The Birth Of The Ego.

Via Benjamin Riggs
on Feb 19, 2011
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A synopsis. The article is far more detailed.

In order to better understand the origins of our discontentment, we must further investigate the growth and development of the ego… We must catch ourselves trying to freeze the stream of life.

If everything seemed to be perfect there would be no need for meditation. Meditation practice co-arises with the path that leads to suffering. The path of meditation is nothing more than walking backwards down the path that gives rise to suffering, or as Chogyam Trungpa said “A Process of Un-Doing.” So in order to better understand the practice of meditation, it is essential that we better understand the ego-centric processes which give rise to our feelings of dissatisfaction…

Beyond the pretentious rhetoric of ego there is pure Life, total spaciousness. This spaciousness or emptiness is total formlessness. It is not nothingness in the sense that it is dead space; rather it is nothingness. It is absolute, beyond all distinctions of self and other, good or bad. It is beyond even this and that. In his Confession St. Augustine wrote, “It was not absolute nothingness. It was formlessness without definition.” Life— free of elaboration. It is isness.

Life, in this sense, cannot be understood or explained in some rational way. Life is not some-thing to be experienced, it is direct experience. There is no-thing that experiences, and no-thing to be experienced— the whole thing flows together in an integrated whole. The experiencer is realized to be a dimension of experience— Being!

The whole thing is rather impossible to explain. At this point logic and language begin to breakdown. Logic and language are dualistic systems of communication, and in Being dualism malfunctions. Language attempts to describe the relationship between two points, but when the subject is realized to an aspect of the object and vice versa, this relationship dissolves. In space there is not two, there is not even one; there is just one-ness.

So, how did we manage to go from that spacious quality of being, to being plagued by conflict, disorder, and dissatisfaction?

First of all we must understand that one-ness, is still there, untainted. We did not go from that to this… It is all an hallucination!

We are just asleep, ignore-ant of the fact. The fact being, that all of our conceptual boundaries— the lines of demarcation, which project a world of multiplicity upon the unified spectrum of energy— are in the final analysis transparent.  The concepts and labels which seem to be so solid are nothing more than thought projected onto the backdrop of impermanence. They are unjustly taken too serious because, there is a sense of ownership, some-thing that seems to possess them. It is this sense of ownership, this feeling that there is some-one who is in control of this whole process, which gives rise to all of our suffering.

Life becomes some thing that I takes personally. We experience this “I” as a kind of tiny dictator trapped between our ears. Fortunately, this miniature tyrant is nothing more than a personified thought born out of ignorance. It is this hypnotic trance that gives births to and nurtures the cyclic pattern of suffering discussed in the First Noble Truth, The Truth of Dissatisfaction.

All of our troubles must be the product of self-deception, as we did not intend to create problems for ourselves or anyone else. At the root of our troubles we will find confusion. Therefore, restoring the mind to its natural state requires nothing more than waking up from the fog of this self-deception… Simply observing this confusion!

The great Catholic mystic and writer Thomas Merton once wrote, “From space earth is just earth. There are no lines of demarcation that separate states and countries.” It is only on paper and in our heads that these lines exist. Ego has created a similar map, a map of life. Much like the maps of our planet, ego’s map can be relatively useful. The problem is not with the map itself. Rather, the trouble lies in our confusion. We ignore the fact that it is a mental fabrication, merely a conceptual map. There has been a fundamental error made… We have mistaken the map for the territory. In other words, all of our opinions, thoughts, and concepts which point at or describe objects, have been misapprehended as the objects themselves. As a result, when reality does not agree with our thinking we fight tooth-&-nail to make the world behave as it should

So how did all this get started?

In suchness all divisions of self and other break down. It is un-charted territory, but spacious enough to include any and all charts! Since it is fluid or empty, it is impregnated with possibilities. The whole thing flows together as a unified stream of energy. This energy is totally pure, completely innocent. That pure energy is raw potential. Innocence is extremely pliable. It is the mind of a child; fertile ground for anything. It is a world of infinite possibilities.

Prior to the development of ego there is no sense of ownership. In other words, this energy is not centered on some-thing. There is no-thing, no ego that is directing or manipulating this energy. There is no map or system for understanding or relating with life. In fact, there is not even a need for one!

Then we are born into an adult world…

We have to learn all the games that humans play, which as Alan Watts so humorously pointed out is not that easy. Watts said:

“Instead of saying hello my dear, and welcome to the human race. Now my friend we are playing some very complicated games, and these are the rules of the game. We tell our children you are here on probation; I want you to understand that. Maybe when you grow up a bit you will become acceptable, but until then you should be seen and not heard. You are a mess, so you need to be educated, schooled, and whipped until you become human.”

We first have to “learn our place”, which means that, at least for the time being, we have no place of our own. So our indoctrination into the human family begins with establishing a sense of insufficiency or defectiveness. We have to be beaten into a state of reasonableness before we will accept all of the ridiculous logic we are about to be force fed. Kids continually ask “why” because most of the stuff we are telling them is nothing short of absurd.  In order to overcome our inability to understand the adult humans, we have to begin our education and schooling, which starts with someone telling us to use our words.

Language is a system of communication meant to express the ego’s point of view. That is why the whole arrangement of language revolves around the interaction of subject and object or self and other. Language requires that there be some subject interacting with an object. As language, which is a type of map, is impressed upon the mind, the mind begins to conform. Pure energy begins to be shaped or take solid form. Much like a cookie cutter, language begins to cut up this energy into a great many things beginning with this and that. Life becomes “that over there,” which implies that “I am this!” It is at this point that we go from oneness to 1.

However, 1 is unable to validate itself. So, the experience is short lived. Although the event is short lived, it is nevertheless extremely profound. There was the rise and the fall of this and that. The creation of duality gave rise to a sort of self-intoxicated separation… We admired or obsessed over our creation. Ignore-ance is the ego’s primary source of nutrition. It establishes and sustains ego-centric consciousness… The ego defends it by obsessing over it’s creation, namely itselfWe become infatuated with form! This is the first stage in the development of ego, ignore-ance/form.

