Sign Up for Our Bi-Weekly Email

Expand your perspective with thought-provoking insights, quotes, and videos hand-picked by our editors—along with the occasional update about the world of EnlightenNext.

Privacy statement

Your email address is kept confidential, and will never be published, sold or given away without your explicit consent. Thank you for joining our mailing list!

 

letters

 

A Bond of Trust
As a new reader to WIE, I would like to commend the editors on an "enlightening" Spring/Summer 2000 issue devoted to a greater understanding of the ego.

For example, Archimandrite Dionysios ["The Enemy Within"] interpreted the temptation of Jesus in the desert as a vindication of the ascetic life in which one learns to "be ready in each moment to die." This is a powerful image for me to incorporate into my own life. Perhaps I can live in the non-ascetic world by observing my own ego as it strives to attain its wants. Through the process, it may be possible to die to the desires of the ego when temptations arise—at least some of the time.

I was likewise impressed with the teachings of Mata Amritanandamayi ["When You Go beyond the Ego, You Become an Offering to the World"], who also addressed the need to die to the ego. When asked how it is that some spiritual teachers succumb to certain ego-generated behaviors, she responded that these individuals are not truly self-realized. In the same vein, Master Sheng-yen ["No Escape for the Ego"], when asked the same question, responded that these persons think they are enlightened while they are not. Sheng-yen also argues that ego-driven teachers assume that they are free from the moral obligations demanded of those who are not liberated. Finally, he contrasts these teachers with the Buddha who, upon enlightenment, continued to follow the precepts of the teachings.

Let me commend Andrew Cohen for his sensitive interview of Amrit Desai ["Yoga, Ego and Purification"]. He was open to the ideas expressed by the teacher and conducted the interview in an exemplary manner. There were many fine points made by Yogi Desai with which Mr. Cohen agreed and which, in my opinion, were in keeping with sound spiritual principles.

But Yogi Desai, at the end of the interview, stated the following: "I don't consider anything wrong or bad. It's just an experience." The statement is surprisingly devoid of responsibility given the circumstances surrounding Yogi Desai's tenure at Kripalu. I am struggling to understand how the arguments he makes concerning the role of the guru as an example to his or her followers relates to spiritual integrity. I perceive no sense of personal accountability regarding his relationship to his students. He even argues that it was their projections onto him rather than his own behavior that caused them pain and disillusionment.

It seems to me that when one accepts followers along a spiritual path, one acknowledges a bond of trust that must not be broken. Like a responsible parent, a reliable guru takes complete responsibility for the integrity of the relationship, at least in the beginning.

A bond of trust was broken—of which he seems completely oblivious in this interview. I am more astounded at his attitude than the behavior in which he engaged. It is tempting to write him off as just another charlatan who misled his students and now fails to own up to his own lack of commitment.

Yogi Desai does imply that he is not completely enlightened, much to his credit. Given that admission, I wonder why Deepak Chopra has chosen him to head his new ashram? Am I missing something?
Nancy Murray, Ph.D.
Mount Washington, Massachusetts


A Discouraging Prospect
My issue of WIE finally arrived and, of course, I eagerly dove right in. Reading the interview with Amrit Desai by Andrew Cohen has me very disturbed. There are so many questions; I hardly know where to begin.

It is quite an interesting experience to "listen in" as two modern-day spiritual teachers have a discussion together. The first question that arose for me was: "Why do we look to the guru, and what is it that is being sought?" In any other field of learning, the goal is clearly defined and there is a logical progression of attainment culminating in graduation. I think the disciple of a spiritual guru is in a very vulnerable position. As this interview reveals, there may be no assurance given as to the goal, the practices, or even the attainment of the goal by the one who is teaching.

These two teachers seem to agree that "spiritual experiences" do not guarantee the absence of ego. This is very confusing! If the enlightened master lives as a human being, ego and all, what is the point? Desai's statement that "there always has to be some degree of integrity" just doesn't make sense. How can there be degrees of integrity? In my dictionary "integrity" is defined as wholeness; moral purity; uprightness.

