The Confused and Systematically Ambiguous Doctrine of Ego vs. Egolessness

If we look a little into this supposed 'Truth' preached by Sathya Sai Baba and many other supposed 'spiritual masters', we find it depends on the 'death of the ego'. The doctrine of 'ego' that is most central to Sai Baba and I understand also to the would-be self-realization group run by the Druckers is really nothing more than a long harangue against selfishness (Me and Mine). This naked and stark belief - that selfishness is the root of ALL evil - is dressed up in portentous ideas about the 'true egoless self' within (and hidden from) all mankind.

This belief posits the wishful dream of a total awareness of selfless unity within divinity, described in highly fanciful terms like 'the golden womb', the Heart and so on. Now, a doctrine of self-denial - if moderated by common sense and free of dogmatic certainty and absolutism - would not be unwelcome. Yet the anti-ego dogma is lacking in realism or practicable and compassionate humanism. It is actually very naively formulated in reducing the entire personal 'ego' to something far less than it is: a dynamic psychic development necessary to life as we know it. There is conceptual confusion involved - the word 'ego' is misapplied by Sai Baba, imitated uncritically by a former well-know devotee, Jaani Drucker, to include one's entire identity 'as a separate being', which again is seen as being blinded by ignorance (of the Truth of its own nature) and dominated by egoism in the form of selfishness and greed. The human ego is to be understood as a dynamic development of every psyche through coping with the demands of the environment (others) and instinctual urges (survival, sex, fear, power, suppression, dominance, sex, hunger etc.).

The ego, as psychologically understood, is the human resource which develops to balance and react properly to the external and internal demands impinging on the person. It is a very necessary achievement, necessary to sane survival and without which one cannot avoid one or another form of cognitive disorder up to and including severe and chronic mental illness. Looking after oneself and one's own interests is the very basis of being human, without which one cannot even recognise or appreciate the same unavoidable need in others. Pursuing self-interest is unavoidably important, both for individuals and societies. It is the excess of selfish pursuits - greed of all kinds, economic and social insecurity, inappropriate power-seeking and all the related ills we all know so well - that are the problem. There are healthy egos and sick egos, more or less selfish or selfless egos.

'Death of the ego -self-nihilation as a means to truth?

One crucial anomaly in all ’spiritual’ doctrines and practices which seek to merge with the 'universal or divine self' and leave behind the troubles of being an incarnate individual in the world is that they require far too much concentration on one’s own salvation…i.e. on and for oneself. The paradox is that, to rid oneself of self (or ‘ego’ understood as the seat of selfishness), one has to cultivate oneself, examine oneself, improve oneself and concentrate overwhelmingly on one’s own practices (’spiritual sadhana‘). Where this is not entirely self-seeking narcissism (as it is in many instances) this supposed 'spiritual parth' can include doing good service to others, which need not be selfish but rather 'unselfish'. This supposedly applies ONLY if the service is not done with a trace of self-interest (i.e. 'egoistically'). However, if one engages in it with the motive of securing one's own good, one's own salvation, it is already tainted with self-seeking ego. One may argue that one's own good is not opposed to the good of others, but the desire to escape having to be in the world and do selfless service is behind the impulse to seek 'liberation', 'peronal bliss, being and unbounded consciousness'.

In short, any attempt to deny that we - as living human beings in a world where even survival is uncertain - are motivated by natural and necessary self-interest, and that this is not an ill, is doomed to self-contradiction and hypocrisy. 'Salvation' from the world and its cares into some unknown realm of being filled with divine ecstasy (as it is most weakly imagined, vaguely and wishfully) is rationalized by gurus and their adherents as the ultimate interest of all beings, so it is best for all humanity that people achieve this imagined egoless, mind-free self-realization. It is supposed to eventually introduce an age of Truth and goodness etc., which is absurd since the 'lucky winners' themselves will have deceased. Somehow to justify that the imagined achievement of nirvana (or 'moksha' or 'Salvation' or whatever one calls it) dead to the world where they have ceased to live and act is then often justified by another set of speculative beliefs... ideas of otherworldly contacts, mediumism from another dimension or astral sphere, communications with spirits of the dead, ghosts and many another miasma.

