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Don’t deceive yourself by calling the ego as false
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
27 min
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Wei Wu We

Any attempt to “reduce” or “transcend” or “discipline” what is only a concept can only affirm its illusory appearance of reality. When all concepts are seen for what they are, that is, are recognized as such and nothing more, the ego finds itself in the waste-paper basket with the rest.

Questioner (Q): Acharya Ji, you have said at some point that we conceptually know concepts to be concepts. Intellectual understanding does not bring about any lasting fulfillment. Even if the fact of no-self is momentarily perceived, it quickly jumps back to being just a concept. I have read and observed that there is a whole movement around this teaching where the seeker compulsively establishes the absolute standpoint and states that there is nothing to be done or changed because there is no ‘I’ to begin with. What is the actual role of the process here and how to ensure that the seeing is really authentic?

Acharya Prashant (AP): Ilmari (questioner), basics, fundamentals. What is all spirituality for? To whom are the sayings of the sages addressed? Who is Wei Wu We talking to? The Ego might just be a concept, but is it a concept to itself? Please understand. From the point of view of the Absolute, the Ego is just a concept, vacuous fiction, an idiotic story. But who has the right to say this? Only the Absolute. Are we the Absolute? Conceptually, yes. Factually, not at all.

And why do we say that factually, we have no right to speak as the Absolute or on behalf of the Absolute? Because our lives do not permit that. Our lives do not stand testimony to our Absolute nature. We do not live as the Absolute. Since we do not live in Absoluteness, it would not be honest to take an Absolute point of view. It does not behove us. It's like the frog talking the language of the elephant. What does the frog live as? Frog. What would befit and benefit the frog is that it honestly acknowledges its ‘frogness’. In the heart of the frog, there might exist a latent ‘elephantness’. Alright, given, conceded. But the elephantness nevertheless is latent, dormant, asleep, not manifested, not in action, not in life. What right does the frog then have to speak as the elephant? Absolutely speaking, the frog does not exist, the elephant might be the truth of the frog.

You know what we are referring to. The frog is the Ego; the elephant is the True Self or No Self, Brahman or Atman or Śūnyatā , the Absolute; the Absolute fullness or the Absolute emptiness, as you please. Right? But for the frog, what is it that is real? The elephant or the frog? Frog. Some of you might contest this, you may say – “No, no, no. Whatsoever the frog may say, ultimately only the elephant is real.” If only the elephant is real, why are we writing and reading books? If only the elephant is real, who is the Guru and who is the disciple? If only the elephant is real, what is the point of all the Buddha's teachings? The elephant is non-dual, right? Then the real elephant cannot have anybody else to talk to. If only the elephant is real, there is no point having this discussion here.

Honesty demands that we acknowledge that the elephant might be real but as frogs, we are far too removed from that reality. As frogs, all we know is croaking. “Trr-grr” (Imitating the sound of a frog) This is how the little thing lives. And then, when it comes to spirituality, this petty fellow wants to declare “I am the Great-void. I am the No-thing. I am No-self. I am Brahman.” What nonsense? Look at your life; all the time you are just “Trr-trr-grr”. And then, you talk so big. Then you say “No method is needed; no practice is needed; no Abhyāsa is needed; because I am not a frog at all. Since I am not a frog at all, I do not need to ‘reduce’ my frogness; I do not need to ‘transcend’ my frogness; I do not need to ‘discipline’ my frogness.” I'm coming from what you have quoted Ilmari. You have said; Any attempt to “reduce” or “transcend” or “discipline” what is only a concept can only affirm its illusory appearance of reality.

You are saying if the frog tries to transcend its frogness, it is all the more confirmed and proven and cemented that the frog is indeed a frog. But in the frog’s eyes, the frog is indeed a frog. What is the point in self-deception? Who are we trying to fool? Does the frog go after a lady frog or a lady elephant? How many of you have seen frogs chasing she-elephants? And here you are saying “No, no, no. If we try to discipline a frog, it will assert its frogness even more." But the frog is indeed a frog, Sir. Let us talk facts. Let us come down to earth. You will say “There is no earth at all, only the Great-void exists.” This is nonsense. If there is no earth at all, then you don't exist, then why do you talk so much? Why do you write such big books?