On the one hand Amrit Desai states that "it is the function of the disciple to be like a swan that can separate the milk from the water," but on the other says that "I would like to see the disciple being in a more nonjudgmental space. Because judgments are very likely to come up—about the teacher, because the teacher is going to be a button-pusher." He then goes on to say that people project images that the guru "is very evolved, highly developed, self-realized." Talk about a double-bind! Shouldn't that be the definition of a guru?

All in all it is a very discouraging prospect to think that as a disciple, one must completely surrender to a guru who is admitting that he is going to be pushing buttons, testing faith as other gurus have done by sleeping with prostitutes, prescribing harsh practices and renunciation, etc., when there is not even the certainty that the guru is living his own teachings.

This article has stirred up questions in me as to why I would surrender my own integrity to assume the role of disciple when the goal is uncertain, the path unclear, and the teacher impure?
Heather Braun
via email


To Cast No Shadow
I was blown away by the interview with Yogi Amrit Desai by Andrew Cohen. Does yoga purify the ego? Does the system of yoga, as a spiritual practice in pursuit of liberation, actually work? Could a system that promises and delivers mystical experiences of oneness and ecstasy and that develops mastery in concentration and self-discipline leave untouched an imperative examination and purification of our motivations? It seems to me that the vast majority of yoga practitioners and masters have not given themselves to finding out what utterly pure motivation is—the idea of "casting no shadow" that Mr. Cohen spoke about in the interview.

Look at Amrit Desai. He doesn't appear to be interested in, nor does he acknowledge, his own obvious violations of the yamas and niyamas [moral and ethical codes of conduct] and the devastating effect he had on his students. Because he is a master of kundalini yoga, we expect to see a living example of a master able to live free from, as Cohen states, "fundamental contradiction." Yet, it seems as if Desai couldn't care less about this. What he offers to those interested in yoga as a path to perfection is his admission: "The practice of the yamas and niyamas gets even more difficult the further one goes." If this is his experience, then it implies that there is no guarantee of what his actions will express next. Is this true mastery? Does more deceit and heart-closing devastation lie ahead?

Yogi Desai is an example of the failure of yoga practice, in and of itself, to purify the ego. In one of his questions, Andrew Cohen suggests that "ego transcendence is absolutely dependent upon perfect stabilization in the yamas and niyamas." It would appear, from this dialogue, that commitment to this kind of stabilization and ego-purification simply isn't part of Desai's vision of yoga or of liberation.
Lisa Andrews, yoga teacher
Cambridge, Massachusetts


You Can Have It All
The latest issue of WIE, "What is Ego? Friend or Foe" is an impressive and interesting source of information regarding the understanding of ego. I particularly acknowledge the magazine for presenting a full spectrum of possibilities in defining ego.

What a treat to be able to read about Sheikh Ragip/Robert Frager—"The Man with Two Heads." I was intrigued to become aware of an individual who holds in thought two sides of the "ego coin" at the same time. What a freeing idea!

My hat goes off to the interview with Kaisa Puhakka ["The Transpersonal Ego: Is there a New Formation?"] and her ideas concerning transpersonal ego. When she recommended that everybody walk their life without having to read from the correct map, I was sure some of my ego flew off with the hat. There's nothing like being blown into another freeing idea in the pursuit of enlightenment.

I must mention my delight in reading Paul Lowe's comment, "It just is!" ["Self Acceptance or Ego Death?"]. What an inclusive approach. My consciousness is more than ready to add a loud YES in support of the ISNESS he speaks about.

The above three points helped me see how humanity is simply and naturally evolving its consciousness by transcending separateness. But why separate these ego discoveries into friend or foe? Why place a particular interpretation in a box with a label? For me, the freedom to express, moment by moment, requires eliminating the boxes. One moment a circumstance may be best served by playing with a traditional idea of ego and the next moment a completely fresh approach is the best workable truth. Who knows? Maybe my ego is saying you can have it all?
Helen Borth
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Gotta Serve Somebody
I particularly enjoyed your article on Archimandrite Dionysios' teachings and understanding of the ego.

I have good news for you and your readers. God does not expect his children to annihilate their basic being and personality in order to be restored and reconciled to him. The gospel teaches overwhelmingly the benefit of knowing him, which is Life and Abundant Life in the here and now, with eternal life waiting for the faithful. There is not much personality annihilation going on in Christianity.

