Author Topic: Thoughts on Ego  (Read 4318 times)

overmyhead

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Thoughts on Ego
« on: January 08, 2010, 11:50:08 am »
I used to think of the Ego (self, atta, whatever) as this monstrous selfish beast, something that needs to be put down for the greater good.  I have been undergoing a change of thoughts, though.  Read this for its ... entertainment value only.   :cheesy:

Deceived by immediate pleasure/release, the ego is tricked into clinging to its own samsaric wheel of existence.  (The culprit is, perhaps, the biological functions subject to evolutionary selection, for whom survival is the only concern, not suffering, and which create and enslave this ego for their survival.)  Before long, the ego finds itself constantly under immense stress.  It is primary motivated by pleasure or the immediate release of stress (two sides of the same coin).  When pleasure is seeked that is offered through the aggregates, the ego is reinforced, and the stress only comes back stronger.  Pleasure/release that is not dependent on the ego, for example the pleasure of generosity or the pleasure of jhana, is genuine, and will not feed the ego.

The ego doesn't want to live - on the contrary, it wants to end, if anything (ironically, it is scared of death).  But from below, like a spring, the stuff of life is injected into the ego, the stuff that is unconsciously clung to and that allows the ego to cling to itself.  Aggregates, desires, thoughts.

The ego, to me, has undergone a transformation from selfish monster to tragic beast, tortured and enslaved, desiring only reprieve, but tricked into greater suffering.  It's no longer about putting it down, but about letting it end peacefully.  Remove the springs which feed it, and remove the clinging to those springs which remain, and the ego will be put to rest.

Offline humanitas

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Re: Thoughts on Ego
« Reply #1 on: January 08, 2010, 12:19:31 pm »
I as well, once upon a time perceived ego in this gross broadstroke style.  I've since come to realize it's far more elusive and sophisticated a process of internal decision making.  Ego is nothing more but the tool that we use to decide how we're going to live our life.  The problem I've had is when I let myself grow comfortable in my own me-ness and identity, then it's no longer just a tool that I can constructively use to awaken but a tool for its own sake.  There is something to say for the fact that ego ALWAYS comes to us in the guise of a friendly inner voice reassuring us that we're right, that we didn't do anything wrong, that we are seeing correctly and this is how ego becomes an empire that loses the usefulness of a tool for awakening.

My perceptions are still crass broadstrokes as I've moved from the big beast to the subtle beast.  But beast it is nonetheless most days.  But on some level I know that's an incorrect perception of ego.  At least there's a shred of progress where now and then I get a (maybe-real?) glimpse of how it's just a subtle but pivotal energy in my awareness that organizes and negotiates all my bodily functions, likes/dislikes, feelings about what I'm perceiving, etc.  If I had to picture a "structure of self," ego would be THE tiny screw that holds the whole thing together.  The only problem is sometimes we focus so much on the importance of this screw and act like the screw is the structure itself.  That is self-importance I think, thinking your tiny screw that holds your aggregates in an organized fashion IS the structure, the beginning and the end.  But it's not.   It's JUST a judging tool, the evaluator in us that allows us to benefit the most from our perception.  So if there are two plates and one is better food than the other, our ego energy is what determines our preference to one kind of food over another....  Ego...  It's just a screw in a larger illusory structure.  I'm learning to cherish my ego in a way that is actually compassionate and maternal, that is I acknowledge it daily, but attempt to whittle down the conditions one at a time that inflate that side of me too much... it requires a lot of self-reflection and acceptance.  I'm too judgmental this week, I know this little screw is screwing with me as I'm struggling to keep my cool a lot this week... Ego is also the self-importance when we're able to accomplish something, and we go, I'm so good, I'm so much better than most.  I just want to lash out at certain things, but I fortunately have enough of a speck of self-reflection to not do what it's been yelling at me to do (throw tantrums) and I've been just listening.  Oddly I've been noticing that my ego is like a child,  like it was my 2 year old daughter who has toddler meltdowns daily.   I resonate greatly with her struggle.  EVen though I'm a bit older, hopefully I will teach her to handle those energies of ego properly with practice and kindness to herself.

Apologies for the tangential references.  I'm trying to stay on topic.