To overcome the ego, spiritual doctrines preach that one must think of oneself as not ones individualized person, but as essentially being Divine, one with God. This leads to ideas of omnipotence (and also omnipresence and omniscience). When one finds does not posses these qualities at all, one has to look for faults in oneself (not others, especially not in the teaching or its preceptors). However, plenty of self-styled ‘Masters’ claim to have achieve these divine qualities - even while embodied here.

From the subjective awareness of a self-styled 'master', there may be many good intentions and genuine wish to help others, however thoroughly misguided the beliefs and claims which sustain them are. Claims of self-realization, egolessness, or of having conquered the senses and the mind are met increasingly throughout the world, but there is invariably little or nothing to show for it in their followings or in radical social improvements (especially in India, where luxury and riches amid vast poverty and suffering are the mark of most of the well-known babas, gurus, masters and 'avatars'). Many who are on this bandwaggon earn fortunes, obtain great local power and influence, and also accept everything they can get for free, not least sexual dominance over followers and even power which leads them to murder too. They have to create facades of social work (financed and carried out by their followers, not themselves) behind which those with wealth and properties conceal and cover up their actual worldly lives and excesses. A very large dose of sustained sceptical inquiry is necessary when considering even long-respected 'masters', gurus and other religious figures.

This ambiguous ‘’self-cultivation’ is nothing short of narcissism, perceiving oneself only in the mirror of self-enhancing thoughts (even about ones selfless sacrifices). Most people who have some professional experience of psychological realities through psychotherapies and fieldwork among the emotionally or mentally disturbed recognise these flights of postiive self-reflective ideas as ‘escape mechanisms’ or ‘denials of reality’. In short, virtually all 'spirituality' which does not take the real down-to-earth form of everyday actions according to high values and without pretentions, means flee the world internally. It is well-known, too, how life - or the real world - has its own way of impinging on false ideas. It may even brutally destroy what Ibsen so pungently illustrated as a person's life-lie (in 'The Wild Duck') or – sooner or later - shatter the hall of self-distorting mirrors in which complex systems of mere belief consist. Anyone can be struck down by debilitating illness, by senile loss of memory or dementia, accidents causing strokes and brain damage. Any number of supposedly self-realized mega-gurus have succumbed to some of the least kind physical fates, not even excluding AIDS, What then of one’s imagined ’self-omnipotence’? We see indubitable signs of the reduction to incoherence and absurdity in the self-proclaimed omnipotent, omniscient Divinity – Sathya Sai Baba, the ultimate in narcissism and delusions of grandeur, as I and others have documented from his own words in many books, articles and web pages.

The doctrine of seeking total egolessness fails to recognise the vast achievements of ego psychology (which it almost entirely rejects as illusory worldly untruth). It is not based on the slightest research - it cannot be tested (except by sacrificing one's entire life, obviously without any guarantee of success - a fool's risk). It is a puritanical and typically Indian religious doctrine - such as Sai Baba's fatuous advice 'Die Mind' (one of his many execrable poor puns when he pretend to create a diamond (which, on professional examination, it is always a synthetic gemstone!) Obviously, undue selfishness is a trait without which the world would surely benefit, but taking it to the point of self-annihilation (i.e. killing the ego, 'killing the mind' - such as through prayers and mantras) is probably only for those who are ultimately tired of the whole of their own lives. It most often ends in moralism of the most unwelcome kind, sustaining and increasing people's sense of personal inadequacy, leading to depression and even suicidalism in those who feel incapable of meeting its constant demands. Those who strive to follow the unworldly practices involved get no lasting benefit from the process either (except for possible temporary exhilaration of the kind 'Now I have solved it all, what to do?'). Those who have made a vocation of it and sunk their prestige in preaching it may manage to keep up the required outward Pollyanna smile.