But the Scriptures do teach the need to put God on the throne. Everybody serves somebody. Most people these days only truly serve the god they see in the mirror every morning. The Scriptures do call for the death of this sort of arrogance, egotism, and pride in order that one may be truly born again to serve the one true and Living God.
J.K.
Houston, Texas


The Master
And His Coachman
I am extremely grateful for the time and effort that you all devote to producing WIE. Sometimes I wish you could produce more issues each year—but then I realize it takes me months to really read and digest the material in each issue and the responses it generates in me. It is important that you include so many perspectives on each topic and leave it to us readers to come to terms with the profound differences expressed.

After I read the "What is Ego?" issue, I felt that there was something missing in the debate. I realized that nowhere was there presented a coherent view of a "real Self" or "divine self" as a component of being human. My concern can best be expressed in terms of the well-known metaphor of the Master in his coach, something I first encountered in Gurdjieff's teaching.

The metaphor describes a human being in terms of a coach, horses, a coachman, and a Master being carried in the coach. The coach itself represents the body, that which carries one through life. The horses represent one's emotions and passions—pulling energetically in different directions unless properly harnessed. The coachman is the ego and, whilst the Master is asleep, it is the coachman who decides where to go. The Master represents the real Self, and cannot play any role in the journeying through life until awakened. Once awakened, it is the Master's role to take charge of the coachman, to tell him where to go and what to pay attention to.

Within this metaphor, there is no point in defeating or killing the coachman (ego), since then one would have a coach and horses out of control. The key task is to bring the coachman under control so that the real Self, the one who has been awakened, can determine where to go in life, what to do, and how to live.

It seems to me that if one does accept the existence of a real Self, then mastery of the ego becomes a practical issue of differentiating one from the other, withdrawing one's identification and investments in ego, and learning to nourish and listen to the real Self.
Jake Chapman
Somerset, U.K.

Zero Tolerance
The "What is Ego?" issue was fascinating and certainly thought-provoking. There is such an odd discrepancy between the psychological and spiritual views of ego, and these interviews really threw that discrepancy into sharp relief. The fact that some of the psychoanalysts had little or no appreciation of spirituality and the possibility of ego-transcendence came as no surprise, but what particularly struck me was the reluctance of many spiritual teachers to contemplate any place at all for the ego in the scheme of things.

I think this is partly due to some confusion. Some teachers talked of the "ego" in terms of physical needs, impulses, and desires—food, comfort, sex, and so on. Yet in the psychological model, this is precisely what the ego is not. Rather, that is the id, the instinctive, automatic craving for bodily satisfaction and gratification. Finding ways to handle such urges appropriately, according to one's goals (spiritual goals included), is one of the ego's main functions. Ironically, those ascetics who are using their will to overcome such urges are not "killing their ego" but actually strengthening it!

In earlier times, many such teachers saw the material world as the antithesis of the divine. In simple, black-and-white dualism, physicality was the root of all evil and the main obstacle to spiritual perfection. To get closer to God, one had to pursue techniques involving physical self-deprivation and self-abuse. Today most of us would regard such methods as verging on the pathological, and certainly not as the one true path. Yet it has become common now to take a similar zero-tolerance approach to the ego. It is now the mind's sense of self that is seen as the enemy of God, the main obstacle to spiritual perfection.

Contrasting ego with enlightenment certainly helps to alert us to the choice between a life of relative self-delusion and a life of awakening. But to polarize ego and enlightenment so absolutely seems to me like the same old dualism in a new guise: "Enlightenment good. Ego bad. Ego must die!"

An assumption that often goes with this polarized view is that all aspects of selfhood are ego. Any manifestation of an "I" is regarded as a blot on the cosmic landscape, a vice to be eradicated. Seeking to transcend ego for the sake of that Truth is one thing, but confusing one's very presence with ego and egotism is quite another. It is one of those pre/trans fallacies that Ken Wilber talks about: imagining that pre-egoic naiveté is the sameas trans-egoic enlightenment. I remember listening to one revered teacher from India telling a large audience, "Freud was a wicked man. Evil!" Why? Because he believed in developing a strong, healthy ego over and above mere instincts and conditioning.

