The Ego is Persistent

Sri Ramakrishna

Perhaps you laughed yesterday when I mentioned Oil Can Harry, the ego, the shadow side. (1) And for sure there’s something to laugh about in watching us act like the ego.

But there’s also another side which is anything but laughable.

I’ve actually seen the face of my ego perhaps fifteen years ago and that was no laughing matter. Scared me silly when it happened. I was writing a dictionary on the ego and, probably because that study recreated it fairly well, I actually one day saw its face confronting me.

That was a scarey sight. It was flaming red, except for parts of it that were in shadow, which were black. It had blood-red eyes and kind of went, “ARRRHHHHHH!” at me when I looked at it.

Wow! Scared me straight! Almost. But then over time I forgot, as so many of us do. The sight faded into memory and then out of memory and the ego carried on.

In my opinion, the ego is composed of three things. Not the ego in its seed or latent state, which apparently lasts well past certain stages of enlightenment. But the ego in its active, awakened state.

(1) Vrittis. Vrittis or waves in the mind; i.e., thoughts. The action of the mind, and particularly its desires, calls forth the ego and constitutes its “body,” so to speak. Not only are we quite capable of carrying on with a quiet mind, but the knowledge of who we are can only arise in the still pond of the quiet mind.

(2) Sankaras. Sankaras or sensations on the physical body constitute its direct products. The Vipassana meditator follows the rising, persistence, and falling away of sensations on the body and in doing so teaches the mind the impermanence of desires; in fact, the impermanence of all things, which Buddhists call anitya (impermanent) in Sanskrit and anicca in Pali. When we watch sensations arise on the body without reacting, we reduce our stock of sankaras and thereby quiet the mind in turn.

(3) Vasanas. Vasanas or reactive habit patterns constitute its persistent residue or precipitate. Vasanas are the sleeping volcanoes which go off when triggered by an unpleasant situation in the present which has some qualities which remind us of the original traumatic incident at the heart of the vasana. By being with and observing our vasanas when they go off, we complete them and reduce our stock of them too, which again quiets the mind.

Short of Ascension, if I want the ego to go back to its seed state and not emerge again, I’d have to eliminate these three, as the Buddha did. No vrittis, sankaras, or vasanas can remain, as they do not in the natural state of the mind, which non-dualists call Sahaja. Complete quietness of mind is the aim.

As Krishna put it, “the light of a lamp does not flicker in a windless place,” the light of the lamp signifying enlightenment and the windless place representing the mind swept clean of these three impurities. (2) In that state, the ego would return to its seed state, or so I believe.

Sri Ramana Maharshi

Sri Ramakrishna held the ego to be the cause of duality. According to him: “If God keeps the ego in a man, then He keeps in him the sense of differentiation.” (3) Immediately when the ego says “I,” there arises the other.

He compared the ego to “a stick that seems to divide the water in two. It makes you feel that you are one and I am another.” (4) Moreover, according to him, “ignorance lasts as long as one has ego. There can be no liberation as long as the ego remains.” (5)

Interestingly, if I’m correct that the ego is coterminous with movement in the mind, with its accompanying sensations and habit patterns (and I may be wrong), then one could also say that so long as there is movement in the mind, ego will arise, and with it duality, and there cannot be liberation.

According to the Vipassana tradition, the Buddha saw that, even though he had accomplished Brahmajnana or God-Realization, which occurs when the kundalini reaches the seventh chakra, there was still movement in the mind. Only when the movement ceased through his Vipassana practice was he able to achieve liberation.

In my view, when movement stops in the mind, so does the ego return to its seed state. This stage of enlightenment occurs when the heart opens not temporarily as in Brahmanjnana, but permanently as in Sahaja Nirvikalpa Samadhi. As Sri Ramana Maharshi says:

“When the mind drops down in Kevalya Nirvikalpa [Samadhi; i.e., Brahmajnana], it opens but shuts again after it. When Sahaja [Nirvikalpa Samadhi] is attained it opens for good.” (6)

“The Sahaja Nirvikalpa [Samadhi] is permanent and in it lies liberation from rebirths.” (7)

“By repeated practice one can become accustomed to turning inwards and finding the Self. One must always and constantly make an effort, until one has permanently realized. Once the effort ceases, the state becomes natural and the Supreme takes possession of the person with an unbroken current. Until it has become permanently natural and your habitual state, know that you have not realized the Self, only glimpsed it.” (8)

Krishna said, “Those who have renounced ego and desire will reap no fruit at all, either in this world or in the next.” (9) One could translate ego and desire by the words “I want.” And if one does, one arrives at the chief obstacle to liberation that Krishna, the Buddha and most other spiritual teachers point to.

The Buddha called it craving, aversion, and ignorance. The “I” that wants is the ignorance. Aversion can be seen as the same as craving in that it is wanting not to have some condition. Craving, aversion and ignorance therefore boil down again to Krishna’s ego and desire or “I want.” By the law of attraction, so long as we want the things and experiences of the Third Dimension we are attracted to and must remain in the Third Dimension.

