This is the 2nd installment of my “ego” series. The first installment was: Observing Ego
When I was young I did not consider ego and spirituality to be in the same context. Back then I had an intellectual conception of spirituality and it did not even occur to me that ego training would be part of the spiritual practice.
Today, I know that spirituality is about the heart; it is not about the mind. Spirituality is about the soul; it is not about the spirits. Spirituality is not spiritualism. The soul is different than the mind. The soul is different than the spirit as well. The soul is about our true identity.
I always mention ego in the definition of spirituality because ego is the main obstacle in the discovery of our true identity. The soul is our connection to God. When we discover our soul we discover our true identity.
Haji Bektash Veli said, “know your ego, do not erase it.” Knowing ego is different from observing ego or listening to ego, which is the passive approach. ‘Knowing ego’ is the active approach. ‘Knowing ego’ means knowing the dimensions and the capabilities of the ego. It is important to know what ego can do. Then we can use ego towards spiritual growth.
We all want enlightenment and ultimately spiritual liberation. Transformation of ego is the key. Spiritual liberation is achieved only when ego is dissolved but before reaching that stage there is much more work to be done. One aspect of this work is the transformation of ego.
In Sufism there is much emphasis on ego training. Sufi teachers developed many practical techniques for ego training. In traditional Sufi teachings this is often presented as a fight, the eternal fight against the ego. In all spiritual traditions the human ego is the number one issue and sometimes presented as the enemy.
I have been absorbing Shrii Shrii Anandamurti‘s teachings for more than 30 years now. It is interesting that he did not talk about ego that much. Like all sages, he talked about ego but he talked about so many other subjects as well. My understanding is that he did not want us to fight our egos. He wanted us to transform our egos. He wanted us to excel in everything we do and transform society for the better. Obviously this can only be done with the cooperation of the ego. Whether it is scientific work or social service, or even writing poetry, the work is done by the ego. While we create beautiful works of art or make inventions and scientific discoveries we feel proud and acquire the positive samskaras (reactive seeds). From the cosmic perspective the positive samskaras are as binding as the negative ones since they reinforce ego and prolong our journey towards spiritual liberation. The secret Shrii Shrii Anandamurti taught us was that we should not be attached to the results of action. Do good work and excel in everything you do but let go of the pride. Do not expect rewards for good work. If you receive rewards, always remind your ego that the inspiration came from God.
For thousands of years sages have been telling us that the human ego veils the truth and makes us forget our true identity. They have been telling us that the human destiny is fulfilled when the ego dissolves in the ‘infinite ocean of love and bliss.’ It took thousands of years for the human ego to develop over many lifetimes. It will take a long time to reverse the process. It will take time to reach home. It is a long journey.
It is also clear that the human ego serves a purpose. It is a necessary mental structure in our journey home. It is essential that we understand the evolutionary role of the ego. This is what Haji Bektash Veli meant by the aphorism “know your ego, do not erase it.”