Ego is a tricky word and it has been used to convey about 3-4 different things… And there has been a confusion because of translations… This post will clarify the confusion that might have arisen.
1. There is a word called ‘Ahamkar’. This word has been used in Yoga, Vedanta and Samkhya. And this ‘ahamkar’ actually disappears completely after enlightenment. But this word is usually translated as ego in English. Let us look at the actual meaning of the word Ahamkar. Its a compound word consisting of ‘Aham’ which means ‘I’ and ‘kara’ which means ‘to do’. The compound word indicates the idea ‘I am the doer’.. This idea can only exist in separation or duality. After enlightenment, you can’t even find a slight scent of Ahamkara, because duality completely disappears.
2. There is also something called ‘Aham vritti’… This is also translated as ego in English. But ‘Aham vritti’ is actually the root of the self-concept, which too is destroyed completely after enlightenment. Self-concept is the story of ‘you’ that you carry in your head. This story completely loses its focus, importance, significance and power after enlightenment. You only access the self-concept that you have in memory. But there is no active, consistent, solid self-concept which spans from past to future.
3. There is a function in the mind which helps you with social interactions. Its is also referred to as ego. I use the word ‘ego’ to refer to this. This function is totally necessary for social interactions. It is this function which strives to protect and enhance the self-concept. So by its very nature, ego is defensive. But after enlightenment, self-concept disappears while ego as a function persists. This is why you can notice some kind of defensiveness even in enlightened people. But they defend the truth, instead of defending a self-concept.
4. Freud used the word ‘ego’ in a totally different way. If you look up his theory about ego, super-ego and id, you will understand what he is saying in his theory.
Note: This is very important. If you find one guru saying something about ego which another guru seem to contradict, then always remember that they are probably using the word ‘ego’ to mean different things. The above is the quick checklist that you can refer. I have an entire chapter in my book called ‘Problem with words’ where I discuss certain confusions that tend to happen because of using one word to mean multiple things or using multiple words to mean a single thing. Makes sense? So, when you listen to a spiritual guru, it is very important to inquire what meaning he is actually giving to a particular word by checking the context.
Conscious first-person experience is the absolute truth.
The objective world you see outside and the internal world that you see inside happens in your conscious first-person experience. Without a consciousness that knows the existence of an object in the objective world or in the internal conscious field, there is no one else to confirm the existence of such object.
This first-person conscious experience is like a pure screen of awareness where the movie of your life is being played. The scenes in the movie keep changing; there is no permanence found in the contents of the screen. The screen is experiencing itself and is also consciously aware of its contents.
The contents of the screen include the following:
The information you gather from the five senses.
The information after it is processed in your internal monologue of thoughts, concepts, and words.
The likes and dislikes that arise from the association of such objects.
Your conceptual past and agenda filled conceptual future.
The sense of separation from the world.
All the conceptual, episodic and semantic information that you have gathered in the memory
The intellect which helps to discriminate things between the contents, decisions and intends to do action.
Because of the sense of separation in the world, a separate illusory self arises which identifies with the contents of the screen, clings to them and feels in its bones that it is the doer of the actions, knower of the knowledge and the experiencer of the experiences.
This illusory self is an illusion created by thoughts. During the moments when the thoughts are absent and during deep sleep, this illusory thinker of thoughts is not there. All that exists then is a conscious experience of life or being.
But when the illusory self arises, there arises a craving for pleasure, becoming and non- becoming. The craving arises from a sense of lack; the separate illusory self needs protection and enhancement. This lack motivates a seeking towards the unknown, a longing from the bottom of the heart to unite with the truth.
But, without this separate illusory self, there is really no separation in the existence; Then what is left is your true Self, the Absolute, the Truth, the inner guru or satguru, the Tao, Dhammakaya or the Kingdom of God. This union of everything is Yoga, the mystical union with God or Fitra.
But in order to realize the truth in the experience, the illusory separate self has to be recognized as non-existent. Once a disciple with the prepared and purified mind recognizes the illusion as illusion, there is freedom and there is the extinction of the fire of craving.
Once the illusory separate self- is realized as non-existent, the illusory walls between the following are also realized as non-existent:
The knower, the known and the knowledge.
The experiencer, experiencing and the experience.
The doer, the doing and the action.
Then there is no distinction between action, knowledge or experience either.