Remember, that spirituality is not merely about stating the truth. Spirituality is about helping the petty and suffering ego. Help is bigger than even the Truth. There is no truth bigger than compassion. No point telling the Absolute Truth again and again, if it does not help. I repeat there is no point repeating, recycling the Absolute Truth, whatsoever it is, endlessly in the listener’s ear, if it does not help. The objective of spirituality is not a declaration of the Truth. The objective of spirituality is to help.

We forget this fundamental thing, therefore, we start chasing the Absolute. I ask the Absolute chasers, does that help? If that does help, do what you are doing. Otherwise, just check yourself.

And then further you quote, Ilmari - When all concepts are seen for what they are - The first line that you (the questioner) have quoted says – There is no need to talk about the ego; there is no need to ‘reduce’ the ego or ‘transcend’ the ego or ‘discipline’ the ego because if you do that, then you are only confirming that the ego is real. So, what is the solution that the quote suggests? The quote says; When all concepts are seen for what they are, that is, are recognized as such and nothing more, the ego finds itself in the waste-paper basket with the rest.

“When all concepts are seen for what they are”, who will see all concepts for what they are? Who will see that? Will the Absolute see anything ever? Does the Absolute have anything other than itself to look at? Does the Absolute exist in a dualist dimension? Does the Absolute ever know or recognize anything? Does the Absolute ever gain clarity?

So, when you say “When all concepts are seen for what they are”, who is the seer here, obviously? The Ego. On one hand, you say – There is no need to reduce or transcend, discipline the ego. In the very next line, you say – No, but there is a need to see concepts as merely concepts. That is what is called as reducing or disciplining or transcending the ego. What else is it to transcend the ego? To see that concepts are merely concepts. That, we do not live in fact; that, we live in ideas about facts. That, we do not even live, we ideate about life. That is the ego looking at its own reality. For the ego to look at its own reality, first of all, it has to acknowledge that in its own eyes it is real. Finally, you have said, "And when all concepts are seen for what they are, the ego finds itself in the wastepaper basket with the rest."

But just a while back, you said that there is nothing called 'the Ego' at all. If there is nothing called 'the Ego' at all, what is it that will find itself in the wastepaper basket? So, the Ego does exist, right? And methods are needed. It's just that you are talking about a method called 'seeing', and seeing may require doing a few things. Seeing may require practices of many kinds. Seeing may require a lot of discipline. Seeing may require a lot of transcendence, what else is transcendence? Transcendence means the ego is being taught and advised and trained to look beyond itself, to go beyond itself. Good old selflessness, that is transcendence.

Now, let me take this occasion to talk about the No-self. Because you have asked, I will quote your question. You say “I have read and observed that there is a whole movement around this teaching where the seeker compulsively establishes the absolute standpoint and states that there is nothing to be done or changed because there is no ‘I’ to begin with.”

So, “There is no ‘I’ to begin with”; who is saying “There is no ‘I’ to begin with”? Who is saying this? Isn’t the Ego itself declaring that there is no Ego? And will that help the Ego? Similarly, when we say that "the Truth is actually just a No-self”, are we still not talking to the Ego in the language of the Ego and about the world of the Ego?

When we say “Truth has no self”, the ‘self’ we are talking of is the fictitious self, the egoistic self. When you say 'Yes' and 'No', to which world do these words belong? When you say ‘Yes’ and when you say ‘No’, these are dualistic words, we see that, right? In which world do we find these words? In the Ego’s world. So, when you say ‘No-self’, the ‘self’ is Ego, and the word ‘No’ also belongs to the world of Ego. So, when you say ‘No-self’, ultimately you stay and remain very well, very much in the dimension of the Ego. But we go on preaching that the Truth is actually “No-self”. When you say ‘No-self’, then you have brought down the Truth to the level of the self because ‘No’ belongs to the world of self and ‘self’ obviously belongs to the world of self. So, ‘No-self’ obviously belongs to the world of… (self or Ego).

Does the Ego know Absolute ‘No-ness’? Does the Ego know absence? Pay attention, please. When the Ego says ‘Yes’, it is an affirmation; when the Ego says ‘No’, even that is an affirmation. The Ego does not know negation of any kind. Whether you say ‘Yes’ or whether you say ‘No’, you are pointing at an object because the one who is pointing, the subject has no option but to point only at objects. The absence that we talk of when we say ‘No’, that too is a positive affirmation. It is a positive affirmation of something, what something? An absence.

