Reducing the Ego - Strategies and Tips

After the ego has perished,
the true self rises from its dust
like desert flowers
after spring showers
have swept across arid plains.

(The Tao is Tao, 21)

Introduction

There is no substitute for spiritual renewal or enlightenment. It is certainly true that once you have experienced that enlightening moment of total vision about the true nature of your self, your ego loses its grip on you, and you acquire a freedom which is naturally filled with wisdom and compassion.

It is also equally true, that there is no way that enlightenment can be programmed and scheduled. It comes when it comes, to every individual at a different time and stage, and in a different way.

No matter at what stage of development you are, disciplining the mind is of great importance. In fact, disciplining the mind is part of the road to enlightenment. And even after enlightenment, a disciplined mind remains essential. To the enlightened person, this discipline comes naturally and seemingly without effort. It is a form of incredible freedom.

These tips are for all individuals who struggle to develop spiritually in an environment that is hostile to matters of the spirit.

The advice in my essay is what it claims to be: a few tips and strategies. Nothing more.

Enlightenment is none other than the annihilation of the ego. Reducing the ego is moving closer to enlightenment.

There is no set formula. Once you know which direction to go, you have to walk every inch of the way yourself.

Start walking.

The "false self"

The word "ego" is often equated with "false self", that image of yourself created by yourself, which you accept as your permanent core, and which you serve as if it truly has an objective existence. In many religions, this ego is seen as the core of ignorance. It is accepted as the root cause of most of our delusions and suffering.

To serve your ego is
to worship a false identity
created by yourself.
It is like someone suffering from amnesia
reinventing herself because
she has forgotten
who she is.

(The Tao is Tao, 80)

How do you get rid of this ego, this false sense of self, which can control your actions so extensively? Maybe I should have first asked if it is at all possible to eliminate something which seems to be such an inherent part of the human being. Is human life without some kind of ego possible? This question may be irrelevant, because being totally without an ego is an extreme condition that hardly exists. A better formulation is probably to ask if a reduction of the ego will be beneficial to your spiritual development. Most religions are unanimous in their opinion that the ego is a source of evil and should be demolished or at least diminished.

Psychologists will argue that it is not possible to live without some self-image. It is quite simply the way our psyche functions. It is generally accepted that a positive self-image equips you with the abilities to adapt and to survive. Most educationists will agree that it is essential for young people to create positive self-images as a defense against the negativity they so often encounter.

The word "ego", as it is mostly used in religious and philosophical discussion, is not identical in meaning to "self-image". You can have a self-image without having an ego. The self-image becomes an "ego" only if the self-image becomes exaggerated and inflated. So, the term "ego" mostly carries a different meaning in religious and philosophical discussion than it does in psychology, where it is often a "neutral" term without any negative connotations.

In this essay, the word "ego" will be used as self-image gone wrong.

When does your self-image become ego?

Your self-image can be corrupted in many ways. For example, to think that you have a right to dignity and respect is in order. The moment, however, you feel you have more right than anyone else, your self-image has become a harmful ego. There is nothing wrong with loving yourself. It is absolutely essential that you treat yourself with as much respect as you treat others. The moment, however, you love yourself excessively to the exclusion of others, you have become the victim of your own ego.

"Ego" is often used to describe the tendency to inflate your self-image, and it is often linked to greed. It is not just to be ambitious, but to be "overambitious". It implies that you love yourself so much that you would try to realize your ambitions to the detriment of others.

The moment you see your "self" as a permanent entity, your image of self has created an ego. The ego is an illusion, a fiction created by yourself, and it exerts its influence on you as long you believe in and dedicate yourself to this false self.

Why is the ego such a negative force?

The ego is a terrible taskmaster
who drives you to
distress.
Once your spirit
is exhausted,
you will be
irretrievably
lost.

The Taoist sage
has no ego
driving
her spirit
to exhaustion.
She is never too busy,
for she does not flee
from her true self.