This is why Krishna would say, “When a man can still the senses I call him illumined.” (10) Or the Upanishads: “When a man is free from desire, his mind and senses purified, he beholds the glory of the Self and is without sorrow.” (11) And: “The mortal in whose heart desire is dead becomes immortal. The mortal in whose heart the knots of ignorance are untied becomes immortal. These are the highest truths taught in the scriptures.” (12) The knot of ignorance is the “I”; desire is “want.” Again the key difficulty is “I want,” the desiring mind.

Lao Tzu agrees, as do the sages of all religions:

“The secret waits for the insight
Of eyes unclouded by longing;
Those who are bound by desire
See only the outward container. ” (13)

They see only the outward container because they remain in the Third Dimension of physicality, which is why the Company of Light has told us repeatedly that we must let go of our hankering after the things of the Third Dimension if we wish to ascend.


Speaking somewhat cryptically, the Buddha said: “The world does not know that we must all come to an end here; but those who know it, their quarrels cease at once.” (14) We must all come to an end here – or more particularly our desires for Third Dimensionality must all come to an end.

If Ascension were not a possibility, then our ego and wanting would have to come to an end while we were incarnated through intensive spiritual discipline if we wanted to be liberated from the cycle of birth and death.

As it happens, Ascension will bring our sense of being a separate “I” and our numerous Third-Dimensional desires to an end without the need for intense practice. In this sense, Ascension lets us off the hook.

We don’t have to meditate alone in a mountainous cave or subject ourselves to strict regimens of renunciation. The rising energies will assist us and take care of the greatest part of these matters for us. And if “I want” comes to an end, what will remain for us to quarrel about?

There is one line of thinking that says that the ego does not stop altogether even after advanced states of enlightenment. Sri Ramakrishna said that “the ego does not vanish altogether” even after vijnana, which I believe is the same as Sahaja Samadhi. (15)

“The man coming down from samadhi perceives that it is Brahman that has become the ego, the universe, and all living beings. This is known as vijnana.” (16)

Sri Ramakrishna had so many memorable metaphors for any spiritual teaching. He compared the ego to a creeper and a goat with its head cut off.

“Why does a vijnani keep an attitude of love towards God? The answer is that ‘I-consciousness’ persists. It disappears in the state of samadhi, no doubt, but it comes back. In the case of ordinary people the ‘I’ never disappears. You may cut down the aswattha tree, but the next day sprouts shoot up.” (17)

“You may discriminate, saying that the ego is nothing at all; but still it comes, nobody knows from where. A goat’s legs jerk for a few moments even after its head has been cut off. Or perhaps you are frightened in a dream; you shake off sleep and are wide awake, but still you feel your heart palpitating. Egotism is exactly like that. You may drive it away, but still it appears from somewhere.” (18)

I cannot decide the debate because I’m not an enlightened man. But certainly the ego is persistent. So it’s probably not a true statement coming from us with our Third-Dimensional consciousnesses to say that we’ve somehow overcome the ego. Chances are we haven’t.

That’s the situation for people up to this magical year. Now, in 2012, with the ending of the 26,000-year cycle, everything changes. The arduousness of the pursuit of enlightenment will come to a close on this planet. Those who choose it and have absorbed enough light to tolerate the Fifth Dimension will rise at the end of the year. I’m not sure if that will result in the total end of the ego, but I’m sure that the ego, if it remains, will once again become the friend of humanity instead of its bane.


(1) “Oilcan Harry Says: Time to Peek Out from Behind the Mask and Just Have Fun,” May 15, 2012, at

(2) Krishna in Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, trans., Bhagavad-Gita. The Song of God. New York and Scarborough: New American Library, 1972; c1944, 66. [Hereafter BG.]

(3) Paramahansa Ramakrishna in Swami Nikhilananda,trans., The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1978; c1942, 328. [Herefater GSR.]

(4) GSR, 387.

(5) Ibid., 204.

(6) Ramana Maharshi in S.S. Cohen, Guru Ramana. Memories and Notes. 6th edition. Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanasramam, 1993, 96. [Hereafter GR.]

(7) GR, 88.

(8) Ramana Maharshi in Paul Brunton and Munagala Venkataramaiah. Conscious Immortality. Conversations with Sri Ramana Maharshi. Rev. ed. 1996, n.p.

(9) BG, 121.

(10) BG, 43.

(11) Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester, trans., The Upanishads. Breath of the Eternal. New York and Scarborough: New American Library, 1957; c1948, 18. [Hereafter UPAN.]

(12) UPAN, 24.

(13) Lao Tzu, The Way of Life. The Tao Te Ching. trans. R.B. Blakney. New York, etc.: Avon, 1975, 53.

(14) The Buddha in Edwin A. Burtt, ed., The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha. New York and Toronto: New American Library, 1955 53.

(15) GSR, 104.

(16) Loc. cit.

(17) Ibid., 105.

(18) Ibid., 210.

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