Your idea of yourself, as distinct from your Self, which needs no description or formulation. Similar to self-image. The complex of thought patterns and ideas that you consider to be "you."

Problem is, the ego can be observed. It can be looked at, thought about, and manipulated. If this is the case, who is it that is doing the looking, the manipulating? Whoever that is, it must be something other than the ego. Is that you?

With a lash of my tongue
your ego shatters and falls to the floor, a broken dream
You quickly stoop to clean it up
hurridly gathering up the remnants of its once grand stature
I stand over you
Watching you fumble in your moment of weakness
Finding all the pieces is impossible
Some are lost forever, wedged tightly inside the crevaces of your soul
You stand up and face me with a facade of confidence
You're not who you once were
Now battered and bruised on the inside, you try to hide the loss
and once I am gone, you will mourn its untimely death
But still you pretend, acting as if all is well with the world
You are a fool.

The Buddhist view of ego is that it is the neurotic "self" which we create to avoid seeing reality as it is. It begins when, instead of looking at something and seeing it as part of the whole, we label and pigeon-hole it, and form an opinion. We decide whether we like it or not, what qualities we perceive in it, and through repeatedly doing this become rather subjective and narrow-minded in our viewpoint of the world. Our way of life and our thought patterns become static in a constantly changing universe, forcing us to incessantly create extra "layers" to keep up with it and thus compounding the problem rather than solving it. We begin supressing emotions or desires, or perhaps just giving in to them, letting them have free reign in order to "release" them from our system.

The ego also tends to latch on to things in order to feel safe, to create a centre around which to revolve our world until the world revolves around ourselves and we once more feel satisfied with our perceived importance. Anything can become this centre, including the neuroses we consider normal behaviour in human beings, such as the need to love and be loved, dedication to some cause, or even the desire to be rid of a centre. Even the thoughts that race through our minds every second are part of the things which hinder our view of what is.

In the Buddhist tradition, meditation is the first step to peeling back the layers of the ego, and there are many steps toward the egoless self. The danger is that we may follow these steps thinking we are well on the way to enlightenment when in fact our ego is fooling us into thinking such. All we have done is added another layer and go around convinced we have transcended ego and attained Buddhahood, a state of mind which gradually disintegrates into the normal self, back to square one.

True enlightenment is not some upward journey toward sudden blissful transcendental awareness but a gradual working backwards until we are able to percieve without judgement, a slow awakening to what has been here all along, but which only now is seen with perfect clarity, seen as an integral part of the whole. All notions of an individual self or a person seperate from the whole disappear, the dualistic view of the universe is risen above, and things just are.

Since the majority of the human experience involves making sense of our experiences and manipulating abstract symbols in pretty ways, that a great deal of problems seem to stem from defending the mental conception of self (the ego) is not surprising.

In animals whose experience of the world is more centered in their sensory input, a simpler life is achieved. Energy is devoted to the preservation and maintenance of the physical existence.

Humans, however, get the wonderful thrill of mixing symbols and mashing up postulates and assumptions, flashing signs and flaunting language in the effort to preserve the center of their existence: the ego.

After the hairless bipeds have worked out the various controls of their orifices, the urge to achieve ends through using those openings for expression sets in and the vast world of the intangible and irritating ideas can really be explored. All the words they ever use are learned within the first few years, the rest are simply variations and ways of disguising 'I, me, my', the various positions those may take ('want, have, like') in reference to the three things the world is composed of: 'food, sex, and sleep'.

To utter anything is to defend the ego. To place a metaphorical toe in the stream of symbols is to say 'I exist and I matter and I probably want sex or a sandwich,'. The act of asking a question implies the worth of the inquirer of receiving an answer. Even degrading or denying the ego, asserts its existence and the value of the source of the scathing and/or negative comments (the ego).

The ego is volunteered to order the often nonsensical sets of symbols it sees and organize appropriate reactions to the world based on previous and probably misunderstood information. So, otherwise rational minds are set to the insane task of defending an ever changing, intimidated, and fragile thing, the existence of which is often denied, in a game which no one referees and rules are made up and ignored to suit whatever whim a player stubborn enough to disregard the other players' protests can hit upon.

E"go (?), n. [L., I.] Met.

The conscious and permanent subject of all psychical experiences, whether held to be directly known or the product of reflective thought; -- opposed to non-ego.

 

© Webster 1913.

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