You'll have to understand this. Even an absence is an objective thing. What is an object? That which can be perceived by the subject, correct? That which can be perceived by the subject is called an… (object). So, Shubranil (pointing to someone in the audience) is sitting here, I could perceive that. How do I perceive that? With my usual sensory mechanism. Shubranil is sitting here, how did I perceive that? With my usual sensory mechanism. So, Shubranil obviously then is an object. The sensory mechanism and the ‘I’ feeling sitting at the center of it is the subject, of which Shubranil is the object.

I change my statement, “Shubranil is not sitting here”. When I say Shubranil is absent, in this statement even the absence of Shubranil is an object. ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ both are objective. How did I perceive his presence? Using my sensory mechanism. How did I perceive his absence? I have no option. Even when I say “He is not there”, I am still using the same faculty that I used to confirm his presence. That's the problem when you start talking in negation, in No-ness. The Ego cannot talk in No-ness. For the Ego, ‘Yes’ is yes and ‘No’ is another kind of yes. ‘Yes’ is a presence and ‘No’ is another kind of presence. “Shubranil present” is Shubranil present as an object; “Shubranil absent” is Shubranil present as another object. That does not mean that the objectivity has disappeared; that does not mean that I am now dealing in another dimension; I'm still dealing in the same dimension. Whether you say ‘self’ or you say ‘No-self’, you're still dealing in the world of the self, the little self, the Ego.

Just as whether I say “Shubranil” or I say “Absence of Shubranil”, I'm still talking of something happening within this room, am I not? I say “Shubranil”, didn't I just point out something within this room? I say “Shubranil absent”, again didn't I just point at something within this room? Or did I talk of something of the beyond? Did I just talk of something transcendental? When I said “Shubranil is absent”, has that taken me to another realm? So, how then will No-self point at the Truth?

‘Yes’ and ‘No’ are very earthly, very worldly dualities. Whether you prefix ‘Yes’ to something or whether you prefix ‘No’ to something, you are keeping the thing very much on the earth. Therefore, no point referring to the Truth as an Absence or a Void or No-self, simply because the Ego does not know the word ‘absent’. Will you remember this? The Ego does not know the word ‘absent’. The Ego can only know a ‘presence’. Why? Because the Ego is designed to perceive, cognize only presences, not absences. You cannot cognize an absence; all you can ever know of is a presence. Even when you say ‘Absence’, you are pertaining to some 'thing' being absent, thereby, you're still dealing in objectivity, and memory, and all the worldly stuff. Are you getting it?

Then, you will tell someone “The Truth is No-self”. What do you think, how will his mind then respond to your statement? Will his mind become clear of all concepts because we have just said “The Truth is No-self”? No, he will create another concept called ‘No-self’. All that the Ego can have is - concepts. We forget that. The Ego is a thirsty being; you cannot leave it with absences. The Ego is a thirsty being. It is. Look at our lives. Don't say “The Ego is fictitious”. Do our lives demonstrate that the Ego is fictitious? They don't. Our lives are thirsty. We are living beings talking to each other; this is not a conversation between a pair of Absolutes, if ever there can be. It is a conversation, right now happening between living beings; and all living beings are thirsty entities. If anything that is thirsty, is not looking for an absence; it is looking for a presence. When you're thirsty, you do not want an absence of something; you want water. And water is an objective presence.

The Ego is designed to detect and know only something that is present. Therefore, it will turn even an absence into a presence; otherwise, it cannot cognize it. Mere negation, therefore, will not give you any relief. You have to give the Ego something affirmative. Negation, negation, and negation will just keep giving the Ego stuff that will not quench its thirst. You are being defeated two ways.

One, even when you are negating, you are actually giving the Ego something. In affirmation, what do you do? You give the Ego something to hold on to, right? That's the way of affirmation - you teach the ego something, you give the ego something to do. In the method of negation, what is it that you say “No, I will not give the Ego anything to do because if I give the Ego anything to do, that would mean that the Ego is real. I will turn blind to the reality of the Ego. I will just act as if the Ego is not there at all.”

Even when you are doing this, you are actually giving the Ego something to hold on to. What is it that you are now giving the Ego? An absence. So, first thing, your objective that you will not give anything to the Ego has been defeated. You have unwittingly, inadvertently, unknowingly, unconsciously, finally given something to the Ego. The others who are giving something affirmative to the Ego. And what have you given to the Ego? Something negative. Something in the shape of an absence. That's what you have given to the Ego.

