The egoless ego by Marilena Iordanou
I remember those old black and white horror movies of the 30’s how it was all so plain to see who was the villain/master of the story and their little plots or machinations to do harm on others. Everybody remembers this so called villains but what slipped through the sideline though and hardly no one remembers is that these villains had their sidekick. I particularly remember being fond of their graphic sidekicks. You know that every villain needed their helper, the person who does their bidding, the person who obeys his lord/master blindly. The sidekicks who tell their master how great and worthy they are and how they say what their masters want to hear. I also recollect their gothic appearance, hatchback, crossed eyed and ugly. These sidekicks of the villains in every story also had peculiar names. A common and popular name was Igor.
I have found this name rather to the point and well picked out because Igor sounds like Ego. The sidekicks name resembles a lot like the word Ego, Igor the Ego, a case of ‘if the shoes fits’ and in this case, the shoes fits perfectly. Igor obeys; Igor does what you tell him to do. Igor, out of fear that his master won’t need him one day, tries to do a very good job in being the sidekick. He succeeds. It comes to a point when we start depending on Igor for various tasks and daily interactions. Like the masters in the movies we get attached, we cannot live without our servant Igor.
We think that it is the master who so cannily twists the plot but in reality and with a clear perspective it is Igor the Ego who is the star of the show. It is Igor who pampers the master. Basically the master’s reality is depended on Igor. In these old horror movies it is Igor the puppeteer. In reality and far from the old movies Igor is still very much present and very much real for all of us. Our dependence on our servant Igor overpower us leaving us weak and unable to live in this world and the best part of all, the best trick Igor plays on us is the illusion that we are still in control.
This allegory came to mind unintentionally while learning about the ego and the secretary in the yoga step by step course.
According to yoga philosophy and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, egoism is an obstacle for true realisation of self. “Asmita (egoism) is the identification of the seer with the instrument of seing” ~ Yoga Sutra 11:6. In other words, ego (ahamkara) is the false sense of self. We identify our self with the way we perceive through or senses. We mistake the mind, the physical body and our senses for who we truly are.
Who we truly are is constant. It has never changed nor is it whimsical to changes. On the other hand, ego consist of parts that are prone to change, like our appearance, our thoughts and judgements, our work, our friendships, our ideologies and so on. Basically, our ego is really what we identify with. We identify as the job we do and as the name we carry, our associations and wealth. We become all of these so deeply that when we come to a loss we grieve so fiercely as if we have lost our self. What is my identity if I get to lose my job? What is my worth in society without my associations? Who am I without my wealth? These identifications hit deep in the core of us becoming strong attachments which already make way for ego to thrive.
These attachments give the ability to ego to be the ever-changing obstacle. Our servant Igor has learned to wear masks and when we call out the mask to be a layer of the ego, Igor has quickly slipped into another mask. What a vicious circle is created by the continuous effort of unmasking the ego!
The hide and seek is an inevitable process that comes to those who are aware of the existence of the ego but lack the knowledge of how it can manifest in our daily lives. The constant self inquiring should be so frequent that feelings of anxiety and frustration immerge. Yes, it becomes tiresome and we get our self involve in the game of outsmarting the ego but yet somehow it is one step ahead of us.
After all this playing around brings weariness, the logical step seems to be to engage in a war with your ego to completely abolish it. Can our ego be abolished? If we look at this situation more deeply then we have to ask ourselves who is fighting with the ego? If I am pure consciousness why do I perceive the ego as a threat? Who fears the unmasking of ego other than ego itself? So who really wants to engage in conflict with ego other than the egoistic mind? Fire cannot fight fire and an ego mind cannot relieve itself from ego. In addition, if ego is merely the perception of the outside world that means it doesn’t really exist by itself, does it? Like the human body is to viruses, a virus needs the human body to exist, otherwise it dies. So without us ego does not even exist, in other words ego is only a tool. A tool of perception cannot be fought or abolished. So fighting ego is a practise sure to fail now that the notion of the bad sidekick is rebuked.
So now we have established that ego is not our evil twin send from the great beyond to torture us, we can relax and see what ego truly is. Ego is a tool we can use to survey our surroundings. Going back to our allegory, Igor is this wonderful sidekick who helps us communicate with everything that is outside of our true self. Then if Igor is such a good help then don’t fight the sidekick but retrain it to become a tool for our enlightenment and this is the idea according to yoga doctrine.
To continue with this Igor allegory, I now must start the retraining of my sidekick but how do you train Igor? How do you train ego, a mere tool of perception?
