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Editorial 9

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Ego

 

If, of a man, his ego refines itself, he makes progress.

As he retrogresses, his ego, pari passu, grows in concentration, intensity, force, power, until finally it reaches a point where its ferocity, its cold, cruel, calculating selfishness makes a monster in human form, and this is on the precipice where a step further leads to the perdition of the soul.

– From Word Wisdom in the Esoteric Tradition[1]

Ego, or ‘I’ is one of the most used words in the world. ‘I’ is the most important thing for each of us. It is our landing place. It is the leading thread of all our thoughts, hidden or expressed. We divide the world in ‘I’ and ‘other.’ ‘Other,’ then is the rest of the universe, except ourselves. The ego is that in man which separates itself from wholeness, and considers itself a separate entity from the rest of nature and the cosmos. Even a spiritually inclined person is centered in his ‘own’ consciousness. I alone know the history of myself, my joys and pains, memories, my moods and feelings, secret thoughts, real intentions (for good or bad) and deeper motivations. We have a deeply felt desire to share our personal knowledge with others, but we can understand even our best friend only partly. The other may build an image of us, share feelings and views to a large extend, yet never the two become one, and each will remain lonely inside.

‘I’ is the only thing that I really am. As Sigmund Freud defined it, referring to the mental side of the ego: “it is the part that remembers, evaluates, plans, and in other ways is responsive to and acts in the surrounding physical and social world.” All others things, like the body, sense organs, feelings and thoughts are only surrounding circumstances for the ego, which is my center of consciousness of being an entity and identity. These are not the ego itself. These are only the instrumental causes of our experience, we just use them for our purposes.

There importance given by the ego is given on basis of the degree of either happiness or unhappiness, or a mixture of both. According to our attachment (i.e. a choice within the same ego) we cling to this or that experience. But what we wish and what the feelings are to which we get attached, the opposite is always there as well: ‘failing to be good,’ ‘being bad’, frustration of one’s pride, fear for loss of wealth or power or its actuality, loneliness, remorse over a selfish action or pushing away one’s conscience – each reader can add a few of his own. Ego is the source of all our psychological pains, failures, depressions and also of happiness, our personal happinesses. Still the purpose of almost all people is to ‘satisfy my ego,’ i.e. to produce a pleasant feeling in our personal consciousness. At the same time we ‘know,’ or rather we tend to believe, or ignore the awareness that our pleasant feeling is often reached at the cost of pleasant feelings of others. Thus there are underdogs and favorites. We are always one of the two, for some time at least. Isn’t is frustrating?

Ego is our center of consciousness, where we locate awareness of all our thoughts and feelings, and it is there where we build our personality. There are but two (or three) fundamental moods in the ego: happy and unhappy (and perhaps neutral, indifferent, dormant). The physiological result of the choices by the ego are the streams of prāṇas throughout our body. The mental result, connected with prāṇas which carry our thoughts, is the direction and quality of what we think.

The true education of the ego is to refine it, and to abandon all that is of a lower or coarser character. Replace coarse thoughts by high thoughts, look and listen to refined art, the finest expressions of nature, philosophy, the finest expressions of human minds, and try to ponder the essence of it. Such feelings touch the higher consciousness in man, that what is more universal and therefore has less inclined to attachment. ‘I’ am the center of focus of myself, and we are bound to develop that particular center of conscious called ‘me,’ the human ego. It is our very duty to cultivate it, to elevate it morally, to develop its best faculties.

Our personality issues forth from the ego. It is the mask of our ego, because it is created according to our choices of what we expose of ourselves to others, and of our power of control (itself aspects of the ego). We have a tendency to try to show ourselves as ideal people and shine out to the world, but in certain moods we all will probably fall through. But we can also build a truly radiant personality, one that benefits everyone who meets us.

In a theosophical sense this ego is equated with desire and mind (kāma and manas), and with the illusionary awareness of uniqueness of our seemingly isolated existence. Kāma is our personal desire principle. The mind can follow a desire, abandon it, weigh it, or counteract it. If the mind take enough distance to see the illusionary nature of a particular desire, the desire may be (apparently) annihilated, because it has no more basis for its existence. That does not mean that the desire is really killed: it is itself a living being, a living elemental with its own karmic history in connection with our ego. For that we have to root out the very core and origin of its existence.

