I have stumbled upon a fundamental paradox on the road to enlightenment. I have studied Buddhism extensively over the years – even took formal classes – so of course I sometimes use the yardstick of Buddhism when applicable in my ongoing self-evolution. Yet it seems with any religious dogma, no matter how refreshing, there are still flaws in how it relates to us in the present.
The main focus of Buddhism is connecting to our True Self or True Nature (as I like to term it). There are three inseparable qualities to True Nature: Space, our boundless vision of the Universe, mind and surroundings; our clarity or awareness that arises from that space; and our responsiveness to that awareness which illustrates that all thoughts and emotions are merely distortions of our True Nature. In Buddhism we are told to treat all thoughts and emotions equal. In doing so, it keeps the pendulum of energy and experience from swinging too far into self gratifying bliss or the opposite, pain and suffering. In essence we are asked to find a middle ground in how we interpret our thoughts and emotions so we are balanced – only then can the indestructible quality of our existence arise from the ashes of ego and false self.
The paradox is this: How would we know where the middle ground is without already knowing the extreme opposites of bliss and suffering. We need to have a matrix in place that takes in consideration all facets: bliss as it relates to our false-self, suffering as it relates to our false-self and this elusive middle ground called enlightenment. When we are born, society hands us our ego. True the ego is not found in the womb – it is society that molds an ego but much like the concept of Hell, the ego is manmade and in order to socially evolve it is a necessary function in our lives. Much like Hell which does not transcend humans and earth – humans create Hell through our own actions – there is this fundamental concept of right and wrong that facilitates such discussions about Hell. Likewise, there is a fundamental connection between ego and our true self (True Nature). It is true that most Buddhists would contend that the ego is not a part of us – it is merely a distortion. Still, even distortions are tangible evidence of who we are. When we look in a mirror, that image may be a distortion of our true self – a mirrored copy that is not real, but still it is rather difficult to deny that this image is not us. As stated in an earlier blog, we need the ego to evolve so that we can first reach the necessary milestones in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: The ego and our basic instincts feed subsistence strategies, love and warmth for example; only then can we begin to tackle self-actualization at the apex of self-directed growth.
The concept of an ego is in itself a yardstick in societal evolution. Whether we need the ego or not is really not the point – the ego exists whether we like it or not. The focus is not to say we do not need the ego but to acknowledge that it exists and then separate its facilities within our mind – make space for it so that when thoughts and emotions arise we can distinguish which ones are proactive to our evolution and development and which ones are merely there to create false-self and ultimately suffering. We cannot deny the ego but must find awareness for its power – the ego helped build a crude but necessary foundation in our human evolution. Now in the search for enlightenment, the key is to limit its authority and power so that true authentic empowerment can arise from within.
John C. Bader