How the Ego Works

Excerpted from Silent Revelations compiled by Alexander Markey, published in 1944.
Note: While this is consistent with Meher Baba’s teachings (as shown by “The Ego“, the tone of the writing is not at all typical of Meher Baba. Markey was a Hollywood screen writer, and it has been suggested that Markey did a dramatic re-write of material given to him by Meher Baba. Perhaps the over-dramatized presentation amused Baba.

How the Ego Works (attributed to Meher Baba)

The formation of the ego serves the purpose of giving a certain measure of stability to conscious processes; it also provides a working equilibrium which makes for a planned and organized life. It would, therefore, be a mistake to assume that the rise of the ego is without a creative purpose. Though it emerges only to vanish in the end, the ego does fulfill a temporary need which could not be ignored in the long journey of the soul.

The ego thus has a destined place, and performs a specific mission in the evolution of consciousness. However, since the ego is the master-agent of Maya [the illusory world, personified], ingrained in its very nature is the ambition to transgress the boundaries of its ordained domain and to assume dictatorial powers over the soul. The most cunning weapon of the ego in achieving this is its fostering of the sense of separateness from the rest of creation; emphasis on difference from other forms of life and provocation of conflict with them is its favorite ammunition. Moreover, to conceal its identity and design, the ego masquerades under the false conceit of identification with the body, and as long as its sly disguise remains undetected, it is the source of all the illusion that vitiates experience.

Unsurpassed in subtlety and deception, ruthless in tactics, the ego proceeds to consolidate its position by fair means or foul. The chief aim of its strategy is to deep-root and perennialize the sense of individual separateness, for the ego can best thrive in the jungle-growth of spiritual ignorance thus fecundated in the mind of man. The ego is acutely aware that the sprouting of the first shoots of spiritual curiosity marks the beginning of its own doom. All its crafty maneuvering is consequently centered on one plot: to thwart, or at least to postpone indefinitely the germination of hyper-physical inquisitiveness. Inevitably then, the ego becomes the chief hindrance to enlightenment of consciousness — the most formidable foe of spiritual emancipation.

The dangers inherent in the growth of the ego are intensified by the fact that man is conscious only of a small surface fragment of the ego — unaware of the deeper might of its being, in which its real strength lurks. The ego is like an iceberg that shows only about one-eighth of its menacing bulk, which [for the iceberg] is submerged and out of sight. Likewise, only a fraction of the real ego becomes manifest in consciousness in the form of the individual ‘I’; the true immensity of the ego remains concealed in the dark and treacherous catacombs of the subconscious mind.

The ego feeds and grows fat on desires; the very act of desiring — regardless of results — is its meat. Success in the attainment of a coveted object is the triumph of the ego; failure to satisfy a craving is the ego’s frustration. Both gratification of desires, as well as the inability to attain them, contribute to the intensification of the ego. If it is subjected to curtailment in one direction, it seeks and forces compensating expansion in another. So determined is the ego to perpetuate its sway that when it fails to prevent the birth of awakening and finds that it is being overwhelmed by a flood of spiritual resolutions and endeavors, it changes disguise with Machiavellian skill, and attempts to save itself by fastening upon the very force which had been brought into play for the overthrow of its reign. Still more, the ego has the adaptability to feed even upon the periodic lulls in the surge of cravings.

The only experience that contributes to the deflation of the ego is the manifestation of pure love; the only aspiration which tends to dissipate the false sense of separateness is the unalloyed longing to become one with the Beloved. Craving, hatred, anger, fear, jealousy, are all exclusive attitudes which create and widen the gulf between one’s self and the rest of life; love alone is the inclusive approach that helps bridge this artificial, ego-created gap, and which tends to break through the barrier of separation erected by false imagination.

The divine lover, too, longs, but he is free from craving; he hungers for union with the Beloved, and in seeking it, his sense of the ego-centric ‘I’ becomes less and less assertive. In love the ‘I’ does not think of self-preservation, just as the moth is not afraid of being burned in the flame. The ego is the unflagging assertion of separateness — love the joyous affirmation of oneness. Only true love can overcome the ego; only union with the Beloved can completely dissolve it.

