A lot of spiritual teachers talk about reaching a place of “no self” or the “egoless state”, and the way I see it, it’s one of the most ambiguous and highly inaccurate pointer about the state of wholeness. It also creates a lot of false imagination, and unnecessary anxiety in the student/seeker – after all it’s naturally scary to imagine that you will just “disappear” into nothing. In truth, you will always have a sense of self, during this physical life and after this physical life, you can’t just disappear into “nothingness” – once you are born as a stream of consciousness, you retain a sense of self forever, eternally. The state of wholeness does not bring you to a place of “no self”, rather it creates a wholeness-based sense of self in you.
I don’t really see any usefulness in using an inaccurate pointer like “reaching a place of no-self”, except may be to test a student’s commitment to the process of awakening – however, it would have to be a highly desperate (or unreasonably committed) person who wants awakening even at the cost of losing the sense of self (some do get to such a point, I guess I did, but it’s a very unpleasant place to be), any reasonable person can’t be blamed for bailing out. Hence this pointer can actually be a “turn off” to many, and could well be the reason why so few people get interested in the deal of awakening. Inaccurate pointers are best avoided, and I think it’s the responsibility of any teacher to ensure that their pointers are as reality-based, and accurate, as possible. It’s just that a lot of teachers are mostly regurgitating old teachings (possibly from the tradition they belong, like Zen Buddhism etc), possibly to not come across a rebel to that tradition, instead of using more evolved, reality-based, and understandable, pointers; some, I am sure, even get their kicks from the confusion of the students (a lot of zen masters are notorious for intentionally confusing the student to get them to go beyond the need for clarity). The way I see it, it saves a lot of time for a student if he/she does not have to figure out an understanding, and is simply “given” the understanding in an accurate manner – in the end it’s the same thing, why ask a student to spend time re-inventing the wheel; there seems to be no real advantage to it.
The more accurate truth on how your sense of self/ego is affected by the process of awakening/aligning/balancing is that it becomes “whole” rather than being deluded or imbalanced. The implications of the sense of self becoming “whole” are as below
- Your sense of self stops being injured/hurt, hence you stop being defensive, or offensive, in your approach – rather you simply “respond” from a place of wisdom
- You don’t have a sense of inferiority or superiority about your “self”
- Your sense of self becomes driven by wholeness (or a sense of love that’s free of a clinging attachment) rather than being driven by fear, hatred, forced-detachment or joy
- Your sense of self becomes “stateless”, since you are no longer subject to the wavering states of your mind, so you don’t keep swinging between mind states like joy, sadness, exhilaration, depression, love, hatred, passion, boredom. Your sense of self is very stable. You don’t become insensitive, you just stop being unstable in your being (no constant swings of high and low).
- You are not overly attached to any sense of “mine” – like my country, my race, my culture, my sports-team, my family, my achievement etc. However, you are not trying to detach either, and don’t end up becoming irresponsible towards your dependents. It’s just that you no longer create a narrow sense of “mine”.
- Your desires (for experience/expression) come from this place of wholeness, but it’s very personal to your journey – there is no standard for what wholeness-based desires look like, they would look like any desire, it’s just that, for you, it comes from a place of knowing your abundance/freedom/wholeness/creator-potential. For example, you can still desire Armani shirts, even in a place of inner wholeness, just that it’s no longer a big deal to you whether you have it or not – which essentially means that you are resistance-free to its manifestation.
- Your sense of self does not require an external attention/approval/love for you to feel whole. You are fine being alone, or with a companion; you are fine in isolation or in a group. You are no longer seeking external validation for feeling complete in your self.
- Your sense of self/ego loses all its prejudices/bias/beliefs. You can still function in a particular belief system, but you are no longer biased towards it. For example, you can still function in your religion but you are also internally free of its requirement in your life. You don’t hold on to any “beliefs” for your sense of security– for example, you don’t feel the need to ascertain anything, you are okay with anything being true. You have your “knowing”, but you are not trying to cling to it from a sense of needing assurance/security in it.
- You stop moving from a place of surface-level judgment, rather you move from a place of wisdom which comes from your inner space (and thus from wholeness/totality). So, you don’t have any black & white ways of thinking, rather you are free to allow the wisdom of the moment to make the decisions. People don’t feel judged in your presence.
- Your “me” thought is no longer a pulling force, it has no momentum in you. Hence, you don’t feel the need to keep protecting your sense of “me”, neither are you a prisoner to your sense of “me”. Basically, your sense of self is no longer rigid/solid, it’s very malleable, very transparent – like the difference between a chunk of ice and water. This is mostly what is being referred to as “no self”, in that there is no solidity in your sense of “me”, rather it’s very fluid – but the sense of self is not lost, it’s always there, it’s eternal.
Dissolution of the imbalanced sense of self
In order for a wholeness-based self to come into place the imbalance/delusion based self needs to dissolve. In a lot of spiritual teachings this “imbalance-based” sense of self is what is referred to as “ego” – but such a reference is what creates unnecessary confusion. The way I define it, the sense of “I” (or sense of self) is the ego, and this sense of “I” will not ever disappear, and hence your ego will not disappear. The ego will always be there, in physical and in non-physical – it’s just about coming to a wholeness-based I/self/ego. While you are in the process of coming to this wholeness you will see a lot of destruction in the structure of your ego (or sense of I), also called “fierce grace”, until all the deluded/imbalanced components are shaved off – this process of deconstruction is usually not very pretty internally, and it can create a sense of a war going on within. Plus, certain events take place in your life purely with the intention of breaking down some deluded elements in your ego – it’s part of the process (it’s also a grace, just that it seems to have taken a warrior avatar). However, all through this process, your well-being is never compromised in reality (but your mind can interpret some events as being negative, when in truth they are just part of the process of breaking down the imbalanced elements of your ego), that’s why it’s called “grace”, because you always are in the care of the intelligence of your life-stream.
If you sense “chaos” in your life presently, you can rest assured that it’s just an orchestration needed to sieve out some rigid/imbalanced elements in your ego. Fear is a very useful fire to burn down rigidness in the ego, and hence you may feel a lot of fear happening in you for a while, during this process (some external events can also happen that can instigate stark fear in you, but it’s all part of the grace of this process). That’s why I give the pointer of totally allowing the fear, as it arises, instead of trying to sort it out or figure it out. The energy of fear is just like a transformational fire which will burn through all the imbalances in your sense of self, bringing you to a state of wholeness. Fear is not your enemy, it’s your ally in this process of coming to a place of wholeness – stop trying to escape fear, rather allow it fully so that it can torch through rigid structures in your ego. There really is nothing else you need to do but stay fully allowing of fears as they arise. Fear is just “love” wearing a mask, and when fear has done it job of breaking through the delusions/imbalances of your ego, it will reveal its true face, and you will see that it was always love – you can’t help but feel grateful for it.