I’ve raised some skeptical eyebrows. In other posts I’ve written that the ego does not die (at least not until the body does), even once one is fully Awakened. This assertion can be seen as controversial because it contradicts beliefs about spiritual awakening and the fate of the ego — namely its demise.
But, if we step back a little bit and examine what the ego is, perhaps we can better understand why the ego persists throughout our life, regardless of the state or stage of our realization.
What is the ego?
The term ego was introduced and popularized by Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, and has been widely adopted in spiritual teachings. The idea of ego already existed in Indian philosophy as Ahamkara, “aham” meaning self, and “kara,” meaning created. Or, the created sense of self.
This created sense of self arises from our life experiences which come to define who we are. Our mind, body, intellect, memories and personality (our preferences, tendencies, behaviors, etc.), conditioning, concepts, beliefs, and culture (have I left anything out?) come together in this created sense of self. All together this is ego — the establishment of an individual sense of self, that we use to know the difference between ourselves as human beings and others, and to navigate our lives.
The issue with ego is identification — when our Self is identified as our ego and we have no knowledge of the depths of who we truly are. Ego obscures the self-knowing of our soul, and masks our truly Divine nature. We come to believe our ego is all of who we are. And that is the problem with ego.
Some teachings refer to the ego as our separate sense of self that must be destroyed upon Awakening. But the ego is only a separate sense of self if one is identified with it. In Awakening, the ego only serves as a function of individuality, and no longer serves as a sense of separate self.
The idea that the ego is destroyed or dies upon awakening in Self-Realization is not really accurate. The ego construction continues to function on its own level. It is the ego that provides the means to know who we are as a human being in this life, our personality, preferences, cultural attitudes and behaviors, etc. This is why enlightened people still display the unique characteristics comprised by their ego. Ego is still operational as a personal structure in awakened people, but identification with it has ceased, and so the ego becomes transparent since it no longer defines who we are. This is what makes it seem that the ego has disappeared.
If you think about it, does it make sense to say the ego has been destroyed, killed, eliminated or dissolved upon Self-Realization? Isn’t the awakened person still appearing as a person? Aren’t his/her characteristics essentially the same as before awakening? Doesn’t he/she still demonstrate preferences, opinions, and beliefs? Doesn’t he/she still have memories of life experiences? Doesn’t he/she still know how to function within his/her culture?
If you answer yes, then you agree that the ego must still be intact.
The ego is really nothing more than an idea of who we are with which we identify. Ego dominates our sense of self prior to Awakening of the soul, and Awakening of Pure Conscious Being in Self-Realization. But once we awaken at either level, ego is no longer a focus of our sense of self. This is because Awakening is the process of shifting out of identification with the ego, and then discovering the true scope of who we are.
In Self-Realization and beyond, the ego continues to serve a function, but no longer serves to divide us from our true nature. And this sets the platform for our evolution to Unity Consciousness, or oneness, where we are no longer divided from the world. What changes is that one’s Self, Pure Conscious Being, wakes up out of ego identification. And one no longer lives as the ego identity. Instead, one lives as the Awakened Self.
I think many spiritual seekers get the idea that living as the Awakened Self erases all distinctions. In states of spiritual realization, in particular when the Awakened Self is experienced as being one and inseparable from all, that this somehow means that all distinctions are erased. But this is not what actually happens. Even in Awakening, we know the difference between a tree and a rock. We know not to walk into a wall. We know the difference between a snow-capped mountain and a sandy beach. Distinctions still exist on their own level within the multi-dimensionality of Existence.
In Awakening, the ability to still know the distinctions between our body-mind, objects, and environments in the world continues unchanged, and without obscuring the recognition of Pure Conscious Being. Ego is part of the structure that functions to know such distinctions, and to function in this world of appearance, whether we are Awakened or not.
Whatever the degree of our awakening, the ego is still there functioning, doing its job on its own level within the multi-dimensional expression of who we are. The ego may function so seamlessly that we fail to even notice. In the fully Awakened reality, we are much more involved in appreciating the Divine than in concerning ourselves with whether or not the ego has died.
Does the ego ever die? Yes, it does. The ego is a transitory structure. It exists as long as this life. When we die, the ego dies. From there, our lives carry on in the soul to our next adventure.