(The Tao is Tao, 73)

An essential evil?

Many people would argue that the ego is not intrinsically negative. They would argue that the ego is essential to "success" - "success" in this case being measured in terms of material gain, or the attainment of honour and status. They are of course right. Only when you have a tremendous ego will you be successful in certain careers, or will you be able to reach "the top".

One of the eight qualities in the "Eightfold Path to Enlightenment" is "Right Livelihood". It is quite clear what is meant by this. You should have a profession that does not impede your spiritual development. If you have a profession that requires or encourages the nurturing of an ego, it is preferable not to continue in that profession, or at least to practice that profession in a different way, if it is at all possible.

Competition - the vicious circle

The best athlete wants his opponent at his best. The best general enters the mind of his enemy. The best businessman serves the communal good. The best leader follows the will of the people. All of them embody the virtue of non-competition. Not that they don't love to compete, but they do it in the spirit of play. In this they are like children and in harmony with the Tao.

(The Tao Te Ching, 68)

What compounds the problem is the fact that competition has become an integral part of countless professions. With competition, I do not mean the kind of natural rivalry between vigorous and talented people working together. Competition often acquires an aggressive edge which turns it into something destructive. A "win at all costs" mentality pervades many sectors of industry and public life. In this ruthless form of competition, the ego is indispensable, for the more you dote on yourself, the more ruthless you become, and the less hesitant you are in competing mercilessly. In this environment, there is no place for the altruistic, the meek, the humble and the compassionate.

It is a vicious circle. Only when you have become egotistical, can you succeed, and the competition makes you even more egotistical. This egotism is permeating so many walks of life that it is now often seen as a "natural" quality. Creating a bloated ego, and not just a positive self-image, has become part of many education systems and training programs.

An economic system in which egotism is the driving force cannot lead to justice, and it is essentially harmful and dangerous to spiritual life.

The devastating fiction

The ego is the most devastating fiction devised by man. It is the root of ignorance and misery.

Let me illustrate this point.

The ego has the tendency to confuse. People with bloated egos cannot get their priorities right. They would often rather work for appearance than true substance.

Let me give you a concrete example. The ego tends to make you tremendously dependent on what other people think of you. In fact, you get people who are so immersed in serving their own egos that other people's opinions have become more important to them than their relationships with their own family. They have become more devoted to pleasing other people than establishing a proper relationship with their own family. What should have been their most important relationships suffer as a consequence.

This is also true when your ego drives you to be too ambitious, so that you want to prove to everybody else and your own ego what a tremendously successful person you are. Again, you could then easily get your priorities wrong, and end up being very successful professionally, but a total disaster in your emotional and spiritual life.

The problem about the ego is that it is a self-created fiction driving you to prove that it really exists. You would for instance have this inflated self-image of the "infallible" professional or businessperson, and you would then work yourself half to death to prove your fiction true.

"But," you might ask, "is there anything wrong with this?"

Of course there is - if it means neglecting your spiritual life in the process, or the relationships that really matter.

A bloated ego is nothing else but inordinate self-love, and as such it leaves little or no space for anyone else but yourself in your affections. Even your "love" towards others will become a way of gratifying only yourself.

If you allow the ego to take over, it becomes the source of your own isolation and spiritual suffering. The ego has a way of never being satisfied. Its appetite grows with its size. If you are dedicated to your own ego, the ego will give you no opportunity to develop your spirit, which will leave you bewildered and miserable, particularly when suffering inevitably catches up with you.

To live a life dedicated to the ego is to live in total ignorance. It is to be in hell.

"Wait," someone dedicated to his ego might object, "I live for myself only, and I don't feel I'm in hell! In fact, I'm having a ball!"

You really get people like this: the convinced materialists, who seem to thrive in a materialist environment. They are the ones who spread the false gospel of the happiness to be found in materialism. They present the seductive facades luring people into lives dedicated to possession and greed. They have governments, celebrities, the media and multi-billion dollar advertising industries to back up their claims.

