(Author’s note: this is the fourth in a series about the ego.)
If you have read the first three articles about the ego, you might now be feeling somewhere between disheartened and hopeless. I understand if you are. This is an arduous process to uncover the ego; to face the source of all our fear. We need to face only one more ego belief and to learn that the opposite is true.
Survival, security, and happiness depend on getting our needs met in this world which has limited resources.
Like the previous ego beliefs, this one leads to suffering, disappointment, war, envy, homicide, suicide, rape, greed, excessive consumerism, the decimation of natural resources, and on and on. Associated with this belief is one of the ego’s fundamental doctrines–“Seek but do not find.” This is because the ego is certain happiness, peace, prosperity, joy, fulfillment, and contentment are found outside ourselves in the impermanent, unstable world of form.
There is a story about a professional diamond thief who sought to steal only the most exquisite of gems. This thief hung around the diamond district to see who was purchasing a gem, so later he could pick their pocket. One day he saw a well-known diamond merchant purchase the jewel he had been waiting for all his life. It was the most beautiful, the most pristine, the purest of diamonds. He was very excited, so he followed the diamond merchant as he boarded the train, getting into the same compartment. He spent an entire three-day journey trying to pick the merchant’s pocket and obtain the diamond. When the end of the journey came and he hadn’t found the gem, he was very frustrated. He was an accomplished thief, and although he had employed all his skills, he still was not able to steal this rare and priceless jewel. When the diamond merchant got off the train, the pickpocket followed him once again. Finally, he couldn’t stand it any longer, so he walked up to the merchant and said, “Sir, I am a renowned diamond thief. I saw you purchase that beautiful diamond, so I followed you onto the train. Though I used all the skills of my craft, which I have perfected over many years, I was not able to find the gem. I must know your secret. Tell me please, how did you hide it from me?” The diamond merchant replied, “Well, I saw you watching me in the diamond district, and I suspected you were a pickpocket. So I hid the diamond where I thought you would be least likely to look for it–in your own pocket!” He then reached into the thief’s pocket and pulled out the diamond. (Taken from A Diamond in Your Pocket by Gangaji.)
Like the thief, the ego believes to find happiness and fulfillment means to search outside ourselves to find and/or take what we think we need. Also, like the thief, we feel a constant sense of urgency and unease that what we want will escape our grasp. So our search goes on for a better partner, a bigger house, a newer car, an additional child, a larger net worth, an earlier retirement, a higher wall, a record-breaking achievement. The ego has an endless number of outcomes it believes will make it happy. And the ego is nothing if not persistent in its pursuit of happiness. The ego perpetually struggles to manipulate its external circumstances to conform to its script for satisfaction and fulfillment. A Course in Miraclesdepicts this process so vividly that the reader can laugh at the ego’s insanity. “The role assigned to your own mind in this plan (for happiness), then, is simply to determine what, other than itself, must change if you are to be saved (happy). According to this insane plan, any perceived source of salvation (happiness) is acceptable provided that it will not work. This ensures that the fruitless search will continue, for the illusion persists that, although this hope has always failed, there are still grounds for hope in other places and in other things. Another person will yet serve better; another situation will yet offer success.”
So what do we do? How do we deal with the ego? Do we punish it? No. Control it? No. Humble it? No. Improve it? No. Befriend it? No. None of these approaches will work. There are thousands of self-help books meant to accomplish these aims, but ultimately they fail because these approaches are not systemic–they treat effects and do not get at the source of the problem. The cause of all human misery is the ego belief system, so as long as those four core beliefs go unnoticed and unchallenged, there is no hope for the world. However, once those beliefs are exposed as false and the extraordinarily painful cost of holding them is understood, we can begin to gratefully let them go. What we do then is set our minds on a different path, we begin to listen to a different inner advisor.
Christian terminology calls this inner advisor the Holy Spirit and the term is used similarly throughout A Course in Miracles. If you are uncomfortable with the “Holy Spirit,” you can call this other voice “the heart,” “inner wisdom,” “truth,” “right-mindedness,” or another label that works for you. (See “The Other Voice.“) This voice is entirely different from and anathema to the ego’s voice. This other voice arises from stillness, speaks softly, is always gentle, and never coercive. This voice is never judgmental and never has ill-intent toward any living thing. When you listen to this other voice you feel peace, or joy, or completeness, trust, or oneness.
Yes, there is hope for the world. The first step is to be willing to question everything you believe, starting with the four core ego beliefs. The undoing of the ego thought system can occur at a moment of illumination, but for most of us, it will be a process requiring sincere intent, alertness, vigilance, kindness, and practice, practice, practice. There will be many forthcoming posts to aid you along the way, but ultimately it will be you discovering the diamond in your pocket.