Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ego Death

Laozi depicted as a Taoist god.Image via Wikipedia
From time to time we’ve spoken about “ego death” or “allowing the self to die”. I need to be more precise regarding this matter.

Our mind is an amazing biological fabrication composed of different cells and neurons located in different parts of our brain which function in different ways, yet results in a seamless view of the world and our selves. In a balanced way our right and left hemispheres function in such a way that we bring together very different modalities to form a balanced world view which is both analytical and compassionate. Unfortunately most of us are not balanced due to a host of reasons and tend to be either overly analytic or overly affectively sensitive. For the most part our left brain rules the day and this hemisphere is the home of our ego (sense of self).

Our ego mind perceives the world in a possessive/resistant way which creates attachments and judgements. If we like (a judgement) something our ego attaches in a favorable way. If we dislike (a judgement) something our ego attaches in an unfavorable way. This clinging to conditions results in a brittle, judgmental and inflexible perspective of our selves, others and life in general. Whereas a balanced mind recognizes our interdependent union with all life our ego mind denies this and treasures exclusivity and independence.

The three poisons (e.g. greed, anger and delusion) are manifestations of this out of balance ego exclusivity. As we grow and mature these poisons create strife for our selves and others we come in contact with. We respond to this strife in one of two ways: Blame and denial or learning. The first response just exacerbates the poisons whereas the latter choice moves us to the realization they are rooted in our out of balance ego mind.

Life, in essence, is structured so that we either awaken or we continue to suffer. This alternative set (in Buddhist terminology) is referred to as Nirvana vs. Samsara—Bliss vs. Suffering. If we live long enough, and are open minded, we will eventually come to see the truth, and when this transformation happens our ego (as the exclusive judge) dies—so to speak. The fact is this sense of self never dies but it is “reborn” in a transformed way—a balanced way so that we see the world in an enlightened fashion.

This transformation can be facilitated through Zen meditation whereby we learn to quiet the constant left-brain chatter that emanates from our ego with its judgements and critique which normally over-shadows (dominates) our compassionate nature. This chatter is so loud and relentless that we could easily go through life with very little, if any, understanding of our pure and “True Nature” which makes life worth living. It is unfortunate that few of us follow this path toward breakthrough and remain ignorant of our full human potential.

Breaking through occurs when our left-brain chatter comes to a halt and we become aware of our true nature which is always present. This is a matter of subtraction—a sort of shedding—rather than adding or seeking. Lao Tsu put it this way...“Empty yourself of everything. Let the mind rest at peace. The ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return.” and this...“In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired. In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped. Less and less is done until non-action is achieved (e.g. non-action=wu-wei). When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.”
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