David Hoffmeister, a popular teacher of A Course In Miracles, was speaking at an event. A member of the audience asked, “You’ve been speaking for two hours and you haven’t said a single positive thing about the ego. What can you say positive about the ego?” David turned to him and said simply, “The ego wants you dead.”
I’m pretty sure that’s not the answer he was looking for. But that’s the question most of us have. We want something to support and reinforce our ego, our sense of self-identity. Our entire life is based on this. So when we enter a spiritual practice, we’re actually looking for the same thing. Only now we want an enlightened self-identity. And, unlike David Hoffmeister, there are many spiritual teachers who will promise us exactly what we want.
The problem is there is no enlightened self-identity. Enlightenment is the end of the ego, the end of the illusion of self-identification. That’s why promising enlightenment AND the ego is a myth, an illusion. It’s not both / and as these teachers promise. It’s one or the other. It’s Truth or illusion.
I’ve been feeling very grateful lately for my many years in Zen practice. Zen is a very simple and incredibly focused spiritual practice. Its ONLY focus is enlightenment. And this focus evidently pays off. Over the centuries there have been many enlightened Zen masters.
Zen is a very challenging practice for most of us in the beginning. There is no support for the ego at all. We may have an incredible realization during meditation and take it to the teacher. The teacher will simply say, “Let it go. Go back and sit some more.” No support for our brilliant realization. No support for our brilliant realized ego. Just “Let it go. Go back and sit some more.”
Kensho or Satori are names for powerful spiritual experiences that break through our normal conditioned consciousness. When we experience these amazing breakthroughs we feel that we’re finally enlightened. The first thing we want to do is tell our teacher and have him realize how enlightened we are now. We rush into his room. And what does he say? “Let it go. Go back and sit some more.” There is absolutely no support for the ego anywhere in Zen at any time. Zen is a practice of enlightenment. And enlightenment means freedom from attachment to the ego.
Powerful Spiritual Experiences
An awakened master understands that there are many powerful experiences and breakthroughs on the spiritual path. But these are not enlightenment. These are just very powerful experiences. There are many spiritual teachers today who believe they are awake because they have had one or more powerful experiences. But this is not awakening. This is not enlightenment. These are just powerful experiences. They did not have a wise enlightened teacher who could see this and tell them to “Let it go. Go back and sit some more.” They didn’t have someone to tell them, “You’re not done. You’ve just peaked through the door. Keep going.” And that’s unfortunate. The result of not having a wise and enlightened teacher or friend available is that there are many “awakened” teachers teaching who are not awake. They’ve just had a few powerful experiences. The ego self-identity has not yet been uprooted. While there is still any attachment to an ego self-identity, there is not awakening. And when a teacher teaches from this place of ego self-identity, the teaching cannot be from Truth. It cannot be from awakened consciousness. It will just be the ego teaching its ego version of spiritual truth, which will always just be more illusion, even if now it comes with spiritual names.
The 5 Myths of Ego-Based Spiritual Teaching
And that, my friends, brings us to the 5 popular myths of ego-based spiritual teaching. They are myths because they do not come from awakened consciousness but from ego consciousness. They do not come from Truth, but from illusion. To the ego, they seem very logical, obvious and true. The ego does not understand awakened consciousness. Coming from illusion, the ego cannot understand Truth. And this makes it quite challenging to be an awakened spiritual teacher, but quite easy to be an un-awakened spiritual teacher. An un-awakened spiritual teacher, someone still living in ego consciousness, speaks exactly the same language as the majority of people also living in ego consciousness. A similar way of seeing the world, the awakened teacher no longer shares.
I will do my best to share these 5 popular myths encountered in much of today’s spiritual teaching hopefully in a way you can understand.
Myth 1 – You can do it.
You hear this a lot in spiritual marketing. “You can experience bliss.” “You can attain abundance.” “You can attain love.” “You can attain enlightenment.” This is a primary myth because the truth is you cannot attain anything. There is not even a you to attain anything. Your entire self-identity is a myth. In fact your self-identity is the primary myth that keeps you from awakening and keeps you living in illusion. Bliss, peace, love, complete contentment are all realized as soon as the separate self-identity is gone and not before.
Awakening is freedom from this myth of a separate self, not catering to it.
Doing Without A Doer
You may have heard the phrase, “doing without a doer.” Things are done but there is no separate doer doing them. In this way life and doings flow effortlessly and perfectly. This is the awakened way. You may have experienced a book, poem or painting flowing through you effortlessly with no experience of a separate you doing it. In fact it’s very clear the separate you could not possibly create anything this beautiful. You might have experienced this in sports where suddenly everything flows perfectly and you observe the body doing things it’s never done before. It may sound strange, but anything done by the personal self is done far better without it. That is living awake. It’s not logical. The ego consciousness doesn’t get it. But it’s very real and can be directly experience in our life.
