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Re: Theos-World Paradoxes in Theosophy (I)

Jul 12, 2006 05:57 AM
by Bill Meredith

Pedro, I believe this article presents a considered answer to your thoughtful question.


Never Underestimate the Ego

by Joel
Center Voice: Winter-Spring 1999
Center for Sacred Sciences
(c) 1999 Joel Morwood
From the Ultimate perspective, the Truth which Enlightenment reveals
is not something particularly subtle, obscure, or difficult to
apprehend. On the contrary, it is the most intimate and obvious
thing in the world. It is simply the Truth of our own Identity. In
reality, we are that Infinite and Limitless Consciousness (known in
various traditions as "God," "Brahman," "Buddha-Mind," "Tao") which
is the Transcendent Ground and True Nature of all things. All we
have to do to become Enlightened, then, is to Realize who we TRULY
ARE--right now, right here, in this very moment!

But if Enlightenment is really that simple, we might well ask: Why,
as a matter of historical fact, have so few seekers ever managed to
attain it?

The reason so few seekers have attained Enlightenment lies not in
the Truth of Enlightenment per se. Rather, it comes from a failure
to clearly identify and completely destroy the main obstacle that
obstructs its Realization. This is the delusion that we are not that
Infinite and Limitless Consciousness but, instead, some limited and
finite entity, ego or self. Even though this `ego' or `self' has no
real existence, as long as so much as a trace of this delusion
remains, the Truth of Enlightenment cannot be Realized.

In the East, this situation has been compared to someone who sees a
piece of coiled rope and mistakes it for a snake. Even though the
apparent `snake' is an illusion, as long as that is what the person
is perceiving, he or she cannot apprehend the rope. Only when the
appearance of the snake has completely vanished can the reality of
the rope be seen.

The same applies to the spiritual seeker, only in this case the
delusion of being an egoic self is far more complex and, therefore,
difficult to dispel. This is because the ego possesses a kind of
will of its own which seems opposed to what the seeker wills. To use
a modern analogy, it is as if the seeker were playing a computer
game against an alien from outer space. Even though the `alien' is
an imaginary creation of the human mind, it nevertheless has been
programmed to employ various tactics and strategies designed to
thwart its human opponents. Similarly, even though the ego is an
imaginary creation of our own minds, it also comes programmed with
an array of tactics and strategies which it uses to prevent us from
Realizing our True Identity.

As long as we remain deluded, then, the ego appears to be very real
and constitutes a very formidable foe. This is why so many mystics
have characterized the spiritual path as a kind of warfare in which
the seeker must strive to subdue and ultimately slay his or her own
ego. Rumi, for example, defined the true jihad (holy war) as "the
killing of the ego and the abandonment of personal wishes."1
Catherine of Siena insisted: "No matter what your state in life it
is essential to kill this selfish-love."2 Likewise, the Buddha
declared: "One may conquer a million men in a single battle;
however, the greatest and best warrior conquers himself."3 And here
is how the great Hindu saint, Lalleshwari, described her own
internal struggles on the path: "With great effort I rooted out the
enemies--lust, anger, and ego."4

For the spiritual seeker then, the old adage, "You are your own
worst enemy," is quite true. Moreover, this is an enemy that is both
incredibly tenacious and extremely cunning.

There will be many times during the course of our journey when we
think we have finally vanquished the ego, only to find that it pops
up again in a new guise. For this reason, our number one rule must
be: Never underestimate the ego!

On the other hand, we should not underestimate the powers inherent
in our True Nature, either. As Consciousness Itself, we already have
within us qualities which, if we can but awaken and develop them,
will prove more than a match for the ego's machinations. So what are
some of the main strategies the ego uses to impede us, and what are
the qualities we need to overcome them?