In a hectic life dedicated to material gain and status, the voice of the spirit becomes faint.

Ah, the degenerate materialistic world!
People are unhappy; they find self-control difficult.
In the centuries since Shakyumani, false views are deep,
Demons are strong, the Dharma is weak, disturbances are many.

(Shodoka)

Directly after his enlightenment, even the Buddha was in despair about whether he should endeavour to spread his truth among a population not ready for it.

This that through many toils I've won –
Enough! Why should I make it known
By folk with lust and hate consumed
Not this the Truth that can be grasped!
Against the stream of common thought,
Deep, subtle, difficult, delicate,
Unseen ‘twill be the passion's slaves
Cloaked in the murk of Ignorance.

It makes one think, doesn't it? Even the Buddha had difficulty facing "folk with lust and hate consumed". How do you teach people a way which is so "Deep, subtle, difficult, delicate" and "Against the stream of common thought"? The Buddha speaks of a world "Cloaked in the murk of Ignorance." Nothing seems to have changed since then. The Buddha's abhorrence is almost tangible. What a consolation to know that even the Buddha had difficulty facing society!

How do I answer those confident, self-assured, indulging materialists? Probably it would be better to remain silent, for words only help those who are receptive and ready for them.

If it helped, one could tell them that true slaves are the ones who are not even aware that they are enslaved; that ignorance is not to know that you are in hell.

How can the ego be reduced?

Will the sage close to the Tao
become extinct
in a world where the ego is the norm?
Will despair drive the sage from the Tao
as his compassion turns to bitterness?
Isn't it inevitable
in a world ruled by ignorance
that the new-born mind becomes a stranger to itself
even before it can take its first tentative steps?
Isn't innocence being destroyed by greed
even before the innocent have a chance
to make a choice?

Isn't our harmony with the Tao irretrievably lost?

Do not despair.

The Tao is in us;
and we are in the Tao.
There is no separation
from the Tao.

Like a flash of lightning
illuminating the night sky,
one instant of enlightenment
once in a thousand years
will drive ignorance away.

(The Tao is Tao, 49)

In this part of the essay, practical ways in which egotism can be combated in everyday life will be discussed.

Concrete examples will be used as illustrations.

The trouble about the ego is that it cannot just be reduced the way weight is reduced, even though that is difficult enough. It is far more illusive. There is more to it than merely following instructions. The reduction of the ego is part of a spiritual process. It is part of an overall process of spiritual development which encompasses all aspects of life.

These lists are not an effort to turn what should be spiritual development into a set of rules. Nothing could be worse. Rules often inhibit spiritual development, and become a way of controlling others instead of developing yourself. But it is not to be denied that mental discipline is essential to development.

Finding the balance between freedom and discipline is difficult. The enlightened person is someone who lives in total freedom, yet is filled with so much compassion and wisdom that she unconsciously lives within the rules. Spiritual development is all about being free and disciplined simultaneously.

There are certain Don't's and Do's that can be of practical assistance. These Don't's and Do's also serve as measuring devices. Measure yourself honestly. Do you sometimes fall prey to some of the Don't's, even if only in their subtlest forms? Do you really succeed in applying the Do's?

Some of the Don't's might seem quite banal. Do not be mislead and do not underestimate how many people fall prey to them. Not committing the Don't's is a good start. Some of the Do's are more difficult to apply to perfection. But they point at the direction you have to take.

Once you have found enlightenment, you will not need these or any tips, for you will naturally live a life of wisdom and compassion.

Don't's

  • Don't praise yourself directly or indirectly

We are not only talking about the more blatant forms of self-praise. Self-praise can take many subtle forms. Even showing humility can be a form of self-praise. Casually referring to your impressive qualifications or achievements is an obvious form of self-praise. Many of the less subtle forms of self-praise are "by the way" statements. E.g. "I agree. There is nothing like Spring. Last year during my scientific expedition in the Antarctic I missed Spring so much." The ego craves praise and admiration. Making yourself interesting is one way of achieving this. The trouble about self-praise is that you get so used to it that you often do not even notice that you are praising yourself.