The experience of 1 is not sustainable. So, with the dissolution of such an experience, we come to embarrassed. We awaken in a dream. We are Adam and Eve in the garden— self-conscious of the fact that we are naked. The conclusion of the ‘that and this’ experience gives rise to a unique brand of paranoia; the fear that “I am not.” If I was, then it must follow that I am not.

In order for the ego to establish itself, it must white knuckle its way through the truth of selflessness; it must become well versed in the art of ignore-ance. Until the ego masters the art of ignoring the truth it will continue to rise up, only to come crashing back down. This constant rise and fall is what generates the self-conscious paranoia that fuels the whole process of self-confirmation— it is origins our fear of death.

If ignore-ance is the key ingredient in the establishment of ego, then it must be defended at all costs. In order to introduce self and other, reality must be ignored. However, ignore-ance all by itself is insufficient, as 1 cannot validate itself. The experience of self expands and collapses back in on itself, over & over again. In order to maintain the trance, ego needs to create a diversion, some kind of distraction. In order to sustain ignore-ance, the ego creates some thing it can obsess over. So as Chogyam Trungpa pointed out, “One confirmation needs another… And this process goes on and on to infinity”. Therefore, the momentum from our phobia of selflessness fuels an obsessive process of self-confirmation; 1 is validated by 2, 2 by 3, 3 by 4, and 4 by 5.

It is through this degenerative process that clarity and precision become misplaced.

The second wave in the development of ego is relationship or interaction. Relationship, in this context, is meant to provide a constant brand of entertainment; life becomes a 24 hour media outlet. It is an institution with a single objective— to prevent the onset of boredom. Boredom is nothing more than the lack of self-confirmation. That’s why there is a piercing irritation associated with boredom; it seems to cut straight through to the center of our universe. Relationships single purpose is to make sure that this failure to acquire affirmation does not happen.

As the “I AM” experience begins to assert itself and interact with other, “I am” becomes “I am experiencing THAT.” There is now verbing between subject and object. Through relationship, this self-conscious thought begins to project itself outward, onto some-thing else. It is a type of echo. If “I am experiencing THAT,” then I must be. At this stage there is no judgment involved, just simple contact. If there is sensation, then there must be some one feeling it… So, 1 is confirmed by 2.

This is reassuring from the point of view of ego, but in-&-of itself the 2nd stage is still insufficient. The “I AM because of that” still has no shape. At this stage, all it knows is that it is not that, but there isn’t a sense of identity. There is still no role to play or map to navigate through life. I does not know what to do or where to go with this relationship. So the domino effect continues with 2 having to be validated by 3

The contact with “other,” is encoded with a wealth of information. This information cannot be wasted or brushed aside because, it is needed to bring definition to an otherwise meaningless idea, the self. So, there has to be some means by which to manage all of the information received through relationship. The problem is that this information seems to be coming in at an unthinkable rate…

Speed and time are relative concepts; they are relative to the point from which they are observed. The ego is such a point, an observer. Now that we have introduced an observer the speed of life seems overwhelming.

Impermanence now appears, not as unified stream of energy, but as a million different things happening to us...

The whole experience of life has become muddled and incomprehensible. So in order to manage this speed, ego develops an automatic filling system. As experiences come and go they are remembered as good, bad, or indifferent. These memories begin to shape our perception. Our whole outlook upon life, our map of the territory, begins to be shaped by our interpretation of the past.

As this information is received it is pigeonholed by this memory/perception. Each new experience is sorted on the basis of ego’s perspective as good, bad, or indifferent, and dealt with accordingly. This information is handled by employing various pre-ordained responses. If it is perceived as good, then the ego will cling to it. If the sensation is seen as negative or threatening, then it will be destroyed. If the information is somewhat vague or indifferent, then it will be given the cold shoulder.

It is important to understand the speed of this process. The whole system is conditioned and reflexive. The perception which deciphers the incoming information is conditioned by the past. The methods of attachment, aversion, and ignore-ance are pre-ordained reflexes. It is an extremely fast, well lubricated machine that utilizes preconceived ideas and knee-jerk reactions to manage its environment. It is the purpose of this third stage, perception/impulse, to censor and manage the affairs of ego. It is almost like ego’s personal assistant. To some degree it enables ego to navigate through the speedy traffic of impermanence, cultivating desirable relationships and avoiding disagreeable ones. Although this is a necessary advancement from the viewpoint of ego, it is still incapable of sustaining the whole project. There is still no role for ego to play in the theatre of life. The first three stages have managed to insert a central persona into the scheme of life in a purely mechanistic fashion.

By way of  impulse/perception, ego managed to reduce the entire range of experience down to three distinct territories; good, bad, and indifferent. From the ego’s perspective, this is a giant step towards a more manageable situation.

Behind the walls of these three general territories of good, bad, and indifferent is a wealth of information, details the ego can use to better understand its empire, and consequently itself. So it begins to micromanage these territories by further dividing them up into even smaller provinces. In the fourth stage, ego begins to survey the landscape, and assign names to all it’s territories. Through the medium of conceptualization, the fourth stage, ego attempts to compartmentalize and define the infinite number of relationships it maintains with the external world.

A concept, in this case, is referring to a mental construction that is assembled using a host of ideas, called expectations. These ideas are nothing more than the affirmative version of fear. We expect things to behave in such a way that doesn’t scare us! These expectations are similar to job descriptions. They represent all of ego’s hopes and fears for that particular territory. The sum total of these expectations imputed onto some object equals a concept. Ultimately, ego assumes a God like status, as it is the role of ego to determine the part that everyone else will play in its environment.

Ego’s regime is an oppressive one. A type of totalitarian state where everyone’s role is assigned to them. In most cases these roles are not even communicated clearly, “other” is just expected to fulfill their duties. In order to better understand this point let us explore it further by way of an example, the concept of boyfriend.

