To know oneself, one would think that we must know what our ego tells us. This internal opinion about who we are as a person is a central assumption about the idealization and realization of a self we help create. The defining characterization of what we stand for, and what we believe to be true about relating our thoughts to ideas of who we think we are, both in the physicality and in the psychic features of ourselves become the starting and ending points of our existence. The conscious awareness of how we define our existence within our mental states has been argued over thousands of years by the philosophers, scientists, and mystics that call themselves human beings. We are in a class of being that has distinguished itself among all the other animals that inhabit this earth.
If you are one to look up at the stars at night, if you are fascinated by the endless stars in our cosmos and become filled with wonder asking questions about our natures, than you can understand that many times before us, there were others who sought to understand their place in the universe among the other countless galaxies as well. How we see ourselves can have some dramatic implications in our lives. How we chose to live, how we associate with others, and what will be the intent of our behaviors in everyday life may just be founded on one striking principle that we come to know over the years; our own ego.
How we define ourselves, and the decisions we make that will ultimately affect our relationships and environments we navigate including how we relate with ourselves is fundamental in the development of our consciousness.
The implications to such definitions can lead to some very astonishing conclusions, and lead us to act upon those ideas. No matter how rational we think we are, or how irrational we become, we still assign ourselves to a set of ideas that we believe make up our being, something that is usually separate and somewhat isolated from other beings. An examination of the ego can lead us to many roads traveled.
The symbolism of ourselves can lead us to make some very mistakenly held beliefs about what truly is, and our experience of it! You will find below ways to look at ego as identified by several explanations following this text. I apologize for the redundancies but felt that a thorough discovery of what an ego entails in general terms would be helpful in understanding the problems we become immersed in when discussing ego. It has created many problems today, just as it has done in bygone days since many of the identifying characteristics have not changed and if left to the impetuous mind, then never a glance into the mysteries of the soul could be truly uncovered. These lost lambs of humanity would stay in the mystical, and would wander through their existence without the knowledge of how we help create the illusive ego that touches everything we see and do without really even knowing it.
some thoughts on ego….
Ego as defined in the dictionary is the thinking, feeling, and self action that is conscience. It is aware of its distinction from the self of others and from the objects of its thought and other operations. It has since taken on the meaning as the part of the self that is the enduring, conscious subject of varying experiences. In Freudian psychology it is the conscious aspect of the psyche that develops through contact with the external world and protects the organism by resolving conflicts between the id and the superego as to conform best with reality. The Id being the unconscious part of the psyche, independent of a sense of reality, logic, and morality but actuated by fundamental impulse towards fulfilling instinctual needs. It is the reservoir of psychic energy or libido. The superego being that part of the psyche that, with or without conscious support, acts to secure the conformity of the ego to parental, social, and moral standards.
The collection of processes originating in and/or associated with the brain, involving conscious and subconscious thought, interpretations of our experiences, perceptions, insights, imagination and the like are what can be considered to be the usual defining structure of what mind can be. Our memory and what we remember, our opinions, sentiments, convictions, desires, inclinations and our wishes. Our intellectual power or capacity represented by our intelligence. Faculty of cognition and intellect, as opposed to the will and emotions.
In some views, mind is seen as related to the Spirit or intelligence seen as the basic substance of the universe and distinguished from matter. In this regard mind is a psychical being.
In some religions and theologies the “Mind” it is the Divine Principle or God.
Relative to awareness, ego is seen as that aspect. The ego, as typically used is seen as related to that aspect of our being that is aware and/or aware of itself. Ego is seen as the thinking, feeling, and action self that is conscious of itself. We refer to “my” beliefs, “my” thinking, “my” opinions, where as other simply say we are “in our ego.” It is the ego which is seen as being aware of being distinct or separate from others and from the objects of its thought and other operations of the mind and body.
