“Give Up the Ego!”
Categories: Health & Healing Metaphysics & Unexplained Phenomena Spirituality & Religion
If you’ve been on social media, you may recognize that EGO is everywhere. Removing your prior knowledge and opinions in order to understand someone else’s is nearly impossible, but this practice is especially necessary in a time of exclusion. “Give Up the Ego!” excerpted from Paul Brunton’s The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga discusses the importance of letting go of your pride to expand your outlook.
Tags: Yoga Paul Brunton
‘Give Up the Ego!’
It would be easy for the inexperienced to undervalue the necessity of these seven psychological qualifications [Truth above all; Hold on and hope on; Think!; Inner detachment; Concentration, calmness and reverie; Discipline emotion and purify character; Give up the ego!], but the striving philosopher knows that they are his most precious attributes. With them he is rendered ready for enlightenment and may hope to realize life’s supreme goal, but without them—never!
From all these struggles there will slowly appear of itself the seventh and final characteristic, but the aspirant must now take up its cultivation in full awareness of what he is doing and after full deliberation. This is the willingness to look directly at life through a clear lens and not through one tinted by the predilections and preconceptions of his ego. It is perhaps the most difficult of all his preparatory tasks consciously to unfold this impersonality. However, its importance can hardly be overrated. Every man who has not undergone the philosophic discipline is inclined to rate his own judgments far more highly than they merit. He usually seeks to arrive at conclusions which gratify his implanted prejudices and satisfy his inherited bias. It is quite customary for him to accept no facts in an argument save those that dovetail into his existing outlook. In this way and not infrequently he comes to reject what he urgently needs, as an invalid may refuse to swallow a bitter-tasting medicine which he needs far more than the sweet confection for which he asks.
Every time a man thrusts his ego into a train of thought its balance is disturbed and its truth-value distorted. If he is to judge every fact by the standards of his earlier experience alone he will thereby prevent new knowledge from arising. When we examine the manifestations of his mentality in speech and act his general if unconscious attitude appears to be: ‘This fits in with what I believe, therefore it must be true; this agrees with my views, therefore it must be true; this fact does not conflict with the facts of which I am aware, therefore I shall accept it; that belief is quite contrary to what I believe, therefore it must be wrong; that fact does not interest me, therefore it has no value in discussion; that explanation is hard for me to understand, therefore I dismiss it in favour of one which I can understand and which must consequently be true!’
Whoever wishes to be initiated into genuine philosophy must begin by casting aside such merely egoistic standpoints. They show forth his conceit and vanity; his quest of corroboration of his own preconceptions and prejudices, and not the quest of truth; his study of the printed page only to confirm his foregone conclusions; his resort to a teacher not to gain new knowledge but for endorsement of his old beliefs. By keeping the ‘I’ foremost in his thinking he is unconsciously drawn into various and vicious fallacies. The sympathies and antipathies generated by such personal views constitute hindrances to the discovery of what an idea or object really is in itself. They often cause a man to see things which do not exist at all, but which through association of ideas he imagines to exist. It is a pathological fact that the various forms of insanity and mental disorder are rooted in the ego and all the obsessions and complexes are likewise connected with the I.
He who has not undergone the philosophic discipline is frequently infatuated with himself and his state of mind is bounded on all sides by the pronoun ‘I.’ This ‘I’ cheats him out of truth, for it blocks his path to correct perception. It unconsciously prejudges arguments or decides upon beliefs in advance, and thus he never has any guarantee of reaching right conclusions, but only of returning by the discovery of justifications and rationalizations to the mental standpoint where he started. He is like a spider caught in a web of its own weaving. When such egoism dictates the trend of thought reason must stand aside as impotent. It locks the mind in a cupboard and thus loses the benefit of new ideas which would fain become entrants therein. When ego becomes the centre of obsessive states we meet with minds narrowed by religious bigotry or clouded by metaphysical meandering or hardened by unreflected materialism or disequilibrated by traditional beliefs and overweighted by acquired ones—all blindly refusing to examine the unfamiliar, the unpalatable or the unknown and rejecting them off-hand. They willingly believe what appeals to them and willingly disbelieve what does not, afterwards inventing rationalizations of their own preferences, but in neither case is the question ‘Is this true?’ investigated independently of their predilections, and the result accepted whether it turns out to their liking or not.