In the ripeness of evolution comes to man, at last, the momentous discovery that life cannot be understood, nor lived fully, so long as it is made to revolve around the false pivot of the ego. It is then that the inescapable logic of man’s own experience impels him to seek the real centre of his being — the Spiritual Sun of Truth — and to re-orbit his life around it. This spiritual revolution necessitates the dethronement of the ego and its replacement by Truth-consciousness. Such an uprising against its dictatorship will inevitably be fought by the ego with all the formidable and sinister weapons at its disposal. In the course of it, man will discover that his liberation from the over-lordship of the ego is in fact not possible short of the complete annihilation of the hydra-headed ego; for as long as there is even the feeblest breath of life left in the ego, it has the incredible toughness to resuscitate itself, and the fabulous resources to re-establish its hegemony. Complete dissolution, therefore, of the false nucleus of the accumulated and consolidated karmic impressions and tendencies — which is the mainspring of the power of the ego — is an inescapable prerequisite to realization of the divine truth. The only road to true integration and fulfillment of life is over the dead body of the ego.

The consummation of this goal is the one all-vital task of every human being — an undertaking which few have the wisdom and courage, the strength and capacity, the tenacity and endurance to successfully accomplish by themselves. It is the divine mission of the Perfect Spiritual Master to light the path for the aspirant to help him over the critical spot, to guide him to his goal.

The ego is too deeply entrenched, its reserves are too shrewdly deployed, its decoys too ingeniously concealed for a successful frontal assault. The main strength of the ego must first be sapped; its shock troops — the elite core of cravings — confounded and disorganized; its whole strategy foiled by the war of attrition. The most effective means of accomplishing this is not by attack but by the subtle generalship of strategic withdrawal — withdrawal from desires. In no other way can the mighty forces of the ego be split up into harassed fragments, its cunningly-mined fields avoided, its adroitly laid traps bypassed. Thus only can the impregnable might of the ego be made vulnerable, its scattered battalions lured into pockets of undoing, its triumphant forces be reduced to impotence. Only by such a master stroke can the unbeatable armies of the ego be ultimately annihilated.

On the propaganda front, too, the utmost skill is necessary to counteract and neutralize the wily intrigue and subversive stealth of the ego. So clever is the disguise of its fifth columnists of pride, vanity, prejudice, intolerance, holier-than-thouness, conceit, piousness, ambition, cupidity, smugness [as well as] its many other well-groomed secret agents, that they are practically unrecognizable as enemies, in fact are held close to the average bosom as friends. The only thing which will smoke them out, is recognition of the fact that the ask entrusted to them by the ego is to implant in the mind and nurse into action the insidious doctrine of division and separateness from other creatures; the only countermeasure that will rout out these satellite-termites of the ego is the deliberate, consistent assertion of unity — the daily, loving demonstration of oneness with all living beings.

Simultaneously with parallel master strategy on the battle and propaganda fronts against the ego, the home front, too, requires the most skillful statesmanship if the campaign against the hordes of the ego is to succeed. Here the deeper aspects of the conflict come into play.

One of the chief and most insidiously subversive fallacies on the home front is the ego-planted concept of ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ It is the ego’s job to conjure up a false standard of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ for man and to mislead him into gauging his life and the lives of others by it.

The ego has led man to believe that all he has to do for his salvation is to stop being ‘bad’ and to become ‘good.’ This is one of the ego’s most pernicious snares; next to the complexes of superiority and inferiority it keeps more souls from liberation than any other device of the ego.

Apart from the fact that by design of the ego, standards of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ vary with the exigencies of time, clime and nationality, one of the chief reasons why this false concept is so destructive, is that it frequently results in an attitude of holier-than-thouness — the perfect trap for the unwary.

True, from the very beginning of human evolution, the problem of emancipation consists of cultivating and developing basically higher karmic tendencies and deeds, so that they might overlap and eventually annul the accumulated lover ones. Two cardinal facts, however, the ego deliberately keeps from its victims.