As working definition, mind is what we think and believe, who we think we are and how we think the universe works based on all the experiences we have had. It is what we allow ourselves to feel and not feel and the decisions we make and not make, on what we think and feel. Mind assimilates all that we have experienced and provides a perspective from which to view and experience phenomena. Since mind is continually assimilating all that we experience can continually transforming itself.
Ego is the identity mind constructs from what it thinks and believes about itself. Ego is the identity mind gives to itself. Ego is what we use to describe who we think we are. To the mind, the awareness which resides in the mind, or view from behind the mind, is seen to live in the ego. In reality, ego is a filter or a lens which colors how the awareness behind mind views the experiences it has. As long as there is a mind there will be an ego. The issues is how clear is the filter or lens through which the awareness of mind views the experiences it has.
Awareness is that which perceives, observes and watches. It has no identity. It is seen to live in mind but actually lies behind mind and never changes. We can access the awareness and set outside the filters and lens of the mind and ego by becoming a detached witness. The more we can detach ourselves and only witness what is, as it is, the more we move into an identification with the awareness.
The more we identify with the identity mind gives itself based on the experiences it has experienced, the more we are attached to our ego. Here we see whatever we experience as happening to us personally. The more we detached from the identity mind gives itself, the more we move into the perspective of the detached witness and into a more pure awareness. The more we move into the perspective of the detached witness the more we can see that mind simply creates a vehicle to experience and the more the awareness that has the experience recognizes what happens to them is not personal.
The ego is simply who we think we are. The “I,” that becomes awareness of its own existence and recognizes its own existence as a separate being and who defines itself by the experiences it has in life, has little power to change that fact that it exists. We cannot make ourselves not exist because we already are. We exist and we continue to exist because there is a flow of energy that sustains our being.
We are a creative living process continually redefining ourselves. How we characterize the energy we feel both as an adult and a child is that our perspective has, and will, change over time.
In this regard, the “I” is not frozen. It continually evolves and defines itself based on its experiences but it is selective in what it chooses to define itself. Yet, all the experiences it has are not always used. Only selected experiences are used to create the ego and define the who and what mind thinks it is and how it has been harmed or hurt or helped by the world. In more ways that first realized, it is only because we experience what we do in the same body that keeps the identity that we have about the same.
Ego is not something with which we are going to do without or get rid of. The western mind tells us we cannot escape the ego, rather it is something that will always be there and it is either active or inactive, and we of course can choose to turn it on or off. Ego is neither good nor bad and is only a vehicle for experience. The suggestion that we can meet a better understanding is humorously indicated in the video clip below.
To think we can escape and/or transcend it, it is simply the illusion of mind. The question is, “How do we construct the ego we have and do we allow our ego to change to create something different?” It is completely malleable if we allow it to be. The issue arises when we become attached to the ego or some attribute or characteristic of the ego. In many cases, the attachment we have to the ego holds us back and causes pain just an any other attachment.
The ego is the product of the belief system and the mind that holds the beliefs.
The ego, especially, the enculturated ego fears death. The enculturated ego develops as a result of the experiences of the body and how we have been taught to experience life. Many of these experiences are at protecting the body from injury, pain and death. Hence the enculturated ego see itself as experiencing what the body experiences, namely, injury, pain, suffering and death. Often the enculturated ego transfers this fear of dying into the Transcendental ego. Any suggestion of changing the ego or transforming the ego gives rise to the possibility of its death and it quickly moves to defend itself and prevent the change. The enculturated ego is the ego or identity our mind creates and we assume as a result of our enculturation. It is not the ego that results from the experiences we have had. Rather, it is an identity we assume based on how we have been taught to interpret life and understand ourselves by our society. Usually there are experiences we deny to satisfy our enculturation. As such, we do not develop an ego that is truly representative of the experiences we have had.