Maybe the Ego is now dabbling with nihilism. Maybe that's what you have given to the Ego - “Nothing exists and nothing matters. Nothing is meaningful”. But nevertheless, the Ego’s little hands are full and occupied. You have not been successful in emptying the Ego of all that it has and holds. The Ego still has something. That is the first defeat.

And what is the second defeat? That which you have given to the Ego is useless. Your objective was “No point giving anything to the Ego. If I give anything to it, she feeds upon it. If I give anything to her, that makes her appear more real, more certain, more powerful.” So, that objective was defeated. Now you gave something to the Ego through the backdoor. It's a compulsion; you will have to give something to the Ego. It's like entropy; it only increases. If you say “I'll come up with a method that decreases entropy", then you do not know science. Similarly, the Ego can only be given something; the Ego can never be emptied of all that it has. The Ego can only be given more and more; you cannot empty it of what it has.

Why? Because the Ego is a 'thirsty’ being. And do not say that Ego does not exist; you are thirsty. Look at your face. I'm talking to you. I'm talking to all the great writers who keep harping on Zero-ness. You are thirsty, look at your life. How many projects have you chased? How many women have you chased? Even after writing all your books, are you still not eager and desirous? What are you writing as? As the Absolute or as the Great Void? Does the Great Void bother to write books? Does the great Zero-ness bother to affirm or deny principles?

You are the thirsty one. You cannot be emptied of what you already have. With your little hands, you are desperately clutching. You will clutch to either this or that. I saw a little boy; he was holding trash in his hands. His father came to him and snatched away the trash. And as soon as his hands were freed of the trash, the little boy clutched his father's thighs. He needs something to have. He will latch; he will grope. The father has taken away the trash, so, what will he do? He will latch on to the father. That's the Ego. It requires something. Kindly do not think that you can deny its existence or deny it what it needs. The only way to fulfill the Ego is to 'fulfill' it, not empty it. You cannot empty it. If you will empty it, then it will attach itself to emptiness. It needs something.

And an Ego attached to emptiness is more dangerous than an Ego attached to the run-of-mill worldly objects. Emptiness too is an object. It’s just that it is the kind of object that does not appear like an object. Normal objects are easy to point at. Emptiness, because it describes itself as a non-object, becomes very difficult to point at, and therefore, easily remains a very very stubborn object of attachment. If you are attached to money, or fame, or a man, or a woman, to things, it can be shown to you, right? But what if you become attached to nothing? It's a huge problem then. You will be attached to something, because who are you? You are a thirsty being.

No, we don't want to debate that. You are a thirsty being. Look at your life. We aren't talking principles here; we are talking reality. Look at your life; you are a thirsty being. And let none of us, even the highest one, even the Buddhas of this world dare say that we are not thirsty. Every embodied being is thirsty. To be a body, to have a body is to be thirsty. And if you're thirsty, you need something. Spirituality is the art of giving the Ego something that would really fulfill it.

You cannot dispossess the Ego. It already lives in a feeling of deprivation; it says, “Oh, I am so sick, so unwell, so poor, so needy, so incomplete.” Right? ”So thirsty”.

Now, what are you telling her? The Ego is saying “Oh, I have so little”. And you're telling her “Give me whatever you have”. How will that assuage her? Instead, give her something that would fulfill her.

And there do exist things that can fulfill. There does exist the art of devising objects that can take you beyond your infatuation with objectivity. There exist words that can take you to Silence. Is that not what the Buddha has clearly said in the Dhammapada? Only those words are useful that can take you to Silence.

That's the knack. Give the Ego an object that will make it drop all objects.

Give the Ego a word that will make it forget all the words.

Touch the Ego in a way that will make it lose all its obsession with senses and touches.

Deal with the Ego in such a way that will raise it beyond all worldly dealings. Be involved in such a way that you go beyond all involvement.

The road to Beyond-ness does not bypass involvement. It goes through the thick of involvement, right through the middle of involvement. You have to enter it to go beyond it.

And you don't have to enter it as an additional activity; you are already in it. But you are in it in a superficial way.

You're swimming in shallow waters; you have to dive deep. It's a strange thing; when you dive deep, you find that you have surfaced. And those who keep in shallowness because they don't want to be too far from the surface, find that all they ever get is shallowness. The river is never really crossed. And the river is never even fully experienced. Neither crossed nor experienced, that is the fate of most human beings. That's how we live life, right? Neither do we transcend life, nor do we even experience life. Which gives us a hint, probably to transcend it, one has to fully experience it. And what does it mean to fully experience it? It means to experience objects that can bring fullness to you.