 :namaste:
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TMingyur

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Re: Thoughts on Ego
« Reply #2 on: January 08, 2010, 12:29:36 pm »
... for example the pleasure of generosity or the pleasure of jhana, is genuine, and will not feed the ego.

This sentence may express very well that buddhism has been undermined by psychologisms. "ego" is an inappropriate concept in the context of buddhism.

Actually it is thus: if the pleasure of jhana feeds anything then it feeds the self and therefore perpetuates samsara. Also we do not need to look exclusively in the direction of the jhanas of the "pali based" traditions. We may find the same danger in Vajrayana.


Kind regards
« Last Edit: January 08, 2010, 12:32:56 pm by TMingyur »

Offline humanitas

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Re: Thoughts on Ego
« Reply #3 on: January 08, 2010, 12:43:35 pm »
I will tend to agree with you here TM.  I as well have often felt that (pop)psych'isms have infiltrated and perhaps distorted the conception as it is in Buddhist canon.  I prefer the term self-importance to ego simply because self-importance is a simple enough feeling to recall.  We know when we feel important.  And we can isolate it easier than this mysterious stranger we call ego... I also don't like singling out this "ego" like it's a separate entity since it is not. 

Quote
Actually it is thus: if the pleasure of jhana feeds anything then it feeds the self and therefore perpetuates samsara.

This is interesting, can you explain it to me a little better?
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TMingyur

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Re: Thoughts on Ego
« Reply #4 on: January 08, 2010, 01:05:19 pm »
Quote
Actually it is thus: if the pleasure of jhana feeds anything then it feeds the self and therefore perpetuates samsara.

This is interesting, can you explain it to me a little better?

Really all masters agree that jhana being the goal of one's meditation practice due to clinging to this "pleasure" - or perhaps better "bliss" - first mentally and physically, then only mentally then more and more refined up to the so called 'peak of cyclic existence' - entails birth in the deva realms. "deva realm" is temporary happiness but not liberation. The Buddha in the Pali canon taught again and again that in order to attain liberation one has to drop these states and leave them behind.

Kind regards

Offline humanitas

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Re: Thoughts on Ego
« Reply #5 on: January 08, 2010, 01:25:02 pm »
Quote
Actually it is thus: if the pleasure of jhana feeds anything then it feeds the self and therefore perpetuates samsara.

This is interesting, can you explain it to me a little better?

Really all masters agree that jhana being the goal of one's meditation practice due to clinging to this "pleasure" - or perhaps better "bliss" - first mentally and physically, then only mentally then more and more refined up to the so called 'peak of cyclic existence' - entails birth in the deva realms. "deva realm" is temporary happiness but not liberation. The Buddha in the Pali canon taught again and again that in order to attain liberation one has to drop these states and leave them behind.

Kind regards

Ok, so I need to go off topic for a minute for my next question (maybe start a new thread on deva realms if this evolves that way), overmyhead, I apologize for this. 

So when one practices meditation to uncover this clinging and expose it, one accumulates the potentials of a more refined view of self and mind, and this is what eventually gives one rebirth in the deva realms?

On the Deva realms (and I promise I'll split the topic if this is more than three posts long in this thread)...

I have studied a little from Gampopas Jewel Ornament and Patrul Rinpoche's WordsofmyPT.  When I had previously asked about the deva realms I'd gotten an explanation that while there is that happiness there is little incentive to refine further (am I thinking of the right thing deva realm=god realm?) so what potentials are accumulated unless used towards progress in awakening will exhaust and rebirth will occur in again and again.  So what I was told that human rebirth is even more precious than deva rebirth because there is the potential for awakening due to the very nature of the human mind, it has pain and pleasure so mixed and so close that it creates a favorable set of conditions for self-managing one's awakening.  I may have misunderstood this concept altogether and I may be completely butchering it and if I am I apologize.... and please correct me.  Are Devas still subject to samsara even though they might have more happiness?  And are Devas subject to "ego" as it is defined (self-importance, whatever you want to call it)?

Thanks for your thoughts.

Ogyen
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TMingyur

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Re: Thoughts on Ego
« Reply #6 on: January 08, 2010, 01:52:21 pm »
Quote
Actually it is thus: if the pleasure of jhana feeds anything then it feeds the self and therefore perpetuates samsara.