Like any other concept, “boyfriend” is defined by various expectations. That is why on-line dating sites are so successful. They are not matching people, they are matching things that people cling to, expectations! These expectations could be anything. We may expect such a person to take us on dates, or say loving things to us. On the other hand, we may demand that such a person remain relatively detached or distant. All of these likes and dislikes are simply determined by our past experiences; it is a matter of whatever floats our boat because, we are paranoid that everyone is trying to sink our boat! Regardless of the expectations you subscribe to, the fact remains that whomever you call boyfriend will either meet these expectations or the relationship will turn up sour, because he is not fulfilling his job description.

When we realize that “boyfriend” has managed to escape from his conceptual cage, the relationship becomes painful because, it fundamentally challenges identity. That is not to say that we will get out of the relationship. In fact, often we will stay because, the pain can provide us with a sort of constant companionship… A type of entertainment that while it may not be pleasant, certainly satisfies our need for self-confirmation. Bad attention is better than no attention at all!

An incredibly interesting thing about this stage in ego’s development is that by defining other, ego’s role is also determined. Ego finally has acquired some kind of identity. By labeling other as “boyfriend,” ego assumes the role of “girlfriend.” It has assigned itself a role, a part to play, by conceptualizing other. Steps 1-3 establish the ego, and the fourth phase defines it.

These four stages are just that, stages. They are a linear; with a beginning and end point. They are like a bunch of sticks with nothing to tie them together. There is no sense of continuity. The appearance of permanence is installed in the fifth stage, where the whole process is tied together, creating a cyclic or self-contained state of affairs. The fifth and final phase in the construction of ego is consciousness

Consciousness attempts to provide a system that is capable of recycling the momentum created in the first four stages, which is what creates the illusion of endurance. It is not really a linear stage or level; it is more like a loop, which enables the various manifestations of self to play through as a single personality. There are great deal of relationships to be maintained, and a host of new information coming in. There has to be some form of management installed to manage this incredibly chaotic environment.

It is the job of consciousness to oversee this whole project, to make sure that things go according to plan. Consciousness could be compared to a computer that is constantly scanning any and all activity. As it sifts through all this activity, it is all the time encountering new information. These new codes must be deciphered. As this new information comes in, the emotions flare up, sounding alarms that ego interprets as some thing that must be dealt with; either cultivated or destroyed. Thought works tirelessly to interpret these threats. It looks for some ancient explanation… Some expired file from the memory’s database that inoculates the threat or seduces the situation. It is the job of thought to make sense out of all this new information, to explain away ego’s environment by making new information look like old information!

Thought circles around these experiences, interpreting them from many different angles. These various interpretations generate a variety of states of mind or personalities. Ego then utilizes these various states of mind to manage its empire and maintain the illusion of permanent selfhood.

Before we can begin to unlearn this ego-centric indoctrination through the practice of meditation, we must become more familiar with the way in which these systems operate. It is through these various personality programs that the ego is able to maintain the stupor or ignore-ance that is necessary for its survival.

So next week we will turn our attention towards these personality programs, also known as The Six Realms.

In the comment section below please share some of your own experiences, ideas, concerns, and yes, your disagreements! The questions below should help get some discussion going…

1) Do you ever get the feeling that your mind is constantly seeking to explain away the environment? Does this search manifest in the form of incessant chatter between your ears that drives you crazy?

2) Do you feel dependent upon or obsessed with the acquisition of certainty or solidity? Can you see the connection between the search for certainty and the fourth stage of conceptualization?

3) Can you identify patterns of both, behavior and perception, where you just re-act to things without even thinking? Can you identify instances where a certain stimulus triggers a response or pushes a button in you?

4) Can you identify the absolute need for entertainment? The need to be constantly entertained or touched by some thing, less you feel insignificant?

5) Can you sense that degree of separation, that imputed distinction between you and life that entertainment and certainty are intended to protect? The most common symptom of this contrived is boredom…

What exactly are we trying to protect?


About Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the author of Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West. He is also the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA and a teacher at Explore Yoga. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist and Christian spirituality on Elephant Journal, and his blog. Click here to listen to the Finding God in the Body Podcast. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter.


64 Responses to “The Birth Of The Ego.”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Refuge Meditation, Red Fox. Red Fox said: The Birth Of The Ego. […]

  2. TamingAuthor says:

    Re-phrasing a comment from last installment, as it applies:

    I have encountered confusion regarding Buddha Nature. This confusion, and its solution, leads to a vital factor to be considered…

    As aggregate self we can never bring about liberation. An aggregate self (false self, attached self, ego self) can never liberate itself as it has the nature of fabrications, the nature of a lie. So as long as we view as an aggregate (or skandhic) self, we make no progress toward liberation.

    Only a Buddha Self, only one who views from this vantage point can bring about liberation. This is the true Observer. Not solid but also not changing.

    Therefore, the practice is all about bringing about moments when we can view as Self, for it is only in those moments that we purify affliction, obfuscations, and break the bonds of attachment.

    Therefore, we risk failing to achieve liberation if we make mistakes regarding self and Self, even at the entry level of the practice. Any confusion between the two slows our progress.

    Most talk about ego falls into the trap of trying to negate the Self. The other option is to focus not on an negation of self but rather on the all important discernment between self and Self. The discernment brings about an ability to recognize that which is not Self (the aggregates) and that which is Self (Buddha).

    How does your analysis of ego tiptoe through these important distinctions? How might one go about avoiding confusion that leads to inadvertent nihilism?

  3. TamingAuthor says:

    You write: "Life, in this sense, cannot be understood or explained in some rational way. Life is not some-thing to be experienced, it is direct experience. There is no-thing that experiences, and no-thing to be experienced— the whole thing flows together in an integrated whole. The experiencer is realized to be a dimension of experience— Being! "

    Perhaps you could explain this in greater detail. Tricky stuff. The phrase "There is no-thing that experiences" may be confusing. Might it not be there is a No Thing that experiences? In other words, there is an Observer but that Observer does not have the property of Thingness.

    On the other hand, there is something to be experienced, correct? There is the entirety of fabrications, of appearances, to be experienced, observed, and played. We create something then observe and experience it, correct?