Ego absorption is the essence of narcissism and the story of Narcissus. In ego adsorption we lives to serve the ego. A healthy ego is vitally necessary to claim our birthright as a being of unlimited creativity and as the creator that we are. Self love is equally important to create this healthy ego. However, self-absorption of the ego is harmful to our being. The constant worrying, analyzing and thinking of our ego about itself and preserving and/or serving itself prevents us from being present to what is, as it is, and becoming aware and climbing out of our habits and conditioning. When absorbed in the ego, we cannot see reality as it exists in the present. Our ego, which is only a construct of our thinking based on our conditioning, has assumptions, preconceived ideas, biases, prejudices and the like which are constantly getting in the way. Yet, there is no need to transcend the ego or somehow try and do away with it. We must learn to control the ego and use it as the vehicle it is and not allowing it to control our lives. When ego controls our lives, we do become narcissistic and have an excessive admiration and fascination with ourselves to the point of self-destruction. In doing so, we stay in more of an infantile state of creative development in which the self is the only object of our interests and not growing up and maturing. When we become self-absorbed we do become the Narcissus.
The major causes of ego absorption is not love of self. If one truly loves themselves they would have that love to give to others for they would understand what the other needs to feel whole and complete. Self absorption with ourselves that causes us to become the Narcissus is fear, the desire of the ego to keep itself out of fear, and trying to feed the ego by satisfy its longing and perceptions of its beloved. However fear is probably the greatest cause of ego absorption.
Because of this identification of ego with the body that has created its experiences, humans look for security and safety for both their body and their ego no matter how secure and safe they may actually be. Additionally, most people look for this security and safety in the external world. For example, we look to money and wealth, another person, or a place within society that can give us the security we seek. We live physical life from within a body and think the things that can protect the body will also protect the ego. So ego protects itself just as it would protect its body. We work to create an external world of safety and security thinking our egos will be safe and secure because our bodies are protected and taken care of to prevent its harm and injury.
However, relative to the ego, safety and security comes from within for the ego is a construct of our internal world and cannot be injured and harmed from anything externally. We ourselves, who have created the ego are the only one’s who can injury and harm the ego. We place our selves in circumstances that are ultimately harmful and painful to either our body or our ego thinking we are going to protect our ego. Then when we are somehow harmed internally or externally because of the situation in which we, ourselves, have place ourselves, we blame the external world and hold it accountable for what we experienced.
Transcending the ego not about “getting out of ego” or some how leaving the ego behind. Rather is it about not being bound by the ego and allowing ourselves to redefine ourselves as necessary or at will.
The Buddhist tradition defines the ego differently than the classic Freudian tripartite reinterpretations of the classic Greek philosophical versions.
The feeling of a separate “I”, which we call ego-consciousness, is directly related to the strength of ignorance, greed, and hatred. The deepest meaning of ignorance is the believing in, identifying with and clinging to the ego, which as we have seen, is nothing but an illusive mental phenomenon. But because of this strong clinging to ego-consciousness, attachment/desire, anger/hatred arise and repeatedly gain strength.
The ego needs activity to exist. Like and dislike, attachment, aversion, greed and hatred are the main overt activities of the ego. The more want and aversion we have the more alive we feel, the more real and concrete the ego seems. In reality, the ego depends on want, its life-blood is desire. The ego and want are like the two sides of a coin — one cannot exist without the other. The ego is projected desire, and desire is projected ego. It is like pedaling a bicycle: if we go on pedaling, the bicycle goes on moving; but if we stop pedaling the bicycle will start slowing down and eventually stops. The more we go on generating want the ego seems very real. When desiring stops the ego then appears as an illusion.
This is why want cannot be satisfied. If we stop want (and this means aversion also) then our sense of self starts getting weaker, it starts to dissolve. Actually, the objects we desire, like or dislike are not really that important. They are merely scapegoats or excuses for the activity of the ego, to prevent ego-death. Any object will do. Though to keep from appearing foolish, superficial or unwise the ego comes up with all kinds of good-sounding reasons and justifications for why it needs to acquire something or get away from something else.
