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Is Your Ego Too Small?

September 9, 2009

“Is your ego too small?”

In the Buddhist tradition, there is a lot of talk about negating the ego. However, in the West, this is highly misunderstood. In Buddhist practice, especially on the Vajra path, it is important to have a sound and stable identity. There is the metaphor of pouring water into a clay pot. If that pot is not stable, if the pot has not been fired properly or has some other defect, it will not hold the water. Rob Preece writes in his book, “The Psychology of Buddhist Tantra:”

“Unless they have considerable experience of Western students, Eastern teachers are often unaware of how much emotional wounding we suffer. They usually assume we have well-established, strong egos, and speak of abandoning or surrendering the ego and its related self-oriented egoism as the root of misery in our lives.  However, this teaching requires the student to have a healthy ego and sense of self-worth that has become a solid center of identity. When the occasional Westerner becomes psychologically unstable through practicing (Buddhist) Tantra, Eastern teachers often don’t know how to deal with it.”

Often when we talk about negating the ego, it is misunderstood that we have no ego. When we talk about negating the ego, what we are really talking about is “ego-grasping.” This refers to grasping at the concept of our “self” as an independent, self-existent entity. What we want to negate is our misconception over our real identity.  We want to negate the ego that is essentially only a small aspect of the fullness of our true nature. Rob Preece also adds:

“The ego has two dimensions, which for most of us are not differentiated. One is healthy; the other is emotionally wounded. Problems arise when the ego is damaged through traumatic experiences particularly in childhood. Ego-identity gradually becomes overwhelmed by layer upon layer of emotionally held beliefs about the sense of “I” or “me.” These are often painful wounds that we cling to and believe to be real and solid. We become fearful for our safety, and feel we are bad, worthless,  unlovable, and so on. We cling to this core traumatized sense of “I” as bad, worthless, and so on. This is the emotional tone of ego-grasping which we instinctively cling to as though it were real and absolute. It is not therefore the ego that must be

eliminated, but the ego-grasping that clings to these emotional wounds as absolutes.”

Our true nature is the “Great Perfection.” Our true nature is enlightened. As long as we grasp onto these misconceptions of ourselves as real, we may miss the bliss of enlightenment and end up continuing to live “in a steel cage of grasping self.” So is your ego too small? You bet, because it is dwarfed by the expansiveness of your true nature.

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