Sensible Perspectives on Egolessness
Date: Tue, 21 Dec 1999 12:44:51 -0500
From: "R. Hoffman"
Subject: Re: [zee-list] Ego
At 10:55 AM -0600 12/21/99, Fenwick Rysen wrote:
"Letting go of the ego" is (for me at least) a process of dealing with any
of those shortcomings in yourself. It typically results in a very strong
sense of self that isn't swayed by the mass crazes, has definite opinions
(but able to be swayed by new proof/evidence/thought), is fiercely
independent, and self-reliant. Such a person also realizes his/her own
shortcomings, and accepts them---they know they aren't always right, and
admit to such when they come face to face with it, using that knowledge to
change their ways and thus become a better person. They also don't let
people "walk all over them", another side effect of healthy sense of self.
Extremely well put. I'll append to this a bit of Ken Wilber that
also says it far more clearly than I can.
Precisely because the ego, the soul, and the Self can all be present
simultaneously, we can better understand the real meaning of
"egolessness," a notion that has caused an inordinate amount of
confusion. But egolessness does not mean the absence of a functional
self (that's a psychotic, not a sage); it means that one is no longer
exclusively identified with that self.
One of the many reasons we have trouble with the notion of "egoless"
is that people want their "egoless sages" to fulfill all their
fantasies of "saintly" or "spiritual," which usually means dead from
the neck down, without fleshy wants or desires, gently smiling all
the time. All of the things that people typically have trouble
with--money, food, sex, relationships, desire-- they want their
saints to be without. "Egoless sages" are "above all that," is what
people want. Talking heads is what they want. Religion, they
believe, will simply get rid of all baser instincts, drives and
relationships, and hence they look to religion, not for advice on how
to live life with enthusiasm, but on how to avoid it, repress it,
deny it, escape it.
In other words, the typical person wants the spiritual sage to be
"less than a person," somehow devoid of all the messy, juicy,
complex, pulsating, desiring, urging forces that drive most human
beings. We expect our sages to be an absence of all that drives
us! All the things that frighten us, confuse us, torment us,
confound us: we want our sages to be untouched by them altogether.
And that absence, that vacancy, that "less than personal," is what we
often mean by "egoless."
But "egoless" does not mean "less than personal"; it means "more
than personal." Not personal minus, but personal plus--all the
normal personal qualities, plus some transpersonal ones. Think of
the great yogis, saints, and sages--from Moses to Christ to
Padmasambhava. They were not feeble-mannered milquetoasts, but
fierce movers and shakers--from bullwhips in the Temple to subduing
entire countries. They rattled the world on its own terms, not in
some pie-in-the-sky piety; many of them instigated massive social
revolutions that have continued for thousands of years. And they did
so, not because they avoided the physical, emotional, and mental
dimensions of humanness, and the ego that is their vehicle, but
because they engaged them with a drive and intensity that shook the
world to its very foundations. No doubt, they were also plugged
into the soul (deeper psychic) and spirit (formless Self)--the
ultimate source of their power--but they expressed that power, and
gave it concrete results, precisely because they dramatically engaged
the lower dimensions through which that power could speak in terms
that could be heard by all.
These great movers and shakers were not small egos; they were, in the
very best sense of the term, big egos, precisely because the ego (the
functional vehicle of the gross realm) can and does exist alongside
the soul (the vehicle of the subtle) and the Self (vehicle of the
causal). To the extent these great teachers moved the gross
realm, they did so with their egos, because the ego is the
functional vehicle of that realm. They were not, however, identified
merely with their egos (that's a narcissist); they simply found their
egos plugged into a radiant Kosmic source. The great yogis, saints,
and sages accomplished so much precisely because they were not timid
little toadies but great big egos, plugged into the dynamic Ground
and Goal of the Kosmos itself, plugged into their own higher Self,
alive to the pure Atman (the pure I-I) that is one with Brahman; they
opened their mouths and the world trembled, fell to its knees, and
confronted its radiant God.