    Do you really mean to say the Observer, a Buddha, flows into an integrated whole. Are not the properties of a Buddha different from the properties of fabrications? A Buddha is not a fabrication, and a fabrication is not a Buddha, right? So maybe there is some other meaning here?

    Ther phrase, "The experiencer is realized to be a dimension of experience— Being! " is perhaps confusing. The observer who experiences is not a dimension, but rather a Buddha who gives rise to space, to dimension. Being in this sense seems to be a reification—taking an abstract concept and giving it Thingness. Why would we not just say a Buddha Is? As a Buddha I have beingness. Why would we not approach it in that manner as opposed to making it other than who we are in essence?

  4. TamingAuthor says:

    Would you explain the different levels of consciousness. It appears that in this essay you speak of what is known as aggregate consciousness rather than Buddha consciousness. How do they differ? How is dependently-arisen consciousness, skandhic or aggregate consciousness, different from Buddha consciousness, which is not arisen? Don't you think that is an important area to discern? How might a student recognize the difference so he or she does not attempt to kill off his or her essence in the process of going after the ego?

  5. TamingAuthor says:

    You may enjoy this article by Francesca Fremantle. She is the author of the wonderful book Luminous Emptiness.

  6. yogiclarebear says:

    Ben, there is no risk for me here of sounding “primitive.” It is simply a fact that I am, regarding the above. With that assumed, I’ll try my best to explore the points I understood.

    (I really do appreciate this, and feel that laying out the development of ego can serve to aid in unwinding from its imprisonment. I did have a harder time with your layout of these topics than I have with other author’s explanations, but like you said in regard to explaining Life beyond ego… “At this point logic and language begin to breakdown.” I will just attribute that concept to my limited (so far) understanding. I’m not here to critique your authorship.)

    Moving on. (I’m avoiding what I’m trying to say, which is, I’m not sure.)


  7. yogiclarebear says:

    First thing that came up for me personally was in the portion on relationship. You explained, “It is an institution with a single objective— to prevent the onset of boredom.” When I saw the word “boredom” I sparked. I’ve made it a practice in my life to reduce “noise” such as the typical TV, computer, blaring radio, droning machines, idle chit chat, etc. I’ve practiced and enjoyed being in silence in my surroundings for the past few years, and finally dipped into sitting practice just last year. Bla bla bla, the point is, I know that “boredom” is something that I’ve tried to avert from in the past via “outside noise” so bringing that down was me being mindful toward that.


  8. yogiclarebear says:

    But the thing for me is that boredom isn’t just “boredom.” Idleness, quietness, sitting with my-self is terrifying because I have to face my-self and see how awful it is/ has been. The yuck comes up. If I’m going backwards through this ego-development…I have no idea how I got here alive, through this vomit that keeps me from going through. The feelings that come up in “boredom” are so bad that I’m afraid of doing bad things in response to them, punishing my-self which is just continuing the ego-development forward!

    “This is reassuring from the point of view of ego, but in-&-of itself the 2nd stage is still insufficient. The “I AM because of that” still has no shape. At this stage, all it knows is that it is not that, but there isn’t a sense of identity.” What I’m trying to say, in regards to your concept, is that I feel like the “I AM because of that” is a hell of a lot safer than identity…backwards or forwards! I know that is what ego wants…but where do I go from here?


  9. yogiclarebear says:

    You talk about fear under conceptualization. Should what I’m describing fit there? “Ego’s regime is an oppressive one. A type of totalitarian state where everyone’s role is assigned to them.” Has ego so assigned “me” to a role of self-reprimand for the sins of ego, and then for trying to move beyond ego, that I can’t seem to cycle out of it?

    Ben I know this makes sense to me, but does any of this make sense to your points, or am I way off the mark? I’m hoping someone will say something reassuring like, “it is part of the process.” Or something flowery like that. Heh.

    There is so much more to say regarding your entire article, but I have to un-noise for a time.

  10. yogiclarebear says:

    Almost done…

    Well, I’ve thrown my self-depreciating self out there and there’s no turning back…so one more thought. I am aware that I grasp for validation. Growing up I craved it from parents and teachers, still from teachers and authority figures, from friends, and of course family. And as I was formulating a response to you here, I realized I wanted it from you. I’m fantasizing about the fancy comment you or others might make in response to me. I’m hoping someone will “make me feel” (because “other” has that power, apparently) like I’m getting it. I like your posts and your writing, and the fact that I don’t understand a lot of it makes me feel like I’m less (read: primitive!) and if you pat me on the back for my self-exploration I might become more.

    Confirm me. Justify me. Yadda yadda. Where does this fall into your stages? (I’m going to put it in the part where you used the word, “embarrassed.” Or maybe, “naked.”)

  11. BenRiggs says:

    "An aggregate self (false self, attached self, ego self) can never liberate itself as it has the nature of fabrications, the nature of a lie.." — Well said!

    "Only a Buddha Self, only one who views from this vantage point can bring about liberation. This is the true Observer. Not solid but also not changing." — I do not disagree on any particular point, but I do not care to call Buddha a self or observer… Self seems to imply permanence or solidity, and observer has the quality of being stationary, and apart from.

    How does your analysis of ego tiptoe through these important distinctions? — If "i" can see it or if "i" can achieve "it," then "it" isn't it! When I am the achievement then something has happened!

  12. BenRiggs says:

    Well, when "the yuck comes up" it is important to understand it is being labeled the "yuck stuff" only because it is being seen from the point of view of ego… That is to say that it is being seen as something other than you. Their is only one resolution for the that most subtle form of distinction— Love!
    "where do I go from here? " Nowhere!!! Loving yourself means you have to stop running from yourself! Lets put all of this in my "layout."

    (1) There is a sens of being divided or fragmented… Apart from what arises. Some autonomous observer. This is the subtle feeling that there is some ONE who thinks but is not the thinking…
    (2) As a result, there is friction or rub between the two… Contact or relationship.
    (3) We then judge/react this relationship… In this case it is yucky, which implies action… Rejection.
    (4) Then we label it… Shortcomings, character defects, defilements, etc… The negative emotions. Which reinforces the idea that it is not me but something I have to deal with by ignoring or hating…
    (5) So we attempt to create environments that enable us to ignore them by projecting them onto others, externals. We create a world that is constantly reminding us of what we want to ignore.