One of these all-vital truths is that whether a person happens to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at any given time is dependent upon the inexorable operation of his karmic ties. In the light of this ultimate standard, saint and sinner are both what they are because of the immutable laws operative in the universe. Both have the same beginning, the same end. From the divine point of view, and contrary to existing religions and creeds — so craftily instigated and popularized by the ego — no sinner has the stigma of eternal degradation upon him, no saint the eternal distinction of honour. No saint, however godlike, has attained the heights of moral excellence except after many lives of moral failings; no sinner is so debased that he will not eventually rise from his ashes and ultimately achieve sainthood.

There is eternal, divine certainty of hope for everyone, without exception; none is utterly lost; none need ever despair. It remains true, however, that the way to divinity lies through renunciation of the base in favor of the noble.

The other unchangeable spiritual law which the ego takes such pains to hide from man is, if anything, the target of a still more subtle strategy of distortion.  The ego has no contrivance more effective in crippling the home front of man’s crusade for self-liberation. The truth it so craftily conceals is that ‘good’ deeds and experiences are also products of desire, and are therefore karmically no less binding than ‘bad’ ones. Spiritual emancipation is possible only when ‘good’ and ‘bad’ balance each other, merging so completely in absolute neutralization of fulfillment that they leave no room for any further choice of self-desire.

The gradual unfoldment of ‘good’ brings in its train love, generosity and peace. The favourable karmic credits deposited by the manifestation of these qualities counterbalance and often overlap the debts of lust, greed and anger.

When the two sides are perfectly balanced, there is an instantaneous termination of both karmic debts and creditors, and a simultaneous transition of consciousness from a state of bondage to a state of freedom. But what the ego is so particularly shrewd in suppressing is that both the credit and the debit side of the book of karma have to sum up to absolute equality before the karmic account of the aspirant can be closed. For the ego is fully aware that if it permits the aspirant to draw the final line between his two equibalanced karmic columns, this line becomes at once a mortal dagger through its own heart.

Because of this certainty the ego does its best to keep the aspirant’s karmic account in a constant state of unbalance. And one of its cleverest frauds is to keep the account running by a surplus on the credit side of the ledger. For it is sly enough to know that the deepest instinct of man is for the ‘good’ and all that remains for the ego to do is to hitch the horse of this true instinct to the false wagon of self-righteousness, and it has the aspirant licked. In the majority of cases, the aspirant stays licked, because he is unaware that emancipation is not a matter of mere accumulation of virtue: it requires the most delicate troy-weight balancing of the evolutionary ledger. This is not a mathematical problem of matching what appear to be equal amounts on the two sides of the ledger; nor is it an automatic process that could be left to itself, but one that requires the most wise, most painstaking, most exacting effort on the part of the aspirant.

Until man learns this — and it generally takes him many incarnations of triumph and frustration to learn it — he falls again and again for the honeyed words of his ego — the tempter — that ever builds new false mansions for him to dwell in, abodes to suit and perpetuate the particular Maya-distorted consciousness of the individual. Frequently this is a fool’s paradise in the happy valley of self-deception, in which dwell the people who are tricked by the ego into believing that salvation is achieved by denying the existence of ‘evil.’

In this valley of spiritual monomania dwell also the gullible who are roped into believing that the road to salvation lies by way of affirmation, The ego has convinced these poor deluded, whose number is growing into legion, that they can get anything they want, when they want it, including redemption, by riding roughshod over everything, even God if necessary.

Between these extremes are people of many other, less assertive categories: honest, well-meaning, good and kindly people. All are led by the ego on puppet strings away from the divine goal, under the delusion that ‘good’ deeds, ‘good’ thoughts, ‘good’ behavior alone assure salvation.

For those whom it cannot lure into this phantom land of spiritual mesmerism, the ego builds palaces of sanctimoniousness or self-worship. These imposing castles of the mind, too, are founded on ignorance and falsehood. The intoxicant which the ego uses on the unfortunate dwellers in these fancy self-prisons is the conviction that they do not need to strive for salvation; they have already achieved it. They need not aspire for heaven, since they have turned earth into heaven for themselves, even if they had to do it at the expense of turning it into hell for others.

