The nature of the ego

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Part 2 – This article

I briefly touched upon the subject of self-fulfilment during last Sunday’s workshop. That in turn reminded me of this article about the ego, which I have been wanting to write for a while but had almost completely forgotten about.

Some years ago I had a realisation that whenever we are looking for something outside ourselves, we are not giving that something to ourselves. If, for example, I am looking for a person to love me, it means that I am not giving myself enough love. This is true for all the other basic needs that are rooted in love, such as respect, attention, appreciation, meaning, etc.

To give ourselves these basic needs, in other words to fulfil ourselves, we need to realise that we are the source of these basic needs. When we do not realise that we, ourselves, are the source of love, life becomes more difficult to enjoy. Our behaviour becomes more externally oriented, because that is where we are seeking fulfilment. This ‘additional’ externally oriented behaviour is what is often perceived as caused by the ‘ego’. It is for example when we are seeking appreciation from others that we start boasting to others about ourselves, become vain, or some other behaviour that is associated with the ego.

I often thought the ego is some sort of thing inside me before I had this insight into it. I started to believe that the ego is something that is preventing me from experiencing ‘enlightenment’ and that it needs to be curtailed, controlled or defeated. I now realise that this approach to the ego is useless, because the ego is not a thing and so you cannot battle it. It is correct that it seems like the ego is unbeatable, for the simple reason that it does not exist. I experienced relief when I understood this.

The ego is simply a misunderstanding or misbelief about who and what we are. We are the source of all the basic human needs and my experience is that we start experiencing this more when we start to act according to that understanding.

Those who are familiar with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras can compare the explanation in this article to his explanation of the kleshas. Patanjali says that ignorance of our true nature (avidya) is the root cause of all suffering and that ‘I-ness’ (asmita) is a product of this ignorance.

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