  • Don't try to be the center of attention

There are many ways to do this, some of them very irritating. You have probably met those individuals who always talk too loudly, really enjoying the sound of their own voices. You can also draw attention to yourself by making some profound statement which draws everybody's attention to you. Or you can be witty and funny to draw attention to yourself. Many comedians tend to have tremendous egos. This does not mean that you should not be funny. The ability to entertain is a tremendous gift. The motive, though, is what really matters.

  • Don't talk too much

Talking too much is often a way of attracting attention. It is often the product of too much ego.

The wise are wary of words,
which corrupt rather than cure.
They know
verbosity
is the obesity of the ego,
the symptom of ignorance.

(The Tao is Tao, 93)

  • Don't show off your good deeds

There is nothing worse than people who proudly display what they perceive as their humility and charity. A good deed is at its best if it is done in anonymity. Humility that is aware of itself is the worst form of pride.

  • Don't demonstrate your "superior" knowledge

If you happen to be an expert among laymen, do not bask in your superior knowledge, and do not make your companions feel inferior. Demonstrating your superiority is a demonstration of inferiority.

  • Don't fish for compliments

This ancient form is still in regular use, and it seldom produces genuine expressions of admiration. Subtly underselling yourself is mostly not a form of humility, but a way of implying your own superiority. What you mostly get for your efforts is not real praise, but flattery, and nothing is more false than that.

  • Don't belittle others to appear "bigger" yourself

This technique is not only popular among the more naive, but also among intellectuals, who use the excuse of freedom of speech and the virtue of critical thinking to tear their opponents apart. It is a sophisticated form of barbarism.

  • Don't feel smug about your insights

This happens quite easily. You feel superior towards someone who genuinely lacks insight, perhaps even intelligence. I have experienced people who come to me with their own religious "certainties", looking down on me while looking up at heaven. There is nothing worse than the pride of the humble. I sometimes catch myself exhibiting symptoms of this form of pride. The longer you have been preoccupied with "spiritual truths" and the more "insights" you come to, the more vulnerable you become to this particular mental disorder. Trace it before it harms you. Get rid of it as quickly as possible.

  • Don't nurture feelings or thoughts of superiority

Thoughts can have a tremendous influence on attitude. So avoid those daydreams where you enjoy victories over rivals, or where you demonstrate your superiority. Thoughts of superiority give you a swollen head, which is a symptom of inferiority.

  • Don't drop names

People whose feelings of self-worth depend on how close they have been to famous or successful people, or how well they know them, are total victims of illusion. If you have the urgent need to drop names, you are still in the crudest stage of existence. You want to inflate your obese ego with the status of others.

  • Don't frequent places inflating your ego

You know, that restaurant where "the rich and the famous" go. Many people want to be seen there, and are willing to pay exorbitant prices to do so. Often they do so because they want to feel exclusive, that is superior and elitist. Some would kill for that invitation to the governor's ball. Oh, if one could only be seen with the "high and the mighty", or at least the famous or the shamelessly rich. My advice? Avoid these places like the plague, for they are contagious.

  • Don't keep company with people who flatter you

Avoid people who flatter you. You have probably met them. It is often not what they say, but the way they look at you. People who flatter have their own selfish agendas. People who are vulnerable to flattery get what they deserve.

  • Don't show off possessions

It is terrible how some people will buy beautiful things not so much because they find them beautiful, but because they want to make an impression. They want that specific model of car, even though they really do not need it, and a far more modest model would have fulfilled their needs. People would decorate their houses - even their bedrooms - to impress strangers. If you depend on what other people think of you, you are controlled by them. You become a captive among your own beautiful possessions.