    Does this make sense? Or should we go further?

  13. BenRiggs says:

    Well enlightenment is insight into confusion, so yes, it is part of the process… In fact our suffering IS the path!

  14. BenRiggs says:

    You have just patted yourself on the back!!! This is what I mean by loving yourself. I bet as you typed this you were smiling!

  15. yogiclarebear says:

    The first stage of ego-development is the this/that, right? Isn't it true that in order to even start sifting out of ego attachment, one has to realize there is a this and a that to even separate? If that is true, doesn't that mean that the first development stage is also…kindof the first un-development stage? So does the process necessarily “go backwards” through the stages?

  16. BenRiggs says:

    "Isn't it true that in order to even start sifting out of ego attachment, one has to realize there is a this and a that to even separate?" — This is why I said Love was the only answer. If you get caught up in what you call "self-punishment" or separating yourself from your suffering then "dealing with it" it is just the same dynamic.

    "So does the process necessarily “go backwards” through the stages?"
    Meditation starts at the 5th stage working through discursive thought or the network of thought that is all the time trying to grasp the environment.
    Then moves through concepts and conditioned impulses and perception.
    Finally it moves into simple awareness. This where the distinction between this and that has to resolved. This is where it is discovered that there is no distinction to be made between the meditator and meditation.

  17. TamingAuthor says:

    Ah, there may be something important here to discern.

    The aggregate self would be that which is solid. It would be a view of self attached to a form. A body, for example.

    A Buddha Self, on the other hand, would not have the property of being solid — quite the opposite. It would be Buddha consciousness detached from form (the stated goal of the early steps in the practice.) Thus, not being form, Self would not be solid. It is this distinction that makes discernment between aggregate self and Buddha Self so vital to the practice.

    As far as being permanent, Buddha consciousness would not be an enduring form, however, it would be permanent in the sense that it is timeless, i.e. not temporal. From this view, which the Buddha taught, the Self or Observer is changeless while all change is attributed to fabrications, to forms. This is also vital to the practice.

    The practice falls apart quite rapidly and turns into an ever-changing and never-ending of sorting through that which is not self, fabrications. It leaves one endlessly attached and suffering from ignorance, which is actually nothing more that mistaking fabrications for Self.

    For example, only a timeless and formless observer, the Buddha Self, can view all karmic imprints (all former lives) and all causes and conditions as they are. If one is set adrift in the sea of samsara, tossed from one fabrication to another without a non-conditioned view, one will never achieve liberation.

    Do you see how only when you view from your true essence, from Self as Buddha, you are able to see the true nature of the aggregates and thus achieve cessation of attachment and enlightenment?

    We might look closer at your last paragraph as there may be a flaw in that approach. When you say "I am the achievement" you have created an identity, an attachment. This is the collapse of unborn, unconditioned, timeless and formless Self into an identity with phenomena, with fabrication, with aggregates.

    Ultimately, enlightenment involves the I of the Self, the Buddha Self. A Buddha is an awakened one. So one cannot cancel out the Self, the first-person view. (The attempt to cancel out "I" is where one treads into nihilism whether one intends to or not.) The teachings call for a different approach — a cessation of attachment to all that is not self. The teachings call for an understanding that the aggregate self is not really I but rather a false self assumed for the sake of solid identity. Does that make sense?

    My feeling is that one cannot spend too much time really nailing down these preliminary concepts as they serve as the foundation for the practice. Much too easily we use language that leads people to invalidate or negate the Self, the I, the Observer without which there is no practice, no liberation, no enlightenment. The effort, it seems to me, is to find the correct language to skirt the possible errors.

  18. TamingAuthor says:

    Key concepts to pound out. So vital to the foundation of the practice.

    If one takes an aggregate self, a body with sense perceptions, one has a fabrication. That body with its senses can observe other fabrications. And then one has a subject – object situation. Two fabrications. And both have the same nature. They can be collapsed into the category of fabrications.

    A Buddha, however, does not have the properties of a fabrication. Thus one cannot equate a Buddha Observer with the observed fabrication. They have two completely different sets of properties. So there is not only a distinction to be made between observer and observed, but a foundational ontological difference.

    One cannot say a Buddha Observer and an observed fabrication can be equated and not distinguished. If one equates them, one has stumbled into the original ignorance of identifying a Buddha with fabrications, which is the source of all attachment, the source of all suffering.

    It is very important to the practice to distinguish the Buddha Observer from the aggregate consciousness, which is attached consciousness, the sense experience to which you point. If this distinction is not made, there can be no cessation of attachment. Dead end. (And yet I realize that making the distinction is itself an integral part of the practice. It is what one discovers. Nonetheless, it helps to have a conceptual perspective to prevent chasing down rabbit holes.)

    A Buddha is never a fabrication. The word is a fabrication, but that is a mundane fact. Not important.

    When one points to "energy" and "experience" one picks up the qualities of Thingness (especially when "experience" means sense experience, aggregate consciousness).

    It is vital for us to know that a Buddha is not energy. Energy is a fabrication (essentially a property of change in mass or change of position of mass). A Buddha creates energy but is not energy. This is comes about in the manner that a Buddha projects fabrications into being. Once again, fabrications are dependently-arisen mental projections of Buddha Mind.

    When we consider a Buddha to be energy we fall, once again, into the problem of a Buddha becoming identified with and attached to fabrications. I know it is difficult to imagine a No Thing that nonetheless Is. Difficult to understand one has Being without substance. Being without object. Pure consciousness without object. The idea of a No Thing shakes us a bit. It is a thought we wish to reject.

    Being something is considered better than being No Thing. (Which is one reason for attachment.) But that is where the practice leads, and is what enlightenment teaches. It is difficult to consider Self to be No Thing that nonetheless exists, that is the Observer. We are so attached to aggregates self that making the step into total non-attachment, to see all fabrications, the entire universe, as nothing but a mental projection that arises from No Thing is very challenging.

