The average westerner believes he or she is in a battle with his or her self, or ego. You hear it all of the time from esteemed spiritual teachers:
1. “The foundation of the Buddha's teachings lies in compassion, and the reason for practicing the teachings is to wipe out the persistence of ego, the number-one enemy of compassion." Tenzin Gyatso
2. “ Ego is the biggest enemy of the human." Hindu Rig Vedas
3. “Give up all bad qualities in you, banish the ego and develop the spirit of surrender. You will then experience Bliss.” Sri Sai Baba
4. “There is a very powerful energy, force, or intention in each of us that violently resists the possibility of real freedom. That is what ego is, and for the individual who sincerely aspires to become a liberated human being, ego is the only obstacle, the only enemy of the longing for freedom.” Andrew Cohen
Those who say that ego is our enemy foster an often unconscious internal war which will sometimes suprisingly erupt into that person’s relationships, and will always erupt into the larger world scene. This person may never blow his top or lose her temper in public. He may be the epitome of peace and love, externally, but inside rages an invisible war of contempt for the ego-self which reminds him of his finite and not quite realized ideal self'. He may be fighting sexual lusts or an insatiable appetite for recognition and success. She may walk by the mirror and see what she feels is an ugly, vain, confused, frustrated woman. He may feel contempt for the self he brings home from work or social situations. Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once wrote, “Tonight I was the life of the party; I made people laugh and feel good. I came home and wanted to kill my self.” There it is...the contempt for the ego, the unfinished and sometimes troubling self.
HE WHO LIVES BY THE SWORD
Self…the ego…the person living in my skin with a name feels like the number one enemy of many otherwise tranquil appearing spiritual persons today. These people meditate, ‘wage peace’, promote non-violence and voice an open disdain for war and those whom they feel cause these wars. Yet by fighting their own egos, they are unconsciously creating a psycho-cultural matrix for the very wars they oppose.
The Universe is a Unified Cosmos, an organic body, a single living organism. Each individual is a little psychological cell in the larger Soul of the Cosmos. While these ego-fighting peace advocates may see themselves as peaceful people because they work to promote peace and world harmony – they are a raging battlefield internally, hating their own selfishness, lust, greed, envy, jealousy and a host of other secluded thoughts and emotions comprising the pesky ego.
They are convinced that by keeping their psychological war criminals locked away in solitude, inviting God in to conquer this enemy of selfish ego, they are promoting peace. I don’t think so. Their subdued ego-adversaries may be shackled behind carefully guarded lips and politically correct prison bars, but the energy will show up in other places – the appearance of cancer cells, street gangs, a war in Iraq and social hate crimes. The point here is not to make people feel guilty or responsible for violence, but to suggest that the roiling magma of our own internal warfare against ego will emerge somewhere else on the surface of the social landscape. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote, "Men have talked about the world without paying attention to the world of their own minds, as if they were asleep or absent-minded."
NAZI GERMANY: LUTHER AND THE WAR WITHIN
I conjecture, because there is no ‘proof’, that Nazi Germany may be a glaring example of internal ego warfare spawning external violence. Here was a 'Christian' nation. It was filled with genuinely good Bible reading people, moral Lutheran and Catholic people, kind people. They were not monsters, but decent, family loving, patriotic, God fearing folks. But, they had lived with a doctrine called Original Sin which taught that their natural internal self (ego) was evil and separated from God. For 400 years they had sung Martin Luther’s militant hymn:
A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing…
Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God's own choosing.
According to this theology, the very core of each German soul was bad. One had to fight, or let God fight hard to subdue the vile enemy within. Luther and Germany were informed by what they felt was the God-inspired theology of Saint Paul who wrote, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.” (Romans 7:18) And before we exclude ourselves as being done with that old negative Christian theology, change one word in this verse and many of us will find ourselves still very much believing the same thing: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my ego nature.”
If we change the world sinful to ego, we find that there is little difference between those who believe in Original Sin, and those who are at war with their egos.
The solution is to stop fighting the ego. One may recognize the ego as selfish and at times quite troublesome personally and socially, but it is a necessary and wonderful gift of human consciousness. For theists, think of the ego as the seed of God, the ovum of consciousness. It is planted in the soil of existence and develops through stages. It cracks apart and puts down roots in selfish actions and impure motives. The process is often dark and dank as the ego-seed pod dies and cracks open. Carl Jung said, "We spend the first thirty five years of our lives developing an ego, and the second thirty five getting rid of it."
The ego or self is a little like the human body – it has many features and functions, some noble and others not so noble. We feed and exercise both. Sometimes both cause us great pleasure and other times great pain. They may produce creative works of art and stinking feces. This is normal and natural for the physical body and the psychological ego. Most of us don’t declare war on our bowel movements or full bladders. We recognize these functions as normal and necessary, and find ways to deal with them appropriately. We teach our children to use the potty and clean themselves. Ego is often like a little child being taught and trained to expand in awareness.
Any doctrine or psychology which denigrates the ego creates a human being who is split internally. This phenomenon will always move a culture toward war.
To castigate a part of ourselves, in fact the very center of our self, is the precursor to all violence. When we fight our own self or ego, selfish and petty though it may be at times, we create a state of internal agitation, mostly sublimated. When we awake in the morning and begin the day feeling we must fight our bad attitudes, greedy desires, negative thoughts and selfish motivations, or that we must battle against some religious or political ideology – we are setting the stage for war. In fact, we are war.
This is a very subtle and seldom detected battlefield in many of us. We just assume that our ego is bad and must be conquered or surrendered, terms we use of the enemy. Our fight with our egos, like magma, boils beneath the collective consciousness and will always erupt somewhere. Often, we blame the politicians for causing the wars – but the politicians are put in the unpleasant position of having to manage our sublimated psychological battles which burst open in national or international conflicts. We slap bumper stickers on our cars, march in the streets, rail against the war mongering bureaucrats – and spend the day fighting our egos.