Ego (in the sense embodied in Buddhism) is not just wanting to be more than what we are or wanting to beat out the “other guy” – we can also understand ego in a much broader sense. We can understand ego to be anything that we believe to be true, but isn’t really true. The ego’s claim for truth is its strongest weapon.
We are not our thoughts, feelings, emotions, or body. But the ego claims all of these as within its domain of knowing. Anytime that happens – and it happens all the time – we can just note – “ahhhh ego” and leave it at that. The body has pain, the body naturally produces the thought – I wish I wasn’t experiencing pain – all of that is natural and appropriate, but the ego steps in and personalizes the situation. It is MY body. It is MY pain. Neither statement stands up to careful examination.
Let’s take a look at an example based on what would appear to be normative belief. My mind presents a very reasonable belief – for example, I hate cruelty to children. What is wrong with that statement?
Notice how the ego lays claim to it – as if distinguishing me and the elevated nature of MY beliefs from others who may or may not support this belief. What is cruelty to children? There can be considerable disagreement about what constitutes cruelty. Many people believe spanking is cruel. There are many other parents who believe “spare the rod, spoil the child.” When we take a close look at it, we can see that it’s a general remark where the primary unnecessary element is “I” and when we inject “I” into our beliefs, the ego seeks to separate us from others. It is say, “look at me, look at my great beliefs. Look how wonderful I am.”
Natural intelligence responds to life … naturally. No one needs to take claim of any belief even, “I hate cruelty to children.” The abuse of children happens – if it happens in a situation where the body/mind is in a position to respond to it – then that response happens and life goes on. But the stated belief and the personal identification with it is the ego in action. It is the voice of our personal and collective identification with inadequacy. More on how all of that works together tomorrow.