    We have to get over our need to be Some Thing and become comfortable with being No Thing that exists, that is conscious, that is Self, that is Observer, but which has no properties of Thingness. That is a huge leap…that really cannot be made separate from the practice but at the same time one must rely on the practice to deliver that understanding, one must orient the practice in that direction in order to arrive.

    I am trying to understand what might not be clear about how I am pointing in this direction so as to better explain it, all the while realizing the obfuscation is attachment itself, attachment to the aggregates that provide self as an identity. Does that make any sense? Is it helpful? Is there another way you might explain it?

  19. TamingAuthor says:

    Would definitely not agree. But am struggling to find words to point more effectively.

    There is a definite duality. Buddha Nature and fabricated reality. Fabrications automatically have the nature of duality. They are dependently-arisen from that which is not dependent. The relationship between the two is one of causality and contingency. All fabrications are contingent on Buddha Mind. They cannot exist on their own. If one does not have Buddha Mind, one does not have fabrications.

    However, the causality does not run the other way. Get rid of all fabrications. Gone. Poof. And one still has Buddha Mind. A Buddha is not contingent for its existence on anything else. Not contingent on fabrications.

    So one cannot collapse the two as though they are the same. There is a definite arrow of causality and contingency.

    Not sure what the context might have been of Trungpa's comment. It is very unlike him. You definitely can attend your own funeral — the funeral of the aggregate self to which you have become attached. The Self never has a funeral so that concept is irrelevant. (Check the context as Trungpa was highly trained in guided the deceased through the bardo stages.)

    The primary goal of meditation is to observe and to discover the difference between the Observer and the observed. This is vital. If one cannot separate the two, one cannot accomplish cessation of attachment. Take a look at his early teachings. They all point to the goal of the practice as "cessation of attachment to that which is not Self, the aggregates." If the Observer and the aggregates are identical, then there can be no separation. (There also cannot be enlightenment, nirvana, Buddhahood.)

    Not sure where the idea of a collapse of boundaries (total attachment) comes into your analysis. This would be collapse into total attachment, the opposite of the practice. In the practice there never ceases to be an Observer. When one follows the practice to recall of all former lives, recall of all former conditions, to a causal point before fabrications, one has Buddha Nature, one has Self, one has Buddha Consciousness, one has an Observer. And that Self, that Observer, can project fabrications to observe.

    This last point is key to moving the practice forward. We do not seek to collapse into fabrications of any type but rather to recognize them for what they truly are and, ceasing attachment and identification with those fabrications, we shake off our slumber and awake to our true nature. It is always in the direction of seeing the difference, not a collapse into identity.

    Would be interesting to locate all the sources that seem to be advocating a collapse into identity and attachment and see if a) they were misread, b) they were mistaken, or c) they were misrepresented. The teachings are sufficiently clear on these points that there should not be too much confusion… would be ideal to locate the source of such. (?)

  20. yogiclarebear says:

    A lot to take in, Ben thanks for taking the time. I'm going to sit with this for awhile, literally maybe.

    I really like your point about the cycle, I totally get that. As I was contemplating which "stage" I was at with a particular issue, I felt like it was all of them! So, I get this.

    Thank you again for your time and knowledge!

  21. yogiclarebear says:

    But in order to even realize the need for meditation…doesn't there first need to be an awareness that there is a distinction to be resolved? I guess I'm wondering, where does the realization that the process should even start going backwards occur?

  22. matthew says:

    Hey Ben — How about this: the ego-structure emerges as a necessary narrational self-soothing strategy.

    Before we can say or even intuit "I am suffering", the actual suffering we feel is monolithic, inescapable. This is why the infant is inconsolable, except through care or fatigue. Like a less complex animal, the infant has no capacity to abstract consciousness from sensory input, and project both time and meaning onto the sensation, i.e., "I'm hungry but I will be fed soon", instead of simple unending hunger. The ego allows, as many critics point out, a story to be told. But there is enormous consolation value in that story — do we really want to denigrate this?

    According to the latest neuroscience (what I understand of it anyway), the ego-function is the escape pod from total sensory immersion and its regularly overwhelming pain or confusion. How strange that we then accuse the ego of such malificence. It was born to genuinely try to help. Otherwise we're marked by a different flavour of original sin.

  23. yogiclarebear says:

    Excellent. Just excellent. The knife/wins/loses/toilet. Ben this is really making sense right now. Thank you!

  24. BenRiggs says:

    The ego is not the problem… The confusion which suggests the ego is a static self immune from change is the problem. So, seeing its birth is a necessary step. It is the only step.

  25. TamingAuthor says:

    Ben, while Merton is a wonderful source and I enjoy his writing immensely, he is not an enlightened Buddhist Master.

    In those quotes, Trungpa, using his usual humor, is pointing to the death of the aggregate self. Note how he talks about "this particular me that wanted…." In this sense one is talking about the death of a fabricated identity, an aggregate self. And that particular "not Self self" or false self dissolves (in most part) upon body death.

    In the post-mortem state, one can watch the funeral of that identity…you no doubt have done this many, many times. You do not watch your own funeral, as you never die, but you can watch the funerals of the aggregate selves you have pretended to be. If you have not recalled past deaths, doing so will make this very clear. (See the Buddha's writings on former lives.)(Also see the wonderful book Luminous Emptiness, which visits Trungpa's teachings re the bardos.)

    And, yes, there is an aggregate consciousness or skandhic intelligence, but that again is not Self. The body, for example, has a certain intelligence or sentience that operates on its own. That aggregate self (the body) has limited ability to operate independently but it can.

    Is it possible that I am misread? No. But you can believe so if it works for you.

    The point of the exercise above would be to collect all the teachings that seem to suggest collapse into identity and attachment and investigate their nature, their authors, and check to make sure what they are saying. Then one compares them to the Buddha's teachings that clearly eschew falling into identity with or attachment to fabrications, to the aggregates, which are not Self.

    It is quite clear the Buddha taught cessation of attachment. This is repeated over and over and over. So, think about it. If one is identical to the aggregates, one can never cease attachment. One cannot cease attachment to that which one is. Impossible. Thus, anything that posits a Buddha is identical to any aggregate condition contradicts the most basic teachings.