That is why people in the West, especially in America, have yard or garage-sales. They have attics, closets, and garages full of things they don’t use any longer, and not because it is necessarily worn out or broken. Some of it — clothing, toys, gadgets, tools, etc. were probably used very little or perhaps never. These people need to empty out their closets and attics to make room for more. Much of it, including the shopping trips, are simply more activities, more life-saving ruses of the ego. And even getting upset, irritated, and angry at others for seeming trivial things is often only more excited energy to make the ego seem more alive.
However, at the same time it entails and generates a lot of suffering. So we can see the direct connection between ignorance, desire and the ego.
This is why it is so difficult for the average person, who does not meditate, to quiet their mind and experience total rest. We are called human beings, but a better term would be “human doings”. Even in sleep the body will toss and turn and the mind goes on dreaming. The hardest thing for the average person to do is to sit still, not move the body at all, close the eyes, and do not go to sleep or get lost in daydreaming. After a few minutes they would become increasingly restless, wanting to do something. They cannot simply enjoy just being.
This is because the ego-self would feel uncomfortable, strange, useless and either go to sleep or start dissolving. The latter is in fact what happens during deep concentrated meditation. That is why many people shy away from or do not want to meditate. Many who do meditate, cannot go into deep meditation for very long. The ego shrinks away from the deep silence (even unconsciously) because it feels like death -ego death.
Ego or “I” consciousness arises as a resistance to the flow of impermanence coming through the senses. Resistance manifests as attraction or aversion to sense stimuli, including our thoughts, memories, and emotions etc. When attraction and aversion subside resistance also subsides and along with it the strength of ego awareness subsides. This can be directly observed during meditation.
Desire is also directly related to the past and future. When we see, hear, smell taste, touch, and think, the mind unconsciously brings in our past memories of attraction and aversion and reactions to the present sense stimulation, and then it projects these into the future with the subsequent thoughts, emotions, and reactions in the next moments (or microseconds). So the conditioned mind is always moving between the past and future, and this movement activity creates the illusion of time. It also creates the illusion of “I” consciousness. Both time and the ego are simultaneously created through the deepest inner activity of the mind, generated by ignorance and desire.
The practice of mindfulness or vipassana meditation is essentially a practice of keeping the attention in the present moment, being aware of whatever the body and mind is doing in the present moment. We try not to let the mind get carried away with attraction or aversion or allow it to stay lost in thought. We tune the attention on the flow of impermanence as it arises and passes away through the six senses. We try to watch and let go of resistance to discomfort or pain, to open up and relax more and more into the present.
‘”Buddhi” in Sanskrit means the “pure intellect/’ the mind which is free from the conditioned influence of the emotions so that no biased or prejudiced observations or deductions are construed The minds of most people operate under all kinds of biases and perversions so that all of their perceptions and thoughts are tainted and conditioned to function in set patterns In this way they can never perceive things in their true nature. The power and scope of their mind remains limited and confined. The Buddha, the Awakened One, was one who had freed his faculty of intellect from all distortions in order to clarify it to the greatest possible degree. From that point he was able to develop an acute awareness and insight into how the mind and body function together As his insight deepened he discerned the why and wherefore of the mind and body and all the phenomena related to them Through his perfected insight the Buddha saw the complete cycle of cause and effect, the law of Karma as it pertains to the elements of mind and matter, and directly experienced how it operates.
He saw that the root cause of the suffering and unhappiness which living beings experience is rooted in their own mind. By cultivating awareness and acquiring control over the operation of the mind a person can alter, eliminate, and destroy those root causes which bring misery, sorrow, and frustration in his life. He can create and develop other root causes which will bring about the gradual and eventual ending of all sorrow and confusion. He would then be free from all doubts, regrets, remorse, anxiety, and restlessness which would disturb his well-being; he would be an inspiration for others and be able to help them effectively.
