Rehabilitating the idea of having an ego

One of the greatest casualties of the folk theory of nondual enlightenment is the attack on individuality and the notion of having an ego. We are told it’s not real, but also that this illusory, predatory, and parasitic thing is all that is keeping us from being enlightened Gods. It’s time to recover the notion of ego from its demonization by the misinformed culture of nonduality. Ego isn’t the problem, nor is the thought of being your ego.

The simple truth is that nonduality is present in any context of human awareness. The sense of being an individual is not the hurdle to knowing one’s nonduality, it’s the lack of recognition of the nonduality present right now. It’s not a problem of who you are, or who you think you are, it’s entirely a matter of what you are seeing when you look out through your point of view. Nonduality is always right there, in every perception you experience, in-between and underneath your feelings, thoughts and thought stream. Having an idea of being a person changes none of these truths. Unless of course, you’ve learned that is does and have decided to believe that, thus generating another conceptual displacement from the truth you’ve always lived in moment-to-moment.

The whole problem of “ego” began with a mistranslation of the Sanskrit term ahamkara, otherwise known as the knot of the heart. The semantics of this term are more akin to the feeling that serves as the belief in being our egos. We have every reason to believe we are our egos, so telling us we aren’t doesn’t really map well to our experience. However, we can recognize that it is only by this belief that we only seem to know ourselves as our ego. If we can recognize this belief within the context of nondual realization, the ahamkara is broken, and we are left with an always-on “sense” of being the nonduality—in a direct yet not describable way—and the ego, at once.

After all, it’s all you’ve ever known about yourself. That’s not something you can necessarily do away with. It’s the house the brain made for life’s incessant need to find comfort, the building materials being your life’s experiences as recorded by memory. Seems like that’s a lot to lose, compared to the much more compact notion that your individuality is a kind of absolute border to your sense of being, when in fact, it has never been anything other than borderlessness itself.

14 Thoughts on “Rehabilitating the idea of having an ego

  1. Neerav on August 11, 2013 at 3:43 pm said:

    Nope…….dead wrong! If you look at all of the authentic spiritual traditions, including Advaita Vedanta, they point to the ego (i.e. Satan or the devil) as the block towards realizing God as one’s true nature, as well as the realization of non-duality. The ego thrives on separateness and duality, including with respect to God and His creation, which is why they all talk of eliminating and transcending it in order to realize God as who one really or truly is.

    Of course, this fits in with the agenda of “Neo-Advaita”, which falsely advertises that Enlightenment is instant right here and right now as non-duality. This is also wrong. Sorry.

    • Jody Radzik on August 11, 2013 at 6:04 pm said:

      Wow. Ego = Satan? Every word you’ve typed in your comment was by the agency of your sense of self. Every word uttered by any sage or guru who has ever lived was also by that same agency. Creating a monster to either vanquish or run away from only splits you into two sides, both of which are false. I can tell there’s very little I can say that would change your mind, but thanks for reading nonetheless.

      • Neerav Trivedi on September 6, 2013 at 11:24 am said:

        Hi Jody,

        I think you missed this part of what he said:

        “One of the greatest casualties of the folk theory of nondual enlightenment is the attack on individuality and the notion of having an ego. We are told it’s not real, but also that this illusory, predatory, and parasitic thing is all that is keeping us from being enlightened Gods. It’s time to recover the notion of ego from its demonization by the misinformed culture of nonduality. Ego isn’t the problem, nor is the thought of being your ego.”

        Unfortunately, what the authentic spiritual traditions say is opposite to this.

        The ego and its games and tricks to make you think that you are the ego and its misidentifications. The “Tibetan Book of the Dead” say this as well. The ego makes us think that we are the ego or anything that the ego tries to make us identify ourselves as, which is the mind, body, intellect, senses, and the phenomenal world. The above statement is basically minimizing the ego such that it is not taken seriously, which goes against the spiritual traditions, which say otherwise. Sorry.

        • Jody Radzik on September 6, 2013 at 8:53 pm said:

          Due to cross-cultural translation issues, and the differences between ancient and modern psychology, the “authentic spiritual traditions” are pretty much wrong about what we commonly refer to as ego, IMO. To put it in the terms you’ve adopted here, it is only by ego that you can be against what you are terming ego. There is no escape from a sense of individual identity, what I call the ego, until you die. Furthermore, the sense of individual identity can and does exist quite comfortably within the context of nondual realization. You experientially understand that your sense of individuality is just an idea, rather than the ground of your being, but you still know yourself as the individual you’ve been all your life. Ego isn’t the problem, it’s having a problem with having an ego that’s the problem.

          • Neerav Trivedi on September 25, 2013 at 4:39 pm said:

            Oh I get it now…….you know…..many people talk of “loving” or “forgiving” the ego…….others talk about “hating it” and seeing it as an enemy. I say do neither, and instead, ignore it. Why give the ego unnecessary attention that it so craves?

          • Jody Radzik on September 25, 2013 at 4:47 pm said:

            Why see it as a pest that “craves” rather than the remarkable evolutionary adaptation it actually is?