    This is a good rule of thumb for determining if one has a valid teaching and a valid interpretation. If the concept advocates identification and attachment, it is going in the opposite direction from the Buddha's teachings. This is a very basic test one can use to measure any pronouncement made about Buddhism.

    This also plays out in terms of the practice. Does your practice bring about enlightenment? Does it bring about cessation of attachment? Do you recall all former lives as the Buddha taught? Do you know the causes and conditions that brought you to your present condition? Do you know how and why you became trapped on the wheel of birth and death? Do you know what the wheel of birth and death is… how it works? Do you know how to navigate the bardos? Are you able to work in all the realms? And many more questions that can be used to determine whether or not the practice lines up with what the Buddha taught you would find.

    The questions and suggestions above are meant for exploration. If they sort out past confusions, if they provide clarity where it did not exist, then good. If they help one fine-tune the concepts that direct the practice, then very good. Would love to know what you experience if you do work with them and see where they might go. They are offered with love and compassion, not as a challenge to any other theory.

  26. BenRiggs says:

    Yeah I do think that you are trying to challenge a theory… But it does seem a bit like there is some party line to protect, and I care nothing for this line. I will be the first to admit that I put little to know importance on the literal remembrance of past lives and such. If the Buddha said something like (I believe you mentioned at one point) homosexuality is a defect then I say that the Buddha is wrong. I do not believe Buddhism is about me conforming perception to what the Buddha said. I believe it is about investigating the mind.
    Trungpa's quotes here are not taken out of context… They are explicit. He is saying that the ego will not be able to enjoy it's enlightenment… If "I" see it, then it is not enlightenment because Buddha nature (or as you like, Buddha self) IS enlightened consciousness. My eyes cannot see themselves.
    Now I am not suggesting that enlightenment is synonymous with becoming a grease spot, but there does seem to be a valiant effort on your part to insert a central character, one who will be crowned "The Enlightened One."
    As to there being a definite duality: Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form.

  27. TamingAuthor says:

    Ben, there is nothing to be gained in challenging a theory. My effort is solely to shed some light on some critical factors. They will make a difference in the practice. I have nothing to gain by making you wrong for a theory, but there is joy in anticipating that you might see something that gives you great benefit.

    The problem with little to no importance on recall of past lives is that it leaves vital information regarding causes and conditions un-viewed. It leaves significant unconsciousness and karmic imprints in place. That which the Buddha taught cannot be understood with this missing view.

    An analogy for leaving that out of the practice would be leaving a bag over one's head. One would tend to bump into all manner of things and make constant guesses about where one was and what one was encountering. One is limited in view. Most of Buddhism makes absolutely no sense without this expanded view. So it is not secondary or something that can be tossed.

    Unfortunately, Buddhism is about the path the Buddha laid out. One can go in any direction one wishes but it would not be Buddhism. The importance of this rests in the practice and its results. If one intended to drive to New York but the travel agent gave you directions to Houston, you would not arrive in New York. In the same way, the Buddha laid out a map and if one follows the map one achieves the same results he achieved. If one arrives in Houston, one is in Houston not New York no matter how much one protests that one intended to go to New York.

    Trungpa makes it clear he is speaking of the assumed self, the aggregate self in that passage. He was skilled at guiding the conscious being after death of the body. The book Luminous Emptiness is all about his teaching in this regard.

    The "I" he refers to is not the I of the Buddha Self but rather the assumed identity associated with one body. The Buddha Self never dies so there is no funeral for that Observer. This becomes very clear when one recalls former lives. Only then, I suppose do you begin to get a feeling for the nature of Buddha Self that transcends all attachment. While your eyes cannot see yourself, you can be aware of being aware, the basic state of a Buddha.

    There is a central character. You as Buddha. There is absolutely no point in cessation of attachment and no point in enlightenment if in the end you but an unconscious grease spot. There is no need to insert a character here. When one becomes enlightened, one is more conscious, more there, more the Observer — one is an enlightened one. That is simply the way it is. To diminish this is to head in the direction of nihilism and a descent into unconsciousness. This makes a huge, huge difference in the practice.

    Unravel the saying Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form. What does that mean in concrete terms?

  28. BenRiggs says:

    There was a profound typo in my previous comment… I meant to say, "I do NOT think you are trying to challenge some theory."

  29. TamingAuthor says:

    Right. As you noted. Nothing to be gained therein.

    I know students can realize quite remarkable gains if a few wrong views that have altered the practice can be remedied, but the discussion becomes quite difficult. The easiest thing to do is agree with prior attachments; the most difficult is to cease attachment.

    There have been those who have so mangled the teachings with regard to Self that it becomes very difficult and often too contentious to address. Most frequently one has to just disengage and figure maybe in some future time. Certainly the conversations will reappear during the bardo stages…with great punch. The "aw, sh&% moment." Then, later, there will be more openness.

    As noted previously, perhaps the most notable example of this type of alteration that has become all the rage is the work of Stephen Batchelor. Stone cold western materialism that attempts to gut the Buddhist discipline of the very results the Buddha taught would be ours. Once those benchmarks are tossed, might as well go sit on the beach and drink cheap wine. The results will be the same.

    It is as if a highly skilled Ninja warrior broke into the jail where one is housed and left a key to the prison gate. But the prisoner mistakes the key for a device used to scrape at the walls in order to carve out a tunnel. There is the opportunity to go to the gate and walk to liberation but instead there is all this scraping going on in the cell that will lead to a tunnel in three lifetimes. It all depends on how bad one wants to escape.

  30. BenRiggs says:

    Well, with the quotes provided by Trungpa I do not disagree with your commentary… I never did. It seems to me that this "Buddha-Self" you are protecting is just another form of the ego that wants to "enjoy its crowning moment" as an "enlightened one."

    I do not believe, nor do I have any experience which would suggest, that enlightenment is synonymous with becoming a grease spot. Nor have I said anything that indicates that I advocate any such nihilistic point of view. I have time and time again referred to the experience of enlightenment as the discovery of "simple being." And the skandhic or ego-centric self as having to be "some thing."

