In all delusions, finally,
the feelings that accompany them revolve around the ego. When you want
something even as insignificant as an ice cream cone, the thought in
your mind is, “I want it; it’s for me; I will get
to enjoy it myself!” This is what I mean by revolving one’s
feelings around the ego. They verily “churn” the ether.
Our first need, then, is
to neutralize those feelings: our emotional reactions; our likes and
dislikes; our attractions and aversions; our attachments and repulsions.
Hence Patanjali’s definition of yoga as chitta vritti nirodha — the
neutralization of the vortices of feeling.
Our subtlest and most intimate
feelings, however, pertain directly to the ego itself, and act as constant
ego-reminders: ego-boosters, ego-deflators. These tendencies must be
completely eliminated before we can achieve liberation. Each vortex
of feeling draws energy inward to its center in egoic awareness. The
ego itself forms the supreme vortex.
In the simple thought, “I
want an ice cream cone,” two concepts exist: “I,” and “ice cream
cone.” The concept “I” ties the ice cream cone to oneself, but
if I emphasize that thought further and think, “How clever of me to
have had this idea!” And then, “How much more clever than my friends,
who thought only of drinking a glass of water!” And then maybe even,
“It’s people like me who help to boost the national economy!”
And finally, “They ought to make me the next president!”
In all this we see that the ice cream cone itself has come to play a
minor role compared to the more central thought, “I.”
When the thought of self
becomes paramount, the ego takes to spinning about itself, becoming
ever larger as it does so. It is good to work on eliminating all desires,
but it is even more important to do one’s best to diminish the magnetic
power of the ego itself, for the greater that magnetism, the greater
also will be the number of outer fulfillments it will attract to itself.
It is necessary above all,
therefore, to attack ego-consciousness directly, and not only to work
indirectly at removing, one by one, every outward attachment and desire.
If I want fame, for instance, it is more important to convince myself
of my own unimportance than to become merely convinced of the shallowness
of public recognition. If I want money, it is important to persuade
myself that the self-glorification induced by wealth is worse than attachment
to a swollen bank account.
Paramhansa Yogananda used
to say, “Money and fame are like prostitutes: loyal to no man.”
Yet the pride they induce are like a disease which eats directly at
one’s inner peace and happiness. A person may rightly say that if
one takes advantage of others, he will live in constant fear of being
taken advantage of in return. In himself, however, the self-affirmation
that accompanies such wrong behavior is a ball and chain heavier and
more self-impeding than attraction to the desired objects themselves.
If I steal, I affirm my own worth as a human being above that of other
human beings. If I seek fame for myself rather than for whatever good
I may be able to accomplish in the world, I push my ego above all the
other waves around me, and try, as a result, to distance myself from
my own true source in God.
Thus, more important than
working on specific desires, attachments, and outwardly directed delusions
is the work I do to eliminate my sense of separateness from the great
Ocean of Life.
What can I do, then, to minimize
this supreme self-definition — this unceasing awareness that I am in
some way separate and different from everything and everyone else? Here
are a few suggestions:
When someone tells a good
story, don’t try to “top” it with another one. Let his story receive
the appreciation it deserves. Laugh appreciatively. Be generous: allow
him this moment in the limelight.
When someone praises you,
consider (before you respond) whether even a modest disclaimer of worthiness
may not make you appear to be slighting his opinion, or his good taste.
If, for example, someone compliments you on how nicely you are dressed,
don’t reply with a deprecating laugh, “What, these old rags!?”
It would be far better simply to thank him. Or again, if he compliments
you for something you’ve done, answer him, “Thank you, though your
praise belongs to God, who alone is the true Doer.”
When someone has a good
idea, even one you yourself have already had, you may find it helpful
to say simply, “That’s a good idea!” Don’t say, “Yes, I’ve
often had that same thought myself.”
If someone makes an incorrect
statement, don’t bother to correct him — unless you consider it important
to do so. But if it does seem important enough to speak up, then, instead
of flatly contradicting him, make it clear first that you know he is
interested only, as are you, in the truth.
When someone tells a joke,
don’t tell another one unless you think it will add to the conversation.
Don’t speak, in other words, merely to be heard, or out of a wish
to “top” him.
Don’t be self-effacing.
Simply show calm respect to everyone. Show respect even to foolish people — and
more so, if anything, to children, because of the common tendency to
speak to them condescendingly. The children may be wiser than you think.
