Central Place of the Ego
A personal consideration by Krishna Gauci
The Trillium Path and Teachers of Other Schools
Without mentioning specific teachers or schools we can pretty much say that when in most cases spiritual teachers recognize the danger of the ego, what they are mostly concerned about is an ego that remains fixed in on itself in its own separateness. Ego does not feel or recognize the effect that it has on itself or other beings as it acts out from it’s contracted sense. The differences are in how different teachers and teachings deal with this.
In some other traditions there is an attempt to either dismantle or subdue this ego. It is easy to see the difference between this path and those approaches.
However, in other teachings there is simply the practice of seeing through the ego and recognizing the way that it is an illusion, this is a “kinder gentler” ego tolerance. Those teachings are more accepting of the fact of the ego. They recognize that resisting ego makes it stronger, so their approach is what we could call “transcend and include”. They see through the ego, recognizing it as not being our true identity, but then they include it as a part of us that is useful and to be accepted.
While this path is sympathetic to these teachers with a more ego-friendly stance it’s very important to point out that (in my view) the approach to ego in our work is fundamentally different than even those teachings that have that more accepting, tolerant attitude. Instead, I would call our approach “include and transcend” rather than transcend and include. I believe that this is what Linda Groves-Bonder has referred to as “transcending in place.”
What our work has in common with the kinder gentler ego-tolerant transcend and include teachers is that we both recognize that ego is not to be struggled with. The difference is that we don’t just tolerate the ego; we encourage it to go for more than it’s dreamed of. It must grow larger and through its expansion it transcends itself. Inclusion is what brings transcendence; we don’t go for the transcendence only and then include the limit afterwards as an after thought.We value the limited ego as divine in its own right.
Let me be 100% clear at this point: what we do in terms of embracing the ego in the Trillium path cannot be safely done outside the context of the community container and support of others (teachers in particular) in the second life, and it’s important to say that up front.
The Trillium path is at its heart a tantric teaching and our approach to the ego is tantric. Traditionally tantra was considered a dangerous teaching and there was a clear insistence that it only be practiced under the supervision of a master. In a similar way we have support teams because this unique teaching of radical embrace of all limits (including the limit of ego identity) is spiritual fire. It needs teachers established in consciousness, deeply trusting the unfolding of the life process and radiating transmission. It is in this context that the ego can unfold beyond its present form into its next (more evolved) form through fully embracing it as it is now.
Our Transmission Lineage
Saniel Bonder brought forth the Waking Down principles relatively recently and in that sense it is a new teaching. It is being developed further still by teachers and practitioners even now… this stuff is alive! Yet I deeply feel that it’s important to recognize that it has precedents and connections to more ancient sources.
Of all the spiritual traditions in India that I know of, the only one that goes on record to fully embrace the ego as central to full awakening is the tantric school associated with Kashmir known as “Trika”. While there are plenty of differences in the way we does our work, there is an also a clear affinity in the way that that school traditionally held non-duality and the ego.
It also happens that we are what I would call “energetic descendants” of the Trika School in that they are one of the main channels (though not the only one) of our spiritual transmission. This is because Saniel Bonder’s teacher Adi Da was a disciple of Swami Muktananda.
Each of these men received transmission from their own teacher and yet in each case they did not actually teach exactly the same teachings as their own teacher (we are a lineage of rebels), despite this, the energetic “being force” transmission was passed down. This transmission has been said to be associated with Trika Tantra, and that seems to fit with where the effects of our transmission naturally lead. Although Muktananda himself did not exactly teach Trika (but rather his own “Siddhi Yoga” teachings which were a mixture of many different things) both he and his disciples identify the spiritual transmission and lineage of Muktananda as associated with that Trika stream.
So, a lot of our “spiritual DNA” is from the Trika source, and it shows in the way we naturally embrace matter and ego. Saniel Bonder’s radical embrace of Life as the Goddess seems to have been inherent in the natural working out of his realization. It was not a choice of his mind, but a revelation of what awakened in him.
