The ego is that function of consciousness by which we identify with the mind and the material body, the material world and our roles within it. It sustains in us the illusion of duality. It is the very idea that we are separate from the creation, separate from one another, and separate from God. But the ego itself is a part of that grand illusion. When we talk about the ego and the higher self, we are speaking in dualistic terms. We’re talking about something that is separate from our true self. But how can the ego be separate when the thing we are talking about is the very thing that creates the illusion of separation?
“Ego” is just a word we use to identify that part of us that identifies our parts. Ultimately there is no ego. But when we talk about it, we breathe life into it. When we struggle to dissolve it, we give strength to it. The ego wants us to believe that it exists so that it can exist. But it’s our belief in its existence which gives it validity.
We talk about dissolving the ego, but how can we dissolve something that isn’t real? The only power it has is the power we give to it by believing it’s something real; something to be conquered.
As soon as we make the ego our enemy we find ourselves caught up the dynamic of good and evil. We find ourselves in resistance, struggle and conflict. We are once again thinking in terms of duality, which is exactly what the ego requires in order to thrive. We begin to personify the ego; to make it into an entity with its own personality and agenda. We give it weapons and power and then we go to war against it. And the more we fight against it, the more powerful it becomes.
So much of our thought and energy is expended in trying to conquer this mysterious force we call “ego”. But why are we so eager to get rid of it? Is it possible to be totally rid of it? And is it even necessary? Does it not serve some purpose?
We often say that it’s the ego that prevents us from seeing reality as it truly is. Those who claim to have transcended it say that ultimately this entire universe, in all of its myriad complexities, is merely an illusion; that ultimately everything in the universe breaks down to a single point of unified oneness, and therefore all duality is an illusion.
The universe, as we perceive it, may indeed be an illusion; a divine play in which the one is simultaneously performing all the various roles, and you and I are nothing more than characters on the stage. The ego, then, is our character identity. But more than this, it allows our characters to experience a sense of individuality; to become seemingly separate from one another. And this, in turn, allows for interaction and relationship.
The play is so convincingly real that we forget we’re just playing a role. We lose ourselves in the part, and become fully convinced that we are the character. Whatever deep underlying connection exists between characters, whatever identification we may have had with the oneness of all being, has been covered over by the illusory veil of individual identity. We have become lost in the world, longing for re-connection. But most of us don’t really know what it is we are yearning for. We just feel a sense that something is missing, and it’s not clear what that is. So we try to fill that space with anything and everything, and yet nothing seems to satisfy our thirst.
This longing creates in us a general sense of discontent. And the more we try to satiate it with material indulgences, the more we seem to suffer. So at some point we become aware that there is some sort of illusory force in the universe preventing us from realizing who we really are, and we tend to demonize it. We make it our enemy.
When we begin to take notice of the illusory nature of this world and the suffering that arises from our attachment to it, we find ourselves desiring to escape. But we find that this thing we call “ego” seems to be standing in our way. And so we think that in order to escape the world we must destroy the ego.
Now the problem really isn’t the ego. After all, the ego is just a natural function and a necessary part of our existence here in the material world. It’s only when we lose sight of the bigger picture, and become so absorbed in material suffering that the ego becomes a “problem.”
Understanding the nature and function of the ego, and remembering who we really are, may both be essential in transcending suffering. But do we need to dissolve the ego entirely? It is not enough to simply reduce it; to recognize that it’s a projection of the self, but not the self in its entirety.
Our eagerness to elude it and to escape the world is rooted in our very suffering. It’s a kind of desperation; an illusion all of its own. It’s ultimately this suffering which we are eager to escape. And it’s our eagerness to escape it which keeps us bound in suffering.
But it isn’t the world which we must escape, nor the ego. The world is not the cause of our suffering. Suffering is a reaction to the world, but it’s not something imposed upon us by some external force. It’s something which arises from within. And it can’t be conquered through any sort of struggle or conflict. If it’s to be transcended, perhaps it’s by simply surrendering to what is without any kind of resistance.
We tend to focus our energy on destroying the ego because we know that without the ego, we might lose all identification and individuality. To dissolve the ego would be to absorb back into that field of oneness from which everything arises. And I’m not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with that. But what’s so wrong with being in the world? And more importantly, why are we so desperate to escape it?
Perhaps we need to examine our aversion to the world. Why are we so eager to escape? Our resistance to the world may be the very thing keeping us trapped in it. If you really believe that the ego isn’t who you really are and that the world is just an illusion, then why take anything seriously, especially suffering?
The world exists. It may not be real, but it exists. And for the time being we find ourselves here within it. So why do we make it into a personal hell by resisting it, by fighting against it? Why not make the best of it? Why not play joyfully like children, exploring, discovering, learning and laughing?.