But I have found that even foolish people may sometimes be used by God
to keep one humble.
In conversation, don’t
wait impatiently for your “chance to speak your piece.” Listen respectfully,
and, if possible, listen with interest. Try to make it a conversation,
not a competition of monologues.
Be sincere. Don’t “back
bashfully into the limelight” — as someone once described Albert Einstein
doing. Let your modesty express your true feeling, and not be a show
you put on to impress others. Persuade yourself by countless and constant
little affirmations that you are only a ripple on the great Ocean of
Consciousness. Only the Divine Ocean itself is of any true consequence.
In group conversations,
be neither a groundhog (diving into your hole in fear of your own shadow)
nor a lion (beating everyone into submission with the loudness of your
roar), but think rather in terms simply of sharing with others.
When speaking in public,
think more in terms of what you share with others than of their impression
Show respect for all,
but don’t insist that they respect you properly. And if they do scorn
or insult you, remind yourself, “This is their problem, not mine.”
Show others appreciation
not only because they will then be more likely to appreciate you, but
also, and more importantly, because thereby you will expand your own
sense of identity.
Laugh with others,
but never at them.
When someone criticizes
you, analyze yourself to see whether there may not be something in you
that needs correction. Don’t answer hotly or challengingly, “Oh?
And what about you?!” — proceeding then to list his shortcomings,
which balance your own. Don’t be defensive, and never try to justify
yourself. Often, however, it is a mistake to admit to a fault, for unless
the other person is a true friend, he may someday hold that admission
over your head. Simply say, “Thank you. Maybe you are right. I will
give the matter my careful consideration.” In this way you will not
involve yourself in any personal or emotional complications.
Be more aware of what
you give out to others than of what you receive from them. Even in gratitude
your focus should be more on your expression of it than on the appreciation
you feel. (I am aware that this advice can be twisted, for the good
others do to us is in itself worthwhile, and in no way depends
on our reaction to it. When I was a small child, I once said to my mother,
“So-and-so gave me a candy, and I said, ‘Thank you.’ Wasn’t
that good of me?” Mother replied, “No, it wasn’t good. It was
what you should have done!” Good advice, indeed! Never bask
in your own glory. Do good to others, then forget it. The good that
you do belongs to the universe. Why limit it by centering it in yourself?)
If someone calls you
a fool, say, “Thank you. I like to be reminded of how unimportant
I really am.”
If someone calls you
a genius, say, “Thank you. Though I do my best, I am well aware that
any good I do comes not from me, but from God. The beauty of the clouds
at sunset is due only to the sun’s light upon them.”
If someone belittles
something you’ve done, say to him, “I am sorry it doesn’t please
you. I hope to succeed better next time.” Meanwhile, tell yourself,
“The fruits of all my actions, whether good, mediocre, or bad, belong
only to God. It is He who has dreamed this whole show.”
If someone laughs at
you, try sincerely to laugh with him. If he tells a story about you
that makes you look ridiculous, again, laugh with him — and then, if
you like, tell another one on yourself in the same vein. Do this with
a view above all of deflecting from yourself any thought that may arise
in your mind that you deserve better treatment. If, however, his laughter
is deliberately unkind, inappropriate, or in bad taste, calmly show
your lack of interest, and divert the conversation to another topic.
If a shopkeeper quotes
you a price that seems to you outrageous for something you want to buy,
don’t rail at him. Say instead, “I’m sure it’s worth that price
to you, but it’s more than I myself will pay.” Show him respect,
in other words; don’t haggle with him, or say disgustedly, “What, that price for such a piece of junk?” (After all, you’ve already
shown your own interest in that “junk.”) Secondly, by showing him
that you respect him, you’ll receive from him the best price possible,
for he’ll want to show you respect in return. For yourself, moreover — and
this is our present concern — you won’t create waves of reaction that
would inevitably return at last to yourself.
In competition against
others — in sports, for instance — do your best to win, but tell yourself
you are really competing against yourself, to improve your own skill.
Whether you win or lose, be gracious. I remember once, when I was sixteen,
that I was losing a tennis game against someone whom I considered an
inferior player to myself. To “teach him a lesson,” I gave the ball
a vicious uppercut with my racket — thereby demonstrating the worst
possible form in that game! (One is supposed to hold the racket parallel
to the ground.) I hit myself on the nose with the racket, and caused
it to bleed heavily. In fact, I broke my nose. I remember lying there
on the court, laughing heartily at the absurdity of my own action, which
had so thoroughly disproved my high opinion of my own ability. My laughter
was for the beauty of this perfect lesson.
