom.
To die to the ego means that he will free himself from the thought-grooves that usually dominate his life.
What he must do is to renounce the ego with all its pride, its greed and passion, and learn to understand his dependence on the Overself.
If he ruefully realizes that his most seemingly spiritual conduct and apparently altruistic deeds have been illusory, if he sees at long last that he has lived for his little self alone even when the world admired his unselfishness, then the time has come to live not primarily for others, but for the other self, his highest and greater one.
The ego is to be renounced, brought down until it is nothing more than a mere possibility.
The ego, when disciplined, refined, and spiritualized, can then be given a knock-out blow.
The Real Being is not a thing. This does not mean it is nothing. Man is so constituted that normally he can know only things. If he is to approach God, he must let go of his ego-self, his individuated being.
The desire to continue life in the ego contains all possible desires. This explains why the hardest of all renunciations for which a man can be asked is that of his ego. He is willing even to suffer mortifications of the flesh or humiliations of his pride rather than that last and worst crucifixion.
When his own ego becomes intolerable to him with increasing frequency, he may take this as a good sign that he is moving forward on this road.
The declaration of Jesus that whosoever will save his life shall lose it, is uncompromising. It is an eternal truth as well as a universal one. It is needed by the naïve as well as by the sophisticated. Only those who, under the strain and struggle of quotidian existence in these difficult times, ardently yearn for the peace of self-forgetting can begin to understand the first faint echo of that satisfaction which losing one's life brings. It means in plainer language that those who seek salvation in some deep, hidden, and fundamental part of themselves have to make this firm resolution that the physical, the emotional, and the intellectual activities of the personal self shall count less. They will not be able to do that unless they desire salvation more than anything else in their lives. Jesus' statement means that they should seek to liberate the life within them from the very limited idea which the personal ego forms around it and within which it remains confined to the physical, emotional, and intellectual planes alone, and bring it to function also in the intuitive-spiritual plane. It means that the inexorable condition which the Overself imposes before it will reveal itself in all its beauty, its grandeur, its peace, and its power is that they should abnegate this unbalanced interest in the lower activities of this world in which they are so totally immersed. If this abnegation leads to the extreme point of withdrawal from the world then they must even be willing to obey and to take the consequences. But since it is fundamentally an inner thing, it does not necessarily lead a man to take this extreme step--so long as he keeps his inner life and being inviolable even whilst trafficking with the world.
Such an achievement may seem very far off from human possibility and indeed we find in history that not many have either cared, or been able, to realize it, for it is far too painful to the ego. But the metaphysical truths of successive rebirth on earth and of the unreality of time should give some comfort here. The first teaches a great patience while men labour daily at the task of remaking themselves. The second teaches that the Overself is even now ever present with all, that in the eternal Now there is no futurity and that theoretically the possibility of its realization does not necessarily belong to some distant rebirth.
The attempt to subdue the ego has a better chance to succeed than the attempt to strangle it.
If there is any single secret of development which the successful mystic can offer us, it is that the ego must go out of us and we must go out of it!
The earnest enquirer who asks agonizingly how he can continue to carry his burden of responsibility for himself and of obligation to others if he scorns self, needs to make further and deeper studies into the teaching on this point.
Deliver up the ego to That which is beyond it.
Even when no longer afraid of others, a man should yet be afraid of himself--so one of the thinkers of old Rome advised. Until the ego is thoroughly conquered, vigilance will always be necessary.
The wisdom of Psalm 46--"Be still and know that I am God"--may be tested by experiment. For in the ego's silence there will be whispered the revelation we await.
The man who has enough respect for himself to realize that he could (and should) become a better man will find that the line of self-improvement stretches all the way into infinite distance. At what point is he to stop? For in the end, however much he polish and perfect the ego, it must give itself up to the Overself.
Give up the outer illusions and gain the inner reality. Give up considering the body as the self and gain the awareness of Overself.