In the early stages of the path, the ego's most common strategy is
outright resistance. Whenever we try to conduct a focused inquiry,
for example, the ego will produce a host of idle musings and
obsessive fantasies. When we try to train our minds in meditation to
be stable and calm, the ego will respond with feelings of
restlessness and boredom. When we try to check our selfish behavior
by keeping moral precepts, the ego will conveniently forget to apply
them to concrete situations in our everyday lives. And if we want to
foster devotion by praying to some manifestation of the Divine, the
ego will greet our attempts with skepticism and scorn. In such
cases, we may actually hear the voice of the ego saying things
like: "This meditation is a waste of time. You'd be better off doing
something constructive!" or, "This prayer business is ridiculous.
Only suckers and simpletons believe in a God!" Obviously, if we
succumb to such thoughts, our journey is short-circuited even before
it really begins. So what can we do to overcome resistance?

One way to deal with resistance is to ignore the ego and simply try
to muscle our way forward. However, this method often yields little
more than discouragement and fatigue. A more skillful approach is to
arouse our own natural curiosity and apply this quality to our
practices. Curiosity is actually an expression of Consciousness's
innate Wisdom, which is forever prompting us to discover the truth
for ourselves. So if we can arouse our natural curiosity, about
meditation for instance, then when the ego objects that it is a
waste of time, we can admit it may be right. Nevertheless, our
curiosity will motivate us to continue practicing so that we can
find out from our own experience what benefits it may hold.

Moreover, because curiosity makes us genuinely interested in and
attentive to our practices, they will bear fruit much more quickly
than if we had persevered merely out of a sense of duty. Soon we
will start to get flashes of real insight, attain states of calmness
and tranquility, and receive intimations of a bliss we never
imagined possible. Once we start having these kinds of experiences,
the ego's resistance will be neutralized, because through them we
will come to know, firsthand, the value of our spiritual path and be
eager to pursue it further.

Of course, this does not mean the war as a whole has been won! On
the contrary, as soon as the ego sees that continued resistance is
useless, it switches gears and tries something else. The strategy it
usually adopts at this juncture is to try to negotiate a compromise
with the seeker. We might hear the ego say something like: "I see
you're actually beginning to enjoy these practices and find them
worthwhile. Very well, but you must recognize that I have needs,
too. So, here's what I propose. We'll set aside some nights for your
reading, meditation and prayer, but you must allow me to have my fun
as well. So, on other nights we'll go out partying, or to a movie,
or just kick back and watch TV. As for moral precepts, I'll
acknowledge they have their place. But we must also be realistic.
After all, we still have to get by on this earthly plane, and if
this means bending the rules now and then to protect our interests,
then so be it. So, the deal is this: I'll stop interfering with your
spiritual life, but when it comes to minding the store of this
world, you leave that to me."

Now, at this stage of the path, most seekers are not yet spiritually
strong enough to decline such an offer, and so they are forced to
accept it--at least temporarily. This in itself is not a problem,
and there's no reason to feel guilt about it. The real danger lies
in allowing this sort of compromise to solidify into a permanent
state of affairs. If this happens, our spiritual progress will, at
best, be slowed to a crawl, in which case we will probably not be
able to attain Enlightenment until the time of our death. At worst,
our practices may degenerate into a series of empty rites and
meaningless rituals, or be abandoned altogether. Then, even the
opportunity which death presents will be lost.5

What we must do to insure this doesn't happen is to begin
cultivating another quality inherent in our True Nature, and that is
mindfulness. Mindfulness is an expression of what we might call
Consciousness's innate Wakefulness or Clarity. Actually, this
Clarity is always present, but under delusion it becomes veiled by
the intensity of the ego's dramas. By cultivating mindfulness,
however, we can start to make space in our lives for this innate
Clarity to shine through.

Cultivating mindfulness begins within the context of our formal
practices--especially meditation. But we must also learn to
cultivate mindfulness in our everyday lives. If we can maintain
mindfulness in our everyday lives, then even when the ego is busily
pursuing its self-centered desires, we have an opportunity to gain
insights. We do this by appointing a portion of our minds to stand
back as a witness who carefully observes what the actual results are
when the ego has its way.