Never draw people’s
attention to yourself. Try to keep it centered in the topic under discussion.
If someone challenges
your point of view, never let the discussion sink to a level of personal
animosity. I once mentioned to my father something I’d read once about
a claim that the Mexican central plateau had risen suddenly, in a cataclysm,
to its present height. My father, who as a geologist believed in what
is called “gradualism,” scoffed at this claim. When I tried to defend
it, he said, “I think you ought to respect my opinion.” I replied,
“I do indeed respect it — as an opinion.” Both of us quickly veered
away from what threatened to become a perfectly useless argument.
Try to have neither a
superiority nor an inferiority complex. Tell yourself simply, “Whatever
is, is; and whatever I am, I am. I refuse to make value judgments
in the matter. All of us are simply playing our parts in the cosmic
drama. Let me do my best, only, to play my part well.”
Every day, and throughout
the day, try to reduce your self-definition to zero. If you are famous
in the eyes of the world, tell yourself, “I am nothing and no one.”
If you hold an important position of any kind, tell yourself, “When
I die, all this will be lost. Even now, then, I am nothing.” If you
are unknown, or despised and rejected by others, tell yourself, “In
my nothingness, I am everything! I am not this body: I am a part — equally
so to all other parts — of Infinite Reality!”
Try to see God in all,
and to love Him in all. For everyone on earth, each in his own way and
no matter how mistakenly, is trying to find his own nature: Divine Bliss!
When death itself comes — as
it must someday — offer your life up gladly to God: to Infinite Consciousness.
Never dwell on the mistakes you’ve made in your life. Offer them rather
to God, and tell Him, “I claim for myself no credit or blame for anything
I have done. I am forever an offshoot of Thy Infinite Perfection.”
I have offered here a few
suggestions, only, for how you can rise above ego. Think of these thoughts
as “starters,” merely, to guide you in your own efforts to thread
your way through the intricate maze of maya.
I remember, years ago, working
earnestly on developing humility. To my astonishment I awoke one morning
to the realization that I was becoming proud of my humility!
Ego-transcendence is the
very essence of spiritual progress. One wonders why so little teaching
has been devoted to it, and so much more emphasis has been placed on
ego-suppression. One wonders also why, especially among renunciates,
so much attention has been given to indirect efforts such as eliminating
attachments and desires. Naturally these self-limitations must be renounced
also, the energy formerly committed to them channeled upward unidirectionally
to the brain and the spiritual eye between the eyebrows. I can only
think that the reason ego-transcendence has received so little attention
is that most people during Kali Yuga could not comprehend that the ego
really has no existence except in its fleeting dream-reality. This brief
seeming is only (as my Guru said) like a glimmer of sunlight reflected
in a sliver of glass on the roadside.
Even at the beginning of
this Dwapara Yuga, matter itself has been shown to consist only
of vibrations of energy. It is possible, now, to understand at least
intellectually that our separate reality is only an ever-changing cloud,
and that we are all, in truth, but a single reality.
Does it look to you as though
I were trying to reduce everyone to a pale shadow? If so, let me say
further that I myself only really began to accomplish anything in my
own life once I’d succeeded in persuading myself that God alone was
I tried at one point to see
if, by sitting back and turning it all over to Him, He would take over.
It was an experiment, nothing more. I was lecturing in church, and at
a certain point simply stopped speaking and waited for Him to step in
and speak through me.
Well, He didn’t. I was
convinced, then, that I had to do my bit. Paramhansa Yogananda taught
people to pray, “I will reason, I will will, I will act, but guide
Thou my reason, will, and activity to the right path in everything.”
We have to play our part,
but if we tell ourselves, “He is the Doer; He can infuse His power
into me,” we find He won’t do it. At least, as long as I remained
unspeaking, complete silence reigned. I was unembarrassed, but some
people in the audience believed, anxiously, that I’d frozen with fear.
One or two friends, after
reading what I’ve written about eliminating the ego, have protested,
“But how, then, will Master’s prediction be fulfilled, when he said,
‘Someday lion-like swamis will come from India and spread this message
Do they think I’ve counseled
everyone to become a wimp? Far from it! The more one can get
himself out of the way, the better God will be able to work through
him. What happens is that one learns to use his own, but God-given,
Chapter 10: Truthfulness