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What Is the Ego?
Donald: Hello again! ☺
If it pleases you both, fits your schedules and I can afford it, I would love to have a monthly conversation for an hour or so. To be honest, my interest in doing anything but delving into the self is drying up. If I did not have a son to provide for, I would seek out a suitable place in India to immerse myself for a year or so.
Since that is not in the cards, at least until he is an adult, I will continue to play this role. Given the circumstance, I welcome the opportunity to have any conversations that are possible while I continue my sadhana somewhat independently.
Sundari: This is correct, you need to take care of your karma first; this is your dharma. If you see your son as the self then you will see him as part of your dharma field and serve him as the self you are. If you were meant to go off to India (or anywhere else) and seclude yourself in an ashram, then Isvara would have given you the karma that permitted it. There is no special place one has to be to conduct self-inquiry. In fact, it is in the fray of life that you really find out how firm the knowledge is. We see many people who join ashrams or leave their life situations ostensibly to “find enlightenment” or to be in a more spiritually conducive environment for self-inquiry. Although some are genuine renunciants and suited to ashram life, many are there simply there because they are running away from their lives, or because they are looking for a meaning to their lives. It is easy to feel very pure in a “holy” environment, not so easy to see yourself as the holy environment, no matter “where” you are. And as there is nowhere that you are not, there is no special place one has to be to practice self-inquiry.
Donald: I believe I understand more clearly now what you meant about my ego.
Sundari: Ego is just another word that describes the thought that limitless, non-dual consciousness – you – is a limited separate entity called Donald. It is just a thought that arises out of consciousness, is made up of consciousness and dissolves into consciousness with the removal of ignorance by self-knowledge. This thought gives rise to the idea that you are a doer, the one who experiences things. There is no such thing as an ego in reality; it has no existence other than as a thought arising in you, awareness. Have you ever seen an ego? All egos function in the same predictable way; in fact, there is only one ego and all embodied entities (jivas) share it, unless and until they know what their real identity is as awareness.
Our egos do actions to get something we think we want or need to complete ourselves, or to get away from something we don’t want. It is programmed thinking and the resulting actions that arise from the playing out of the guna-generated vasanas, in other words, ignorance.
The ego is the “I”-thought wrongly associated and identified with objects. The technical name for it in Sanskrit is ahamkara. In the spiritual arena, especially in yoga, the idea abounds that the ego is the problem and needs to be busted or removed . Vedanta disagrees. It sees it as only a thought that has no effect on awareness. It is not real. And if it is not real, how can it be busted? It can only be understood for what it is. Actually, it is necessary to have the thought of doing or nothing will get done!
The yogic understanding of ego also gives rise to the belief that there are two selves, the small self or “I” and the big Self or “I” which, of course, there are not. There is only one principle in reality and it is awareness; everything arises out of it, like the spider’s web emerges from the spider’s body and is made from the spider’s body. The distinction here is although there is only one self, when maya is operating awareness appears as the creation and as jivas, individual entities, and identifies with the individual entities, the egos.
So it is correct to say that awareness and the ego exist in different orders of reality, like the ocean and the wave, or the gold and the ring. No ego-object exists without awareness. All ego-objects are inert, are value-neutral, and have a dependent existence on awareness but awareness is always free of the objects. This is what discrimination is all about, as you know. So you have an ego but you are not the ego. What is to be done about it?
You seem to think that there is more than this discrimination to self-knowledge and the attainment of moksa. But this is it, the only game in town. Vedanta offers many scriptures and prakriyas (teachings) but any one of them will do the job of removing identification with the ego/doer because they all fundamentally point out this fact: you are whole and complete, non-dual awareness, with a secondary apparent existence as a jiva who goes by the name of Donald, who has a particular life “story.” “His” ego is simply a misapprehension of his true nature. Having said that, the ego does not disappear when self-knowledge reveals your true nature. It continues to function as before but because ignorance is gone, it no longer identifies with itself. It identifies itself as awareness, the knower of its identification. So all that changes when ignorance is removed is the way you contact objects. You will contact them not for happiness, but happily. This is why Vedanta is insistent on getting the message across that freedom is not about fixing or changing the ego. It is about understanding what conditions the ego in the light of self-knowledge. And as I said above, it is also not about busting the ego because the awareness is the knower of the ego so the ego does not stand in the way of awareness.