It is like an extremely self-conscious wave realizing that it is indeed the infinite ocean of consciousness itself and that there was never a separation!
So, the fact that ‘Conscious first-person experience is the absolute truth’ is recognized in the experience of reality only when this ‘first person’ is dropped. When this first person, the illusory sense of self is clearly recognized as non-existent, all that is left is the conscious experience which is the absolute truth.
The Absolute truth is the conscious experience of being. This conscious experience without the illusion of the ‘first person’ is bliss. This is your true nature.
So, Your true nature is the Absolute truth which is conscious and blissful. It is all that exists.
This is what we call as the Truth – Consciousness – Bliss or Satchitananda! You are that!
Osho advocated a simple and powerful meditation technique called witnessing. It is nothing but mindfulness in daily activities. It is not only an effective practice for spiritual seekers seeking spiritual enlightenment, but is also a good practice to improve mental peace in general. But the essence of the witnessing meditation has to be understood before one starts to practice it.
The following links will help you to understand some of the basics when it comes to spiritual enlightenment. After reading these links, witnessing meditation will make much sense and will be easier to understand:
The following infographic will give you the steps involved in witnessing. Feel free to download and share the infographic if you want:
As it is explained in the infographic, the first step is to learn to discriminate between the awareness and the contents of the awareness. Anything that is observed in the mind, body and the external world is a content of consciousness. When you start witnessing, you may often mistake an object of consciousness for the subject. This is because of the deep-rooted identification people have with the objects of consciousness. You need to rise above each thought, feeling and sensation so that you don’t get identified with the contents.
Here is an excerpt of Osho’s talk from the book ‘From the False to the Truth:
“Just be, and watch. Being is not doing, and watching is also not doing. You sit silently doing nothing, witnessing whatsoever is happening. Thoughts will be moving in your mind; your body may be feeling some tension somewhere, you may have a migraine. Just be a witness. Don’t be identified with it. Watch, be a watcher on the hills, and everything else is happening in the valley. It is a knack, not an art.
Meditation is not a science. It is not an art, it is a knack – just that way. All that you need is a little patience.
The old habits will continue; the thoughts will go on rushing. And your mind is always in a rush hour, the traffic is always jammed. Your body is not accustomed to sitting silently – you will be tossing and turning. Nothing to be worried about. Just watch that the body is tossing and turning, that the mind is whirling, is full of thoughts – consistent, inconsistent, useless – fantasies, dreams. You remain in the center, just watching.
All the religions of the world have taught people to do something: stop the process of thought, force the body into a still posture. That’s what yoga is – a long practice of forcing the body to be still. But a forced body is not still. And all the prayers, concentrations, contemplations of all the religions do the same with the mind: they force it, they don’t allow the thoughts to move. Yes, you have the capacity to do it. And if you persist you may be able to stop the thought process. But this is not the real thing, it is absolutely fake.
When stillness comes on its own, when silence descends without your effort, when you watch thoughts and a moment comes when thoughts start disappearing and silence starts happening, that is beautiful. The thoughts stop of their own accord if you don’t identify, if you remain a witness and you don’t say, “This is my thought.”
You don’t say, “This is bad, this is good,” “This should be there….” and “This should not be there….” Then you are not a watcher; you have prejudices, you have certain attitudes. A watcher has no prejudice, he has no judgment. He simply sees like a mirror.
When you bring something in front of a mirror it reflects, simply reflects. There is no judgment that the man is ugly, that the man is beautiful, that, “Aha! What a good nose you have got.” The mirror has nothing to say. Its nature is to mirror; it mirrors. This is what I call meditation: you simply mirror everything within or without.
And I guarantee you…. I can guarantee because it has happened to me and to many of my people; just watching patiently – maybe a few days will pass, maybe a few months, maybe a few years. There is no way of saying because each individual has a different collection.
You must have seen people collecting antiques, postal stamps. Everybody has a different collection; the quantity may be different, hence the time it takes will be different – but go on remaining a witness as much as you can. And this meditation needs no special time. You can wash the floor and remain silently watching yourself washing the floor.
I can move my hand unconsciously, without watching, or I can move it with full awareness. And there is a qualitative difference. When you move it unconsciously it is mechanical. When you move it with consciousness there is grace. Even in the hand, which is part of your body, you will feel silence, coolness – what to say about the mind?
