Here I would like to discuss something very important for those who desire to become awakened. It is a problem or a hindrance that many of us, if not most of us, will experience during our journey. Unfortunately, it is such a tricky thing that we cannot always see it as true, like a grand illusion, and thus some of us can never move beyond its grips. It is like a shadow of the mind, when we carelessly look for it, it is not there thus we cannot rid ourselves of it. It is the “enlightened ego”.
There are many viable paths to take while searching for awakening, so instead of fixating on describing what is the ‘best’ path or method for achieving this, I have chosen to go beyond that and speak of the problems that are a commonality to all these paths. Since the “enlightened ego” is the broadest, most generalized form of description to categorize our hindrances, I have decided to start here and then follow this thread up with others that break down these problems in even further detail.
I too have suffered from this, and still do, but I have identified this problem as true and begun to watch my thoughts closely to see how and why this is happening, insofar as the consequences of its presence within me, and thus I have come to realize many things about it that I would like to share with you.
It shall be known that many of those seekers who suffer from an “enlightened ego” have already had a deep realization of some sort or at least a brief glimpse into the awakened state. That is how they have come to this problem. Whether they have concluded that things may not be what they seem as quantum scientists are finding, or that society and its worldly desires are misleading them away from their true Self as Krishnamurti and Sri Ramana Maharshi spoke of, or they had a brief glimpse into the Oneness of all things that Jesus taught, or began to see the truth behind the Buddha’s teaching of Anatta (no individual self)… they have come to a ‘road block’, the ego, that has kept them from achieving full realization.
In fact, many of us seekers do not stop and study the egos validity when we run into this problem as maybe we should, but instead we misidentify it for something else and thus as we continue our search for awakening we are in turn only “enlightening our ego”, not our Self. This is a major problem that creates even more delusion for us then we had before, for, it is nothing but another form of the “dream state”.
(To be clear, when I use the word “Self” with a capitol S, I am referring to the absolute Self that pervades all of reality, the oneness that connects everything. Others may call this God, Universal Consciousness/Energy, or something else. And when I use the word “self” with a small s, I am referring to the sense of individual or independent-self, or the ego. Do not fixate on these things too deeply right now as they are merely symbols to point to a higher meaning that is difficult to explain in a short amount of words.)
One of the biggest consequences a seeker who “enlightens his/her ego” will find is that of a stronger sense of superiority. We begin to look at ourselves as already awakened or wise and thus we look at everyone else in society who does not speak of the same things as un-awakened or unwise. Our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, bosses, leaders… all of them suddenly become the ‘sheep’ while we remain the ‘good guys’, the awakened, in our mind. We see them as blind to reality and judge them accordingly for this. Thus we seek to awaken them by telling them our perspective on life, on reality, and when they reject this notion or do not understand what we are saying we become frustrated and angry. This of course only shows how un-awakened we truly are, for, a truly awakened person will not act out in frustration or anger at anyone, even those who are rejecting what we ‘know’ to be the truth. Christ and Buddha are perfect examples of this.
From my own experience I can relate to this manner of thinking, this sense of ‘awakened superiority’. What’s crazy is I have always been a rather humble and quiet person who listened more than I projected, befriending people of all social classes, races, cultures and religions. However, after I began searching for higher realizations, for awakening, I all of a sudden lost this sense of humility, of being able to listen without judging or projecting my own thoughts.
One day, about a year ago, I came to a deeper conclusion than I ever had before that the ego was not only ‘bad’, but it was the cause of all of our conflict and problems. At that time I was volunteering for a non-profit organization helping minorities get employment, health care and find better schooling for their children. We began to work on building our own school, one directed towards offering a better education for minorities and closing the achievement gaps between White and Black students. Many people in the community stepped up to help and the leader of this organization was/is a truly wise and compassionate man. However, I all of a sudden began to see these peoples egos more-so than I saw their selfless motivation. I would be sitting in on meetings with very important community leaders, business owners and politicians, who were speaking of very important social issues but all I could hear was nothing but their egos. Everything I heard was, “I have accomplished this and that with my life, I feel this way or that way about what you’re saying, I want to see this or that happen, I want to give this person or that person an award…” By the end of these meetings I would literally have no clue what was going on, all I knew was I didn’t like these people. All I knew was that they were egotistical ‘sheep’ who couldn’t think outside of the box, who couldn’t do anything without patting themselves on their backs or without claiming a position of authority in which they could hand out awards or compliments to others who agreed with them. It literally drove me crazy to the point I had to remove myself from that position.
