As I mentioned in the last post, I believe that other people are indeed often extentions of one’s ego. I intend to explain in this post and perhaps another post or two why I believe that. As I mentioned in the last post, a certain friend has often been the impetus for posts here on Sthapati. It was similarly his idea that I break this information into multiple posts instead of slamming you all with the book this is turning out to be.
Also mentioned in the last post, in addition to that friend, were other sources of knowledge and guidance I draw from on this subject – and many others. I’ll start now with sharing some material directly from Tolle’s, A New Earth:
“In normal everyday usage, ‘I’ embodies the primordial error, a misperception of who you are, an illusory sense of identity. This illusory sense of self is what Albert Einstein, who had deep insights not only into the reality of space and time, but also into human nature, referred to as ‘an optical illusion of consciousness.’ That illusory self then becomes the basis for all further interpretations, or rather misinterpretations, of reality… If you recognize an illusion as illusion, it dissolves. The recognition of illusion is also its ending. Its survival depends on your mistaking it for reality… What you usually refer to when you say ‘I’ is not who you are. By a monstrous act of reductionism, the infinite depth of who you are is confused with a sound produced by the vocal cords or the thought of ‘I’ in your mind and whatever the ‘I’ has identified with…”
He goes on to explain a person growing up and becoming identified with the I-thought, “When a young child learns that a sequence of sounds produced by the parents’ vocal cords is his or her name, the child begins to equate a word, which in the mind becomes a thought, with who he or she is. At that stage, some children refer to themselves in the third person…Soon after, they learn the magic word ‘I’ and equate it with their name, which they have already equated with who they are. Then other thoughts come and merge with the original I-thought. The next steps are thoughts of me and mine to designate things that are somehow part of ‘I.’ … When ‘my’ toy breaks or is taken away, intense suffering arises. Not because of any intrinsic value that the toy has, but because of the thought of “mine.” As the child grows up, the original I-thought attracts other thoughts to itself: It becomes identified with a gender, possessions, the sense-perceived body, a nationality, race, religion, profession. Other things the ‘I’ identifies with are roles – mother, father, husband, wife, and so on… Most of the time it is not you who speaks when you say or think ‘I’ but some aspect of that mental construct, the egoic self. Once you awaken you still use the word ‘I,’ but it will come from a much deeper place within yourself.”
Tolle continues a little later to detail how identification is one of the most basic structures through which the ego comes into existence. Apparently, the word identification derives from two Latin words, idem meaning “same,” and facere which means “to make.” So when I identify with something, I “make it the same.” All of this can be somewhat tough to follow if you’re not used to diving deep, but if you’re a nut like me who does nothing without diving deep, this stuff is like gold. For me it’s never enough to know the what or even the how, but the why is also mandatory.
When I came to this world, like anyone else I was in bit of a fog. Through repetition and some basic infantile cognition, “I” came to know that Josh = my body, and later began expanding that association – no, that identification – outside of my personal borders. Suddenly, instead of just me being “I,” there’s now my things, my accomplishments, and …my beloved. From a purely linguistic standpoint, there’s nothing wrong with using words like I, me, my, or mine. Much like having the right tools to get a job done, personal and possessive pronouns are required to communicate relative ideas. From that strictly utilitarian perspective, there’s nothing egoic about those identifiers.
Problems arise when, as the Latins implied, I begin to equate (“make the same”) stuff that’s not really me with my actual Self. The person identified (see how this words arises, time after time?) as my beloved is essentially nondifferent from my Self. We’re from the same Source, we have the same Self, and we’re headed toward the same Destination. Just about anything else is ego, is Maya. In truth, if something were to happen to him/his body, I would be no less. It’s because of my identification with him that the idea of or experience of his leaving causes misery – my ego percieves the notion of “my” beloved leaving as some kind of attack on me. If Truth or Reality is eternal, there’s no logical way we can say that the body or personality of our loved ones or of other people are “real.” The stuff our bodies and thoughts are made of existed as other substances before their current form, and after this all-too-brief human existence, those same stuffs will decompose. The actual Truth of that situation – which every single soul will encounter at least once in life – is that regardless of physical manifestation, there’s never any difference in actual distance between us and Love. We see our beloved’s form, we identify with it – literally that form becomes “my” beloved, the identification means my ego/mind perceive “my beloved” as an extension of who I am, and so when my beloved leaves – in whatever form that might take – I am miserable, because I’ve already ignorantly tricked myself into fully believing that a part of me is lost. Much like an arm being cut off.
It’s because of this, that Hinduism has done so much exploration on the nature of the human’s internal landscape as well as other components like attachment. What are we really attached to? The ego is the object and the subject of all attachment. The ego is like a habit of smoking cigarettes – it’s both the problem and the apparent solution. Smoking causes issues which stress people out, and then it manages to fool people into feeling relieved when they smoke because of stress – which only causes additional problems for the smoker. The ego does the very same. We’re fooled into thinking something based in the original problem is ever part of the solution. We develop attachments to distract the mind from the ego, because as Tolle states, exposing an illusion disolves it. Our Self has no attachments, because all that truly is, is the Self – without going into it too much, this knowledge is precisely the foundation of Jnana Yoga, leads directly to experiential awareness of the One, and is why I can’t adhere primarily to bhakti margs, which for their own existence (at least at the level practiced and experienced by most humans) necessarily mandate, perpetuate, and promote the notion of “other” – which is a tool the ego uses to continue its own existence.
***If you haven’t gathered by now, the common application of the word “ego” isn’t nearly the complete definition of the word. Most equate ego with arrogance, but many humble people are still filled to the brim with egoism.***
But there may be some silver lining to this cloud, after all. According to the current issue of Hinduism Today magazine, Satguru Bodhinath Veylanswami explains through a Shaiva Agama how the ego is a tool of the One, meant to help us.
All that and a bucket of chicken coming up!
Om Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
I think that bhakti is generally misunderstood/malpracticed. The object of a large segment of bhakti Hinduism is Krishna, and Krishna is supposed to be the innermost Self manifested. Therefore Krishnabhakti is not devotion to “otherness” at all, in its most proper practice.
Also, this is very interesting because, it would in many ways appear that by taking on another as part of oneself is a single step toward universal consciousness. But since it is not full acceptance of all others as part of oneself, it is considered ego.
I agree, Vasu.
Bhakti is too often malpracticed. I think that’s a big part of why I write about it in the tone I often seem to. It’s not meant to be entirely critical of the bhaktimarg itself, per se, but I think a vast majority of the many who choose bhakti as a primary focus are asleep behind the wheel, and then their so-called devotion (which I feel, in the Kali Yuga, is mostly egoic anyway) is pretty much driving the car.
I think your second point is the sweet side of Bhakti Yoga. If you get past the pretending and the prominent “otherness” factor, you really do transcend the BS and reach a place where “other” and ego are a thing of the past.