Losing the ego... what's up with that? In most religions, particularly Eastern ones, this is supposed to be a supreme goal of spirituality. Yet no one has ever seen an "ego," much less the absence of one.
I've come to feel that "losing the ego" is one of those phrases that sounds like it means something -- and gets repeated in sermons, satsangs, and such as if it did -- but actually points to an absurdity.
How would a person without an ego, a sense of "I," personal desire, look? How would he or she be different from other people? Could we distinguish a no-ego person from an ego person?
Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest who I've praised as a spiritual rebel, addresses these questions in "Awareness." I started to re-read this book in a fashion that, in my old true believing days, I would have called miraculous.
Now, the word I'd use is curious. Meaning, interesting in an I'm clueless about what it means fashion.
The day after I wrote my "The Meaning of Life? Life" post, I was drawn to peruse my bookcase for some fresh pre-meditation reading. Scanning the many spiritual, philosophical, and mystical titles, I picked up de Mello's "Taking Flight" -- which I hadn't looked at in a long time.
Flipping to a page at random, I saw one highlighted passage:
For the secret of life is to be found in life itself -- not in doctrines about it.
"Well, far out!" I thought. "A message from God. But wait! I don't believe in God. So, I guess it's just a message."
I put the book back. I chose "Awareness" instead. Here's some quotes on the ego question:
I said there were two types of selfishness; maybe I should have said three. First, when I do something, or rather, when I give myself the pleasure of pleasing myself; second, when I give myself the pleasure of pleasing others. Don't take pride in that. Don't think you're a great person. You're a very ordinary person, but you've got refined tastes.
Then you've got the third type, which is the worst: when you do something good so that you won't get a bad feeling. It doesn't give you a good feeling to do it; it gives you a bad feeling to do it. You've making loving sacrifices but you're grumbling... That's the worst kind of charity, when you're doing something so you won't get a bad feeling.
...Say this scrap of paper is a billion-dollar check. Ah, I must renounce it, the gospel says, I must give it up if I want eternal life. Are you going to substitute one greed -- a spiritual greed -- for the other greed?
Before, you had a worldly ego and now you've got a spiritual ego, but you've got an ego all the same, a refined one and one more difficult to cope with.
Right on. I much prefer worldly assholes to spiritual assholes.
If you're going to be a jerk, and we all are in varying degrees of jerkiosity, why not be a straightforward Yes, I am jerk? That's so much more honest than being an I'm just a humble servant of God (or guru) jerk.
De Mello says, and I agree, that everybody without exception does what they do because it makes them feel better than doing something else. Like an old friend used to say, "We're pleasure-seeking missiles." We lock on to the goal of happiness and fly in that direction.
Self-sacrifice, love, charity. These are all ways people use to feel happy. Some other ways are self-assertion, hatred, possessiveness. Different strokes for different folks, all directed toward feeling good.
Ego is there in every case. With true believers, it just gets covered up under a layer of holier-than-thouness.
Not to mention names, but one of them is mine, I came to see the truth of this when I worked with high-ranking sevadars in the Radha Soami Satsang Beas organization. I'd always believed that decades of spiritual practice, meditating with love and devotion just as the guru instructed, would cause someone to be a better person.
What I found, though, was that big egos, controlling natures, and selfish desires simply were transmuted into a subtler form. Like De Mello says, this made someone's jerkiosity more difficult to discern -- but it was still there.
Think of all the good deeds you've done, or of some of them (because I'm only giving you a few seconds). Now understand that they really sprang from self-interest, whether you knew it or not. What happens to your pride? What happens to your vanity?
What happens to that good feeling you gave yourself, that pat on the back every time you did something that you thought was so charitable? It gets flattened out, doesn't it?
What happens to that looking down at your neighbor who you thought was so selfish? The whole thing changes, doesn't it?
"Well," you say, "my neighbor has coarser tastes than I do."
You're the more dangerous person, you really are. Jesus Christ seems to have had less trouble with the other type than with your type. Much less trouble. He ran into trouble with people who were really convinced they were good.
Other types didn't seem to give him much trouble at all, the ones who were openly selfish and knew it.
Yes, that's me. Now that you've read this post, leave me a comment. Tell me how much you love what I wrote! Make me feel good!
If you do, you'll feel good too. And that's what life is all about.