Once the work of purification has advanced sufficiently far, the work of divesting himself of his egoism must begin. It is to be carried on as much by reflection as during action, by meditation as through watchfulness.
Anything and everything may be made to serve the ego and help it to become fatter. Yet they too, regarded from within oneself in the right way, may help it to become slimmer. It is the proper business of the truth-applied to show this way.
Every time he resists the impulse to angry action, or the urge to bitter scolding, he resists the ego. The cumulative result of many such disciplines is to thin down the ego and draw nearer the hour of its final destruction.
In that moment when we submit our selfish tendencies to the discipline of the Ideal, we thin down the ego and open the inner being to Truth's light.
I do not say that he engage himself in a vain attempt to extirpate the ego but rather its tyranny.
He will need strength to stand apart from the crowd, more strength to resist the world's flatteries and reject its luxuries, but the most strength of all to deny his ego and free himself from it.
This injunction of Jesus meant that he was to give up the old self in order to find the new one, to leave himself as a thinking animal in order to find himself as an intuiting illumined being.
Consider the relation that our body bears to its parents. During its childhood it was fed, clothed, sheltered, and protected by those parents, so long as it remained with them and looked to them for these benefits. If it ran away and deserted them, it was likely to lose some or all of them; above everything, it would lose the visible tokens of love that accompanied them. The finite mind, being that which dwells within the body, bears the same relation to its own parent-source, the infinite Mind God. If it strays away in heart and deed from that source, it finds itself dependent on its own unhelped small and limited resources. Its life is thenceforth beset by perils, punctuated with troubles, and clouded by errors. But if it awakens, repents, and returns; if it begins by faith, prayer, action, and meditation to surrender its personal will to the higher will; if it daily seeks guidance and strength from the Soul, help begins to come into its life.
What is the meaning of the parable of the prodigal son except that he is Man gone away from himself and feeding on the husks of earthly life when the bread of the Overself is being offered him?
The more he is unwilling to give up the ego's judgement and desires, the longer will his sufferings continue.
He learns to trample on the ego, to put its pride aside and resist its passions.
You will be saved, not by some man's suffering on a wooden cross two thousand years ago, but by your own suffering as your ego voluntarily crucifies itself today.
The pushing aggressive will of the personal ego is to be replaced by the passive surrendered will of the overruled ego.
The deeper he retires into his inmost being, the farther he retreats from the personal selfhood.
Discipline the ego, be hard on it, press it down to the point of crushing it. There is profit in such activity.
He must create the courage and realism to look the true facts about himself in the face, and for once to reject the conceited pretensions of his ego.
We have to pass through the life of the ego but we do not have to be enslaved by and fettered to it.
We all seek to fulfil ourselves, each in his own way. Let us not seek blindly, but in an awareness as complete as we can muster let us strive to see what we do from a more than personal standpoint.
Sufi Mystic Akhlar-I-Jalali said "One little step beyond myself was all" he found necessary to attain illumination.
The ego must cease its arrogance and abandon its independence. It must let itself be led.
The symptoms of a disease can be relieved, or even lost, without the cause of that disease being removed. It is the same with ego. So long as it dominates consciousness, so long will any physical, emotional, or intellectual change fail to be deep enough. A radical transformation is needed: the ego's dominance must go.
Emptying the mind of all its contents is, by itself, an admirable operation and worth trying for the sake of the benefits. But it is not, from the philosophic standpoint, a sufficient operation. It forgets the performer of the operation--the ego. He, too, ought to be emptied out along with his own thoughts.
A time must come, whether in this birth or a later one, when the ego must give up the struggle, which is both with itself and the Higher Power at the same time.
Each experience in this tumultuous world is a chance to get farther from our habitual egoism.
For all that is talked and written about it, very few ever succeed in making the full mystical surrender of their ego.
This notion of the ego, acquired by ignorance and maintained by habit, persists so fixedly throughout life that ordinarily people are quite incapable of changing it, despite the suffering it constantly brings them.
