By Wes Annac, Editor, Openhearted Rebellion
People love to think the ego is an impediment to spiritual growth. If we could just get rid of it, we would finally be enlightened and free from all the nonsense that comes with being human.
What would happen if rather than avoiding or condemning this part of us, we looked for its source? This might sound counterintuitive, but the practice of self-enquiry teaches that to know the enlightened self, we must start by knowing the ego.
Before we explore this idea any further, let’s look at what the ego is. In essence, it is the framework that holds a person’s identity in place. It is the foundation on which they build their personality, as well as a melting pot of the various qualities and characteristics that form who they believe they are.
With help from the conditioning we received as we grew up, we have each crafted a specific, discernable identity. We hope our personality separates us from the crowd yet makes us likable enough to have friends and socialize.
Most of us don’t know that this identity we cling to is built on a house of cards. It serves us well but is bound to one day fall, sending us plummeting down with it.
Through death or enlightenment, the ego will inevitably dissolve. When it does, we’ll be forced to confront the reality that everything we think we are has been built on an illusion masking a much bigger picture.
With help from various practices, some spiritual seekers are confronting and accepting this harsh truth with a desire to know what else is out there.
Self-enquiry is one such eye-opening practice. It starts with taking an honest look at the ego, and if you do it right, it ends with ego dissolution. By letting you examine and look for the source of this essential part of you, self-enquiry opens you to the possibility that something exists beyond what you see around you.
For deeper insight into the philosophy behind this practice, I turn to Ramana Maharshi. He tells us that many deep thinkers are fascinated with the thought of discovering their true divine self. (1) The only way we can do this, according to him, is to question who we really are and where we come from. (2)
Responding to a question from a disciple who wondered if it was pointless to search for oneself, Sri Maharshi explains that the goal is not to find ourselves on a surface level. Instead, we inquire into the nature of the personality we identify with. (3)
He explains that we experience life through the lens of our identity. If we focus on what that identity is and what lies at its source, we can become self-aware and transcend the limitations of our ordinary perception. (4)
He makes it sound as if we discover a separate identity – or “another entity” as he puts it. He calls this the “perfect self” (3) but of course, other teachers and traditions have other names for it. You could call it the higher self or even just the self.
Without the ego, Sri Maharshi tells us, we have no vantage point from which to experience life. Questioning what is at the heart of it – where it came from and what created it – may let us see beyond it and into the light of higher consciousness. (5)
He explains that the goal of self-enquiry is to reach “natural happiness” through self-knowledge and awareness. Until we reach the source of the “I” we identify with, we will be forever restless. (6)
As we go deep into discovering the source of the “I”, he explains, our everyday thoughts will cease to influence us. He claims we will discover a connection between all creatures, which he calls the “I-I”. This unitive state of consciousness is heaven. (7)
He explains that by staying tuned in to ordinary reality, we create the duality we seem to have no control over. When we look within and discover the “One Reality”, we dissolve the illusory barrier between worlds. Then, we become wise and lose any doubt that we are all connected. (8)
Self-enquiry leads to the realization that we are no different from the creator or Source we try so hard to know. This frees us from the role of the “doer” and lets us become seers. (9)
Doers are productive members of society while seers are those who know this life is an illusion with something greater at its source. Seers may not be productive worker bees, but they offer something far more important: knowledge and wisdom that could help the rest of us become aware.
Seers likely know that the ego is merely a foundation for our identity.
Our upbringing taught us to put it front and center, and now, understandably, spiritual seekers are running in the opposite direction. We don’t need to run from the ego; we just need to question what it really is. This can be the beginning of our journey back to the higher self.
You just need to ask… who are you, really?
- Sri Ramana Maharshi. Maharshi’s Gospel. Books I and II. Being Answers of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi to Questions Put to Him by Devotees. Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanasramam,1979; c1939, 72.
- Ibid., 50-1.
- Sri Ramana Maharshi, Gems from Bhagavan. Comp. A. Devaraja Mudaliar. Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanasramam, 1985.
- Munagala Venkatramiah, Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi. Downloaded from http://www.ramana-maharshi.org/books.htm, 31 August 2005, Question 92.
- Sri Ramana Maharshi. Forty Verses on Reality. Arthur Osborne. Mountain Path, October 1964. Downloaded from http://www.realization.org/page/namedoc0/40_verses/40_verses_0.htm, 25 August 2005, Verse 25.
- Paul Brunton and Munagala Venkataramaiah. Conscious Immortality. Conversations with Sri Ramana Maharshi. ed. 1996, n.p.
- Anon., Who Am I? The Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Sarasota, FL: Ramana Publications, 1990, 27.
- Sri Ramana Maharshi. Forty Verses on Reality. , Verse 9.
- Anon., Who Am I? The Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Sarasota. Ibid., 12.
About Wes Annac:
I’m a twenty-something writer & blogger with an interest in spirituality, love, awareness, activism, and other crazy stuff. I run Openhearted Rebellion – a blog dedicated to sharing wisdom and encouraging a revolution that begins in the heart.
I also run Canna Words – a blog in which I share some of my research and opinions on cannabis. There, I write about everything from legalization to hemp and the various ways people use the cannabis plant.
I’ve contributed to a few awesome websites that include Waking Times, Wake Up World, Golden Age of Gaia, and The Master Shift. I can be found on Facebook (facebook.com/wesannac, facebook.com/cultureofawareness) and Twitter (twitter.com/Wes_Annac, https://twitter.com/love rebellion)
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