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Chapter Nine
Transcending the Ego

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.”

  3. 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.”

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. When speaking in public, think more in terms of what you share with others than of their impression of you.

  11. 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.”

  12. 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.

  13. Laugh with others, but never at them.

  14. 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.

  15. 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?)

  16. If someone calls you a fool, say, “Thank you. I like to be reminded of how unimportant I really am.”

  17. 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.”

  18. 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.”

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. Never draw people’s attention to yourself. Try to keep it centered in the topic under discussion.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.”

  25. 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!”

  26. 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!

  27. 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 the Doer.

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 all over’?”

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, power.


Chapter 10: Truthfulness

Autobiography of a Yogi

A Renunciate Order for the New Age

Nayaswami Kriyananda

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