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Does the ego have a positive function?

Fa Zhāo on Friday, September 14 2012, 05:49 AM
I have a question I would like ask on this topic:-

The ego, is sometimes viewed as the delusion of “self” as an entity. While common “Chan” thought refers to this as a fundamental source of psychological suffering, I wonder if there really is a positive function of the ego? Western psychological thought would probably offer that there is. If this is true, I wonder if this presents a challenge for cross-cultural Buddhist psychology?
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  • Replied by Administrator on Friday, September 14 2012, 06:21 AM · Hide · #1
    This is a topic that often presents to those who start digging into Chan/Zen. In the West we often talk about ego as if it's an obvious thing that we all know about. However, the concept of ego is not common, at least in historical terms, to Asians, as it is a term and concept that was coined in the West. It is the Latin first person singular pronoun for "I" -- Sigmond Freud gave it a psychological meaning, further refining it's meaning. In order to connect Freud's concept of ego with the Asian meaning of Self we often, haphazardly, simply change the little s to a big S when talking about the True Self, the Buddha Nature, that is resident in us all, letting the ego-nature reside in the small s of self. So, the Self exists within the self which is mired in maya - illusion about the nature of being. I don't know how typical Asian culture relates to these things. They likely don't relate to them because they don't need to. These are all just manifestations of mental gymnastics. Put it all to rest, and just BE and you're doing Zen.

    If you want to talk about the purpose of the ego, you are delving into the Freudian view of the world -- the ego exists to help protect and preserve the physical body, the family, the social group or clan, etc. In more contemporary scientific terms, it's there because of evolution - genetic preservation of the species. If we did not fight to defend ourselves against mountain lions, scorpions, and snakes, we would simply not exist today.

    But an enlightened person still has an ego -- the difference is that she/he is aware of it and can use it when needed and turn it off when not needed. The enlightened person is an overseer of the ego's demands -- choosing when to let it reign, and when not to.

    Chuan Zhi
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  • Replied by Fa Zhāo on Wednesday, September 19 2012, 10:11 PM · Hide · #2
    Yes agreed, putting it to rest is the best option!

    Just, for the benefit of further discussion and in reference to your comments and those of Sigmund Freud, I would offer that because of our societal language, we seem to almost live two lives. One is the “I”, “me” and “my” thing which is all over most of our “western” sentences, then there is the noticing and acknowledgement that we are actually doing that. This can be an obvious form of dualistic suffering and I’ve often pondered that this is kind of the “first step”, in the progress of awakening to the "not self".

    Subsequently, this same “noticing” ego "self" is the same one that imposes an unrealistic and daunting time frame on how fast we should notice the "not self". Ultimately "self" and "not self" are the same thing and I would add that the practice of giving ourselves a hard time for not getting the lesson (in our conjured up designated time frame), is futile. :p

    Also, when it comes to “our” survival in society by using ego embellished language, dictionary words like "counter", "however", "but" and "disagree" can also form a deviance from the experiential "steam", albeit in a subtle way. For "me" it has become ultimately important to not conjure up boundaries, comparisons and the like, so that "we" can all flow interrelatedly and inter-connectedly as one.

    Perhaps duality, language, ego, one mind or two minds and surface thoughts etc, all seem to be more related to a “Collective Conscious” as described by Carl Yung?
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  • Replied by Administrator on Friday, September 28 2012, 05:35 AM · Hide · #3
    The mind is it's own worst enemy -- all these models of the human psyche help us organize thoughts and ideas but they don't really do much to help us See. While it's good to read and contemplate the ideas of people such as Jung and Freud and Hsu Yun and Lin Jy (and the Buddha), ultimately it's from our own very personal experience that we can only know something to be true or false, real or imaginary. That awareness comes when we drop all the ideas about this and that and simply Look. It's pretty amazing when you do it. Better than any movie or roller coaster ride ...
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    Replied by Fa Zhāo on Monday, October 08 2012, 06:52 AM · Hide · #4
    LOL. Well this cuts to the truth!

    Organizing thoughts etc is taught in various traditions. A teacher whom I met early on in my spiritual walk, explained that it’s a good practice to organize and compartmentalize one’s life. It can be divided into home life, work life, extended family life…..ad infinitum. The idea was that if one of these lives goes “off the air”, it didn't mean that the others had to go “off the air with it”, or that all the lives “needed to go off the air together”. As I tried it for a while, I found it required a lot of practice (and was exhausting) to keep all the boundaries in place. It also seemed pointless to only be “spiritual” during the “spiritual life”.

    I don’t think our “true self” needs a whole lot of compartments to thoughtfully shine in. It’s compelling that the letting go of thoughts etc. is what we teach (and practice) and that many of us arrive at this for its pure simplicity. The practice of just “seeing” as you put it, is of itself enough, despite the minds willingness to organize it into interesting sub-sets.
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