If we are vigilant in practicing this kind of mindfulness, we will
soon see for ourselves that, even though the ego sometimes gets what
it wants, the pleasures it derives from these things are always
fleeting. And even though the ego sometimes manages to avoid the
things it fears, in the end, it cannot avoid what it fears most--
suffering and death. So the ego is playing a losing game, and if we
continue to identify ourselves with it, in the end we, too, will

The more we realize how futile the ego's activities truly are, the
less it is able to seduce us with its desires or terrify us with its
fears. As a result, the spiritual balance of power starts to shift
in our favor. Although desires and fears continue to arise, we can
now view them with a certain amount of detachment, and, thus, no
longer feel as compelled to act on them as we once did. This, in
turn, brings even more spaciousness into our lives and a new sense
of freedom.

When we cease to be dominated by the ego's needs, our self concerns
naturally begin to fall away, and we can afford to feel more loving
and compassionate toward others. Eventually we can afford to feel
compassion even for the ego itself because we come to recognize that
it, too, is a suffering being! We see that all its obstinacy and
resistance has been motivated not by any evil intent but by its own
past sufferings and its horror of future annihilation. Consequently,
instead of treating the ego as the "enemy," we learn to embrace it
with an open heart, just as a loving mother would a wounded child.

For most seekers this represents a momentous step, and it may well
seem that the end of our journey is at last in sight. But just
because we have learned to love the ego, this does not mean that the
ego reciprocates and is now ready to give up the ghost. On the
contrary, it is precisely at this point that the ego is likely to
try out one of the most deceptive, and therefore dangerous, ploys.
This is to offer to join the seeker as a full partner in the
spiritual quest!

Initially, accepting such a novel proposal may strike us as an ideal
way to resolve the internal combat that has consumed so much of our
energy. What's more, with the ego on board as an actual ally, it
seems there is virtually nothing our combined efforts cannot
accomplish! The truth, however, is that if we agree to this pact, we
will have accepted a Trojan horse into the innermost citadel of our
spiritual life.

At first, the pace of our spiritual progress may, indeed, seem to
accelerate in remarkable ways. Since we are no longer wasting time
in worldly pursuits, all our energy can now be funneled directly
into our practices. As a result, we find we can reach deep
meditative states with relative ease. When practicing inquiry, a
host of new insights is likely to come cascading through our minds.
We may also become exceedingly scrupulous about keeping moral
precepts and, during periods of devotion, we may well attain yet-
undreamed-of heights of bliss.

The problem here is not that our path has suddenly started to
produce such an abundance of fruits. The problem is that the ego now
begins to claim these fruits for itself. "Look at what a great
meditator I have turned into," we will hear it say. "See how
profound my understanding has become!" "Look how free I am of
attachments." "No one knows the subtleties of bliss I have
experienced!" Moreover, relatively speaking, all this is quite true!
We have become better meditators, gained genuine insights, acquired
some real measure of freedom, become veritable connoisseurs of bliss-
-which is precisely what makes the trap we have fallen into so
difficult to detect.

In reality, the ego has relinquished its position of dominance in
our worldly affairs only so that it can usurp control over our
spiritual life. And the more the ego succeeds in doing this, the
more we fall prey to the most powerful of its spells, spiritual

Because of spiritual pride we grow self-satisfied and complacent
about our own progress while looking down on those who have not
attained what we have. Although worldly praise and blame may no
longer affect us, if anyone questions our spiritual accomplishments,
our pride in them causes us to take great offense. And, worst of
all, because we have become so enthralled with the subtleties of our
practices, we become more interested in refining and perfecting
these than in actually reaching the goal of Enlightenment.

To extricate ourselves from this thicket of pride, we must awaken,
or rather reawaken, a third quality of our True Nature--spiritual
yearning. Spiritual yearning is based on an intuition of the Eternal
Love and Indestructible Happiness inherent in Consciousness Itself.
Deep in our hearts we know that this Love and this Happiness exist.
Whether we have been aware of it or not, this is what we have been
searching for all our lives.

The trouble is, up until now we have been willing to settle for
lesser delights. As worldly seekers, we were fixated on the
transitory pleasures of worldly life. Then, as spiritual seekers, we
became enchanted by the greater but equally ephemeral consolations
that spiritual life brings. If, however, we now allow our deepest
yearning for the Ultimate to burn freely in our souls, then we will
see that everything we have experienced so far is nothing compared
to that shoreless OCEAN of LOVE and HAPPINESS which is our true
birthright and to which our hearts most truly incline.

