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Ego Cannot Do Self-Inquiry
Nico: Thank you for your response, Sundari. It is very helpful, and I’ll continue to work on my karma yoga and read. Your note did spark a question on the qualifications. I don’t feel like I have a burning desire for liberation, because it’s not something I think about or crave all the time (for example, during work I forget about karma yoga and only remember it when I have some time to myself). But when I have free time, reading or doing self-inquiry makes me feel complete.
Sundari: If liberation from suffering (which Vedanta defines as dependence on objects for completion or happiness) is not strong enough because you are not that unhappy, then a little self-inquiry here and there is better than none, I suppose.
It’s not the kiss of death to have only a mild desire for freedom; but without a burning desire, self-inquiry will not produce the fruit of self-knowledge, which is liberation from the doer – the one run by desire and fear, who thinks it can act to achieve specific results. Even though the ego can act to achieve results in the world and often succeeds in getting what it wants, moksa is not something than can be gained through action or experience. It can only be appreciated and understood, not gained, because you can’t gain something you already have. You can only have the ignorance that prevents your understanding of who you are removed by a valid means of knowledge, such as Vedanta. No other means work – and the only means of knowledge we possess to know anything – are perception and inference, which only work for objects and not for awareness, because awareness is not an object of knowledge.
Nico: I’m not sure if this is the ego-doing it, but from what I’ve read the ego is needed and maybe useful for overcoming ignorance.
Sundari: The ego (the doer) is not needed for overcoming ignorance, Nico. The ego/doer is the problem, not the solution. Freedom is freedom from the ego, not for it or with it. The ego is the “I” thought that acts out the modifications of the mind. It owns action – and says “I did this and I did that.” It identifies with the mind-body-sense complex. It thinks it owns things and people. It is little more than the values that cause the self under the spell of ignorance (the jiva) to interpret experience. Moksa is freedom from the interpreter. In truth, the ego cannot own anything, because it is not conscious.
That is not to say that you need to destroy the ego to remove ignorance. In fact the ego is not really the problem, only ignorance is the problem. And ignorance causes the ego to believe that it is small and limited, so it must act to gain or avoid things to complete itself. You need to understand what the ego is and why it functions the way it does. If I understand you correctly, you are referring to the ego as a separate and volitional entity because you are saying that a functional ego is necessary to operate in the world. While it is true that transacting with the world never ends for the jiva, the cause of all suffering is the belief in doership and the pressure of the vasanas that condition to mind to want and need objects to complete itself.
The ego is a word that describes the thought that limitless non-dual consciousness (your true identity) is a limited, separate entity by whatever name – in your case, it’s Nico. It is 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 and does things to achieve results. In truth, there is no such thing as an ego; it has no existence other than as a thought arising in you, awareness. Have you ever seen an ego – or any thought, for that matter? All egos function in the same predictable way because they are all programmed by the gunas, which all function in predictable ways. In fact there is only one ego and it can be said that we all share it, unless and until we know our real identity as awareness.
Look at how you use the word “I” in your writing. Who does it refer to? Are you the ego or the knower of the ego? 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 needs to be busted or destroyed. Vedanta disagrees. It sees the ego as a thought that has no effect on awareness, because like any other thought or object, it is not real. “Real” being defined as something that is “always present and unchanging,” which only applies to awareness, the knower of objects. Thoughts are objects known to you. An object is anything other than you, awareness. If you know something it cannot be you, can it? And if it is not real, how can it be busted? It can only be understood for what it is.
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,” but of course there are not. There is only one principle 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 objects.
Awareness and the ego exist in different orders of reality, like the ocean and the wave or the gold and the ring. No ego exists without awareness. All egos are objects and all objects are inert, value-neutral – meaning they have a dependent existence on awareness, but awareness is always free of the objects. The ego, or “I” sense, only seems to be conscious because the light of awareness shines on it, just like the moon appears to shine because it gets its light from the sun. You have an ego but you are not the ego.
Nico: The only time I feel a burning desire is when I’m suffering at work or in my personal life, and this makes me wonder whether suffering is the main path towards a burning desire or can it come even within a peaceful state?
Sundari: The main purpose of suffering is to push the mind towards self-inquiry. A mind that is peaceful and happy will not usually have enough motivation to seek liberation. Why would it? The main aim of self-inquiry is to achieve a peaceful mind. But although a peaceful (sattvic) mind is a prerequisite for moksa, a peaceful mind does not equal moksa.
Nico: Also, it feels like this is something out of my control to create, but I should focus on karma yoga and slowly dissolving the sense of doership and wait for the desire to make itself known. Does this seem valid? It’s like I want the burning desire but I don’t know how. Thanks for your insight.
Sundari: The point of negating the doer is the realisation that nobody controls anything. Everything happens by the grace of Isvara alone. You can develop the qualifications by understanding what they are. If you have not read either of James’ books How to Attain Enlightenment or The Essence of Enlightenment, please make sure you do. The qualifications are in the first chapters, along with motivations. Otherwise, you can “wait for the desire to make itself known,” which could take a few lifetimes or a few years. Who knows? If you don’t have a problem with ignorance, neither does Isvara, or awareness, because awareness sees only itself and has no problem with ignorance. Moksa is only for the jiva who lives in the apparent reality because as the self you are and always have been, free.
I have attached a satsang I recently wrote on karma yoga.
You need to start at the beginning if you want us to help you. As I told you, there is a progression and methodology to the teachings that must be followed for self-inquiry to produce self-knowledge. It will not work for you or me to help you if you are not signed up for a proper sadhana. If you have no real clarity with reference to a goal like freedom from suffering, then just carry on doing what you are doing, and maybe one day something will happen to push the mind fully into self-inquiry.
~ Om, Sundari