Tracing the Ego of Mankind – Eastern Traditions

The Perennial Philosophy was committed to writing over twenty-five centuries ago and was expressed in many different forms. It has been spoken in almost all the languages of Asia and Europe and has made use of the terminology and traditions of all of the higher religions.

At the core of the Perennial Philosophy are four fundamental doctrines: 1) The physical world and the spiritual world are the manifestation of a Higher Power, within which everything has it‟s being, and without which, would be nonexistent. 2) Humans are capable of more than just knowing about the Higher Power. They can also realize its existence by direct intuition thereby uniting the knower with the known. 3) Man has a dual nature; his ego or external self, and his eternal Self which is the inner man or spark of Divinity within the soul. 4) Man‟s life on earth has only one purpose and one end; that is to recognize his eternal Self and to become one with the Higher Power.

From the Perennial Philosophy, one can see that ego has been a concern of humanity for all of recorded history. Over time man has dealt with his ego in a variety of ways. In the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita, we read about the great warrior, Arjuna who asks his friend, Krishna (an enlightened being) how an illumined soul may be recognized. Krishna says to him: “He knows peace who has forgotten desire; He lives without craving, free from ego, free from pride.”

Krishna explains even more about the nature of ego when he identifies the three gunas or bonds that tie man to his mortal existence. It seems sattwa/rajas/tamas are the egos search for happiness and longing for knowledge/ the egos thirst for pleasure and possessions/and the egos delusion and ignorance about reality. Krishna tells Arjuna that man will be made free and become immortal when he has overcome the gunas and no longer yearns for them.

The Hindu tradition was a critical force in the development of Buddhism. Yet, there is a difference in how they perceive the ego and its role in physical life. Whereas Hindus seek to suppress ego, Buddhists seek to walk the Middle Path. This idea of a middle path is explained in an ancient sutra that tells a story called “The Parable of the Bird”.

The story tells of a particular royal palace in which there was a daily ritual of selecting plump birds from a large flock to be served at the king‟s table. One of the birds, who had been captured and kept in the flock, observed this selection process and secretly in his heart considered his fate; if he gorged himself and became obese, he reasoned that he would surely be slaughtered and devoured. However, if he did not eat, he knew that he would perish. In either event, he knew he would not escape death. He determined that it would be best to eat just the right amount so that he could live a long life. From that point on, he adequately reduced his food intake shrinking himself to the size of the holes in the net meshing of his bird cage. He then flew out into open air and became free.

This story suggests that the Middle Path is a philosophy of balance through moderation. It‟s actually more than that. The Middle Path seeks to attain a nature of emptiness. It recognizes that pain and hardship will always exist in the world and that joy, pleasure, and happiness will as well. The state of emptiness is a non-emotional, non-egocentric reaction to these events.

In the Samyuktagama, it says “One who thinks of impermanence will understand the truth of ego-lessness. The Enlightened One lives in the state of ego-lessness, renounces self-conceit and hence progresses towards liberation and Nirvana.”

The Middle Path is therefore more than a philosophy of moderation. It seeks to help one understand that physical life is impermanent and spiritual life is eternal. What happens in the physical life is of less concern (this too shall pass) than what happens in the spiritual life.

Tracing the Ego of Mankind – Reviewing the Literature

Ancient Hindu texts are a rich source of insight into the nature of man‟s ego.

“…The ego gropes in darkness, while the Self lives in light…”  ~ The Katha Upanishad

“The ego is like a stick dividing water in two. It creates the impression that you are one and I am another. When the ego vanishes you will realize that Brahman is your own inner consciousness.”  ~ Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

Ancient Eastern religious texts are available primarily as translations and excerpts. They are filled with references to ego and advice for living with or managing ego. Ego appears to have been a very key concept in understanding their relationship to God.

The Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions are considered to be Western traditions and are relatively young at about 2,000 years old. The basis of Jewish sacred texts is the Torah, which became the first five books of the Bible used by Christianity. The principal message of the Torah is the absolute unity of God, His creation of the world and His concern for it.

The Koran is the sacred text of Islam. However, most of the Western world is more familiar with the wisdom provided by the poet, Rumi; also a Sunni Muslim Islamic Jurist, a theologian and Sufi mystic. His current popularity is the result of his tolerance of all religions, and the emphasis he placed on love and charity in his teachings.

“If the foot of the trees were not tied to earth, they would be pursuing me. For I have blossomed so much, I am the envy of the gardens.”  ~ Rumi

“The idol of your self is the mother of all idols. To regard the self as easy to subdue is a mistake.”  ~ Rumi

Sylvia Brown provides a concise description of many indigenous and Native American spiritual beliefs in her book End of Days. The recurring theme in these traditions is a deep regard for the earth and for the plant and animal kingdoms. This regard for animate and inanimate creation outside of the human being demonstrates an awareness of the Oneness of creation and sensitivity to the damaging power of ego.

Clearly, man has had ample opportunity to examine the state of his ego long before Sigmund Freud gave us a proper name and definition for it. It appears that Freud ushered in a new era of thought regarding ego. The ways in which he dissected, analyzed, and proposed curing its ailments, removed any and all spiritual consideration. This mentality became the basis for psychology, sociology and much of the self-help literature that appeared through the latter half of the twentieth century.

The Western world has embraced science and disregarded ego almost since the inception of Christianity. The sacred texts of the Western world provided ample guidance on the matter of ego, yet it appears largely ignored. In fact, strong ego is even admired in certain occupations; including lawyers, politicians, sports figures, and business leaders.

Now as we have entered the twenty-first century we are seeing a new kind of literature entering the market. Interestingly, this literature is the result of science proving what spirituality has been telling us since ancient times.