  2. Peter Van Lierde on November 29, 2013 at 12:28 am said:

    There is a great sloka in the Brahmabindu and Amritabindhu Upanishad:
    “The mind is the cause of both bondage and liberation.”
    The ego is not the enemy in the scriptures, “avidya” more often is. But both “friend” and “enemy” belong to a dualistic view. As even the notion of dualistic and non-dualistic is.
    Language and concepts seem to throw us easily in there. So….. back to the above quote.

  3. bradley halfacre on December 13, 2013 at 3:45 pm said:

    Hallo Jody, this is the first time I have come across these pages . I am familiar with your Guruphilliac site and I think it is a great resource and hopefully helps seekers to sort the grain from the chaff, god knows there is a lot of chaff to sort through.
    Upon beginning to seek many persons are filled with self loathing and dislike of themselves, believing that is their ego’s are the “devil”, the problem that seems to driving their suffering. They are seeking relief from their minds which is all the ego is.
    This notion is not forced on them by the teacher neccessarily.

    Usually seekers do not see it ( the ego) as a good thing to be embraced so I don’t find it unusual that the ego is usually understood to be the source of suffering and something to be free from.
    If this was not your own experience during you time as a seeker then maybe that is why you see the issue differently.

    The ego ,the feeling of being a person, an individual, is not real if the definition of real is, “that which never changes”.

    It , is described as illusory because it, the ego, the thinking process brings forth the conviction,” I am a limited entity”. Upon discovery that “I am awareness”, it is not unreasonable to describe the former belief in individuality as an illusion , is it?
    Any mentor who used the two above concepts to help to point away from the conceptualising mind towards the nonconceptualising mind is helping in my opinion.
    There are many, many ways to arrive at the recognition of your original identity as awareness, your way or my way is not the only way, don’t you agree?
    I think that it would be helpful in general if this is recognised more in the genuine spiritual community, instead of almost everyone trying to shove their particular ideas down others throats so to speak.
    Having said that I still enjoy to read and discuss other persons concepts on the matter in the spirit that we will most likely have to agree to disagree on some of the details.
    Exposing and attacking obviously false flimm-flammers as you call them is something quite different.

    Regards, Brad.

    • Jody Radzik on December 13, 2013 at 6:42 pm said:

      Our sense of being individuals is nominally real. We can’t deny that we are two people engaged in communicating ideas. While the ego is illusory insofar as it’s essentially just an idea, it has been wildly successful as a product of evolution. The set of expectations that arrive when anticipating what it would be like to have no ego generate a whole series of conceptual objects which can only occlude, rather than reveal nonduality. Thus, we can reframe the problem of avidya around the ubiquity of nonduality rather than around the fact we have a sense of agency, one that works very well for us both pre- and post-realization. Denying it doesn’t change that it’s there and that it’s been the most powerful influence in our existence next to gravity. That’s what I’m trying to get at with this post.

  4. The sense of individuality that you mention remains the entire life disappears every night in deep sleep. The beautiful recognition of the nature of nondual awareness is that while awake it disappears as well. The permanent irrevocakable disappearance of this I am the body idea is Self-realization. We need not read any scriptures to confirm this. It is easily recognized here and now. Are you that unborn, undying nondual awareness or are you some individual body name? Of course you can say both, relatively you are so and so and ultimately you are awareness. The point is to realize here and now who you really absolutely are. Then there is nothing and everything to say about it.

    • Jody Radzik on May 9, 2014 at 7:54 am said:

      Being in deep sleep is an incapacitation. The Hindus may make a big deal over it, but the fact is that since nothing goes on there but sleeping, it has little bearing on the questions we ponder here.

  5. I’ve only recently come across the term ‘nondualism’ (which I think is misleading), but I have long been aware of the concept behind it. My argument against the idea is essentially the one you have outlined here; that it is simply dishonest to pretend you don’t have an ego (an individual self-sense), and I would go further to say that, in as far as human affairs are important, having an ego is our way of engaging meaningfully with those affairs. Pretending to not have an ego is a way of disconnecting from the temporary issues of human suffering, slavery etc. I also find it very ironic that some people get an egotistical ‘kick’ out of telling others how silly they are for having an ego. As for nondualism itself, it seems like something one would have to come to an understanding of on their own, and as yet I just don’t see it. Thanks for the piece Jody.

    • Jody Radzik on April 22, 2015 at 7:05 pm said:

      When attention is able to fall on awareness without (or between) objects of cognition, the nonduality of our awareness is known.

      • I’m sure you won’t be surprised to find that your response hasn’t helped (not to your discredit); I conceive of what you mean, but I simply do not understand it in any phenomenal sense. I see the world and it alienates me- you may consider my experience as ‘incorrect’ or damaged in some way, but this is my honest attempt to describe what consciousness is like for me. I am arguing from the perspective (with which I think you’d agree) that the phenomenal qualities of consciousness are in some way true (for instance, if I experience myself as an ego then I am an ego). I suppose a relevant question here would be to ask whether it matters how I perceive reality, given the temporary nature of this experience?

        P.S. Please ignore this comment if you’ve got better things to do, at any rate i’m enjoying just reading through the rest of the blog.

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