In the end it really is black-and-white. But of course it all depends upon the sincerity of our interest in genuine and truly radical transformation. That's why there is so much confusion about the theme of this issue of What Is Enlightenment?
Because our ability to recognize the true face of the ego, to see it for what it actually is, depends entirely upon how far we want to go on the spiritual path.
A simple psychological definition of the ego is something like the "self-organizing principle," that all-important command center in the psyche that coordinates the different aspects of the self. And that command center must
be in good working order for a human being to be able to function in the world with any reasonable degree of competency. The ego as self-organizing principle is neither positive nor negative; its function is mechanistic, and in that, it has no self
nature. But there is another definition of ego—the one that inspired the investigation upon which this issue of WIE
is based—and the ego in that definition has
self nature. The human face of that
ego is pride; is arrogant self-importance; is narcissistic self-infatuation; is the need to see oneself as being separate at all times, in all places, through all circumstances—and that ego is the unrelenting enemy of all that is truly wholesome in the human experience. When this
ego is unmasked, seen directly for what it is, finally unobscured by the other expressions of the personality, one finds oneself literally face-to-face with a demon—a demon that thrives on power, domination, control and separation, that cares only about itself and is willing to destroy anything and everything that is good and true in order to survive intact and always in control. This demon lacks any capacity for empathy, compassion, generosity or love; delights in its perfect invulnerability; and, worst of all, will never
ever acknowledge that which is sacred.
But I knew none of this when I began teaching the path to liberation fourteen years ago. At that time, I had no idea of the magnitude of the battle I had taken on by daring to lead others to the yonder shore. In those days I thought spiritual experience, tasting the miraculous and unlimited depth of the Self beyond time and mind,
would instill enough reverence and awe in the seeker to empower them to face whatever needed to be faced and bear whatever needed to be borne in order to be free. But oh how wrong I was! I didn't realize then that for most seekers, enlightenment experiences were not the end of the path but only the beginning. It's true that without that depth of spiritual experience, it is very difficult for a seeker to take the possibility of their own liberation seriously—but even when one has
experienced that depth of Self, when push comes to shove, when our back is against the wall, when like Jesus or the Buddha we must face directly into the darkest regions of the human soul, how many among us will have such love for the truth alone that we will courageously remain unmoved and immovable?
I can't tell you how many times I have witnessed the shocking and often frightening transformation of a human personality when faced squarely with the truth of its own division, hypocrisy and deceit: in an instant, a warm, intelligent, sensitive, apparently caring personality can change, becoming the face of pure ego, glaring with narcissistic rage because it has been exposed. It is because of many experiences like this that I have spent countless hours thinking about the questions: What is the personality? Who is
the individual? It seems that in the end it really is black-and-white, simply because who we are depends upon where our allegiance lies
. Is it with the narcissistic ego? Or is it with the spiritual heart? Of course, we can only really find out the answer to that question when we are tested because otherwise it's inevitable that the truth of our own condition will remain obscured, masked by self-concepts that are based on the ego's need to always see itself in a positive light—even if it sees itself as a victim.
Who we are and
how we perceive our own experience and the world around us depend upon where our allegiance lies. The perspective of the individual who has surrendered the will of their own ego to their spiritual heart is drastically different from the perspective of one who has not. But it is important to understand that because the ego can usurp any calling of the human soul in order to remain in control—even the longing for liberation—
it's usually impossible to tell exactly who it is who is claiming they want to be free until that moment when their faith and love for truth alone are put to the test. It is only then that we can actually find out who we really are and what part of our self is pulling the strings of our own destiny.
To walk the spiritual path in earnest is to find out what we're made of and how much we are truly willing to give up in order to come to the end of division within ourselves. The price for that kind of profound and deeply liberating simplicity is too high for most, because that price is ego death. What does that mean? That means endeavoring with all our being to purify ourselves from any and every attachment, gross and subtle, to the narcissistic ego, that demon of false individuality that masquerades as our own self and whose task it is to keep us, at all costs, separate from our own heart.