Dealing with the Ego

Ego consists of various misconceptions, attachment to name, body, possessions, and our life stories. It is all hallucination, a dark phantom. It seems so concrete to us because we have habitually believed in this sense of “I.” This ego is deeply rooted in each of us. The moment we are born we have innate ego. It is the most ancient habit we have. It is the fundamental tendency.  

Our life is mostly lived under the influence of ego. We have to change and dedicate our life to the cause of liberation of all beings, not to the strengthening of ego. Right now we are not doing so much dedication. Our ego and attachment become stronger and stronger until we really undertake the Bodhisattva’s path and purify that false belief system. The practice of tonglen is a very good practice to do this. Tonglen is a very powerful method that allows us to deal directly with our egos.  

A Bodhisattva is in a battle, not with outer circumstances, but with transforming the ego. Bodhisattvas do not use weapons, guns, spears, anger, or hatred. He or she uses the weapon of wisdomthe realization of emptiness, or Buddha mind. This is the Bodhisattva’s secret weapon.  

In tonglen, we have to face our ego right on the spot. Especially if we are practicing the visualization of giving away everything to others and taking their suffering into ourselves. Our egos wake up right there, saying, “No, no, I can’t do that!” It is a reversal practice.  

We see that ego pops up, wrapped in fire with lots of teeth. In Tibetan Buddhism, the demons are a symbol of ego. The wrathful deities, like Vajrakilaya, are trampling on demons. We can visualize the ego as very angry, insecure, feisty, obnoxious, and demanding.  

We can feel the ego. We do not have to try to do analytical meditation. We can feel it immediately when we practice tonglen. I think tonglen is one of the most transformative practices.

Ego is a misperception of who we are. It’s an “I” that is perceived as a separate entity from everything else. But if we want to feel it, perhaps the best technique is not to go through intellectual inquiry, but to do tonglen practice. We feel ego right there in the form of fear and aversion. We immediately feel fear of suffering, stinginess of not being able to let go of our happiness and possessions. Even though there is no form or color, we can feel the ego in our flesh and in our bones. Ego just pops up.  

There is a method used by Kadampa masters called a hunter’s expression—they hunt an animal and put smoke on the other side because the animal is very smart. It is the same with facing ego. When dealing with the ego and the kleshas (defilements), we do not delay or procrastinate. We immediately attack, right there, by meditating on the nature of reality. We subdue ego right there, right here, in this moment, by realizing it’s nature. But we have to be mindful in every moment, otherwise one spark, which is thought, sets the whole forest, which is consciousness, on fire.  

We have to be mindful at a very deep level. Not just seeing that cars are coming and going, whether people are walking around, whether it’s raining, how the flesh feels. Mindfulness is about observing one’s own emotions arising and catching them on the spot.  

When we are mindful and witnessing whatever is arising in our consciousness, if love and compassion arises, rejoice. If we are experiencing kleshas, like hope, fear, and identification with ego, witness that and be mindful without changing or altering anything. My teacher said, “Be selfish mindfully.” Mindfulness is all that matters. It’s the catalyst. Mindfulness is the ground of all development. We have to be like the Tibetan hunter who is waiting to see if kleshas come up, without any procrastination, and we use the method, whether tonglen or deity yoga, and we allow ourselves to experience instant liberation. This is being taught a great deal in both Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings.  

Source: Used with permission from