Our ego, or egoic consciousness, dominates our world. Even if we are aware of it, even if we work with it, fight against it, it still seems to be there. It is the tragic force in us which has to make us right, by forming our identity according to our thoughts and ideas that we like. It will defend us, by making us furious that someone dares argue with the idea that we have made a part of us. It can kill, and does kill.
The same force is present globally, any human entity or institution seems to have an ego. This could be a company, a church, a religion, a club, a country, even a race or species.
As with the mental poisons of greed, hatred and delusion, we must work with it in ourselves before we can hope to see its influence gone in the world.
Imagine for a second a world where people were so open that conflict couldn’t happen. Either the ideas they made a part of themselves were ideas of peace, or they had transcended egoic consciousness to something wiser and more loving. The ego makes a tiny piece of the world ours, a tiny few people our people, a limited few ideas our ideas, a tiny territory ours, whereas a larger consciousness could make it all “our” all.
The poor ego, it is doomed from the outset, and causes so much pain. Everything is impermanent, so nothing can stay the way we want it to, not even our own understanding or appreciation for whatever it is in our lives which we try to cling to and make our own. An idea, a relationship, a possession, even a faith.
Sadly for us, this means that whenever we find ourselves debating an idea with any hint of emotional involvement – especially of course anger, the ego’s trusted ally, then ego is here. If we are debating the value of Buddhism or meditation, the existence of a god, or even politics, and we find ourselves in contention, or competition, here is the seed of all violence, the kernel of all conflict in the world.
Here is a threat to our way of thinking, or at least, thinking that the ego has made its own, or our own. Here is an opportunity to watch it, and the act of observing loosens its hold over us. Observing creates a part of our consciousness that is not ego, the part that is watching. In watching it, there is an opportunity to transcend it, but only if you are able to catch it.
The more light we can bring to our darker psychological forces, the more we are able to rise above them, working with them and watching them, and making a simple choice to own what is happening. Here is my ego, ready to defend its domain, like a trusted dog, a guardian of its diminutive realm. Here is the anger that needs to be right, the pride that must be superior, the insecurity that must earn love or respect.
This in itself would work wonders, but I wonder if we can work with it more directly in the same way that Chod has us working with our demons. What if we visualised it, gave it a form and a shape, a personality, a colour, detailed characteristics. Would it be ugly, skinny, or fat with all we feed it? What if we then sat opposite, and asked it what it wants for us, and what if we then dissolved our body to feed it what it needed.
Could it become an incredible ally, like many of our other demons? (I am working on an article about this – but Im only half way through the book. It has already helped me immeasurably – link below to the book “Feeding Your Demons”)
A wonderful friend and teacher once taught that the best thing you can ever do with your ego is direct it onto the path of spiritual development. Granted, it is annoying when ego is involved in spiritual circles, but if you use it to develop, then at least it is serving a purpose. Until you are enlightened enough to expand around it, use it to help you get there.
Let it identify with metta, with compassion, with enlightenment. Let it aspire to be the buddha, or at least a bodhisattva, let it want to approach the divine. Let it ally with the boundless warm light.
Beyond ego lies a field, and in ego lies a gate.
Another way to work with ego is to meditate deeply on anitya or impermanence. Anatman, the abiding state of non-self, is really a continuation of an understanding of impermanence, and the conditioned existence of all things. All “things,” or forms are obviously subject to change dependent on conditions arising. This being that becomes. Thus a thing lacks any lasting unchanging form or essence. From a fleabite to a mountain, from a raindrop to a milky way, all is conditioned.
Also subject to this treatment are our skandhas, our consciousness, or karmic volitions, our body, our sense perceptions, our will, our desires, our dreams, our thoughts. Can you find anything in your inner or outer world not subject to change and conditioning? It is through looking at conditioned reality that we may approach the unconditioned.
All suffering is created by our attempts to make permanent the impermanent. Thus in the understanding of impermanence inside and out, lies the gate to peace. The dissolution of the self, or the sense of self, is a dissolving that will melt your being into the great ocean of the dharma, the ocean of freedom. This is the gate to sunyata, or emptiness, and realization of this is akin to enlightenment.
Three lakshanas, are the three gates. Dukkha, suffering is a gate, and through it is a being without bias. An equamity. Anitya or anicca, impermanence, leads to the emptiness of all concepts, transcending thought to the eternal. Finally if you focus on lack of self, devoid of I, of mine, opens a door to sunyata. These are all ways of working with ego, hidden deep in the maze of Buddhist wisdom. The diamond wisdom that cuts through illusion and projection.
There is a wonderful mediation for dissolving the ego, which I will write about and perhaps record soon. It is the meditation on the six elements, investigating the flow of the elements into and out of your body.
This practice is not for the faint hearted, as it involves dying, dissolving, deeply seeing that the solidity, the fluids, the consciousness that are “you” are simply borrowed. You see them leave you, you see the earth element return to the earth, the water element flowing from you for the last time, and consciousness dissipating from your body and mind, liberated from its cage it joins the great consciousness. It joins the sunshine again.
Who better to turn to when asking about dissolving ego than the Buddha?
“Impermanent indeed are all conditioned things; they are of the nature of arising and passing away. Having come into being, they cease to exist. Hence their pacification is tranquillity.”
Even Thus the “unconditioned” is the Buddha field. The unimaginable.