For an occultist there are two essential trainings: a) to acquire wisdom, and b) to use wisdom altruistically, unselfishly, with no other feeling than an all-pervading feeling of Compassion, or egoless Love (not for anyone person or aim in particular) – which is universal, unlimited and not bound to any one ego. This is the core of all human and divine purpose, to train and reach perfection, while completely forgetting the result it may bring for ourselves. Every suffering in one’s personality or body then becomes a joy, because problems are only the birth pangs of something greater. In the light of Compassion altruism becomes the very character of an adept: wisdom and compassion. A true occultist lives for the world, or for his widest field of awareness, alone.

It is a great training ground with many pitfalls: So, many people are thinking that they are spiritually inclined or evolved, but with an element of ambition or hidden self-interest, in reality dance around their egos, pushing away or over-shouting the inner voice that warns them all the time. This inner voice is, of course, not the same as acquired morality. It is beyond or above morality.

Every failure is a step in the training as well – nothing is lost as long as the aim is not given up. If one speaks of ‘giving up the ego’ this only is meant: sacrificing self-interest for the sake of others, for the sake of the wholeness called the universe.

The mind has the property to concentrate itself, to focus forcefully on an aspect of reality, a piece that it can handle and can experience. This has a reason. The mind itself is a lower product of the buddhi or non-dualistic wisdom aspect of spiritual man, and is needed for the purpose of developing self-consciousness, i.e. to distinguish between ‘self’ and ‘other’ or lower and higher.

The mind is needed to fulfill the innate wish or svabhāva (own characteristic) of the unselfconscious divinity we were already in the far past, to become a self-conscious divinity – what each of us will be in the future. This is the very reason, the divine reason, why we suffer. Philosophically this means that ‘suffering’ is what we have chosen to do. Psychologically it means that suffering is not “suffering” and is something not to be depressed about, but to be grateful to ourselves to have taken a lofty choice.

Educating, refining, elevating the human ego is a long and arduous task. It takes many lifetimes: each time our incarnating ego, our ongoing consciousness – which has only lost its memory shortly before reincarnation – builds a new personality, and gains new experiences and lays new causes for good or bad. The path of individual evolution before us leads through innumerable lives over millions or even billions of years. There is a tremendous amount of adventure and development in stock for us, most of which we don’t even have the faculties at present to imagine. But then, who, or what, if not the ego itself, has the task of educating the human ago?

Theosophy teaches that the human being is a composite being: not just one ego, but a number of egos ‘on top of each other,’ hierarchically.

So better than to denounce the existence of egos, centers of conscious focus, is to recognize ‘ego’ as a reflection on various planes of existence of the One Consciousness with which we are one. It is better is to say that illusion and reality are One. Nature, i.e. the Cosmic Mind (Mahat) of it, in it, working through it, churns the milk of universal, undivided and indivisible Consciousness into ‘curds’: apparently separate, aggregated, conglomerated units, but inherently of the same nature of the milk or the ‘One Consciousness.’

What is the reason for the existence of ego? Ego exists, but what we think it is, is not it. The erroneous view we cherish about ourselves as isolated unities who can serve themselves alone, is, of course – as one can see quite clearly – the source of all individual suffering: of all greed, war, discrimination, territorial behavior, possession of ‘parts’ of the infinite university, shortly everything that logically flows forth from egoism, selfishness, illusion, erroneous view.

Theosophically, there are two such egoic centers: the spiritual and impersonal, commonly called the individuality; and the personal, often called the (source of the) soul or the personality. The first mentioned, higher ego is unconditionally immortal, the latter ego is conditionally immortal, but in most cases mortal because of its lack of binding aspirations with its higher Over-self, the individuality. The ego is that which says “I am I”; it is indirect or reflected consciousness, consciousness recognizing its own māyāvic existence as a separate entity. It is not the permanent self (which is, during a kalpa[2], the ātmabuddhimanas considered as an indissoluble triad); for all egos in the human constitution are reflections of the permanent spiritual selfhood.

The total human being exists of seven principles. The hierarchy or ‘top-to-bottom’ – spiritually, arrangement of the human constitution grows or ‘flows over’ from the immanent or permanent self. The seven layers of this hierarchy here mentioned, from high to low (there are some variations relating to the teaching to be conveyed) are Ātman (the Self), Buddhi (spiritual understanding or intuition), Higher Manas (the higher mind), Lower Manas (the lower mind), Kāma (Desire), the Prāa (Life energy or energies) and finally the Liga or Astral body (which is the etheric model according to which the physical molecules are placed thus forming the physical body.)