  • Don't use your religion or "wisdom" to impress others

You have probably met some of these people. If you are not careful, you may easily become a perpetrator yourself. There are many subtle ways in which you can become guilty of impressing others with your "wisdom". The image of being a wise man has turned many a wise man into a vain fool. You have probably also met those people who walk with their religion continuously on display. It is not that they are necessarily insincere. It is just that they, somehow, tend to reach the opposite of what they would like to. Demonstrative religion has a way of frightening away sincere sinners.

  • Don't use your good looks to impress

Very attractive people have difficulty not developing oversized egos. You cannot even blame them if they become victims of their own good looks. They live in a world hypnotized by surface appearance. If you are a very attractive person, you need a lot of wisdom to be able to recognize that most of the attention you get does not touch your true self. True beauty is invisible and unaware of its own beauty.

  • Don't lie to impress others

A lot of this is going on. Not lying means telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If you take this as your criteria, you will find that there is a great deal of lying going on to impress people. It does not have to be blatant lying, even though that also happens quite a lot. Leaving out unflattering details is a way of lying to impress. Adding or exaggerating here and there also helps to create a better impression. Have you never done this? Don't lie to impress me. I won't throw a stone at you; I am in a glasshouse myself.

  • Don't gossip

When you gossip, you break all the rules of compassion and wisdom. Be particularly wary of conversations starting with "I don't want to gossip, but ..." Gossip has many guises. Its most hypocritical camouflage is to present itself in a concerned, compassionate guise. "I am really so worried about her ... If I only knew how I could help her ..." Another guise is to feign moral indignation. Moralists are often the worst gossip mongers.

Don't even listen to gossip. Listening is participation. Silence is consent. Take a stand against gossip. Protest if it is necessary. Walk away from it. Defend the persons being gossiped against. There is no such thing as neutrality in this situation. It is the high noon of social confrontation.

No matter what your pretense may be when you participate either actively or passively in gossip, the truth is simple: you are inflating your own ego at the cost of others. You are running other people down so that you can feel better about yourself and your own existence. Running other people down is running yourself down. In a big way.

  • Don't be too busy

There is a superstition in industrialized society that

Being very BUSY = Being very IMPORTANT.

There is nothing wrong with having an important function. It is a good feeling, as long as you do not use it in a comparative way. The moment you start comparing yourself with others, you are trying to put yourself on a pedestal, and you will be living a life of constant stress and dissatisfaction. You are in fact inflating your ego.

The appearance of not having enough time is seen as an outward sign of success in business districts. In reality, it is often a sign of spiritual bankruptcy.

Being too busy is often an escapist form of cowardice. It is the fear and unwillingness to tackle the things that really matter. Like your deteriorating relationships. Or your own desperation and regular fits of depression.

Living in perpetual stress leads to distress. A life devoted to the ego turns everything you do into an exercise in futility. No amount of success will make a life devoted to the ego meaningful.

There is only one way out of this. Change your priorities. Deflate your ego. Treat yourself to enough time.

Do's

  • Be compassionate

There is only one great Do. It is to be compassionate.

Even trying to get rid of the ego
inflates the ego.
The person in harmony with the Tao
ignores the ego
as compassion immerses him
in the eternal flow of the Tao.

(The Tao is Tao, 113)

All the Don't's mentioned will become irrelevant if you live in true compassion.

Remember: Compassion is not a cheap feeling. It is a commitment to be constructive and to care for others. You can help others, whether you feel like it or not. If you allow your feelings to run you, you will end up helping only yourself.

Ignore the ego. There is nothing more devastating to the ego than to be ignored. It pines, fades and finally loses its influence.

  • Accept emptiness

Like ice drifting on a river
at the end of winter,
he faded into emptiness
as he moved with Tao.

(The Tao is Tao, 19)

The ego is part of the illusion of a permanent core in the human being. It is only when you accept that apart from the various aggregates functioning interdependently in you, you are basically "empty", that you can truly conquer the ego.