All these ‘good’ edifices are more difficult to dismantle than the ‘bad’ ones which they supplant, because self-identification with the ‘good’ becomes more easily deep-rooted than self-identification with the ‘bad.’ Inevitable pangs of conscience usually help man to recognition of what is ‘bad’ and assist him in ridding himself of it, but the ‘good’ is generally robed in the garment of self-esteem and becomes a bur of righteousness that bores its way ever deeper into man’s consciousness, until it becomes well-nigh impossible to get rid of it.

The difficulty with the abode of ‘evil’ is not so much of perceiving it as a limitation, but in dismantling it; the problem of the palace of ‘good’ is not so much in dismantling it as in perceiving it as a limitation. Both bind man alike. Their stranglehold is a problem of quantitative balancing. When this is accomplished, both ‘good’ and ‘evil’ disappear, leaving a clean slate of mind, on which nothing is written and which therefore reflects the undistorted Truth. In this pure reflection the mind at last perceives the untarnished soul. This is Illumination. After the mind has beheld the soul, it has to be merged in it, before the soul can become conscious of itself. This is Realization. In this state the mind itself, with all its impressions and accumulations of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and the ego-fostered perpetual strife between the two has disappeared. For the soul has at last come to dwell in a Realm in which there is neither good nor evil, only God.

Another aspect of the home front where the subversive activities of the ego create confusion most disruptive to the aspirant’s war of liberation is in the sphere of superiority and inferiority complexes that motivate man’s behavior and actions. These two destructive extremes have to be brought into delicately balanced polarity if they are to be neutralized. [Until this is done] the forces in the field against the hosts of the ego will be handicapped, if not brought to grief.

To achieve perfect counterpoise between these two basic, ego-planted tangles of the mind, requires the creation of a psychic situation in which they are both induced, for a time, to come into full play simultaneously without requiring the repression of the one in order to secure the expression of the other. It is only when the aspirant enters into dynamic, creative affinity with the Master that these two complexes are severed from the puppet strings of the ego and expend themselves in the impact of simultaneous demonstration of self-importance. The two complexes, which hold man in life-long thralldom, are thus brought into mutual tension by the attempt of the aspirant to enter into perfect kinship with the Master; like two light-rays of equal intensity, momentum and quality, they annihilate each other at the point of equi-balanced contact. The dissolution of these opposite complexes automatically brings down with it the superstructure of separative barriers which the ego has so laboriously built up in consciousness, and of which they were the main pillars. The breaking down of the walls of separation opens the way for the influx of divine love. With the emergence of divine love as the dominant factor in the life of the aspirant, the false sense of the isolation of the ‘I’ as distinguished from the ‘you’ dissolves into the greater consciousness of indivisible unity — an absolute essential for the triumph of the crusade against the ego.

In the course of his evolution, man has allowed himself to become too deeply entangled in the web woven about him by the assertive ego. Sapped of his divine creativeness by the age-old machinations of the ego, man has become incapable of successfully launching and victoriously consummating the Herculean campaign of annihilation against the all-powerful forces of the ego. Only the Perfect Master who functions on the ultimate plane of Divine absoluteness has the all-knowing wisdom, the unhampered capacity, the fatigueless energy, the inexhaustible endurance to marshal such a campaign and to guide it to victory.

To understand the function of the Perfect Master is to realize that he is the affirmation incarnate of the unity of all life. Unalloyed allegiance to him and implicit faith in his guidance open the way to the influx of the Master’s Love — the one solvent that not even the unparalleled toughness of the ego-nucleus can withstand. If, like a good soldier, the aspirant responds to the Master’s command with unquestioned enthusiasm, and carries his orders into execution with unqualified fervour, he will open the floodgates of his heart to the unimpeded influx of the Master’s Love. The irresistible potency of this divine solvent will finally disintegrate the ego and the false concepts which are its offspring. In their place will flower the redeeming consciousness of divine Oneness of which the Master is the embodiment.

When this greater Awareness becomes the guiding incentive and vivifying principle in the life of the aspirant, it leads inevitably to his spiritual emancipation. For not only does it culminate in absolute union with the Master, and through the Master with all Creation, but in the supreme moment of merging with the Master in Divine Love, the aspirant attains the acme of his quest — the ultimate goal of human beings: God-realization.