Only the deepest kind of reflection, or the most exciting kind of mystical experience, or the compelling force of a prophet's revelation can bring a man to the great discovery that his personal ego is not the true centre of his being.
To attain relief from the ego is possible to all aspirants at times and for limited times, but to shed it altogether is possible only to the rare few who stand upon the verge of sagedom.
Withdrawal from senses is hard, withdrawal from thoughts is harder still, but withdrawal from the ego is the hardest of all yogic tasks.
Few men are aware of their own egoism, fewer still understand it, and fewest of all are those who undertake to overcome it.
There is as much difference between the Sunday sanctimony of a normally religious man and the abnegating battle of an aspiring philosopher as between a stage-property landscape and a real one.
It requires a superhuman strength to practise the self-imposed discipline of living apart from the ego's desires.
Should he attempt to repudiate what is the strongest part of himself--the ego--he is likely to find how strongly attached are his desires. He has transferred the object of his attentions from the worldly sphere to the spiritual sphere, but the ego is still active. When his meditation comes to the threshold of Truth, he stops, terrified by the feeling that he is losing his very self. His little personal world is the subject that really interests him.
To advise a man always to remove the ego when considering a situation where a moral judgement is needed is fatuous and futile. It is like telling a man to lift himself up by his own trouser braces.
Some seek detachment from one thing, others from another thing, but he who seeks detachment from his ego has the highest aim--and the most difficult.
It is not easy for the untrained man to distinguish, among the varied contents of his consciousness, which ones originate from the Overself and which from the ego.
He believes he is surrendering to his higher self when all the time he is only surrendering to his own ego.
My pen is paralysed into inactivity whenever I remember how hard it is to overcome the ego, how futile to ask men to engage in such a seemingly hopeless enterprise.
Only he who seeks constantly to efface his personal ego can know how hard, how long-drawn a labour it necessarily is. For it demands not only an absolute honesty of self-examination but also a complete modesty of attitude.
When a man's ego is inflamed with vanity, nothing can be done for him. He must then get the tutoring of the results of his vanity--which cannot in the end be other than painful.
Consider that all the day's activities minister to the cares or interests of the ego and emanate from it! Then realize how hard it will be to secure detachment from it.
The error lies in believing that the experience will deliver him once and for all time from his lower nature or implant him permanently in his higher nature.
If man's restless mind is hard to curb, his ego is harder still to enchain.
How often does the aspirant despise his ego, yet how seldom is he able to forsake it!
The ego is so full of subterfuges and wiles, so quick to defend its errors and sins, that the struggle against it cannot help being other than a long, drawn-out, extreme one.
The ego offers bitter resistance all along the way, disputes every yard of his advance, and is not overcome without incessant struggle against its treacheries and deceptions.
The mixture of thoughts and feelings along with the body which a man considers as himself, which is the identity that he accepts, is hard to banish willingly "and imaginatively" into a condition of oblivion and unconsciousness. It would be harder still to take out of the picture all attachment to his own person and to put into it the attributes of consciousness.
Men, during war, have been known to show tremendous courage in attacking other men, yet show extreme reluctance to attack a different sort of enemy--themselves, or rather that part which is baser and shameful.
The ego must be too often battered by life before its self-confidence can be destroyed.
Ego corrupts spiritual aspiration
The ego is cunning, subtle, insidious. Even when the aspirant has long left a grosser kind of life behind him, it inserts itself into his prayers and meditations alike, and enters most of his inner work.
The ego easily masquerades as an earnest spiritual seeker.
As long as the ego still dominates over, or hides behind, his spiritual activities, they are, from the viewpoint of getting a successful glimpse, in vain. Of course, from other special viewpoints, such as improving the moral character or acquiring intellectual information, they are not useless and do have valuable importance.