The moment you have stripped yourself of your "false self" or your ego, only emptiness remains. You come face to face with reality, your "true self", which is in fact complete emptiness, where no "self" exists. This is enlightenment. It is when you realize on a spiritual level that you are completely empty, that "self" does not exist, and that you are an indivisible part of the emptiness around you, of the totality of things.

Once you are in contact with your true self or emptiness, you will live in harmony with the Tao. You will have conquered fear, for if you are empty, you have nothing to lose. You will be compassionate. You will be liberated.

The courage
to show compassion
comes from
the acceptance of
emptiness.

(The Tao is Tao, 15)

  • Pay the price

Enlightenment is not gain;
it is the loss of everything dear.
Even wisdom and truth disappear
when only silence and emptiness remain.

(The Tao is Tao, 56)

There is no denying it. Enlightenment has its price. Getting rid of the ego mostly means also sacrificing your status in a world which is taken in by the superficial. If you reduce your ego in a society which is serving the ego, you will become invisible:

The humble man close to Tao
becomes less every day.
When he has lost himself completely,
only his true self remains.

(The Tao is Tao, 55)

  • Curb your desires

To eliminate the ego is also to curb your desires:

Desire is the fuel of the ego.
You will never find your true self
as long as this fire burns in you.
Even the desire to be virtuous
will corrupt you in the end.
True goodness comes from emptiness,
where thinking has stopped and
the fire has been extinguished.

(The Tao is Tao, 74)

There is no other way but the way of detachment. Unless you can free yourself from your materialism and the consumerism of a society preoccupied with materialistic aims, as well as your longing for status and recognition, you will never be able to come into harmony with the Tao.

  • Be moderate and humble

The natural way is one of moderation and humility, which is only possible if you accept that your ego is illusionary. It is the wisdom to know that you are wasting your precious time if you work for something that is illusionary. It is the only way you will find peace.

The truly enlightened
look into the mirror
to find
only emptiness
in its reflection.

(The Tao is Tao, 80)

  • Be silent when you have nothing to say

"Nothing" in this context includes talking nonsense just because you want to be heard. Don't feel yourself obliged to maintain conversation, not even when you are a host. The worst form of "nothing" you can speak is of the damaging kind. Listen more than you speak. It not only turns you into pleasant company, but it also gives you time to listen to your own thoughts before you give them air. More important still, it gives you time to really listen to other people. Really listening to other people gives you the opportunity to be supportive and constructive.

  • Meditate regularly

Find a form of meditation that suits your needs, time restraints and temperament. Correct forms of meditation have a way of preparing you for life out there and revitalizing your spirit. They bring you closer to your true self and they reduce your ego.

  • Spend time with uplifting company

The ideal is to have honest, compassionate friends who will support you in need, and will not hesitate to tell you when you are wrong, or getting too fatheaded. There is nothing like truth to cut you down to size. Like most spiritual growth, it can be painful. Cherish these friends if you should find them. There are not too many of them around. Another group that could be of benefit to you are people who share your convictions, commitments and beliefs. But be careful: groups may have a potential to be helpful, but they also have the tendency to be destructive. Be part of them, but remain independent of the group mind.

  • Utilize victory and defeat for spiritual growth

Failure is an opportunity. If you blame someone else, there is no end to the blame. Therefore the Master fulfills her own obligations and corrects her own mistakes. She does what she needs to do and demands nothing of others.

(Tao te Ching, 79)

Regular portions of humble pie are good for the spirit. This, however, depends on how you digest moments of defeat. If defeat is synonymous with humiliation to you, your ego is running your life. If you blame others for your failure, you are hiding behind your own ego. See failure as the opportunity to learn. With learning, I don't mean learning the wrong lessons, but the right ones. The right lessons will always involve determining where you have failed in being compassionate, why you have too much ego, and finally how to deflate your bloated self-image. Failure and defeat, more than any other experience, serve as opportunities to measure your spiritual development.