Myth 2 – You need balance and integration.
When you hear spiritual teachers talk about “balance” and “integration” these are code words for “I’m still attached to my separate self-identity and I’m afraid to let it go.” As the teachers themselves are not awake, they’re not aware of this either. These teachings are very attractive to those who are also still attached to their separate self-identity. As this includes most of humanity, these teachers and teachings can attract a large audience. It sounds logical and makes perfect sense to ego consciousness. That your separate self-identity, “you”, don’t even exist makes no logical sense at all. Such is the challenge of true spiritual teaching.
Generally such teachers had some powerful spiritual experience and were frightened by it. Once briefly seeing it was possible to live without the separate self-identity, they became frightened of losing it, so they attached to it even more strongly than before. And this fear became part of their teaching. It doesn’t come from awakened consciousness. It comes from fear and attachment. They also teach the importance of being “more fully human”, which again is code for “I’m afraid of losing my separate self-identity.” And of course the ego consciousness loves this because it protects it from the danger of waking up, even though this is, on the surface, what it appears to be asking for.
Myth 3 – If you remain in a state free of separate self-identity, you’re not fully human.
This depends on your definition of what it is to be fully human. If it means experiencing anger, fear, jealousy, greed, despair and other negative emotions, then it’s true. Sometimes these teachers will hold up these negative emotions as something to maintain and encourage as being fully human. A being living in awakened consciousness no longer experiences these negative emotions. Only a separate self-identity is capable of experiencing suffering. Awakening is freedom from suffering, as all spiritual teachings through the years have shown us.
Yet an awakened being free of separate self-identity is far more fully alive, far more open to all of life without resistance or attachment. Such a being lives in a continuous state of profound peace, unconditional love and complete contentment independent of circumstances. To me, that is fully human. Living in an illusion of separation and suffering is not human, even though it’s so common in humans. It’s illusion.
Myth 4 – You can’t live or function without a separate self-identity.
If you’ve ever met or seen anyone who is awake, like Mooji for instance, you’ve seen someone living and functioning perfectly well completely free of a separate self-identity. These un-awakened teachers claim that without a separate self-identity you would be “living in a trance”, “unable to function”, “be a robot”, etc. There are plenty of YouTube videos of Mooji. Take a look. See for yourself.
I live in this freedom. I don’t think any of my students or friends would say I’m living in a trance, unable to function or a robot. It’s another myth created by the ego to scare you away from waking up.
Myth 5 – You can embody the divine.
An awakened spiritual teacher once told me, “To say I am God is the most humble thing any human can say because when you say this there can be no you.” Embodying the divine means there is no you. As soon as your separate self-identity is gone, everything is fully here. And that is the divine. You embody the divine by getting out of the way.
The divine has always been here. Truth, love, peace, contentment, everything has always been here. Enlightenment has always been here. It is only your belief in the primary illusion of a separate self that is standing in the way. Once that’s gone, everything is realized. You are awake. And, yes, you can live like this. In the traditions of the awakened masters it’s called “dying before you die”. The separate self-identity is gone. The body lives and carries on as an expression of this infinite awakened consciousness.
What you are is infinite and eternal. It is far too much to create an identity out of. It is free of identity, free of attachment and resistance, free of concepts and suffering. That’s what being awake is.
When we live awake our purpose and function in life becomes very simple, focused and obvious.
- Stay awake and don’t fall back asleep into the limited dream of a separate self. Continue expanding ever deeper into awakened consciousness, which happens naturally without any effort or anyone to make an effort.
- Awaken all sentient beings. That means to help sentient beings recognize their own pure awakened nature. Pure awakened nature is in every being, sentient or otherwise. There is nowhere it is not. This is done through skillful means. Sometimes it is teaching through writing or speaking or simply sharing a transmission through deep silence, what Buddha called the “lion’s roar”. Sometimes it is simply a smile and eye contact as you pass someone on the street or a kindness given to a stranger. Spontaneously and without any effort, in awakened consciousness you are a blessing wherever you go.
Not everyone or even most humans are ready to realize their true pure awakened nature. Attachment to illusion is still too strong. In those cases a simple smile and silence may be teaching enough. That is skillful means, the appropriate action arising spontaneously in the moment to offer the highest possible benefit. Freedom from a separate self-identity makes this possible. It allows the infinite to move through the body / mind without the obstruction of concepts and separate self-identity.
To live awake, we no longer live our previous self-centered life. Everything becomes very simple. We live a life of complete service because there is no longer the illusion of a separate self and other. We are no longer a part of the community of life, we ARE the community of life. 🙂