However careful he may try to be, the avoidance of personal bias in the ego's favour may only succeed in transferring it from the gross to a subtle plane. And the more the mind possesses critical capacity where others are concerned, the more it is blind to its own egoism.
To keep you attached to itself, albeit more subtly, the ego will make use of these very spiritual practices by which you hoped to escape it.
If the ego cannot keep him any longer through his animal instincts, it will masquerade as his higher self, flatter him for his lofty aspirations, insert itself into his intuitions, and seek to deceive him as he bends in prayer or sits in meditation.
There are today very few who have transcended their "I," and attained THAT which is behind it. Nearly all the contemporary glib talk of spiritual things or the modern advertised teachers and prophets of spiritual experience bears internal evidence of the ego's hidden presence, whatever the external signs may be.
Endless is the procession of illusions by which man keeps his ego alive. They grow subtler in nature and finer in quality, they even rise from the materialistic plane to the spiritual, but their essential deceptiveness remains.
The ego can take shelter under many lies, illusions, or pretexts, and this of a spiritual as well as worldly kind.
The structure of egocentric interests, attachments, tendencies, and emotions fills the consciousness of the unenlightened man and the spiritually aspiring man alike. In the second case it has either merely been enlarged to include religious beliefs and dogmas, religio-mystic experiences and feelings, or it has diminished to serve ascetic achievements and fanatic notions.
Messages from his higher Self, messages of guidance and of warning, of instruction and of inspiration, may come frequently to the seeker; and yet he may not receive them aright. If his emotions do not interfere with them, his intellect may do so; if his desires do not interfere, his reasoning may do so. But behind all these interferences stands the ego, sometimes open and obvious but at other times hidden, secretive, and difficult to detect. It lies in wait for every intuitive message and deliberately seizes it during the very moment of manifestation, striving to falsify and to mislead the seeker.
In the very act of praising God or lauding Spirit, the ego praises or lauds itself--such is the cunning duplicity with which it leads a man into thinking that he is being very spiritual or becoming very pious.
The ego cunningly adjusts itself to each stage of his inner growth and is thus able to remain in all his relationships and activities.
They seek different ways of escape, and imagine that the new way will be the final one. But this is a vain self-deception so long as the ego depends on its own activity to eliminate its own dominance.
Through the operation of unexpected events or unsought experiences, we are partially exposed to ourselves for what we always have been but did not always know. But such is the power and the cunning of the ego that it never exposes itself--the real malefactor--and keeps us in ignorance of the real root of our troubles. It will keep us preoccupied with thoughts of a highly spiritual kind, it will let us smugly feel we are making progress, but it will not let us see and slay the true enemy--itself!
Just as the evil situations in life are made to yield some good in the end and subserve the evolutionary process, so the good ones are made to yield evil results by the ego's ascendancy and craftiness. It will turn his very spiritual aspirations against him, and pervert them. If he gains a little interior peace, for instance, a lot of smugness, pride, or even arrogance may be mixed with it.
How easily can the ego clothe itself in false altruism or hide behind high-sounding speech! How quickly can it exploit others to its own advantage! How smoothly can it lead a genuine aspiration into a side-path or, worse, a trap!
Self-love hides behind most of what he does, and pursues him even into the so-called spiritual realm, where it takes on more impenetrable disguises.
When pushed into defending itself and justifying its ways, the ego will rationalize them and talk of their "evolutionary necessity" or of the aspirant's "higher mission and historic task." All this talk is a deceptive mental construction, not a genuine intuitive guidance. The aspirant who falls victim to his own mentally invented excuses, speculations, imaginations, or alibis falls victim to the machinations of the ego. Thus, instead of accusing it as the real source of his trouble he foolishly supports it and vainly tries to cover up its errors.
The ego is sitting at his side waiting to deceive him subtly into making wrong decisions and false interpretations, if they will hinder his growth into truth and thus preserve its own life.