With your watching and watching, slowly the rush of thoughts starts getting less and less. Moments of silence start appearing; a thought comes, and then there is silence before another thought appears. These gaps will give you the first glimpse of meditation and the first joy that you are arriving home.
Soon the gaps will be bigger, and finally, the gap is always with you. You may be doing something, the silence is there. You may not be doing anything, the silence is there. Even in sleep, the silence is there.”
This is a very important question! Because, there are a lot of misconceptions regarding spiritual enlightenment, and an answer to this question will clarify this…
Disclaimer: Everything written here is based on my own experience…
Is spiritual enlightenment known or experienced?
First, let me give you a short answer: It is both!
But I have to clarify what I mean by ‘knowledge’ and what I mean by ‘experience’ in this context…
Knowledge in general sense means anything that you know using your five senses. You know there is a tree by seeing it; you know there is a dog near you by hearing its barking and so on…
Knowledge also means conceptual and factual knowledge. You may know the capital of Japan, you may know what photosynthesis is; you may know the descriptions of 7 chakras; you may know the life history of Buddha and ideology of Buddhism.
But what you know after enlightenment cannot be really classified under the above categories. Spiritual enlightenment is a realization of something very significant.
Once you wake up from a nightmare, you know that it was just a dream… Can this knowledge really be called as a factual knowledge or some knowledge gathered through five senses? There is actually a profound realization that happens when you wake up from the dream. Now you know that after all, it is just a dream.
A typical human being is identified with his body and his mind… He is deeply identified with his thoughts, emotions, concepts, ideas, beliefs etc. He is also identified with everything that he calls as ‘his’: His family, his clothes, his house, his nation, his community, his values etc…All this is centered around the idea or notion of a ‘personal self’… When someone asks you who you are, whatever your answer may be, your typical reply usually describes everything you are identified with.
After enlightenment, a person realizes once and for all, that none of this is ‘me’ or ‘mine’.. He realizes that the whole idea of a separate personal self is an illusion. He realizes that he is never ever separate from the existence…He realizes that there is no ‘me’ and there is no ‘other’… He realizes that the whole idea of ‘me’ is a dream! This realization also removes the idea that he is the doer of the actions.. If there is no personal self, who is there to do anything? Actions happen, and they still happen out of conscious choice, but not with a sense of doer-ship…
But this is not an intellectual understanding; this is not a verbal assertion; this is not a temporary glimpse; this is a permanent and irreversible knowledge.
There is a word called ‘self-knowledge’ or ‘atma-jnana’.. But this word can be easily misunderstood.. For knowing anything, there has to be a knower, knowing and the object of knowledge.. But this self-knowledge is not an object of knowledge; it is not something that you gain. It is actually a merger of the knower, known and knowledge…It is the dissolution of all the psychological distinctions including the idea that ‘I am the knower and I am separate from this object of knowledge’’…
In other words, you don’t know the real Self, You are that! You just realize this without a doubt.. This ‘real self’ is not something to be pointed out as this or that… It in itself doesn’t have such attributes..
An excerpt from” I am That” by Nisargadatta Maharaj:
“Q: What am I?
M: It is enough to know what you are not. You need not know what you are. For as long as knowledge means description in terms of what is already known, perceptual, or conceptual, there can be no such thing as self-knowledge, for what you are cannot be described, except as except as total negation. All you can say is: ‘I am not this, I am not that’. You cannot meaningfully say ‘this is what I am’. It just makes no sense. What you can point out as ‘this’ or ‘that’ cannot be yourself. Surely, you cannot be ‘something’ else.
You are nothing perceivable, or imaginable. Yet, without you, there can be neither perception nor imagination. You observe the heart feeling, the mind thinking, the body acting; the very act of perceiving shows that you are not what you perceive. Can there be perception, experience without you? An experience must ‘belong’. Somebody must come and declare it as his own. Without an experiencer, the experience is not real. It is the experiencer that imparts reality to experience. An experience which you cannot have, of what value is it to you?”
But don’t over-complicate it, don’t over-intellectualize it.. That is the main pitfall.. You can’t really think about it or imagine how it feels like to not have a sense of a ‘separate personal self’… When people speculate about it, they start to speak or write about it without knowing what they are talking about and cause misunderstanding to themselves and others…
All you can do is to inquire your every thought, every emotion and every sensation and see if there is really a ‘me’ in it. This inquiry is done only by witnessing your moment to moment experience including thoughts, emotions, and sensations as a passive non-judgmental observer… As you step back from your mental process and witness it, there is a recognition that you are not what you witness or observe as every thought passes by..