But the question still remains, how to attain it? Apparently, all
our struggles on the path have been for naught. Just when we thought
we had conquered the ego once and for all, we discover that it has
outfoxed us. Although this realization shatters our pride, it also
leaves us feeling more helpless than ever. Having exhausted every
ounce of our energy, there seems nothing left to do but concede
defeat and abandon the struggle. And so that's just what we begin to

For many seekers, this can be a devastating experience--a kind
of "spiritual death," as many mystics have described it. But then,
even as we die, we may notice something quite surprising happens.
The more we cease to struggle, the more it seems does the ego! It's
as though we have been wrestling with our own shadow all along --
which, indeed, we have--so that now that we are dying, our shadow is
dying with us. And if we can surrender to this process
unconditionally, when our sense of being a separate self vanishes
completely, lo and behold, we find that our ego vanishes as well!

With the disappearance of self and ego, the way is finally cleared
for the Supreme Realization that, from the very beginning, neither
has ever truly existed. All that ever was, is, and will be is
Consciousness Itself. This is who you REALLY ARE! And to know this

Looking back, however, we may still ask a final question: If there
never was an ego or a seeker, what was the purpose of all this
spiritual combat?

From the Ultimate point of view, of course, it was quite
unnecessary. And yet, from a relative point of view, the whole
purpose of the path has been to get the seeker to surrender seeking.
For it is the very activity of seeking that creates the illusion of
a 'seeker.' And, while all forms of seeking for some thing can be
surrendered in favor of seeking Enlightenment, the one thing the
seeker can never voluntarily surrender is seeking itself, because
trying to do so places the seeker in the paradoxical position of
seeking to surrender seeking. So the final act of surrender must, in
a sense, be forced. And this is what the spiritual path is designed
to bring about--a situation in which the seeker is left with no
choice but to surrender.

Seen from this perspective then, all the struggles required of the
seeker by the spiritual path are not only necessary to its ultimate
success--they are themselves actual manifestations of the Infinite
Wisdom, Clarity, and Compassion of our own True Nature as
Consciousness Itself, which is even now calling us to
- Joel, Fall 1998

1. William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual
Teachings of Rumi (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press,
1983) p. 154.

2. Catherine of Siena: The Dialogue, trans. Suzanne Noffke, O.P.
(New York: Paulist Press, 1980) p. 111.

3. The Dhammapada: The Path of Truth, trans. The Venerable Balangoda
Ananda Maitreya, revs. Rose Kramer (Novato, Calif.: Lotsawa, 1988)
p. 30.

4. Lalleshwari: Spiritual Poems by a Great Siddha Yogini, rendered
by Swami Muktananda (South Fallsburg, NY: SYDA Foundation, 1981) p.

5. For a detailed exposition of why death constitutes a golden
opportunity for Enlightenment, see Joel's booklet, Through Death's
Gate: A Guide to Selfless Dying (Eugene, OR: Center for Sacred
Sciences, 1995).

Joel Morwood is the spiritual director at the Center for Sacred
Sciences in Eugene, Oregon. For more information about Joel and the
Center please visit the Center's website:

pedro oliveira wrote:

Assuming that the exploration of theosophical teachings is still
possible in theos-talk, I would like to draw attention to a seeming
paradox contained in the following passage:

"Self personality, vanity and conceit harboured in the higher
principles are enormously more dangerous than the same defects
inherent only in the lower physical nature of man. They are the
breakers against which the cause of chelaship, in its probationary
stage, is sure to be dashed to pieces unless the would-be disciple
carries with him the white shield of perfect confidence and trust in
those he would seek out through mount and vale to guide him safely
toward the light of Knowledge." (Mahatma Letters, #134,
chronological sequence)

The question which occurred to me is: how can the higher principles
[Atma, Buddhi, Manas] harbour such divisive qualities?


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