He would be more prudent to suspect the presence of the ego even in his most spiritual aspirations, reflections, and experiences.
It is to be expected that the ego will protect itself, even if that has to go so far as engagement in a quest which apparently ends in its own utter abasement.
How glibly the personal ego takes over ideas and practices for the development of impersonality!
He will not escape easily from the ego. If he transfers his interests to the spiritual plane, its imagination will transfer itself there too and flatter him with psychic experiences or visions.
The ego is here, ever at work and present even when it is supposed to be absent.
The ego will resort to any and every stratagem to keep alive. It will consent even to any and every spiritual discipline or course, however high-sounding, except the only one that will deal it a death-blow.
When the ego fails to detain him in formal weaknesses, it will disguise itself anew and direct their strength into subtle and even spiritual channels. If it cannot hold him by his more obvious weaknesses, it will do so by his subtler ones; if not through his shortcomings then through his alleged virtues. It does not find much difficulty with all its craftiness and cunning in perverting his most fervent spiritual aspiration into disguised self-worship and his spiritual experiences into undisguised vanity. Or it will use his sense of remorse, shame, and even humility to point out the futility of his attempts at moral reform and the impossibility of his spiritual aspirations. If he yields to the duplicity and perversity of such moods, he may well abandon the quest in practice and leave it in the air as a matter of theory. But the truth is that this is really a false shame and a false humility.
The ego will creep even into his spiritual work or aspiration, so that he will take from the teaching only what suits his own personal ends and ignore the rest, or only what suits his own personal comfort and be averse to the rest.
Although the ego claims to be engaged in a war against itself, we may be certain that it has no intention of allowing a real victory to be achieved but only a pseudo-victory. The simple conscious mind is no match for such cunning. This is one reason why out of so many spiritual seekers, so few really attain union with the Overself, why self-deceived masters soon get a following whereas the true ones are left in peace, untroubled by such eagerness.
The ego constantly invents ways and means to defeat the quest's objective. And it does this more indefatigably and more cunningly than ever when it pretends to co-operate with the quest and share its experiences.
To avoid the truth they accept its imitations.
That crafty old fox, the ego, is quite capable of engaging in spiritual practices of every kind and of showing spiritual aspirations of every degree of warmth.
Instead of reducing the ego, it has merely exchanged its areas of interest, itself remaining as strong as before. The unworldly has been taken into its jurisdiction for the sake of its own growth and power.
The ego not only obligingly provides him with a spiritual path to keep him busy for several years and thus keeps him from tracking it down to its lair; it even provides him with a spiritual illumination to authenticate that path. Need it be said that this counterfeit illumination is another form of the ego's own aggrandizement?
The ego-shadow produces its part of the inner experience or intuitive statement cunningly and unobtrusively intermingled with the real higher part.
If the ego can outwit his aspirations by leading him to false teachers or by deceiving him with glib sophisms or by carrying him into extravagant emotions, it will use circumstances or interpret situations so that it can do so.
It is in line with the limited degree of mass human development that the popular religions, both Oriental and Occidental, cater to the ego. This is visible at a number of points, such as the teachings on prayer and the post-mortem state. Those religions have had to accommodate themselves to the unevolved. And consequently in their moral aims, they have sought to thin down man's ego since he was not ready to give up trying to perpetuate it.
The ego takes pride in its own effort and deludes the man into thinking that therefore it is capable of leading him into the desired goal. On such a view its power is everything, the power of grace is nothing.
The student is warned to be on guard against his own ego, which may feed his vanity and conceit with the false idea that he is much more advanced than he really is.
When men mistake their own desires or their own surmises for the will of God, the ego has simply transferred the sphere of its activity from the animal to the pseudo-spiritual.
However fine the virtues which it cultivates may be, they are still ego-chosen and ego-grown, still self-centered--which may help to interpret Jesus' pronouncement about all our righteousness being as filthy rags to God.