This is interesting, can you explain it to me a little better?

Really all masters agree that jhana being the goal of one's meditation practice due to clinging to this "pleasure" - or perhaps better "bliss" - first mentally and physically, then only mentally then more and more refined up to the so called 'peak of cyclic existence' - entails birth in the deva realms. "deva realm" is temporary happiness but not liberation. The Buddha in the Pali canon taught again and again that in order to attain liberation one has to drop these states and leave them behind.

Kind regards

Ok, so I need to go off topic for a minute for my next question (maybe start a new thread on deva realms if this evolves that way), overmyhead, I apologize for this.  

So when one practices meditation to uncover this clinging and expose it, one accumulates the potentials of a more refined view of self and mind, and this is what eventually gives one rebirth in the deva realms?
It is said that one leaves behind the afflictions of the desire realm when one enters the form realm state in meditation. But each realm has its specific remaining afflictions. Of course since we as humans associate our gross experiences in the desire realm with "samsara" the form or even formless state may appear very very elevating in comparison to the desire realm. This is what causes attachment. "Self" and "attachment" are really not separable. When this is that arises. In the form or formless state the "view"/"experience" of "self" may be very refined because the grossness of the desire realm is lacking.


When I had previously asked about the deva realms I'd gotten an explanation that while there is that happiness there is little incentive to refine further (am I thinking of the right thing deva realm=god realm?) so what potentials are accumulated unless used towards progress in awakening will exhaust and rebirth will occur in again and again.  
...
Are Devas still subject to samsara even though they might have more happiness?  And are Devas subject to "ego" as it is defined (self-importance, whatever you want to call it)?
If there is only bliss then that is the result of karma. This karma is also accumulated during  the corresponding meditation. It is said that the life if devas is very very long in comparison to human life which entails that really all positiv karmic accumulations are burned, i.e. consumed during a deva life so that once they die they will necessarily be reborn in hell since there are only bad accumulations left.


So what I was told that human rebirth is even more precious than deva rebirth because there is the potential for awakening due to the very nature of the human mind, it has pain and pleasure so mixed and so close that it creates a favorable set of conditions for self-managing one's awakening.
Exactly. When there is only bliss nothing but bliss why practice? You cannot even concentrate on practice since sweet bliss is so distracting.

Kind regards
« Last Edit: January 08, 2010, 01:55:35 pm by TMingyur »

Offline humanitas

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Re: Thoughts on Ego
« Reply #7 on: January 08, 2010, 02:07:52 pm »
TMingyur, thank you for that explanation, that was very clarifying for me.

 :jinsyx:
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Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Thoughts on Ego
« Reply #8 on: January 08, 2010, 02:14:42 pm »
Bottom line:  Anything in The 31 Planes of Existence, which includes the Jhana realms is subject to impermanence, dependent origination, kamma, and is therefore samsaric.  I don't think that the initiator of the quote you referenced was aware of this.

reference: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/mendis/wheel322.html#planes

Quote
The fine material sphere (ruupa loka) consists of sixteen planes. Beings take rebirth into these planes as a result of attaining the jhaanas. They have bodies made of fine matter. The sixteen planes correspond to the attainment of the four jhaanas as follows:

1.Three as a result of attaining the first jhaana:
A.brahma parisajjaa — realm of Brahma's retinue (12)
B.brahma purohitaa — realm of Brahma's ministers (13)
C.mahaa brahmaa — realm of great Brahmaa (14).
2.Three as a result of attaining the second jhaana:
A.parittaabhaa — realm of minor luster (15)
B.appamaanaabhaa — realm of infinite luster (16)
C.aabhassaraa — realm of radiant luster (17).
3.Three as a result of attaining the third jhaana:
A.paritta subhaa — realm of minor aura (18)
B.appamaanasubhaa — realm of infinite aura (19)
C.subha ki.nhaa — realm of steady aura (20)
4.Two as a result of attaining the fourth jhaana:
A.vehapphalaa — realm of great reward (21)
B.asaññasattaa — realm of mindless beings who have only bodies without consciousness. Rebirth into this plane results from a meditative practice aimed at the suppression of consciousness. Those who take up this practice assume release from suffering can be achieved by attaining unconsciousness. However, when the life span in this realm ends, the beings pass away and are born in other planes where consciousness returns. (22)
5.Five as a result of attaining the fruit of non-returning (anaagaamiphala), the third level of sanctity:
A.avihaa brahmaa — the durable realm (23)
B.atappaa brahmaa — the serence realm (24)
C.sudassaa brahmaa — the beautiful realm (25)
D.sudassii brahmaa — the clear-sighted realm (26)
E.akani.t.thaa brahmaa — the highest realm (27).
These five realms, called suddhaavaasaa or Pure Abodes, are accessible only to those who have destroyed the lower five fetters — self-view, sceptical doubt, clinging to rites and ceremonies, sense desires, and ill-will. They will destroy their remaining fetters — craving for fine material existence, craving for immaterial existence, conceit, restlessness and ignorance — during their existence in the Pure Abodes. Those who take rebirth here are called "non-returners" because they do not return from that world, but attain final nibbaana there without coming back.

The immaterial or formless sphere (aruupa loka) includes four planes into which beings are born as a result of attaining the formless meditations:

1.aakaasaanañcaayatana — sphere of infinity of space (28)
2.viññaa.nañcaayatana — sphere of infinity of consciousness (29)
3.aakiñcaññaayatana — sphere of nothingness (30)
4.neva — saññaa — naasaññaayatana — sphere of neither perception or non-perception (31).
Many may doubt the existence of these planes, but this is not surprising. Such doubt was known even in the Buddha's time. The Sa"myutta Nikaa (II, 254; SN 19.1) records that once, when the venerable Lakkhana and the venerable Mahaa Moggallaana were descending Vulture's Peak Hill, the latter smiled at a certain place. The venerable Lakkhana asked the reason for the smile but the venerable Mahaa Moggallaana told him it was not the right time to ask and suggested he repeat the question in the Buddha's presence. Later when they came to the Buddha, the venerable Lakkhana asked again. The venerable Mahaa Moggallaaana said:

"At the time I smiled I saw a skeleton going through the air. Vultures, crows and hawks followed it and plucked at it between the ribs while it uttered cries of pain. It occurred to me: 'How strange and astonishing, that a being can have such a shape, that the individuality can have such a shape!'"

The Buddha then said: "I too had seen that being but I did not speak about it because others would not have believed me. That being used to be a cattle butcher in Rajagaha."
[/quote/
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

overmyhead

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Re: Thoughts on Ego
« Reply #9 on: January 08, 2010, 04:35:38 pm »
... for example the pleasure of generosity or the pleasure of jhana, is genuine, and will not feed the ego.

This sentence may express very well that buddhism has been undermined by psychologisms. "ego" is an inappropriate concept in the context of buddhism.

Actually it is thus: if the pleasure of jhana feeds anything then it feeds the self and therefore perpetuates samsara. Also we do not need to look exclusively in the direction of the jhanas of the "pali based" traditions. We may find the same danger in Vajrayana.


Kind regards

I made a mistake equating ego to self/atta.  Ego refers to a specific conceptual self, the one concerned with personal desires, not self in general.  My post was about Ego, not about self.

... for example the pleasure of generosity or the pleasure of jhana, is genuine, and will not feed the ego.

In the context of my previous comment, I think this quote makes sense.  The pleasure of jhana does not feed Ego, but it does feed self/atta on a grossly different level, which is why, as you say, it too must be left behind.  But in the meantime, the pleasure of jhana is useful for wrestling us away from that grossest level of self, the Ego.  Do you still take issue, TM?

TMingyur

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Re: Thoughts on Ego
« Reply #10 on: January 08, 2010, 09:51:55 pm »
... for example the pleasure of generosity or the pleasure of jhana, is genuine, and will not feed the ego.

In the context of my previous comment, I think this quote makes sense.  The pleasure of jhana does not feed Ego, but it does feed self/atta on a grossly different level, which is why, as you say, it too must be left behind.  But in the meantime, the pleasure of jhana is useful for wrestling us away from that grossest level of self, the Ego.  Do you still take issue, TM?
We are just comparing perspectives. Perhaps you should explain why you prefer "ego" in this context? What meaning does this term evoke in your mind?

