I have noticed that even in a Buddhist context, the word “ego” is often used as a noun rather than a verb, a thing rather than a process. This easily gives the impression that it refers to a solid entity, rather than just one of the ways the mind can function.

When awareness is exclusively identified with the small self, it naturally and effortlessly operates in a dualistic way. It experiences a clear separation between inner and outer, I and you, us and them, mind and body, mind and matter, life and nonlife, existence and nonexistence, and so on. It differentiates well, but is not able to experience these differentiations within the context of the larger seamless whole.

In addition, awareness tends to perceive the small self as a solid and separate entity, and even with a sense of permanency.

This only reflects a process. One way the mind can function.

There is also no “ego” to resist any form of awakening. It is only the awareness which does not know itself in any other way than as identified with the small self. In this situation, it is natural, understandable – and very sane – to resist “dropping” it. If you only know yourself in one way, as the small self, why would you want to drop it? There may not be anything else to take its place.

It seems odd when spiritual teachers…

  • First talk about the “ego” as a thing, a noun. This naturally gives the impression that what they are talking about is the small self – this body and personality.
  • Then complain that people are not willing to “let go of the ego”. Why would anyone give up their only identification? And also, if there is a confusion about ego as referring to the small self, there is a natural and very sane resistance to giving up this small self as well.

It seems that a more effective – and painless – approach, is to drop the term altogether, and just talk about…

  • How awareness can be exclusively identified with the small self, and in this situation functions in a dualistic way. In this situation, awareness can differentiate well but is not aware of the larger context of a fluid seamless whole. It is also not aware of its own nature. In this situation, it is impossible to drop identification with the small self, because there is awareness of nothing else.
  • How awareness can awaken to its own nature, as spacious awareness – distinct from all polarities and fluid phenomena. In this situation, there is a gentle transition from exclusive identification with the small self, via an identification as the Absolute (the nature of mind), and then both and none. In this situation, awareness functions in a more transdual way. Eventually, awareness becomes familiar with all the different ways it can function – on personal and transpersonal levels – and can fluidly shift among these as appropriate in the situation. There is no fixed identity, only richness, spaciousness, fluidity and responsiveness.

There are many approaches to set the stage for this transition, such as the Big Mind process, Byron Katie’s inquiry process, and plain old meditation (shamata/vipassana).

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