Even when the aspirant has won his victory over the animalistic nature within himself, he often suffers a defeat from the human nature for his very victory may fill him with spiritual conceit.
Men suit their own self-interest. They may cover this up with tall talk or simple hypocrisy. They may try to trick others or even themselves with an outward show of idealism.
He has done well but not well enough. For if this part of his self is striving hard to further his quest, there is another part--his vanity--which is obstructing it.
A good spiritual technique may become vitiated by converting it into another way of clinging to the ego, a subtle disguised way which deceives the conscious mind.
The image which the ordinary person often fashions for himself of a well-developed spirituality, is usually superior to the actuality.
Despite its zeal to spiritualize its ways, ennoble its actions, and raise the level of its aspirations, the ego never forgets itself.
The ego sits in the saddle all the time that he is travelling the Long Path.
He is more often and more easily aware of the openly destructive traits of his character than of the subtly egotistic ones.
A man can carry his selfishness into his rules of self-discipline, his ambition into his aspirations, and his vanity into his meditations. The results will only stimulate his ego, and not minify it.
The ego creeps into spirituality and makes it self-seeking in its contacts with others or narrow in its understanding of others.
The "I" shields itself from all threats to complete belief in its own reality, permanence, and separateness. Consequently, it sees metaphysical-yogic work as a danger to be removed by appropriation and absorption. Such work is then misused to serve and strengthen the ego while seeming to unmask it.
It is inevitable for the ego to try to free itself from the restrictions put upon it, and so bring about a relapse. Its natural greed for self-indulgence comes into conflict with these restrictions. Therefore the novice who feels he has made a great advance should not exult too prematurely, or he may find that his advance is less stable than it appears.
Whosoever seeks his own glory in these practices may find it, but he will keep out the grace.
What he has done is to transfer the ego, with all its self-seeking greed, its arrogant complacency, its colossal ignorance of its own source, from his worldly activities to his spiritual activities. The ego will do everything possible to preserve its existence and devise every possible means to secure its future. This is why the man himself rarely wakes up to what is happening, and why the fates may crush him to the ground to destroy his sleep. If this event takes place while is still comparatively young, when his powers are strong, and not at the close of life, when they are feebler and less effectual, he is indeed fortunate, although he will certainly not think so at the time.
"This divine illusion of Mine is hard to pierce," says the Bhagavad Gita. Those who imagine it is easy, and quickly done, merely move from one point to a different one within their own little ego. They mistake the false for the true, the illusion of light for Light itself.
So long as the ego's defenses remain intact, the man will live within its illusion as will all his spiritual experiences. They may be striking, dramatic, thrilling, rapturous, and extraordinary, but they will still be based on identification with his little personal consciousness.
It is the sin of spiritual pride, of pride in the fact that he is a quester. But he does not see that he is nearly always at the centre of this search: it is his relationship with God that matters. Always clinging to ego!
Humility is needed
It requires a mood of real humility for a man to acknowledge that he is in the wrong. Such a mood will benefit him in two ways. It will correct an erroneous course and it will thin down a fat ego.
A time will come when he will have to get away from himself. He will learn to outrage his own pride, to swallow his own vanity.
He knows that it is his duty to look beyond his little ego, to devise withdrawals and enter retreats from the continuous immersion in his own personality. If, in such short periods, he can achieve impersonality and attain anonymity, the result will be beneficial out of all proportion to the time given. And even though it will make him humbler in society, it will lift him to a higher place in heaven.
When a man can forgive God all the anguish of his past calamities and when he can forgive other men and women for the wrongs they have done him, he will come to inward peace. For this is what his ego cannot do.
The ego demands, fiercely and clamantly or suavely and cunningly, its own unhindered expression. But the ideal formed by intuition from within and by suggestion from without, counsels the ego's restraint.
Lao Tzu praised unobtrusiveness in social behaviour and minimum speech among others. Both these suggestions were intended to help put the ego in its place and to humble it.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.