Donald: It is amazing how deep our attachment to objects go, how much we truly project. I believe I understand the process to absolve myself of those projected meanings. The first is by identifying them as they arise, rationalizing what they are and how they have been developed based on flawed logic, and the second (as Krishnamurti advocates) is simply to see it for what it is and let it be (which has the result of eliminating it as well).
Sundari: This is all well and good if you are describing the process of self-inquiry into the nature of reality in the light of Vedanta. If you are “rationalising” what arises in terms of your own (or anyone else’s) experience, opinions or beliefs, you will simply be seeing everything through the lens of the vasanas, i.e. the conditioning that runs Donald, meaning his ignorance. Hence the logic will be flawed. Self-inquiry is not rationalising. It is the clear analysis of experience in the light of self-knowledge. How does one see “what is” if one does not have a valid means of knowledge, the light to see “what is” is in?
Donald: Digression into Krishnamurti – on the subject of Krishnamurti, I think his process has many valuble uses for clearing the mind of unhelpful vasanas. I see there are some apparent conflicts with Vedanta but I still feel there are many parallels.
A couple of examples of what I mean from the book Freedom from the Known are:
“Similar to the Vedanta description of non-duality, our identity as awareness, and that everything is made up of awareness, Krishnamurti writes ‘I am the source of every image I have, therefore the observer is the observed.’”
Sundari: Actually, this statement is pure Vedanta. We do not disagree with it. In the old days, Vedanta had a tradition of “dharma combat.” The rishis would take on those who challenged Vedanta and in the light of self-knowledge – not in their own opinion-based beliefs – would dismiss erroneous views. We don’t argue with individuals’ spiritual ideas. James and I teach Vedanta. It is not a hard sell. You either get the difference between it and the plethora of teachers/teachings “out there” or you don’t. It is not our place to convince you for Vedanta or against any teacher or teaching.
Vedanta is called a brahmavidya, which means the “science of consciousness.” It is an objective analysis of the true nature of reality – and your experience – based on the facts. Like any other science, it is not personal and it has a strict methodology – which, if taught with great dedication and commitment, provides irrefutable knowledge that leads to moksa if the student is qualified. Vedanta is simply the truth about “you.” Not your truth or my truth or anyone’s truth: The Truth.
If you insist on your allegiance to Krishnamurti, be my guest. But I must warn you that like many other teachers over the millennia he had some good ideas – he had some very bad ones too. He took ideas from various sources and cobbled them together to form a “teaching.” In many cases, the ignorance is obvious; in others, the knowledge is right there next to the ignorance, so close it is hard to tell them apart unless you have the clear, non- dual vision of self-knowledge.
The problem is that what he taught was filtered through his vasanas, his conditioning. It was Krishnamurti teaching as Krishnamurti. Maybe he was enlightened, maybe not. Who knows? It is not possible to say. One thing is certain though – he taught indirect knowledge of the self at best. He talked about the self, not as the self. He did not have an independent teaching so how would one who does not know what enlightenment is know if what he was teaching was knowledge or ignorance?
Vedanta is called apauruseya jnanam, meaning “not the composition of any one person.” It is an impersonal and independent teaching, not from the mind of man. It is a sruti, which means “what is heard.” It is revealed to the mind of man, not thought up by him. This is why you can trust it. If someone teaches according to their own experience, be very careful. Check it out against the scripture; see how it stacks up to Vedanta.