Later on looking back on this situation I have realized something truly shocking, that it wasn’t their egos creating this problem for me but it was my own ego that was creating this problem. I surely thought my sense of Self had moved beyond the ego, for, I had come to the realization that the ego was messing everything up. But to the contrary, it was my ego that had this realization, not my Self. So in the end my ego was blinding my sense of Self, and it was hiding from my sense of Self by focusing in on everyone else’s egos as the problem. It wasn’t until I spent a good amount of time reflecting on why no one understood me, or felt the same way as I did, that I came to the realization that I had “enlightened my ego” and not my sense of Self. It wasn’t until I had this realization that I found out that my dislike for ‘their’ egoic projection of superiority over others arose from my own egoic sense of superiority over them. Sure, they may have had this problem too, but that was not something productive for me to focus on. It only hindered my ability to listen to them, insofar as hindered my ability to progress further in my spiritual awakening.
In other words, if you find yourself feeling superior over others because you have had some sort of a realization or glimpse at awakening, you have done nothing but “enlightened your ego”, not your sense of Self. And that is just another form of the “dream state”, so in fact, you are no more wise or awakened than them.
Another consequence of “enlightening the ego” is depression. Some of the things we come to realize begin to truly disturb us as we think about their validity. Of course this is only because we are contemplating these things through the ego and the ego does not like these realizations so it paints them as threatening or Self-defeating, when in actuality they are empowering and self/ego-defeating. It is like a corrupt or unmoral politician who gets caught up in his own feces pile and seeks to paint the accuser as the bad guy to divert attention away from his own wrong doings.
When we have a realization, such that; our perception of individual self is merely an illusion and nothing more than the construct of our ego, or that free-choice is a very limited and illusionary thing, or that physical death is truly inescapable, or that suffering pervades all of life and in every form, or any other truly ego shocking revelation, it literally can break some of us. Some people begin to look at life as having no meaning, no purpose, as being inescapable pain, and thus become severely depressed, hopeless, frustrated and angry. They may even run away from this feeling, quit their search for awakening, and retreat back into the ego for safety. This is very normal and has happened to many people including myself.
At one point I became so lost in these feelings and ideas that I seriously contemplated suicide. I began to train in sensory deprivation and deep meditation in hopes of one day being able to self-immolate myself for a worthy cause, like monks did during the Vietnam War and like that guy did recently in Egypt. The things I was contemplating on, like: “Who am I? What is reality? What is intrinsically right and wrong? How did the universe come into being? Where is this all heading?”... on and on, left me with only more and more questions until I felt completely overwhelmed. I could find no answers that satisfied my egoic mind. It was like my ego was running me in circles and saying, “It’s all good, you may never find the answers to satisfy me but you must keep searching.”
That is until I just let go of these questions and ideas. I realized my ego wanted to know things that only my higher sense of Self could. I realized many of these questions could not be conceptually answered in any satisfactory way for my ego and so I decided to just try and find harmony with my sense of Self, with nature as it is, and with the process of life in its totality. I realized that it was my ego who was searching for these answers, and doing so forcefully, thus I was merely “enlightening my ego” and not my sense of Self. I realized sometimes we just need to let go of what we are searching for to find out its true meaning.
That may not make sense to you right now, but if you feel depressed about the things you are contemplating on, or the things you have realized, I suggest you just let go of them and not forcefully focus on them anymore. That doesn’t mean you should hide from them or create optimistic illusions for yourself to feel better temporarily, as many positive psychologists recommend, but rather just let go of the whole idea of searching for anything, be that the truth or happiness or liberation. Just become a watcher, don’t judge anything or contemplate on its meaning deeply at all. Just be one with what you are experiencing and accept it as that, a simple experience.
Then when you feel better, when you are no longer so depressed, when you are no longer so attached to these concepts, ideas and realizations, you can again look at these things in a deeper more contemplative manner.
Ultimately we must remember that depression is rooted in the ego, and if we don’t feed the ego, it, thus depression, will starve and disappear from our minds. I am not promoting for you to get off of any medication if you are already on it, but just know that depression can be overcome without any psychological counseling or medication. It can be overcome by overcoming the desire to feed the constant bombardment of your ego on your mind, which is struggling to postulate itself as the prominent leader of your mind. Stop feeding the ego and your depression will begin to disappear, this I can attest to as true with my own personal experience.
I will continue this series of "Solving the Problems of Awakening" next with talking about some fundamental aspects of awakening, such as; what role sincerity and honesty have in the process of awakening, insofar as I will go into further detail of why the ego is so intrinsically natural within all of us and why it is always so damaging to us, even when it doesn’t seem like it is.
Hope you enjoy this as much as me!
P.S. If you have some things you’d like to add to this then please do so! I obviously, by no means, own the totality of truth.
"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but be in the mystery."