The ego, the ‘soul’ and metaphysics – 6th and final part

It was made clear at the beginning of this essay that what we mean by the “ego” (the “personality”), it being no more than a delusion, a false image or projection, cannot be a subject, except in a dream -and is itself a “dream”. We described the fight of the “ego” in its efforts at reaffirmation as an “unholy war”. That it is obviously the soul, the person, who is the subject of the delusion, the “dream” ; his/her’s the “holy war”, the suffering and the required effort towards reawakening (is not life itself a dream? –it is so for “fallen man”). The soul’s, the person’s destiny – and this is conditional according to the monotheistic religions – is to finally be “reabsorbed”, united or reintegrated , and thus liberated. Liberated not from itself (its Self!) by itself , not even from life, but from a false image of itself and of life (“the world”) due to ignorance (avidya).

It is thus through ignorance, passion and attachment, that individual man (non-gender term) has “become” an “ego”, a “dreamer”, until, or unless, he wakes up. Existence itself is a ‘becoming’, not ‘being’, according to Plato and all traditional thinking. This subject is otherwise inexhaustible, and here we may remember the saying of Râbi’a quoted at the beginning, as well as the utterances of so many other sages and mystics.

All of what has been enumerated above (previous page) –and it is a long list-, is a consequence of the displacement by the “ego”, the deluded man, of the true targets – the “three poisons” that lead to attachment to “the world” and to a “worldly ego” – , these being replaced by imaginary ones (projections of the mind directed outwards, but coming back in a loop), as an attempt at “self-justification” and “self-authentication”. However, if there is a tendency to “self-destruction” (good, in the case of the “ego”, which is a lie), there is also a corresponding opportunity for self-reconstruction, self-integration, and real self-authentication. We comment further down on what is fundamental to this end.

It may be objected by some that the above account does not apply to most people, those who are mentally healthy (not deluded) and functioning normally, and that if they do have an “ego” it does not interfere significantly with ordinary life; in any case, it may be added, we all have an image of ourselves which may deviate from reality, but…so is life, and so is the world, and mankind (“one tries one’s best to cope …”, etc., etc.). Yes, with life’s infirmities, and all the rest. It does sound like an escape route…but, true, life is difficult, no doubt. In any case, since the word has been used, what do we mean by ‘health’ – physical, mental, spiritual health? And by ‘normalcy’?

As we pointed out, there are degrees in the malaise that affects the ‘embattled “ego”’, that is, ordinary man -which, besides, may take many forms-, but the picture that was drawn will elicit some discomfiture in those who contemplate it. Knowledge, especially self-knowledge, is hard to come by. To “know oneself” is a tall order, and most people are not interested in making the effort, or know how to go about it . But man is called to surpass, to transcend himself, not to “make himself”. Until that happens, it has been said, “we are all hypocrites”. As we have seen, we cannot blame the “ego” (or one’s “personality”: “the way I am”), that phantom, mask or “impostor”, for having infected us in the first place. Is it genetics? Heredity? Clearly, in the end, no one can escape responsibility. What we call “my ego” is nothing but an excuse, a rationalization, and ultimately, an escape from real freedom. ‘Character’ is something different from ‘personality’ as the latter has been described here. There is an overlapping in meaning between the two, but ‘character’ (from Gr. charattein, to engrave) has a moral connotation and suggests a ´mark’ or fixed characteristic (even though the environment may and does play a role), whereas ‘personality’ (from the Latin persona, a mask), taken in general, and not in the restrictive sense used here, is something more dynamic, giving way to self-expression.

Buddhism, because of the concept of anâtmân (p.4) is certainly, if not impervious, at least not affected to the same degree as are people in the West by the worst excesses of individualism (tied, as we said, to a strong identification with a false ego (=”ego”).

Suffering is an opportunity (upaya), and the way towards defense and integrity of the individual, the person –the Holy War– consists in faith and “works”: submission to God’s infinite Will and Mercy, prayer and invocation if one is a Christian or a Muslim, to follow the dharma, the teaching and example of Buddha and practice the six pârâmitas (that take one to “the other shore”) if one is a Buddhist, or to immerse oneself in the supreme spiritual science of advaita Vedanta.


All of the above is by way of acknowledging the insufficiency of the Western empirical method –i.e. modern psychiatry and psychoanalysis– by itself alone, if one has in view the healing of the whole person. Here the spiritual realm must be accounted for, the more so if the sick person, whatever psychological or psychiatric condition he or she may be suffering from, is a believer, in a religious sense. For how could that realm be considered subsidiary or subordinate once it is taken seriously?

“The mischief starts where psychology invades that portion of the soul which belongs to divinity and works consciously or unconsciously to discountenance the sacred and render it to all appearance nugatory, sterile, or void.” This ultimately results in what Frithjof Schuon calls ‘the psychological imposture’, which concerns mainly “those procedures inaugurated with differing emphasis by Freud and Carl Jung”. (From article quoted within this para.).

“That portion of the soul” or, rather, “the Soul of the soul” (see bellow), is that with which traditional, sacred, or metaphysical science is chiefly concerned. This is a far cry from the assessment by a contemporary psychiatrist (concerning the two kinds of science) who said: “In the past, the Sufi pirs, the yoga gurus, and the Zen masters did not have the psychological or psychoanalytical sophistication of the present time. Freud and Pavlov were al least 1,000 years in the future”. And yet, he had written some pages earlier: “The Sufis’ concept of ignorance goes beyond the present concepts of repression, denial, and psychological blind spots in psychoanalysis”

Titus Burckhardt, a perceptive and wise author, has spelled out clearly the reason for the insufficiency of modern psychotherapy: “the psychic cannot be treated by means of the psychic… By its own specific nature, (the psyche) is essentially unstable and deceptive, so that it can be cured only by resorting to something situated ‘outside’ and ‘above’ it.”

Another contemporary sage, Ananda Coomaraswamy, has written: “the health envisaged by the empirical psychotherapy is a freedom from particular pathological condition; that envisaged by the other” –which he says is really a pneumatology– “is freedom from all conditions and predicaments, a freedom from the infection of mortality”. “Furthermore” –continues Coomaraswamy- “the pursuit of the greater freedom necessarily involves the attainment of the lesser, psychological health being a manifestation and consequence of spiritual well-being (Svetasvatara Upanishad, II, 12,13). So, whereas the empirical science is only concerned with the man himself ‘in search of his soul’ (Jung’s expression), the metaphysical science is concerned with this self’s immortal Self. The Soul of the soul.”

That science, and Buddhism and advaita Vedanta certainly belong here, is one that, combined with cosmology and morality, their operative dimensions, would lead one on to self-knowledge, the ultimate goal. It is in this sense that Lao Tsu said: ‘To feel an illness is to have it no longer’; an the Law of Manu says: ‘There is no lustral water to compare with knowledge’.

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Alberto Martin


Burckhardt, Titus. Mirror of the Intellect. Albany, 1987.

Lipsey, Roger, ed. Coomaraswamy 2: Selected Papers, Metaphysics. Princeton 1977.

Perry, Whitall N. In Quest of the Sacred (The Modern World in the Light of Tradition). Foundation for Traditional Studies, Oakton, Virginia, 1994.

Schuon, Frithjof. Roots of the Human Condition. World Wisdom Books, Bloomington, IN, 1991.

Schuon, Frithjof. Logic and Transcendence. Perennial Books Lted., London, 1975.

Shafii, Mohammad, M.D. Freedom from the Self. Human Sciences Press Inc., New York, 1988.

Stoddart, William. Outline of Buddhism . Foundation for Traditional Studies; 1998.

Tomorrow. (Spring 1966).