All are 'Brothers and Sisters' but no one may criticise the other

By extension or inference from the 'all one in God' doctrine, it is taught that one should never criticize others, for their true selves are equally one with the divine and thus beyond reproach. All others are ideally represented as being “brothers and sisters”… whoever they are, whatever they have done or are doing! This is all very well as a wishful dream, but it is not at all in the world all live in! Genuine concern for others as they actually are (not as imagined to be) and normal conscience have no place in that scheme which cannot distinguish between good and bad. Such belief systems would deny other people’s experience of sexual abuse as something bad, because of one’s own denial of the world and human self as real.

It is pitiful really, that this unnatural splitting of oneself in two – the real vs. the unreal self, or the sacred vs. the profane self – is seen as bringing one closer to oneness, not only with the divine self but with all ‘creation’ (or, rather, only with the divine essence of creation, not the time-space universe). This is dualism, of which no consciousness can ever totally be free (there must be consciousness of something). The actual ‘creation’ we live in and perceive is portrayed as illusive, unreal (maya), and only the supposed and unseen, unknowable creator is real. All that kind of thing is existence turned upside-down in fantasy, as often symbolised by the Yggdrasil tree (of Norse mythology) which is inverted and has its roots in the sky – as if it could exist and sustain itself in that way. (Likewise all surreal extras in the form of clouds, cuckoos, green pastures and non-stop hymn-singing ghostly choirs?).

Meanwhile, others have to put up with these people who mentally shut off the parts of themselves that don’t fit into their ideas of their ‘divine’ selves, and who then start preaching their (deeply ingrained and soon subconscious) self-deception to others. They think they know the one truth, and cannot and will not modify their thoughts, beliefs or behaviour based on worldly facts or any well-meant input or feedback from others. The most deluded cases – every adult will have come across at least one – believe they know everything, know God or even are God and are fanatically engaged in wanting to bring salvation to everyone for their own good, whether they want it or not. These God-botherers who want to save others from themselves are soon shunned by all people of experience and character because they are truly insufferable.

Another view of ego-removal:

My wife makes the following remarks on this subject: "Those who think of themselves as being one with the divine must necessarily divide the self into two parts – the divine self (atman) and the human ‘incarnation’ (jiva) which is regarded as selfish and ignorant of its divine origin, blinded by illusion (maya) into thinking of itself as a separate being. The fact that the human self is experienced as being the real one doesn’t matter, for the teaching says it is an illusion. This splitting off of part of oneself and denial of one’s real perceptions tends to undermine the whole psyche and personality, and it creates a dependency on the spiritual teacher/master or whoever claims to be able to perceive this ‘Truth’.  Many wish to be perfect, full of bliss and untouched by pain, sorrow or difficulties. In order for that to happen – the doctrine insists – one has to be constantly focused on the divine self and identifying with it. So much better than to have to identify with the human ego-self who makes mistakes, suffers, and is generally far from perfect and blissful…. How nice and convenient to reflect on the divine self, perfect and beyond reproach, and not to have to bother about reflecting on – or be responsible for – one’s human failings!

No wonder that there are so many who have symptoms of suffering from ego-mania in ’spiritual’ groups, being hardly capable of serious self-reflection, unable to recognise faults they have – and with exaggerated ideas of themselves. So as to keep up this self-image the doctrine of ‘positive thinking’ is applied, for it leaves no room for critical thoughts to disturb their focus on the ‘divine self”… while the actual human self is overlooked or even shunted off as an illusion, a negative disturbance."

See more thorough examination of the philosophy behind these unworldly enterprises:-
The Spiritual Search - a philosophical analysis of advaitic solipsism and social narcissism
God is everything, in everyone - as a spiritual teaching Advaita – historical flight into abstraction and speculation

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