Saint Theresa was a great contemplative? Yes, and Saint Theresa is
the only woman ever to have reformed an entire Catholic monastic
tradition (think about it). Gautama Buddha shook India to its
foundations. Rumi, Plotinus, Bodhidharma, Lady Tsogyal, Lao Tzu,
Plato, the Baal Shem Tov--these men and women started revolutions in
the gross realm that lasted hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years,
something neither Marx nor Lenin nor Locke nor Jefferson can yet
claim. And they did not do so because they were dead from the neck
down. No, they were monumentally, gloriously, divinely big egos,
plugged into a deeper psychic, which was plugged straight into God.
There is certainly a type of truth to the notion of transcending
ego: it doesn't mean destroy the ego, it means plug it into
something bigger. As Magarjuna put it, in the relative world,
atman is real; in the absolute, neither atman nor anatman is
real. Thus, in neither case is anatta a correct description of
reality. The small ego does not evaporate; it remains as the
functional center of activity in the conventional realm. As I said,
to lose that ego is to become a psychotic, not a sage.
"Transcending the ego" thus actually means to transcend but include
the ego in a deeper and higher embrace, first in the soul or deeper
psychic, then with the Witness or primordial Self, then with each
previous stage taken up, enfolded, included, and embraced in the
radiance of One Taste. And that means we do not "get rid" of the
small ego, but rather, we inhabit it fully, live it with verve, use
it as the necessary vehicle through which higher truths are
communicated. Soul and Spirit include body, emotions, and mind; they
do not erase them.
Put bluntly, the ego is not an obstruction to Spirit, but a radiant
manifestation of Spirit. All Forms are not other than Emptiness,
including the form of the ego. It is not necessary to get rid of the
ego, but simply to live with it a certain exuberance. When
identification spills out of the ego and into the Kosmos at large,
the ego discovers that the individual Atman is in fact all of a piece
with Brahman. The big Self is indeed no small ego, and thus, to
the extent that you are stuck in your small ego, a death and
transcendence is required. Narcissists are simply people whose egos
are not yet big enough to embrace the entire Kosmos, and so they try
to be central to the Kosmos instead.
But we do not want our sages to have big egos; we do not even want
them to display a manifest dimension at all. Anytime a sage displays
humanness--in regard to money, food, sex, relationships--we are
shocked, shocked, because we are planning to escape life
altogether, not live it, and the sage who lives life offends us. We
want out, we want to ascend, we want to escape, and the sage who
engages life with gusto, lives it to the hilt, grabs each wave of
life and surfs it to the end--this deeply, profoundly disturbs us,
frightens us, because it means that we, too, might have to engage
life, with gusto, on all levels, and not merely escape it in a cloud
of luminous ether. We do not want our sages to have bodies, egos,
drives, vitality, sex, money, relationships or life, because those
are what habitually torture us, and we want out. We do not want to
surf the waves of life, we want the waves to go away. We want
The integral sage, the nondual sage, is here to show us otherwise.
Known generally as "Tantric," these sages insist on transcending life
by living it. They insist on finding release by engagement, finding
nirvana in the midst of samsara, finding total liberation by
complete immersion. They enter with awareness the nine rings of
hell, for nowhere else are the nine heavens found. Nothing is alien
to them, for there is nothing that is not One Taste.
Indeed, the whole point is to be fully at home in the body and its
desires, the mind and its ideas, the spirit and its light. To
embrace them fully, evenly, simultaneously, since all are equally
gestures of the One and Only Taste. To inhabit lust and watch it
play; to enter ideas and follow their brilliance; to be swallowed by
Spirit and awaken to a glory that time forgot to name. Body and mind
and spirit, all contained, equally contained, in the ever-present
awareness that grounds the entire display.
In the stillness of night, the Goddess whispers. In the brightness
of the day, dear God roars. Life pulses, mind imagines, emotions
wave, thoughts wander. What are all these but the endless movements
of One Taste, forever at play with its own gestures, whispering
quietly to all who would listen: is this not you yourself?
When the thunder roars, do you not hear your Self? When the
lightning cracks, do you not see your Self? When clouds float
quietly across the sky, is this not your very own limitless Being,
waving back at you?
--Ken Wilber, One Taste