Of course, the ego doesn't know who we truly are at the level of ultimate Reality. It paints a pretty false picture. But that's the game we are all here to play until we come to realize for ourselves that there is some other Truth to us, something real that we can experience and express more directly.In this vein, perhaps we could re-phrase Engler's famous aphorism to: "You have to lose yourself before you can find your Self."
Barry McGuinness
Bath, U.K.

Coddling The Ego?
You seem to have an agenda to prove that psychotherapy has no place in liberation. But where does the path to liberation actually begin? If we experience a profound shift in our perspective through the help of a therapist, even though we may still have a primitive view of enlightenment, is it not the beginning? If we slowly, but seriously, become conscious of our intention to be free, isn't that the beginning? Are there only certain kinds of experiences that count as one moves towards liberation?

One of the interviews I found most striking was the one with Jack Engler ["The 1001 Forms of Self-Grasping"], which left me open to possibilities other than "ego vs. true nature." I was struck by the definition of ego as: the "myriad forms of self-grasping." Bingo! This is how we experience ego—the masking of the ideas we have about ourselves. A good therapist does challenge one's ideas about oneself. Simply because the tools are different doesn't mean the ego is being coddled!
Janet Crockett
Boise, Idaho


Personality Stuff?
Puh-leeze!
The Buddhist ox-herding paintings referred to by Robert Frager ["The Beast on Which the Buddha Rides"] provide my favorite metaphor for relating to the ego. One tames the instinctual nature—one doesn't kill it—and then one rides it home. Prior to taming it, however, we must find it. This means seeing it clearly, exactly as it is. Like many others, I started on the path with naiveté to spare, and thought I had seen my ego clearly when in fact I had refused to see it at all. As a result I was quite stuck. Therapy helped me out significantly. (Perhaps the greatest clue that I needed psychological work was my intense fear and revulsion at the thought of it: "Personality stuff? Puh-leeze.")

Psychological work isn't always an expression of narcissism or New Age woundology. It can be very helpful in clearing away self-deception and putting our feet on the ground. As the Sufi teacher Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee made clear, our buried psychological complexes—what Jung called "the shadow"—are not so much obstacles to our growth as our greatest assets. They contain the very psychic energy we need to go into the depths of ourselves, to penetrate to the hidden heart where God resides. Simply characterizing our wounds and complexes as illusory figments of the ego doesn't transform them, or us. We need to see them and tame them.
Tyee Bridge
Portland, Oregon


A Subtle
Form Of Delusion
In Andrew Cohen's provocative interview with Kaisa Puhakka ["The Transpersonal Ego: Is There a New Formation?"], he asked her to "get out of the way," and speak from enlightened mind, to assume the enlightened perspective. Yet Puhakka's ego/mind is either literally out of the way, or it isn't. If it is, then when she speaks of letting go of "the maps" and "the need to know" (and being "the one who knows"), the limitless, unknowable mystery will be transmitted through language and through form, putting us all in touch with the ego-shattering Truth beyond mind. Then again, if a person isn't truly coming from enlightened mind, then all that will be communicated is intellectual theory, albeit subtle, elaborate, and even "transcendental" theory.

What I think Andrew Cohen has done in this interview is re-enact what amounts to the creation of the transpersonal view, in which the mind conceptually (but not actually) transcends itself and so generates a theory of consciousness that incorporates a conceptual model that seems to include both the manifest and the unmanifest aspects of consciousness—but is, in reality, totally impotent at best, and a source of an incredibly subtle form of delusion or ego at its worst. What Puhakka comes up with seems to "transcend and include" everything, including herself. But it's actually quite blasé and uninspiring to the part of us that deeply recognizes we are already free, and at the same time, totally unthreatening to the part of us that is convinced that we are inherently limited—proving what Cohen said in his introduction: This may be the newest and most dangerous formation of ego yet.
Ernest Mavrides
London, UK


Two Factors Of Wholeness
Your Spring/Summer 2000 issue with its theme "What is Ego?" is one of the finest condensations of this subject that has ever appeared in print. Divided, as it was, into three viewpoint sections—the spiritual masters, the integrators, and the psychologists—it presents its subject in a variety of manners, easily digestible and fascinating in its breadth.