The permanent (but not unchanging) Self or ātman, this is the very seed of essential egoity. A māyāvi [Illusion-born] ego will be formed on each of the planes of matter (Of which physical matter is but one, and the lowest, coarsest example) and therefore on all the planes or layers of the human constitution; the seed of egoity manifesting itself in each successive vehicle[3] and thus producing there an ego, permanent or impermanent according to its distance from the permanent self.

A scheme for the total human being is given in Theosophical literature as:

Inner Constitution

Of which we make here a simplification for the purpose of this article:

Paramātman

|

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Divine Ego

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Spiritual Ego

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Higher Human Ego

(Reembodying Ego)

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Lower Human Ego

(Astral Personal Ego)

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Animal Ego

(Elementary[4] Ego)

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Elemental Ego

(Elemental)

Physical body

To explain the figure:

The elemental ego is the center consciousness of the physical body and its vitality and astral model.

The animal ego is what we have in common with animals: lively desires, such as those for sex, food, territorial behavior, the lower instincts. This ego survives death only for a while. The animal ego in us is also that what will in a future kalpa (planetary embodiment) the human ego, as we now humans have been animals within a human constitution or environment in the former kalpa. It is our task as humans to be its master and thus to train our animal ego in discipline and service (and not to become its slave) because what we do now for it will have strong consequences for the remote future of that center of consciousness. It is one of workings of Compassion, the Law of laws, that the higher must help the lower. All beings are there to help each other: the lower as servants, the higher as teachers, examples or stimulators. Analogically, as the animal ego is helped within us in a way that it cannot be helped when in a separate animal body, so are we helped by the gods, the divine ego within (or rather above) us, continuously.

The lower human ego is what in daily usage call ‘our ego’ where our common humans thoughts and desires reside.

The higher human ego is our center of consciousness when our mind and feelings are involved in or directed to higher thinking and true art. Our human field of training is to move our consciousness more and more to the higher, and ever less to the lower human ego. We can cross that bridge at any moment in both directions. After death the higher part of the human ego continues to exist and then reincarnates. Between the death on earth and its rebirth it experiences ‘heaven’

The spiritual ego is that center of consciousness where we have become totally free of all human illusions and limitations. We have become adepts and can choose to incarnate out of compassion to help humanity, or to teach only the (demi-)gods, or to remain forever in our own lofty sphere without concern. A ray of our spiritual ego may temporary enlighten the higher human ego, which we would experience as divine intuition or inspiration. This has no direct relation with the lower human ego, so it can never be an inspiration to evil or selfishness. Is such a ray touches the higher ego, our mind is set ablaze as it were, and having experiences or recognized this, one wishes to pursue along spiritual lines only. The lower part of the human ego will than be more easily overcome and then vanish.

The divine ego is the consciousness centers which we really are, and in which we will ultimately reside.

Evolution or coming into existence of the hierarchy of egos goes thus: The highest Self (paramātman) develops or evolves sheaths or garments. The upper ones are spun of spirit, and the lower ones are spun out of “shadow” or matter[5] Now each such sheath or garment made of the material of any of the hierarchical levels is a “soul”; and between the self and such a soul (upādhi) – any soul – is the ego.

Thus we have: ātman, the divine monad, giving birth to the divine ego, which latter evolves forth the monadic envelope or divine soul. Jīva, the spiritual monad, has its child, which is the spiritual ego, and this in turn evolves forth the spiritual soul or individual; and the combination of these two, considered as a unit, generally speaking, is ātmabuddhi; then bhūtātman, the human ego — the higher human soul, including the lower buddhi and higher manas; prāṇātman, the vital or personal ego — the ordinary human soul or person — including manas, kāma, and prāa, which is the one people mean when they say ‘ego’ in daily language; and finally the beast or animal ego — the vital-astral soul: kāma and prāa. This has the physical body as its lowest (coarsest) vehicle or upādhi.

So in man, his person is all that he is, his loves, his hates, the way he loves and hates, his longings, and his desires, the way he longs and desires, centered about a consciousness, a conscious center; that is the ego. The person is the expression of the ego, and the attributes composing the person are the personality. But in higher sense, egos are the divine, spiritual centers of consciousness – which we really are, though our personal consciousness may not yet be aware of that esoteric fact. It is our future to know all these facts consciously.

  1. by G de Purucker, published 1980. Included in CTG [<<]
  2. A kalpa or age is in this case the life-time of the earth, 4,320,000,000 human years [<<]
  3. Upādhi or ‘soul’ in the sense of vehicle for any ego [<<]
  4. ‘Elementary’ means the temporary remains of a man or animal after death [<<]
  5. Spirit and Matter are as two poles, two aspects, of universal, conscious Spirit-Matter. [<<]