If you really want to be free, why waste time with a teacher who did not know the difference between knowledge and experience, even though some things he taught contained the truth? What you do not seem to understand is that Vedanta is not a philosophy or “school of thought.” It is a tested and proven methodology that removes ignorance of your nature. Vedanta is not in competition with any other teaching. Other teachings may contain some of the truths found in Vedanta because Vedanta is the truth that runs under all teachings but there is no complete teaching to compare with Vedanta. The truth is the truth – what else do you need if you have found it? It is the Holy Grail and it works to set you free of the person you think you are.
Donald: Similar to what I have taken from James’ talks on karma yoga, that it cleans major conflicts and minor can be ignored, Krishnamurti writes that “no reality of ourselves should be rejected, but embraced and observed.”
Sundari: What do you mean here by “it cleans major conflicts and minor, can be ignored’? Karma yoga negates the doer and thus helps to burn up the binding vasanas. I would like you to explain what you mean by your statement above; it is true that karma yoga relieves the stress of getting or not getting what you want because by signing on to the logic, you understand that you are not in control of the results of your actions.
Krishnamurti says that “no reality of ourselves should be rejected, but embraced and observed” – which, of course, is true. However, what good does that do you if you don’t understand what the true nature of reality is? He does not explain it because he does not know what it is.
Donald: Krishnamurti does not lay out a complete system such as Vedanta, but I feel that the elements he does address, he does so well.
Sundari: I rest my case. See above.
Donald: Okay, back on track! ☺
Most objects I understand enough to work on seeing them for what they are. The remaining issue is the ego. It is in considering that there is a person named Donald that is me. Granted, Donald has reduced his volume: his attachments/aversions, etc. In general, there is a strong and growing sense of peace. Thoughts are less constant or intrusive (I know thoughts are not a problem but I have found a great peace in not identifying with them). I have little concern for my circumstances or what happens in my life because I am growing in the knowledge that none of it matters at all. I just want to be. To be requires nothing and cannot be taken away, so a much simpler way of living has begun to unfold.
Sundari: Well done. What you wrote here is a sure sign that self-inquiry is working and the mind is becoming purified.
Donald: But to truly be free of an identity with Donald, I feel that it may be worth understanding the ego, just as well as I have come to understand the nature of objects and the projections we place upon them. If I understand exactly why I have decided to identify myself with a person at all, then it will become much clearer to make the distinction between the self and the individual. In this regard, I am beginning to evaluate the reasons I identified with Donald, why the back story of my life mattered, etc.
Sundari: Do you see how you vacillate between direct and indirect speech in this paragraph? Which “I” is speaking here? As I explained above, the ego is the “I”-notion, the idea of Donald as a doer not some separate function of the mind. Self-inquiry is discriminating the self, you, from the objects, i.e. the ego that appears in you and that you think is you. This is what self-inquiry is all about.
The word “in” is not really correct as there is no “in” or “out” of awareness, there is only awareness. It is better to say “within the scope of awareness.” I have attached a great article by James on the mirror of Vedanta for you as it is one of my favourites. I have it printed out and read it often.
Donald: Do you feel that this is a good approach? Any recommendations of techniques for this or other approaches?
Sundari: You are doing just fine, Donald, keep up the good work and keep going with your sadhana. I do recommend a devotional practice of some sort if you do not already have one. It does not matter what you do or what symbol you use for this; even if it is just lighting a candle and saying a prayer of thanks, that is also very beneficial. This is another way of negating the ego/doer and a very important part of karma yoga. Seeing as it is all you, anything you worship is you. The self responds in kind no matter how you approach it.
Let me have your postal address and when I get to the US I will mail you James’ book on meditation and inquiry. It is one of his first books and needs a re-edit but I love it, as it is beautifully simple.
I hope to meet you at one of the seminars. Try to make Trout Lake if you can.
Donald: Thanks, as always!!!
Sundari: It is always a pleasure, and you are very welcome. ☺
Donald: Thanks, as always!!! I hope life is wonderful. ☺
Sundari: Oh, indeed it is!
~ Much love to you, Sundari