Healthy ego? Posted on December 9, 2013 by amartingarcia There is no such thing as a healthy ego any more than there is a thing called a healthy disease”. –Pappaji
According to Swami Dayananda, there IS such a thing as an ‘enlightened ego'(which can definitely be called a healthy ego), in the case of jnanis. It is a functional ego that relates only to Ishwara srishti as long as it has a body, objectively dealing with the world with the least, if at all any, subjectivity. I think this concept of ‘there cannot be a healthy ego’ is a neo-advaitic ‘teaching’.
Denying the possibility of ‘a healthy ego’ (or even the reality of an ego) is not only neo-advaita, but, in my understanding, is also a tenet of the ‘direct path’ of Sri Atmananda Krishna Menon, Francis Lucille, and Rupert Spira, which is different from the former, as you probably know.
James Swartz agrees with Sw. Dayananda in what you quote of the latter (but see his – Sw D`s – nuances, in three places, within the sentence) — J.S.: “A healthy ego and enlightenment are nearly synonyms”. He adds: “However, if someone is ‘maintaining’ an ego, whether it is healthy or not, it is definitely incompatible with enlightenment. Enlightenment cancels the notion that you are an ego, so you will not do anything to make the ego healthy or unhealthy. You just see your ego for what it is. You need not tamper with it. If it is sick it will become healthy if you leave it alone and stay with the self. And you will leave it alone when you know who you are. You will love it warts and all. And in the presence of your love it will become healthy.”
I would agree with Sw. D. in the way he formulates his statement, namely relating the ego to Ishvara, and for as long as the jiva moves in that realm (duality). However, I can see the beginning of a contradiction in J.S.’s account; to me it is like the saying about going for a swim while keeping your cloths dry (I am saying it wrongly), or eating a cake and having it too. If one knows that s/he is not a doer, or an enjoyer, where is the ego, healthy or infirm? A phantom cannot be said to be in either of these two states, it is a phantom (or phenomenon, if you prefer), which ha no separate, independent existence, and is, thus, unreal. A.M.
I think that Advaita Vedanta fully covers this topic. In my opinion, sometimes it sounds paradoxical (just like swimming and keeping the clothes dry) because it speaks to diferent levels. That is something that Papaji and the aforementioned teachers cannot explain with the same precision, and sometimes tend to misunderstand, excluding factors that, althought aren’t real, actually “exist”. In the JS’s case, I think that he is displaying the ordinary AV teaching (wich is the same with S. Dayananda’s). Maybe this could help to explain my point:
“Awareness embraces both the ‘is’ and the ‘is not.’ When you know you are
awareness you are free to be the doer. You stand apart, yet are free to be involved. Here is a beautiful verse from the Upanishad. “Two birds sitting in a tree. One eats the sweet fruit, the other looks on.” You care and not care simultaneously because you are neither the witness nor the doer.
“(…) We do not need to be consistent. The clean the mind teaching is for the doers. The let the mind be dirty teaching is for the knowers. Both the doer and the knower are in you. Let the doer do and the knower know. The twain meets in you, the one who sees.”
So, in my opinion, we should use another paradox: there is no such a thing as a healthy ego… neither a sick one… but when that is known… the sick ego becomes a healthy one.
“Awareness embraces both the ‘is’ and the ‘is not.’”
I think it is better to say that sat-asat, being and not being, pertains to the discriminating mind, under the light of consciousness.
“When you know you are awareness you are free to be the doer. You stand apart, yet are free to be involved.”
I would say that, as awareness, you are not a doer, and definitely you are not involved – in anything. You ‘stand apart’ – like the bird that only watches (as per your metaphor) – precisely because you are uninvolved, as the bird is so; consciousness, awareness is never touched, affected by anything. The freedom that IS awareness is not a positive freedom (paradoxically) in the sense of being free to do ‘x’. As I said, awareness does not do anything.
“…you are neither the witness nor the doer”
I don’t follow you here. What is the source of the quotation just following it: (‘…We do not need to be consistent…’)? It seems strange to me… ‘You are not the witness?’
Sorry. It is a James Swartz quote.
I totally agree with you (and with the explanation of @sharathkp).