What is the Relationship between Experience and Spiritual Enlightenment?
Now I am going to address the other aspect, which has also caused a lot of misconceptions…
When I talk about the experiential aspect of enlightenment, I am not talking about distinct experiences that come and go… I am not talking about a special experience or an altered state of consciousness..
Most importantly, spiritual enlightenment is not spiritual experience..Both are different.. You may go through tons of spiritual experiences and just return to the duality..
I am talking about experiencing the reality without the distinctions of a ‘me’ and the ‘other’…
Every person experiences life or ‘the feeling of being alive’ each and every moment. But this experience is not pure. It is clouded by duality. You see and experience everything through a filter called a ‘separate personal self’.. This is the reason why you feel a difference between being alone and being with a person.
Just imagine how it feels like to be in a room alone and how it feels like to be in a room where there is already another person. It may be someone you know or a stranger. That doesn’t matter. There is a difference. Apart from the fact that you are mentally aware that there is another person there, you also have a distinct feeling that someone is there with you… But you absolutely won’t have such a feeling when the experience of reality is pure and devoid of any duality.
Also, the absence of duality removes all the conflicts, suffering and craving associated with a limited personal self. The reality is felt in its purity without any distortions. Your life then becomes free-flowing, conflict-less, guilt-free, fearless, peaceful and fulfilled.
Enlightenment also changes the way you sense the psychological time. Your existence doesn’t feel like it is time-bound. It almost feels like there is no dimension called ‘time’..
(I am republishing an answer that I wrote in Quora)
The word ‘Enlightenment’ can be defined in many different ways. We have so many words in different traditions which are synonymous with the word ‘enlightenment’.
The list of words are endless and the definitions are endless too. Some people exaggerate it, some people understate it, some people say that there is no such thing called enlightenment while the majority of the world’s population haven’t even heard of it.
First, let me describe enlightenment in terms of what disappears. Deep down in people’s minds, there is an underlying dissatisfaction with the way things are. People want many things to be different from the way they actually are. There is a craving for becoming something that one is not and there is a resistance to the way things are. Everyone is moving towards a goal, a destination that is in the future. The hopes of arriving at that destination seem to give some solace and if those hopes and dreams are threatened, we tend to suffer. This burning uneasiness and dissatisfaction can be likened to a fire that is burning. The extinction of this fire is enlightenment. The word ‘Nirvana’ means extinction.
There are also two other words ‘moksha’ and ‘mukthi’, which literally mean ‘liberation’. These words refer to how enlightenment feels like.
A typical human being is bound by various things. He is bound by his own past intentions. He is bound by his beliefs. He is bound by the opinions of other people.
But deep inside the heart of every human being, there is a longing to become boundless and expansive. We try to accomplish this by accumulation; we accumulate knowledge, possession, and experiences hoping that these accumulations will make us boundless.
But these very accumulations cause further bondage. Now you have to protect them because losing them will essentially mean losing yourself; because you derive a sense of identity from these accumulations. A typical human being is actually in a self-made prison. But the saddest part is that majority of the population don’t realize that they are in such a prison.
I have heard a quote by some anonymous person which goes like this:
“One of the greatest mental freedoms is truly not caring what anyone else thinks of you”..
Imagine the kind of freedom you will get when you no longer worry about what other people think about you. And, also imagine the kind of freedom you will get when you are no longer afraid of losing anything. Imagine the kind of freedom you will get when you no longer worry about future and past! What is usually called as enlightenment is the greatest freedom ever. It is not only a combination of all kinds of freedoms that I just talked about but it is also a freedom from the sense of a separate self. It is a permanent freedom from the story you have about you. Once a person is enlightened, he feels like a huge load has been taken off of his shoulders. There is a sense of an immense freedom which is priceless. It literally feels like escaping from a prison.
Once J. Krishnamurti asked his audience if they wanted to know what his secret was. Then he revealed his secret in just one sentence. He said, “I don’t care what happens”…
Simply put, this is enlightenment. Nothing ultimately matters and the whole life becomes a play or a game.