That is exactly the teaching and practice which the Buddha first discovered for himself and then, out of great compassion, explained and methodically offered to the world The Buddha was the great doctor of the mind who cured his own mind of the great disease-ego/conceit. He was also able to expound and describe in detail the cure by which any person could likewise purge his mind of the great affliction called “Ego,'” and of all of the attendant sorrow, pain, and grief which inevitably accompanies such a disease. So an appropriate title for those Teachings which are called Buddhism could well be termed ‘The Way to Peace and Happiness.”
When we can rest the mind (consciousness) more and more in the Present, then the past and future, desire and the ego all start dissolving. And with this suffering also vanishes. This is direct experience of the Dhamma, of the Four Noble Truths.
Depending on how you view the term ego, or how you chose to structure the consciousness we have to formulate the relationship you have with yourself, the result can have some profound metaphysical applications to the way you live your life, and some of the problems you can find yourself in while negotiating these set of rules you have mapped out for yourself.
The Wiktionary definition adopts this version from 1998, Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth; When every thought absorbs your attention completely, when you are so identified with the voice in your head and the emotions that accompany it that you lose yourself in every thought and every emotion, then you are totally identified with form and therefore in the grip of ego. Ego is a conglomeration of recurring thought forms and conditioned mental-emotional patterns that are invested with a sense of I, a sense of self.
The attachment that a person makes to the idea of who they are is an example of how this bonding of the idea of themselves goes into the psychological identification of themselves.
Tis a sorrowful epilogue to man when we have to negotiate those in power that sustain great cadences of problems resulting from ego.
“It was the general opinion of ancient nations, that the divinity alone was adequate to the important office of giving laws to men… and modern nations, in the consecrations of kings, and in several superstitious chimeras of divine rights in princes and nobles, are nearly unanimous in preserving remnants of it… Is the jealousy of power, and the envy of superiority, so strong in all men, that no considerations of public or private utility are sufficient to engage their submission to rules for their own happiness? Or is the disposition to imposture so prevalent in men of experience, that their private views of ambition and avarice can be accomplished only by artifice? — … There is nothing in which mankind have been more unanimous; yet nothing can be inferred from it more than this, that the multitude have always been credulous, and the few artful. The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature: and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had any interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the inspiration of heaven, any more than those at work upon ships or houses, or labouring in merchandize or agriculture: it will for ever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses. As Copley painted Chatham, West, Wolf, and Trumbull, Warren and Montgomery; as Dwight, Barlow, Trumbull, and Humphries composed their verse, and Belknap and Ramzay history; as Godfrey invented his quadrant, and Rittenhouse his planetarium; as Boylston practised inoculation, and Franklin electricity; as Paine exposed the mistakes of Raynal, and Jefferson those of Buffon, so unphilosophically borrowed from the Recherches Philosophiques sur les Américains those despicable dreams of de Pauw — neither the people, nor their conventions, committees, or sub-committees, considered legislation in any other light than ordinary arts and sciences, only as of more importance. Called without expectation, and compelled without previous inclination, though undoubtedly at the best period of time both for England and America, to erect suddenly new systems of laws for their future government, they adopted the method of a wise architect, in erecting a new palace for the residence of his sovereign. They determined to consult Vitruvius, Palladio, and all other writers of reputation in the art; to examine the most celebrated buildings, whether they remain entire or in ruins; compare these with the principles of writers; and enquire how far both the theories and models were founded in nature, or created by fancy: and, when this should be done, as far as their circumstances would allow, to adopt the advantages, and reject the inconveniences, of all. Unembarrassed by attachments to noble families, hereditary lines and successions, or any considerations of royal blood, even the pious mystery of holy oil had no more influence than that other of holy water: the people universally were too enlightened to be imposed on by artifice; and their leaders, or more properly followers, were men of too much honour to attempt it. Thirteen governments thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favour of the rights of mankind.
[Preface to ‘A Defence of the Constitutions of the United States of America’, 1787]”
― John Adams,