All this means that those who have the strongest personal views are the most difficult to lead to truth. Such persons need to absorb the lesson inculcated by Jesus: ‘Except ye become as little children ye shall in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven.’ The humility implied in this phrase has often been misunderstood. It means the childlike mind and not the childish mind. It does not mean a flabby surrender to wicked persons or a weak yielding to foolish ones. It means putting aside all prejudices born from experience and all preconceptions born from earlier thought until one is undetained and unperturbed by them when facing the problem of truth. It means being alienated from personal bias and uninfluenced by thoughts of ‘me’ and ‘mine.’ It means ceasing to use as an argument the words ‘I think so’ or ‘I stick to my belief,’ and ceasing to believe that what you know must therefore be true. Such an argument leads only to mere opinion, not to truth. Personal beliefs may be false, asserted knowledge fictitious. We must walk humbly in these philosophical precincts. Teachers of the right kind are admittedly rare, but so are students!
Now philosophy is a purely disinterested study and demands that it be approached without previous mental reservations. But bias is often so deeply rooted and therefore so hidden that students do not always suspect, let alone detect, its presence. Even many so-called philosophers of repute have a subconscious determination to accept nothing that is different from what they expect to learn, and under such self-suggestion they allow bias to overcome judgment and prepossession to enslave reason. Therefore the student who is earnest must deliberately weed out those comfortable subterfuges behind which he hides his insincerities and hypocrisies of thinking, his personal weaknesses and selfishnesses. During the course of his study and whenever he brings his mind to bear on any problem he must endeavour to free himself from the pressure of all individual predilections. Such mental selflessness is uncommon and will come only through deliberate development. The student should always remember that he should first fairly state and then cautiously examine a case from all sides before delivering judgment. Truth has nothing to fear from fullness of investigation but is really strengthened thereby. If then he discovers that he is in error he should welcome the discovery and not flee from it because he smarts under the wounds of hurt vanity and unexpected humiliation. He has need of complete elasticity of mind in order to rid himself of slavery to prejudice and to attain an inner integrity and genuine mental health.
Bertrand Russell has somewhere pointed out that ‘the kernel of the scientific outlook is the refusal to regard our own desires, tastes, and interests as affording a key to the understanding of the world.’ This is an excellent statement of the qualification here demanded, the de-personalization of all enquiry into knowledge, the mental recording of things as they are and not as we wish them to be, the setting of every problem in a detached mental background.
The student may not dodge an issue. He ought not to shrink from wrestling with his own complexes. He has no option but to face them staunchly. He must be truthful to himself at least, trying to rise above private preconception, for in this way alone can he view things in their right perspective. His adherence to truth must be as incorruptible and as admirable as was that of Socrates. A firm intellectual objectivity rather than a weak wish-fulfilment will emancipate his mind from bondage to the ego and enable it to take truth in without offering resistance. Thus it will be raised to an atmosphere of impartiality and impersonality and trained in untainted self-denying thinking which alone can advance him to correct insight. And even those who declare this task too difficult in everyday life can at least endeavour to aim temporarily at its ideal during the minutes or hours devoted to these studies.
Wherever truth leads, there the aspirant must follow. If he betrays his rational insight and proves traitor to his highest ideal at the clamorous bidding of preconceptions which demand a low conformity he condemns himself to the penalty of being perpetually captive to common ignorance.
A summing-up shows that the student’s quest after truth begins with dependence on authority, rises to the use of logic and later of reason, progresses to the cultivation of intuition and of mystical experience, culminates in the development of ultra-mystic insight.
The higher philosophy is so wisely balanced and beautifully integrated that it does not disdain any of these ways of knowing but uses each in its proper place. Hence although the name ‘philosophy’ has sometimes been used here in its academic sense as meaning a metaphysical system, it has more often been used in its ancient and truer sense as meaning the unified wisdom which completes metaphysics with mysticism and incorporates religion with action.