It’s helpful to know a bit about that particular Tantric tradition in order to understand how our transmission is both the same and different from most other non-dual teachings.
Some of our Roots, One Ancient Tantric View
There were historically a number of different Hindu tantric traditions that we can roughly put into three basic kinds:
1) Some tantric schools were dualistic, teaching that the ultimate truth is that we live to be surrendered to the Divine and enjoy its grace and love-bliss.
2) Some tantric schools were kinds of qualified-dualists that taught that while there are ways that we are separate from the Divine there are also ways that we aren’t.
3) Some tantric schools were non-dualists that taught that only the divine exists and nothing else.
Where they seemed to disagree is where much of Indian philosophies tend to disagree: In what way is the experience of separateness or limitation real… or is it not real at all? If its real are we stuck with it? If it’s not real then why do we experience it?
The Trika view of this is a very unusual overarching vision that is an integrated synthesis of all three understandings being true simultaneously.
How could this be?
Trika teaches a form of non-duality that is an inclusive non-duality, rather than an exclusive non-duality.
For instance, Advaita Vedanta is considered an exclusive non-duality because it considers the world an illusion (thereby excluding our experience of it), so it counsels identification with only Consciousness and to not identify with Maya; our experience of a separate manifest world.
On the other hand, Trika teaches that the nature of reality includes more than what Advaita Vedanta describes as real. As in Advaita Vedanta, the light of Consciousness itself is Real, however the experience of separate manifest reality is also revealed in that light as real as well (and so is included). It is a non-duality that is between Un-Manifest Consciousness and the Manifest universe (Shiva and Shakti), and one must awaken to both aspects, which are not separable.
Also, to be clear: it’s not just that the manifest display of life is included only in its experience as non-separate one-ness, the experience of life’s limits that are experienced as separateness are included too. Just as the display of manifest existence is an unfolding (and unpacking) of the potential in the un-manifest, even so is the sense of limitation an unfolding (and unpacking) of the potential in the display of manifest existence.
A large part of the Trika tradition is the transmission of energy from teacher to student. So Trika teaches the awakening of the energies of body and mind as well as awakening to the light of consciousness.
The path to full awakening includes acknowledging the reality that part of the way that consciousness manifests the universe includes the experience of limits and separateness that are real; they are the activity of consciousness. It is by embracing those limits as real that transcendence of those limits happens. Transcendence happens through the including of everything because everything is the divine including the experience of limits. In this way all three ways or views of experiencing limits are included in one context.
In this work, we include whatever sense of separateness there is as real (though not permanent), in this way the experience of separateness is integrated into and finally seen as part of the manifestation (or expression of) Consciousness itself.
This would probably happen quite naturally in most forms of awakening except that it can be overridden by a refusal to feel the effects of the sense of separation and a rejection of the reality of what is the directly experienced. This refusal happens through distraction, numbing or spiritual up-leveling that happens when clinging to states of bliss or silence that are part of awakening. There is a subtle but crucial difference between resting in, enjoying and recognizing how we are bliss or silence on the one hand, and using bliss and silence to avoid our my human experience through clinging to these states on the other.
Ironically the grace or energy that brings us peace will also bring us to feel the depths of pain if we allow ourselves to feel that as well, so that separateness is eventually transfigured through embrace when the energies of transmission are active. This is only true if one is willing to “Wake down” by allowing the embrace of feelings of Separateness as well as feelings of Bliss, I’ll say a bit more about how this happens later.
A Contemporary Tantric Approach
We are a Post-modern (or post-post-modern) all-inclusive tantric school that embraces the (recently arisen) individuated ego of human beings today.
We embody the ego and have no desire to eliminate it; we want to grow it up.
As I understand it, like the Trika tantric tradition, the Trillium work transcends limits by embracing them just as they are because they are real in their own right. They are real in that they are actually experienced by sentient beings.