If you live for 80 years, you are experiencing for 80 years. The Buddha too lived for 80 years, he too was experiencing for 80 years. In the chronological sense, the duration of experience for both the persons is the same, is it not? You live for 80 years, the Buddha too lived for 80 years. 80 years is 80 years as per the clock, is it not? For how long did you experience? 80 years. For how long did the Buddha experience? (80 years)

Then, what is meant by experiencing fully? His (Buddha’s) experiences are not your experiences. You experience only the mundane, only the run-of-the-mill. You do not go beyond your circle. You do not want to dive to the core of life. The Buddha wanted more and more. The Buddha wanted to know the essence of it all. You keep dreaming of the palace; He left the palace behind. He said “I want a special kind of experience. And life would anyway keep ticking-off second after second, moment after moment whether I experience it fully or whether I deal in shallow waters. So, why not make the best use of life and make every second count?”

He (Buddha) left the palace. He went to scores of teachers. Would those teachers have been available where he already was? No. Remaining where he was, would he have been able to have the experiences that he had when he went out? That is what is meant by experiencing fully.

We all experience but not all experiences are any good. Eating is an experience, walking is an experience, dealing is an experience, chit-chatting with the same old fellows in the same old ways is an experience. All that is experiential. There's a special quality of experience that can rid you of your obsession with experience - that is Spirituality.

Spend your time where time comes to a standstill. Be at a place that makes you forget where you are. Live in a way that you stop caring for whether you are alive or dead. That is what the Ego wants; something big, something that will make it forget its thirst. Once the Ego forgets its thirst, it also forgets its petty concept about itself.

The moment the Ego forgets its petty concept about itself, the ego is no more.

Can there be a limitless Ego? No. The Ego exists only as long as its limits exist. If you can make the Ego forget its limits, if you can make the Ego forget time, if you can make the Ego forget space, then the Ego is not dead but fulfilled. Never talk the language of killing the Ego. You will not be able to do that; it cannot happen. The Ego can only be fulfilled. No point decrying it. No point unnecessarily ridiculing the Ego as fictitious. It is dishonesty. Like little kids, playing hide-and-seek, and telling each other “I'm not here”. They do that sometimes. “I'm not here”. That's the approach when you say, “The Ego does not exist”.

Would you remember these basic things? We are not here to discuss Truth; we are here to be helped. And help is bigger than Truth, do you understand this? What kind of Truth is that which does not help? That truth is merely fiction; that truth is merely some conceptual principle. And we're not here to dabble in principles. Spirituality starts when you experience suffering. We are here to get rid of suffering. We are here to be helped.

So, we will, first of all, give respect and acknowledgment to the one who is suffering. And who is suffering? The Ego. So, the Ego is real. Otherwise, there is no need for Spirituality. Spirituality can't even begin if the Ego is not there and there is no suffering. There is suffering.

The student comes to the Guru and the Guru says, “You do not exist”.

The student says, “Sir, I'm burning in hell.”

The teacher says, “You do not exist.”

Student says, “But I experience myself. I think I am.”

Teacher says, “Everything that you experience is fiction. It does not exist.”

Student says, “That means that has no reality?”

Teacher says, “None at all. Anything that you say or experience or see or hear or touch or verify or ratify is all nonsense. It does not exist.”

The student says, “So, what do I do with my suffering?”

The teacher says ,“You do not exist. Your suffering does not exist.”

Student says, “Anything that I experience or look at does not exist, and does not suffer?”

Teacher says, “Obviously.”

Student says, “I am looking at you and you have just said that anything that I am looking at is fictitious. And you've also said that fiction cannot suffer.”

In the next moment, the teacher is on his heels and the student is hot on the teacher’s heels. Fiction is chasing fiction. And now, it has all become very serious. Just a while back, it was all in levity – “You do not exist. That does not exist. This does not exist. I do not exist. You too do not exist. If you do not exist, what is the harm in just slaughtering you? After all, fiction cannot suffer.”

Real or unreal, suffering is there, correct? For whatever reason it is there, it is there. It is there; we want to treat it. That is spirituality. Sometimes, suffering can be relieved by telling the sufferer that “Your suffering is just a myth or story”. And it acts as a method to tell the sufferer that your suffering is unreal. Most of the time, this method will not work. Then, you have to come up with something better, something more compassionate, something more humane.

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