The Divine Matrix by Gregg Braden, describes a web of energy that connects absolutely everything in the universe. Miraculously, this web is affected by emotion pointing directly back to the power of each individual to influence the world by their thoughts.

Blinded by Science by Matthew Silverstone, investigates the ground-breaking principle that everything vibrates and therefore has an effect on everything else. Water is particularly susceptible to vibration, holding on to it for long periods of time. This has implications for sleep disorders, homeopathy, healing, body rhythms, lunar cycles and much more.

The rise in quantum physics, which is where these amazing new discoveries are being made, coincides with a spiritual movement called Oneness. Authors like Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, Don Miguel Ruiz and others, are capturing large audiences, hungry for a gentler life filled with meaning and purpose. 

The literature seems to mimic the circle of life. We begin knowing that ego separates us from the world; we succumb to the darkness of our ego and wreak havoc on the world; and finally we experience an awakening which brings us back to understanding that beyond our ego, we are all one.

The challenge before us is to fashion a peaceful world where some live in ego while others are awakening to the desire to transcend it. The Awakening is in its infancy, and it seems the ramifications of the coming change haven‟t dawned on the world as yet. Books like Suze Orman’s Action Plan: New Rules for New Times may be just the beginning of what we are going to see in coming years. Orman‟s book is an acknowledgement that we are entering a new economic era that promises to be difficult and long term. Practical books like this one help everyone navigate through the changes that are occurring, without regard to one‟s level of spiritual enlightenment.

Tracing the Ego of Mankind – Introduction

With every passing day we see more evidence of the audacity of man’s ego. We are witness to a world that is being thrust forward as man’s inventiveness has climbed exponentially, and we are witness to his ever increasing self confidence – a confidence that leads him to believe, perhaps rightly so, that anything is possible.

Fortunes have been created in ways never before imaginable, through the size and marketing of one’s ideas, talent, and determination rather than through the strength of one’s army or the prominence of one’s ancestors. Luxuries previously available only to royalty have become available to the common man. Monarchies have relinquished their previous status to the new found power and influence of the self-made industrialists and financiers. World leaders are more often the product of democracy than birth; a democracy that is essential to the capitalist philosophy which is now driving the world’s economy.

The road to prosperity has been rough. The world has endured many wars, and has endured increasingly frequent and widespread economic hardship. Collectively we seem to accept these problems as a natural part of life, while we continue to strive for world peace and an end to hunger. Overall, we believe we are making progress on the problems that define our daily lives. Perhaps this progress is the result of man’s ego; his ability to know what he wants, to figure out how to get it, and to take action. Man’s self confidence has never been higher, nor has his ego been more dominant.

We are now seeing the breakdown of moral standards among our world leaders, politicians, teachers and clergy. Hardly a day goes by that a sex scandal isn’t announced; and hardly a day goes by that those stories aren’t spun to make them seem more palatable. Our traditional heroes have become headline news for drugs, promiscuity and reckless behavior. Sadly, ordinary people seem to be losing their own moral compass as well.

The news has become filled with tragic stories of youth who are being marginalized and bullied. Feeling misunderstood and unsupported they turn to suicide or worse yet, mass murder. It’s not just our youth experiencing this disillusionment; vast segments of our general workforce are feeling it as well. “Going postal” has become common terminology for this phenomenon. For many, even home is not a place of refuge from a world losing control of better judgment. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 1999 there were 791,210 reports of domestic violence with 1,642 resulting in death of the victim.

Among the pressures driving our dissatisfaction is the rise of marketing. Marketers have made fortunes for the businesses they serve by convincing the world that everyone needs their products or services in order to; be sexier, be happier, have more fun, keep up with others, and demonstrate their success. Unlike advertising, which helps you find what you need, marketing caters to the ego. The ego wants to be special; to have at least what others have, and preferably more. Marketers understand the desires of the ego and know how to push ones buttons without regard for individual needs or capabilities. And so, fewer and fewer companies make more and more money, much of which they spend on lobbying to create the political environment that best serves their interests. We call these systems capitalism and democracy, and lost in our egoistic ways, we think they represent the best systems for the rest of the world to follow.

While these problems are substantial, there may be an even bigger problem with man’s ego-centered approach to life. In his zeal to solve medical mysteries, provide cheap energy, end world hunger, and improve daily life, he has rushed into sciences he barely understands. This lack of understanding has steadily depleted the ozone layer, led to earthquakes from fracking for natural gas, poisoned millions of people with radiation, created droughts in some places and floods in others, and led to wars over natural resources and the attendant loss of many lives.

As man works to solve the problems of the world he seems to be creating even bigger problems. The biggest problem may be the tunnel vision that has developed as a result of greed. The wheels of our current science are lubricated with money. Given a choice between money and responsible use of earth’s resources, money usually prevails. All people share in this problem as co-conspirators until such a time as we are ready to exert our collective will to make change happen.

As we have watched man’s magnificent ego solve mysteries and create new things we’ve experienced a time in this world that will go down in history for its innovation, growth, and abundance. At the same time however, we are witnessing a great divide in the minds of people everywhere. The divide seems to be between those who relish in the magnificence of individualism and those who believe we need to develop our capacity for cooperation. This divide cannot be ignored as its ability to polarize people is growing in strength with each new war, epidemic, and natural disaster.

The investigation undertaken here will be a journey through mans understanding of his ego. From the writings of the world’s oldest religions to the contemporary self-help books, we will look at what man thinks he knows about himself and about his relationship with the world around him. From this study will emerge a critical view of the human ego and how it has shaped the world in which we live.