I think that there are contexts where the term "ego" is appropriate. I may be a bit biased here but to me it seems as if the term "ego" originates from psychology and/or psychoanalysis. It is not that "psychology and psychoanalysis" cannot ease the suffering of people but the way they do this and the phenomena they take as "given" to base their approach on are imo not compatible with the buddhist approach. E.g. sometimes it seems as if actually psychoanalysis wants to reinforce the "I" or a type of "I" considered to be more wholesome.

Kind regards

overmyhead

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Re: Thoughts on Ego
« Reply #11 on: January 08, 2010, 10:10:08 pm »
When I think of self, I see it on many different levels.  Self as personal identity, self as consciousness, self as mind, self as god, self as whatever is given identity.  When I say Ego, I simply mean the personal self which appears to exist due to attachment to sensuality (including the attachment to sensuality in and of itself).  I am not giving it any psychoanalytic connotations.  Perhaps it is a poor choice of words if it is commonly inferred in the psychoanalytic sense.

TMingyur

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Re: Thoughts on Ego
« Reply #12 on: January 08, 2010, 10:25:53 pm »
When I think of self, I see it on many different levels.  Self as personal identity, self as consciousness, self as mind, self as god, self as whatever is given identity.  When I say Ego, I simply mean the personal self which appears to exist due to attachment to sensuality (including the attachment to sensuality in and of itself).
That's interesting. Except "self as god" the "self" you are referring to seems to correspond to what I know as "the self being falsely apprehended as being 'one with the aggregates'" where 'one with the aggregates' may mean "one with all" or "one with individual aggregates".
The other misapprehension is "the self being falsely apprehended as being 'different from the aggregates'". That may correspond to "self as god" and/or to that the term "ego" as you apply it refers to.
When you say "Ego ... which appears to exist due to attachment to sensuality" you seem to reverse the perspective I am familiar with: That initially there is this false  apprehension of the "self" - or the "I" - which then causes the afflictions attachment belongs to.

Kind regards

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Thoughts on Ego
« Reply #13 on: January 08, 2010, 11:00:05 pm »
The common meaning of ego is "self picture".  Since there is nothing mental, nothing corporeal, no social affiliation such as family, friends, institutions, nor posessions, nor accomplishments, nor experiences which can be named which are the self, then all of these are not self.

So, what is the point of even bothering to discuss such concepts.  All of these and anything else that you could think of or name are impermanent and dependently arisen and therefore insubstantial, not to be relied upon, to be igonored, to be abandoned.

What you think about such things, and/or how you describe such concepts leads only to pain, suffering, disatisfaction and are not conducive to the development of Right View:  There is suffering, there is a cause to suffering, there is a means to end suffering, The Way is The Noble Eight Fold Path, The Middle Way, the way to nibbana.

What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

TMingyur

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Re: Thoughts on Ego
« Reply #14 on: January 09, 2010, 12:08:47 am »
The common meaning of ego is "self picture".  Since there is nothing mental, nothing corporeal, no social affiliation such as family, friends, institutions, nor posessions, nor accomplishments, nor experiences which can be named which are the self, then all of these are not self.
If there were a "common meaning" then there would not be definitions. And since there are many definitions each depending on its own context there arises the need to discuss the meaning as it is applied by users of this forum in specific contexts.

So, what is the point of even bothering to discuss such concepts. 
See above.

All of these and anything else that you could think of or name are impermanent and dependently arisen and therefore insubstantial, not to be relied upon, to be igonored, to be abandoned.
It is simply so: if you are communicating using terms and terminology there arises the need to know what is the intended meaning of words applied in the context of the conversation. If "insubstantial, not to be relied upon, to be igonored, to be abandoned" is all you think is needed to say then there would be no need for a forum like this and there would be no need for all these different sutras.

What you think about such things, and/or how you describe such concepts leads only to pain, suffering, disatisfaction and are not conducive to the development of Right View:  There is suffering, there is a cause to suffering, there is a means to end suffering, The Way is The Noble Eight Fold Path, The Middle Way, the way to nibbana.
You seem to ignore that "Right view" is dependent on concepts.

Kind regards
« Last Edit: January 09, 2010, 12:11:28 am by TMingyur »

 


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