I think that the quote I used says that I am not the witness, because I don’t have anything to witness. Nothing is happening. There is only me.
I don’t like the expression “healthy ego”, too, but I would like to add that Traditional Vedanta sadhana assumes a “healthy ego”. Without it, inquiry would be fruitless. The qualifications for enlightenment as presented in some texts might be profitably thought of as the qualities of a mature healthy ego. So I think it is really important to not exclude ego from the map, or treat it like a disease.
You: “I think that the quote I used says that I am not the witness, because I don’t have anything to witness. Nothing is happening. There is only me.”
1) JS is likely referring himself to the state of deep sleep, I would assume. Otherwise that sounds as New-Advaita, which he combats. It would be helpful if you give us the full quotation – in context.
2) In my understanding, the traditional teaching on the ego (ahamkara) is that it is the (4th) part of the ‘internal organ’ (sometimes called ‘mind’ – as much one as the other), and thus has a function vis à vis objects, distinguishing itself from them; it is the ‘I’ sense. I would not quarrel with what you are saying; talking about a ‘healthy’ or a ‘mature’ ego may sound as the same thing, but, in view of the above, I would prefer ‘mature’, which has a mind (or a person) as its object. The problem is that the ‘ego’ wants to take prime of place (main character in the play), and you don’t want to encourage that. From the higher level of truth (paramarthika) the ego is as good as non existing (like the son of a sterile woman). The only existent is Atman – the supreme and unique Ego (chit or Consciousness).
(The link of the satsang where I took the first quote from JS: http://goo.gl/wx5V9c )
1) My mistake. Maybe I wrote it in the Neo-advaita way, but the approach is not experiantial or level-mixed (I hope). S. Dayananda (who tries to keep it clear and simple) in his comments to Vivekachudamani says: “Atma is already self-evident and it is alupta-drk, a seer that never ceases, it never even winks. It is always a witness. But it is a witness only with reference to whatever is seen. By itself it is consciousness.” I guess it fits perfectly with what you say about paramarthika satyam. After all, it sounds more like a language problem.
2) 100% agree.
Thank you very much for kindly answering my comments. I really enjoy reading your blog, learning more and trying to discuss.
It is fairly obvious that it becomes paradoxical when we mix levels. From the paramarthika (absolute) level, there cannot be an ego (healthy or sick) as that would imply more than one reality. All teaching is done at the level of vyavaharika (empirical reality) , though the goal of the teaching itself is to establish you in the Self (Absolute reality). Even after Self-knowledge is firm, the body/mind/sense complex still moves in the empirical reality and this is probably where the question of the existence or otherwise of a healthy ego or enlightened ego comes into play. When a knower relates with the world, it is not the nirguna brahman that he actually is that is talking, understanding etc. as Nirguna Brahman is nirguna, without attributes. He talks and understands courtesy the “healthy ego” while still knowing he is not the talker, understander or the healthy ego. Such it goes!
” All teaching is done at the level of vyavaharika (empirical reality) , though the goal of the teaching itself is to establish you in the Self (Absolute reality).”
Very good and clearly expressed thoughts. Duality is inherent in speech and communication, while teaching or otherwise. But there are expressions that may be misleading, or unfortunate (same thing), such as – in my opinion – ‘a healthy ego’. Speaking like that is like ‘talking to the crowd’, with good intention, but it may deviate from the true teaching, such as in the following verse from the Upadesha Shahashri, 12, 7:
‘He who looks upon the ego, the indiscrimination that produces delusion and other mental modifications (or the reflection of the Self in them) as having no connection with the Self, is, without doubt, the dearest to the knowers of Brahman. No one else is so.’
But this statement (its implications) need to be explained by a teacher, and s/he may try to direct his or her words to either a mixed audience (various degrees of understanding/competence), hoping that each one will get at least something [which means speaking to the consciousness (pure or reflected, as you may prefer) in each one of them], or vary the talk, as it proceeds, by using different examples or explanations. Perhaps the first one is more difficult to do – to do effectively. ‘Healthy ego’, sounds to me as a sanitized expression, as by a psychiatrist or a family doctor (I have in mind R., who is a kind of).