Victory and success can be infinitely more dangerous than defeat, for they tend to intoxicate and inflate the ego. How you deal with success is therefore also crucial to your spiritual development. Success should not lead to arrogance, but to humility. Not the false kind of demonstrative humility underlining superiority. Real humility, where you realize that you are as transient and empty as your less successful peers.

Defeat and failure provide you with the opportunity to increase your empathy, like all suffering does. Victory and success tend to decrease compassion in you, and they are therefore far more dangerous in their potential to corrupt.

Sometimes, compassion will demand from you that you eat humble pie. It could be that you have to stand back to allow someone else to take the glory, or to develop and learn. Good mothers do that every day. Or sometimes you have to endure humiliation for the sake of your beloved. How many fathers and mothers do not have to swallow their pride when they are treated unfairly, so that they can keep that job and feed their children? Compassion has a way of turning what others see as defeat into victory for you. This victory of compassion is often silent and only you would know about it. Self-sacrifice for the sake of others often has a bitter taste, but it is true victory, for it is the hidden victory of the spirit over the ego.

  • Be committed

Reducing the ego is not easy. You will suffer many setbacks. You often have to overcome cultural conditioning and education. You may come into situations or come into conflict with people that bring out the worst in you. In our society which runs on greed, you have to overcome a barrage of negative stimuli incessantly encouraging you to inflate your ego. The trouble is that the ego can become so much part of you that it becomes invisible to you and feels like a "natural" part of you. The worst thing that can happen to you is to accept it as a "natural" part of you, for then it will control your actions. The ego is a tricky customer, for it manipulates you in all kinds of innocent guises. Just don't let anyone persuade you that the ego is anything else but the ego. Or that it is vital. The activities for which an ego is essential are those activities you should avoid. No matter how many setbacks you suffer, stay stubbornly opposed to it. Stay committed to getting rid of it. Don't give up. Commitment is everything.

When you expect it least,
the ego,
declared dead,
will surge into your mind,
and in an instant
you will seem so far removed from Tao
as heaven from earth.

Has it ever happened to you?
Don't despair.
Let it go.
Do what comes next.

Accepting failure
is a humbling experience
akin to enlightenment.
In an instant you will discover
that heaven and earth are one and
that you have never been separated from Tao.

The Taoist sage
lives in harmony with failure
and never fails.

(The Tao is Tao, 70)

The reward and the danger

The reward for eliminating the ego is tremendous. It has been given many names: Enlightenment, Bodhi, Satori, Nirvana, Heaven. The reward is peace and equanimity, and tremendous spiritual power.

Yet the lure of reward carries its own dangers. If you should for one moment work to reduce your ego for the sake of personal reward, you will pervert everything you have set out to do, for you will then be serving none other than the very ego you are supposed to destroy. You will have fallen for the most cunning disguise of the ego - that of a permanent "soul" which you have to serve so that it can get all kinds of "spiritual" rewards, like an eternal life in heaven.

Many who "dedicate their lives" to truth or a cause or religion in fact work for their own rewards. You recognize them easily by their inflated egos, and their ignorance of their own self-righteousness, arrogance and vanity.

The Taoist sage goes the way of the Tao not for reward, but because she is in harmony with the Tao.

She cannot do anything else.

The ignorantly sincere
vainly try to reduce their egos,
but their egos grow only bigger.
The wise person
ignores his ego
and serves selflessly,
so that his self,
starved of thought,
disappears.
The person in total harmony with the Tao
has no ego,
for she has entered
emptiness
and lives
with compassion.

(The Tao is Tao, 133)

______________________________________________________________________________

Jos Slabbert 2001
Postal Address: P.O. Box 4037, Vineta, Namibia
Fax No.: 09264 64 46 1014 E-Mail: jos_slabbert@hotmail.com

This passage or excerpts from it may be reproduced for non-profit motives.

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