Coming, myself, from a spiritual background with an interest in psychotherapy and its perhaps-not-so-obvious connection to the endeavor of self-discovery, it was particularly fascinating to read the interviews focusing on the psychologists vis-a-vis the spiritual masters. Given this kind of psychotherapy and spirituality, East and West dichotomy, I was interested to see if any parallels in approach between the two would be brought out, coming as they do from totally different cultural perspectives. And sure enough I was not disappointed.

Of paramount importance in both the spiritual growth and the psychological integration of the individual is the concept of accepting personal responsibility for one's life. Without this foundation firmly established in the person, no real growth or recovery can take place. At least not for very long; because the person who is not firmly rooted in taking responsibility for his actions in life will eventually have the tendency to undermine whatever growth or recovery has taken place by attempting to place the blame for his predicament on something outside of himself. Henry Stein ["Was Ist Das Ich?"], speaking for the Adlerian school of psychotherapy, pointed this out when he emphasized that there is essentially one person "calling the shots and having an intention. It's not instinct, and it's not something like the universal unconscious that is affecting you. You (emphasis added) have chosen to do this, at some point." He went on to say that "when people are willing to accept this responsibility, they almost have a sense of being reborn, and the sense of freedom and empowerment is wonderful."

Amrit Desai, in his interview with Andrew Cohen, makes this same essential point when talking about the importance of following the prescriptive and proscriptive injunctions of yama and niyama, those things which one should abstain from doing and those things which one should practice doing. He points out that when a person is young that person is "driven by fears, insecurities, demands, competition, jealousy, anger, fear, blame, shame, [and] guilt." All these seemingly foreign forces which one can blame as being the cause of his aberrant behavior. These drives, Desai explains, are different forms of energy which need to be managed, and in the path of yoga "consciousness becomes the manager of the energy."

Just as important as the issue of taking responsibility for oneself, and perhaps going hand in hand with it, is the concept of recognizing the fiction of the individual ego. Here, James Hollis, speaking on behalf of Carl Jung's ideology, points out that the ego can come under the influence, or be "possessed" by, different complexes, such as a money complex, a power complex, an aggression complex and so on. For instance, who a person thinks he is can be a complex. One could be poor and therefore have the identity of himself as being poor, and thus display, or play the part of, this fiction he has created for himself in his mind. He identifies so strongly with the part that he invests it with energy, creating a reality where none existed before, since being poor is only a momentary condition. In the next moment, one could win a lottery and the condition (and feeling) of being poor would vanish in an instant.

The Ch'an Buddhist master, Sheng-yen, echoes this sentiment by explaining that "the idea of ego revolves around the idea of attachment or clinging. The ego originally does not exist." He goes on to say that one of the main goals of Ch'an is to get the student to drop the ego, to "put it down" in the sense of letting go of it. This amounts to being able to see through the fiction of the ego that the student himself creates; and in doing so he achieves a level of enlightenment, thus removing one of the major barriers in his way on the path to full enlightenment.

Undoubtedly, realization of these two factors can help to bring about the beginning of a condition of psychological integration and spiritual unfoldment in the individual. It seems obvious, at least to me, that the two disciplines of psychotherapeutic processes and spiritual practices can go hand in hand in the endeavor of creating a condition of wholeness within a human being. One of the main points of spiritual practice is to reach a condition within the individual wherein he can recognize the truth in any given situation and be able to respond spontaneously in the correct manner. This implies that he be mentally and emotionally mature—that he be able to practice the yamas and niyamas almost without having to think about them. It further implies that for him to be able to do this he must not be under the sway of a chaotic or reactive mind, but must be able to maintain his awareness of the present moment in order to recognize the truth of that moment rather than a fiction created by his unclear mind. The more time he spends in this state the closer he will come to a non-dualistic realization of life.
Ian Allan Andrews
Yuma, Arizona


[ continue ]

 
 

Subscribe to What Is Enlightenment? magazine today and get 40% off the cover price.

Subscribe Give a gift Renew
Subscribe
 

This article is from
Our "In the World But Not Of It" Issue