    "Unravel the saying Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form. What does that mean in concrete terms?"— You said, "There is a definite duality. Buddha Nature and fabricated reality." I am saying that the skandhic self is the product of confusion. Samsara is nirvana misunderstood. Form (the constructed world) is empty, and it is this emptiness that manifests as form. There is no duality, unless there is confusion. As Garab Dorje said, "Having realized the one-ness of ALL phenomena, to rest in that is meditation."

    Furthermore, one could say that clinging to nihilism is a dead end street because from that point of view emptiness is just form, which is empty.

    I think that our disagreement comes down to you defending a type of duality, which I am suggesting in the final analysis is not to be found.

  31. TamingAuthor says:

    Perhaps there is another way to explain…

    What is the nature of a Buddha? What properties or qualities are those of a Buddha? i.e. What are the properties of Buddha Self?

    Taking the same question in a slightly different direction….what will be your nature upon enlightenment? What will be the nature of that state or condition?

    And then reversing temporal directions, what was your state or condition (or the state or condition of a Buddha) prior to ignorance and the arising of fabrications?

    What is duality to you? When a Buddha projects a mental form is that form other than that Buddha? As a thought exercise, take a seat. Now mock up a mental image of a yellow beach ball with purple spots. Place that image in the middle of the room and view it. Is that image you? Or is that image mental energy you have created?

    Are you the same as your thoughts? Or are your thoughts something you fabricate?

    What is the nature of fabrications? What is the nature of samsara?

    How can you apply the concept of emptiness to those fabrications? What does emptiness say about their nature?

    Upon death of the body when you view the body who is observing? What is the nature of the body that is viewed? What is the nature of the observer viewing the body? In the bardos what is the nature of that which is viewed? What is the nature of the observer?

    When the Buddha recalled his former lives how did that work? What is the nature of a Buddha that can recall all former lives? (Other than being a Noble One as the Buddha taught in the Dhammapada.) What would be the nature of that which is recalled? What is the nature of a karmic imprint? What is the nature of the storehouse mind of karmic imprints?

    These questions perhaps can loosen up the investigation and move us away from the paradigm in which it seems I am trying to push a particular theory on you. As I may have mentioned previously, that which I write comes from experience with these variables, not book learning. I do not care to defend theory but rather shed light on the practice that has been taught by the Buddha.

  32. TamingAuthor says:

    The Buddha did not work in theory. His approach was more practical and hands-on. He taught about those things he observed, which can be observed by those who follow the practice.

    The questions "Is that image you? Or is that image mental energy you have created?" call upon direct observation. When you create a mental image, is that image you or is it other than you? This is something that can be observed.

    When you create the mental image of the beach ball and place it in the center of the room that fabrication is obviously not you, the observer. If you have not spent time actually doing this and observing, it is worthwhile. It is an important step in the practice. The Buddha taught that such fabrications are not Self. You can observe that to be true.

    Not sure what in the Buddhist teachings gave you the idea, "In the same way the heart beats itself, practice suggests that thoughts think themselves… The illusion of control over this process or thought thinking about thought personified, is inbred dualistic-consciousness… "

    This contradicts the teachings and practice. In the teachings we find that thought forms do not bring themselves into existence. They are dependently-arisen, and depend for their existence on Buddha Mind. Such thought forms are subtle aggregates, which the Buddha taught are not Self.

    An important aspect of the practice is advanced visualization work, in which one actively brings thought forms into existence. In this part of the practice one becomes familiar in a firsthand manner with the fabrication of thought forms. There is no illusion of control. It is something one can observe in the practice.

    The description you have offered applies to the storehouse mind, comprised of karmic imprints. Those imprints appear to have a life of their own but such is of a mechanical nature, mental forms comprised of mass-energy.

    This last is the proverbial "monkey mind" or storehouse mind. If one stops here and considers this to be Buddha Mind, one is in very deep doo doo. This is the monkey mind of karmic imprints that causes suffering and obscures Self. This is the origin of the so-called ego.

    In the practice one approaches this karmic imprint mind as something that must be purified. This is one of the most important aspects to the practice. Only the Buddha Self observing this mind can purify the karmic imprints and liberate a Buddha. The aggregate self (the false self) can never overcome the monkey mind, and one is doomed to endless spirals on the wheel of birth and death if one is unable, through meditation, to come into Buddha Self as observer.

    This storehouse mind, filled with karmic imprints, rages against the Self. It contains imprints of all kinds of content that knocks out awareness of Self. It is the barrier between aggregate self and awakening as a Buddha. The practice calls on the student to become extremely expert at observing and controlling such mental forms.

    Your description, "Then it is revealed that 'I' is just another thought with thought as its object, giving it the appearance of a subject." is not a teaching of the Buddha. It is the trap of the monkey mind. It is a collapse into identification with the aggregates. When one says "I" am fabricated mental energy, one has become identical to that which is not self, subtle fabricated forms. This is total attachment. It is the exact opposite of the practice the Buddha taught, which liberates Self from its identification with and attachment to all that is not Self. (Including the subtle aggregates of mental energy forms.)

    The description "…all of this is revealed to be but a wave of awareness. Though there are many waves, they are all essentially wet. Wetness is Buddha-Nature." is attachment. It is not what one observes as a Buddha. The Buddha taught the Self is not a fabrication, not even a subtle form, such as a wave. A Buddha would be a source of all waves, not the wave itself nor any property of a wave.

    This is not theory but the observations the Buddha made and the same observations a student following the practice precisely and diligently will experience. When one works, in the practice, with these factors, one will find all the results the Buddha talked about that seem so unimaginable.

    All that he said one could observe is accurate and accessible but one first has to remove some of the wrong views and particularly the killer monkey mind of karmic imprints.

    Hope that begins to make sense. It is not theory but things one can observe. Try the visualization. Over and over. Hours and hours and hours of meditation and I guarantee you will hit the observation of Self as other than mental energy forms. The collapse into identification with fabrications will give way…

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