In the quest on retraining Igor we must first start paying attention to him, to see how our sidekick works. By doing this an effort is consumed in uncovering his presence. Thus by doing so the ego digs deeper and deeper and so we again try to look harder and harder. To me, this sounds like a game that the ego will prevail because ego is the only one in this equation that plays games. The true self isn’t into games. In all respect to the idea of retraining ego, I feel it is faulty. First of all somebody must exist other than the ego in order to retrain the ego. I don’t feel that ego can train itself in any way. Who will train the ego? At the present moment and with the knowledge in hand, I am not aware of anything that can support this role. Second of all, why would I want to make a great sidekick of Igor? Why do I want to make this tool so useful to me? It sounds to me that I am setting myself up and trapping myself becoming in desperate need of Igor. If I train Igor to be the best sidekick ever and help me a great deal, it will eventually become so essential to me that I will be depending from him. To put it differently, if ego becomes such a great tool for my enlightenment will I really get enlighten? How will someone get enlighten with the help of ego? By the presences of ego automatically implies the existence of attachments. Is it simply a case that when I train my ego I basically raised my ego to a level so high that I cannot understand where ego ends and I begin? My sidekick became such a necessity to me that in the end this trained servant has become the master because in one form or another and as long I exist, ego will always be there. Furthermore, with the training, I give it energy and attention and I have noticed that every time I give these to my ego, it gets bigger and bigger.
To be fair, I understand that ego has a positive aspect to it. It is at most perceived as something negative but it can also be the driving force to positive actions. It is ego that gives us a start up to the path of awakening and self discovery. It is ego that is behind a promotion, a goal, a raise, a better job, a good body physique and so on. Yes, I do understand the positive aspect but is it really a true positive? If being antagonistic and competitive with others will it truly take me a step ahead? Actually, this is what ego does. To be satisfied it must be ahead of others instead of just being content for the effort to be the best you can be in the present moment in correspondence to who you were a minute ago. So, again the positive ego can be as destructive as the negative ego. What has been achieved by the so called positive ego it is still due to ego and no truth can come from a klesha that is a veil in front of our true nature.
Evidently, retrain of Igor the sidekick is, as I see it, a trap, not because you want a lousy helper (the negative ego) nor because an excellent sidekick and helper creates powerful attachments (the positive ego) but because what the ego must become is neutral. Not good, not bad just neutral. This neutrality provides the means of transporting the outer world with unfiltered sensory free from interpretation. It becomes the clean white sheet which the film projects on. How wonderful it is to acknowledge life around us without infecting it with our vasanas, samskaras and our chitta vritis.
Considering the importance of neutrality, one begins to wonder how this can be achieved. How do we obtain neutrality? How do we obtain an egoless ego?
As it was mentioned in the previous paragraphs, the ego loves attention, so when we train it and when we fight it we simply give it attention. With the practise of pratipaksha bhavana we don’t try to forget that ego exists but simply we just ignore it. Leave it somewhere unattended, unacknowledged. Remember, ego can be a fragment of your imagination, feeding it with bad food or good food, it is still being fed. Ignore it, turn your back to it and at least let go of your relationship with your ego and concentrate with building and establishing a relationship with your inwards and what lies behind this tool, work around it. In other words, with pratipaksha bhavana and working around the ego we are loosening our grip on the ego, we weaken the attachments and we substitute our focus elsewhere like strengthening the bond with our true nature.
At this very realisation comes Igor and with a smile lets me know that even though I will ignore him, it won’t solve anything. Leaving him alone without any supervision will grow bigger and bigger. See, Igor through the years of me giving him so much attention it gave him purpose of existence, it became very important sidekick indeed. Without this attention there is simply no need for Igor to exist. But Igor is right, unattained will gain reign over the path for truth. Through the study of ego, I have noticed that Igor is a clever as I am and as foolish as I can be. I noticed he is the child like reflection I see in the mirror of self inquiring. So how do I ignore the ego and yet not letting it run around freely and does as it pleases?
If I God confined me in this body, in this planet, in this universe to help me obtain the lesson my true self needs then I must do the same with ego. Through a reckless, thoughtless and egoistic way of living created a massive playground for my ego to exist and move freely. This playground consists of chitta vrittis, of kleshas, of samskaras and vasana that provide the ego the environment that he needs. An unethical way of living creates the playground for ego to play and to thrive. When you practise the Yamas then you start reducing the space and shrink the playground of the ego. When you keep practising these ethical rules of yoga the playground that the ego has will decrease and shrivel to the extent where it has little room to manoeuvre in.
If the devil hides in the details then God must be in simplicity. Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha provide the seeker of truth the simplicity required to follow the path to enlightenment. Thus, by averting attention from the ego and diverting to the Yamas, we stop continuously feeding the ego with attention and at the same time preventing it from roaming around and causing trouble.
Another way or maybe in addition to this method, there is also another road to be taken in order to neutralize the ego. In the quote by Mahatma Gandhi “Lose yourself in the service of others” lies the answer to my search. I think what Gandhi meant by this is not to forget about ourselves by helping others and putting other people’s needs as a priority. I believe he meant that with the practise of karma yoga, you again make way for the union with the soul to flourish while in the same time weaken the attachments to the ego. When you devote yourself to practise karma yoga and you are release by the need to see results from your effort then you take way the playground of the ego thus having no space to roam around and create its usual smoke screens. While we put ourselves in the service of others with the karma yoga practise we lose our egoistic self.
To conclude, there will always be an Igor in our midst. This must become apparent and accepted as a prerequisite in order to move forward in the path of enlightenment. We must forget the notion of the good help or the bad help and concentrate on neutrality. In neutrality lies the middle path and the middle path is manifestation of the egoless ego.