When we play a game with our friends, we play it without any seriousness. Even though we make sure that the rules of the games are followed and that we do what we are supposed to do in the game, we don’t lose our sleep over it (unless we are playing in a tournament). Playing your role in life as if you are just playing a game is the greatest sense of freedom. Enlightenment naturally makes you to not to care about the end result of whatever you are doing. At the end of the day, nothing ever matters. That doesn’t mean you will be irresponsible. You will just enjoy what you are doing rather than being focused on results. Your actions will be driven by intrinsic motivation.
Whatever I have said so far, sounds quite logical. But I haven’t touched the core yet. The core and the essence of enlightenment is realizing that you as a separate person or entity is an illusion. You create a solid sense of self inside your mind and you define the boundaries of that self physically by your body and mentally by your story.
But science and spirituality tell us that there is no such solid, consistent self. This doesn’t mean that your body and your mind doesn’t exist. But a sense of self that you derive from your body and mind is just a deep-rooted belief. Since you have this belief for such a long time, you don’t even recognize that it is a belief. This may even sound absurd or unacceptable to you simply because you have lived with this belief so long. We have built layer upon layer on this belief which makes us very difficult to see through this belief.
Someone asked a question in Quora before. The question was “Can an atheist believe in spiritual enlightenment? “. The word ‘believe’ here is a bit odd.But this question comes from an assumption that spiritual enlightenment is somehow related or tied to religious beliefs. But in reality, an enlightened person is an upgraded atheist.
Let me elaborate. The only thing that an atheist doesn’t believe in is the existence of a personal deity, a creator God who answers your prayers. But an atheist may still believe that his next door neighbor is a jerk and his boss is an a**h**e.
An enlightened person, on the other hand, doesn’t believe in anything. He doesn’t even believe that he is separate from the existence. Once the sense of a separate-self dissolves, you realize that you are existence itself. All the boundaries between you and the world simply disappear. You cease to exist as a person but you continue to exist as the existence.Realizing that you are not an entity separate from existence is enlightenment. It is not just realizing this as a fact but realizing it in your actual moment to moment experience.
This is not to say that enlightenment is a special experience or an altered state of consciousness. When you are living a life as a liberated person, you simply experience the reality without any duality. The reality is felt in its purity without any distortions. Your life then becomes free-flowing, conflict-less, guilt-free, fearless, peaceful and fulfilled. Nothing is lacking anymore at the absolute level. There is a sense of innocence and genuineness in your moment to moment experience. It is quite ordinary then how enlightenment is described or thought of.
So, what causes this illusion of separate self or duality? Left-brain interpreter is the culprit.
The left brain interpreter refers to the construction of explanations by the left brain in order to make sense of the world by reconciling new information with what was known before. The left brain interpreter attempts to rationalize, reason and generalize new information it receives in order to relate the past to the present. The concept was first introduced by Michael Gazzaniga while he performed research on split-brain patients during the early 1970s with Roger Sperry at the California Institute of Technology.] Sperry eventually received the 1981 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his contributions to split-brain research
If you just look at the above picture, one thing is clear. You left brain engages in things which require categorization. Your right brain specializes in helping you to see everything as a whole.
Dr. Chris Niebauer, a neuroscientist writes in his book ‘The Neurotic’s Guide to Avoiding Enlightenment: How the Left-brain Plays Unending Games of Self-improvement’ about the left brain interpreter.
Let me quote a few lines from his book:
“The left-brain interpreter is categorical, it creates division outwardly and inwardly, so let it do its job, let it do its thing. “
“Again, there is the interpreter created category of “me as I am” vs. “me as I want to be” which are both just thoughts bouncing around in the skull. So, ironically, if you are trying to improve yourself, you can’t. The notion that your self needs improving is an interpretation and we are going around interpretations. There is an irony in most bookstores called the “self help” section. I might suggest renaming this as “Books that reinforce the illusion that the left-brain interpreter can be what it isn’t free of itself.”
“The interpreter also creates and sustains our collection of categorical thoughts called our beliefs.”
It is this left brain interpreter which also creates the duality. It categories your body and your story as a ‘me’ that is separate from the existence.
Spiritual enlightenment is going beyond all the dualities. It leads one to resolve all the internal conflicts and to feel one with everything. It removes the idea that there is a separate entity inside which has to enhance itself for fulfillment. The left brain may still continue to categorize things, but they are not solidified in our consciousness and we are not urged to protect those solidified entities.