They may not be ultimately real in the sense that they will at some point become something that they are not now (everything changes) but they are real in that they are exactly what they are now (as experience) and must be embraced now on their own terms.
From my perspective the ego in the Trillium path is understood (as it is in Trika) as the basic sense of the “I-am ness” of identity. As both the highly spiritual sense of “I am that I am” and also as the very human sense of “I am Bob”. Whatever the current sense of self is; whether it is ugly or pretty, generous or petty, lowly or exalted: that’s the ego. Ego is not static or fixed but continues to change. Ego then is not just a limit like other limits; it will be there in any state in which there is the manifestation of any experience whatsoever.
There may be an experience of transcendence of all kinds of limits, and ego will be there in some form. Its nature is to recognize that there is an experience. It may be a wordless recognition, but it is recognition!
And yes, ego does transcend itself by becoming a more expanded ego, a more expanded recognition of what it is. The question of transformation is related to how much “I-am-ness” you are being at any given moment. In other words, the ego will become larger as you develop in the second life! Of course in order to become larger in the sense that I’m speaking of there will be stretching, but your ego will grow and it will not disappear.
The light of Consciousness (Unconditioned Awareness) is pure and simple registration of all experience; there is no refection or recognizing of itself apart from an inherent reflexive capacity that always accompanies this Awareness. The experience of reflection on experience or recognition of what is (even non-verbal recognition), is what we call ego. Ego is what is recognizing itself as realizing something when any realization occurs. Even the realization: “There is no personal ‘I’ ” is the reflection of an ego (a very expanded one) that is having this recognition (that there is no personal ‘I’).
As I hold it, ego is the necessary orienting identification, recognition of what is, and it is inherent in all experience of any kind, even the experience of the recognition of that which is not an experience and has no ego (Consciousness itself). This most basic Ego ( the Ego of Onlyness, or the Divine Ego or Divine Person) is at the heart of every smaller sense of ego and is the core of all self-recognition.
So, this is an ego developmental process. Along the way we embrace the ego’s pettiness and grow beyond its limits by becoming them. We do not always act them out but we identify with, feel and can sometimes express (even if we are just sharing with a friend or teacher) those limits as part of our process. Along the way the ego has needs and they are to be acknowledged and green-lighted. This perspective of “including and transcending” means that what we’re doing is including limits and recognizing them. This is naturally the way in which manifest existence (the Goddess) unfolds in consciousness; limits are not a mistake or anything like that, even if they are entirely subjective.
To dismiss anything in manifest existence including the sense of limitation which one experiences in that manifest existence or the sense of ego at any phase (which is actually part of that manifestation) would be dismissing the Goddess; the activity of Shiva. So this tantric school of the Trillium path (as I see it) embraces the ego, considering it the basic persistent yet changing “I-am” sense. Ego is the seed in its present form of its next form and in every form it is nothing other than the ego of the Universe, the I-am sense of the Universe; the I-am sense of The All or Onlyness.
Ultimately Onlyness is YOU. It’s true that when that I-am (ego) sense is simply fixed on and only identified with a small part of Onlyness and disassociated from the rest of Onlyness there is then pain and confusion. It is from that shrunken sense of ourselves that ‘acting out’ and all the usual things we associate with the ego as ‘the bad guy’ can happen. What this means is that this is the developmental stage and level in which you are those limits.
Rather than pushing away those limits that ego (you) is currently being by struggling with them or even “going beyond” those limits (through transcending them and then reclaiming them), this approach is that you become reduced to those limits. While this can sometimes be very uncomfortable, what can be revealed is that limits in themselves have inherent in them a fire which brings you beyond them. It was our disassociating from limits that has kept that fire dormant.
By giving yourself over to the sense of limits in their own right as they are, you are basically surrendering to the facts of existence; to the facts of how consciousness is unfolding (as you) now. In this way the sense of contracted ego continues to self-liberate in its own time and in its own way. We are not suggesting here that we glorify our own limitations but rather that when we recognize what they are they become the natural means of liberation.
