The ego is in all cases an identification with the body, and it is not so easy to break that identification. Virtually everyone who speaks of their soul is speaking of their ego, and idealized but personal 'spiritual' body. It is very difficult to break this connection, and be really free of bodies altogether.
False ego is a creation of the overworked left-brain, it is non-intuitive, it clashes with everything. To purify left-brain of adopting prerogatives of the 'being' half/whole, we need to consciously adopt non-self, emptiness, self-abnegation, humility. In this manner we let ourselves be, we just are ourselves. 'I think, therefore I am not.' And I am not, therefore I think...
The false ego is the sum of our attachments, the sum of our attractions and aversions. Ridding ourselves of this stinking albatross is not a matter of following rules and doing practices, it takes insight. Trungpa's 6 realms point to the circular nature of samsara. As long as you go round and round following the chain of desires you will never be free, and all your 'happiness' will be conditional and 'empty.'
The feeling of displeasure even in the midst of things which ought to make us very happy, do you get it? This insight into the unsatisfactoriness of selfish enjoyment is an insight which ultimately produces great pleasure, the pleasure of freedom. This empty feeling we interpret as negative is uncovered as ecstasy, the bliss of emptiness. And with the ecstasy comes the added ability to enjoy the enjoyable without regret or greed.
Rilke's tenth speaks of the 'newly-dead,' walking in a sort of wonderland where ideas take on forms and everything lives forever. The Sufis call this the 'unseen world' but the amusing irony paradox is that it is all quite open to our sight, it is what we really see, when we look. We are mostly self- blinded, preoccupied. If people could be made to just live for a day without thinking about it, it would change their lives, they would learn more in a day than they have in years.
The more reality you invest in the ego, the more real it will appear to you. The ego is an illusion. By thinking about it, for the most part you grant the it power; by struggling with it you become weak and your illusions become strong.
The more the ego fools with 'enlightenment' the less the word has any meaning at all. In fact, the word has no meaning in any case. Think of 'enlightenment' as something outside of language which cannot be explained or understood; the only significance the word has is to hang a name on what is indescribable. From the ego's standpoint it gets further away, but in fact it is right here all the time.
Take all your attachments and imagine them in one bag and you have an ego; but this is all false. Forget the past, forget the future (Hui-Neng would say) and right now, not thinking of good or bad, who were you before your parents were born?
You only have one attachment at a time, free yourself from that one and you are enlightened; sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Tomorrow another lesson, another attachment to work out, but tomorrow will take care of itself. Working out attachments is the path, and the path has its own rewards. Successfully working out our attachments is real achievement, real spiritual pleasure, and there is no whit of dissatisfaction about it.
We imagine we experience a self, because we are told we do. Remember Alice, who wouldn't come up unless they offered to let her be someone she liked? She was experiencing non-self but was still constrained by her limited concepts to explain it with selves, however inappropriate (the Mock Turtle). Asking 'who am I' is designed to bring about this experience of non-self, or the experience of the unreality of self. If you really look inside you, without concepts, all you will find is a vast, vast emptiness, and no 'self ' at all. This is the Void, Non-existence, the Tao, the Unconscious, mother of all phenomena. Where there is nowhere to draw the line between self and other, the sense of self is there, the feeling of reality, of subjectivity, the experience of 'l Am' beyond words is there, but there is no self in the sense of separation, of self-and-other, no individual self.
Again, there are basically two ways of approaching this, and they are both right. One is the idea that it is 'all in your head.' You can know nothing of what is outside your perceptions; any world you infer from sense-perception is a form of mental perception, what you 'see' takes place only in your brain. The other is that the same Self inhabits all bodies equally, that we articulate like the fingers of a hand, like bees or ants are part of the hive, and the hive is all. We are an extension of a cosmic intelligence, and at a deep level we can experience the whole world as our own self, continuously, thinking all thoughts and doing all things simultaneously.
