Ego On The Spiritual Path
end the bizarre tyranny of ego is why we go on the spiritual path, but the resourcefulness
of ego is almost infinite and it can at every stage sabotage and pervert our desire
to be free of it.
The truth is simple, and the teachings are extremely clear;
but I have seen again and again, with great sadness, that as soon as they begin
to touch and move us, ego tries to complicate them because it knows it is fundamentally
At the beginning, when we first become fascinated by the spiritual
path and all its possibilities, ego may even encourage us and say: "This
is really wonderful. Just the thing for you! This teaching makes total sense!"
when we say we want to try meditation practice, or go on a retreat, ego will croon:
"What a marvelous idea! Why don't I come with you. We can both learn something."
All through the honeymoon period of our spiritual development, ego will keep urging
us on: "This is wonderful- it's so amazing, so inspiring..."
as soon as we enter what I call the "Kitchen sink" period of the spiritual
path, and the teachings begin to touch us deeply, unavoidably we are faced with
the truth of ourselves. As the ego is revealed, its sore spots are touched, and
all sorts of problems will start arising. It's as if a mirror we cannot look away
from were stuck in front of us. The mirror is totally clear, but there is an ugly,
glowering face in it, our own, staring back at us. We begin to rebel because we
hate what we see; we may strike out in anger and smash the mirror, but it will
only shatter into hundreds of identical ugly faces, all still staring at us.
is the time we begin to rage and complain bitterly; and where is our ego? Standing
staunchly by our side, egging us on: "You're quite right, this is outrageous
and unbearable. Don't stand for it!" As we listen enthralled, ego goes on
to conjure up all sorts of doubts and demented emotions, throwing fuel on the
fire: "Can't you see now this is not the right teaching for you? I told you
so all along! Can't you see he is not your teacher? After all, you are an intelligent,
modern, sophisticated Western person, and exotic things like Zen, Sufism, meditation,
Tibetan Buddhism belong to foreign, Eastern cultures. What possible use could
a philosophy made up in the Himalayas a thousand years ago be to you?"
ego watches us gleefully become more and more ensnared in its web, it will even
blame all the pain, loneliness, and difficulties we are going through as we come
to know ourselves on the teaching, and even on the teacher: "These gurus
don't care anyway, whatever you're going through. They are only out to exploit
you. They just use words like 'compassion' and 'devotion' to get you in their
Ego is so clever that it can twist the teachings for its own
purposes; after all, "The devil can quote scriptures for his own ends."
Ego's ultimate weapon is to point its finger hypocritically at the teach and his
followers, and say: "No one around here seems to be living up to the truth
of the teachings!" Now ego poses as the righteous arbiter of all conduct:
the shrewdest position of all from which to undermine your faith, and erode whatever
devotion and commitment to spiritual change you have.
Yet however hard ego
may try to sabotage the spiritual path, if you continue on it, and work deeply
with the practice of meditation, you will begin slowly to realize just how gulled
you have been by ego's promises: false hopes and false fears. Slowly you begin
to understand that both hopes and fear are enemies of our peace of mind; hopes
deceive you, and leave you empty and disappointed, and fears paralyze you in the
narrow cell of your fake identity.
You begin to see also just how all-encompassing
the sway of ego has been over your meditation, when you are momentarily released
from grasping, you glimpse the exhilarating spaciousness of your true nature.
You realize that for years, your ego, like a crazy con artist, has been swindling
you with schemes and plans and promises that have never been real and have only
brought you to inner bankruptcy. When, in the equanimity of meditation, you see
this, without any consolation or desire to cover up what you've discovered, all
the plans and schemes reveal themselves as hollow and start to crumble.
is not a purely destructive process. For alongside an extremely precise and sometimes
painful realization of the fraudulence and virtual criminality of your ego, and
everyone else's, grows a sense of inner expansiveness, a direct knowledge of the
"egolessness" and interdependence of all things, and that vivid and
generous humor that is the hallmark of freedom.
Because you have learned through
discipline to simplify your life, and so reduce the opportunities for ego to seduce
you; and because you have practiced the mindfulness of meditation, and through
it loosened the hold of aggression, clinging, and negativity on your whole being,
the wisdom of insight can slowly dawn. And in the all-revealing clarity of its
sunlight this insight can show you, distinctly and directly, both the subtlest
workings of your own mind and the nature of reality."