Again, and this is extremely important: a lot of what we do in terms of embracing the ego cannot be safely done outside the context of the community and support of others (especially teachers) in the second birth. There is a lot to “green-lighting” (another huge subject) and it’s important to know that we are not talking about acting out on others (or yourself) in the name of ‘being the ego’. A lot of why this works in the context in which we practice it is because of the container of Mutuality.
In our current times mutuality is a catalytic agent that makes it possible to be the ego, to greenlight it and not become the monster that we were afraid we would be. When ego is honored, felt and expressed in the context of mutuality we still are being egos, and yet we eventually stretch into feeling and holding others as we hold ourselves. Ironically that is the way in which transcendence comes in. In other words the larger picture is purification through embrace of limits while in mutuality. Through this the ego grows (not shrinks) and matures, and it more and more naturally reflects the Conscious Principle.
This is a radical trust in being: Once embraced as it is, that which is embraced has hidden within it the potential (and even the impulse and desire) to go beyond itself.
It’s important to recognize that I am not saying that ego “goes beyond itself” by no longer existing. Rather I am saying that ego goes beyond itself when it consciously becomes the next larger (more inclusive) version of itself. This is not always an easy transition.
This can sound like a form of indulgence, filled with delusions of grandeur, but it is quite the opposite. It ends up being different from what we’d expect because the level of largeness that I’m indicating here ultimately demands being large enough to hold all of experience.
This is not simply the ego of “I live as an ego among countless other egos” (which tends to lead to fear and competition) and it is not simply the ego of “Everyone is me” (which tends to lead to grandiose abuse of power). Instead it implies an ego big enough to hold the paradox: “I am everyone and I live as an ego among countless other egos who are everyone too,” which tends to lead to both empowerment and humility.
The Urgent Need for this Approach Today
The main thing that stands in the way of ego transcending its limits is ego not being allowed to be (limits). What you resist persists. So rather that resisting or even worse denying being (or having) an ego, we live as consciously inviting and allowing the sense of being an ego (and a body) and that is what I mean by “embodying ego”.
We consciously choose to be egos as well as bodies. We recognize that we’ve resisted being here as both the body and the ego, even as we’ve been “forced” to (not quite) be here by virtue of our physical birth. We have resisted being what we are, and now we embrace the whole thing.
The consequences of the denial of the reality of having ego can be devastating. This is seen nowhere more clearly as in the spiritual world that has unfolded in the West in these last five decades.
The capacity for further development after awakening has been distorted by the notion that one’s ego does not exist, or that it is a minor part of us that is merely to be tolerated. Those who are of the “kinder gentler” ego tolerance do not embody the ego in the sense that they do not have a paradigm (or holding container) large enough to allow them to integrate ego in the way the Trillium path does in mutuality, but at least they recognize that they have one and are not fighting it.
Unfortunately those teachers who are in total denial about even having an ego can be incredibly brutal in their treatment of their students, who are thought to be egos that need to surrender into non-existence. Students of course do not want to displease someone who they believe is simply an egoless empty vessel of the divine. So they submit to an unskillful unrefined awakened ego that believes it does not exist (as an ego).
Without understanding that ego is the central thing that must be embraced, developed and brought into accountability through mutuality, an awakened teacher can at times be more dangerous than they are helpful. In particular those teachers who claim that they no longer have egos at all tend to be the most obvious and reckless egos. Without a teaching that welcomes and develops the ego consciously, the awakened ego can become unconsciously destructive. It ends up resembling nothing as much as an immature demanding child even as it exhibits genius and awakened power.
One of the most important gifts that our work has to offer to the Spiritual world of the twenty-first century is the context in which fully embodied individuated egos can have the room to grow into mature Divinely Human Beings. There is a great potential in the creative aesthetic power that can be unleashed as we move out into the larger world with this more natural, honest, integral vision together.
© 2012 Krishna Gauci