Either way the ego doesn't exist, the ego knows nothing; the brain, or the cosmos, is all sufficient, or all we have; all there is. We are divine, we are dust; the mountains are made low, the valleys raised up. There is no need to struggle, we can't possibly understand enough to even begin to cope, all we can do is let go and trust. Accept nonentity, embrace non-existence. When you accept everything, nothing can ever go wrong.
There are three aids to transcending ego: meditation, a mentor, and 'groups' as Gurdjieff uses the term. The Buddha went so far as to say that spiritual fellowship was 'the whole of the holy life.'
Gurdjieff and many others make the point of keeping things secret. It isn't because we want to hide, not at all; it is mainly because freeing ourselves from the herd mentality is what is important, in practice.
"Ego" is a phase the natural child goes through on its way to becoming a natural adult. The human species is still evolving, and very few individuals succeed in making the transition from the egoless infant whose innocence knows nothing of the world, to the egoless adult whose innocence is unsullied by knowledge of the world. The many saints the human species has produced, some known and many others unknown, demonstrate that humans do have the capacity to outgrow the stage of ego, though few manage it. When a large proportion of our species does so, and parents generally provide appropriate examples to their offspring, sainthood will become as natural and universal as sexual maturity.
Ego is in fact an illusion, brought about by a literal understanding of language, such as children naturally learn. When we say, "I am hungry" or "She is stupid," we tend to take the pronouns as referring to real entities. The illusion becomes a delusion when we can continue to practice selfish behavior after we clearly recognize that the greater good of the whole is superior to our own individual desires. At some point every individual realizes this truth, but few practice it. Innocence is lost when we realize the truth, and go on being selfish anyway, justifying such behavior to ourselves because 'everyone else does it.' There are a myriad of reasons with which we justify our continued selfishness, our greed, envy, jealousy, hatred, indifference, and so on, as many reasons as there are people. In 'Anna Karenina' Tolstoy points out that all happy families are the same, while all dysfunctional families are unhappy in a different way. When we give up our individuality, our unique souls, we discover what every saint has always known, and we know that to 'love your neighbor as yourself' is simply the way it is. And paradoxically, 'one who loses himself shall find himself,' as the saints always seem to be unique reflections of the divine, much different from their neighbors who follow slavishly the selfish customs and ways of the mass of desperate souls who constitute society. Not only different, but, especially in the West, those who retain their innocence by following the dictates of their natural consciences into natural adulthood are often vilified and ostracized by their secretly ashamed majoritarian despisers.
The realization that all the ego's desire gets you nowhere is an essential part of emptying the pot, emptying it of self and expectation, of self-dependence. Give yourself up to god's grace and it will come.
Ego, personality, soul, essence, self, false ego, real ego, etc etc by whatever name: all are not only unnecessary but have no more real existence than a mirage.
'Movement with Repose' is the Taoist *wei wu wei*, 'doing non-doing.' It is acting naturally and spontaneously without an iota of self-consciousness. The 'I' is completely at rest, or dead: and there is no more effective way of seeing the ego dead as to realize that the ego does not exist and never has.
Like any art, it looks easy in the hands of a master. In fact, it takes many years of disidentification, of suffering deeply over attachments and working them through. Think of beach sand in a rising tide, how a wave washes over all these hills and bumps and footprints, and everything is completely smooth and flat as the wave recedes.
Once you are ready, each attachment is dealt with individually as it comes up, is resolved, and goes away, forever. Eventually they don't come up all that often, but when they do we still have to deal with them, carefully separating love from egoic selfishness, and keeping the love whilst letting go the ego- attachment. The work is constant; the attachments get more subtle but it is a measure of our humanity that they never go away, even Jesus on the cross was still working things through, right until the moment he expired. 'Thy will be done.'
I personally am not an ego and only care what people think as it relates to bodhicitta, the eightfold path of right views, right meditation, right livelihood and so on, functioning in this life without attachment to ego, knowing that the unreality of any form of personality (anatta) is just a 'mark of existence' on a par with anicca (impermanence) and dukkha (suffering).
Terry Murphy