Seeing Beyond the Ego & Realizing Your True Self

Jun 05, 2021

The Ego (in the context of metaphysics, spirituality, etc.) is the sense of being a separate self. It is ultimately just a thought—often called the “I” thought"—and it is the belief in this thought as being our fundamental self that leads to unimaginable suffering.

We confuse our true Self with an idea of self, a self-image, and we become very insecure about this image, and feel the need to validate it, protect it, inflate it, improve it, and do anything we can to solidify its existence.

Yet it has no solid existence, it is only a psychological process of the mind, and one that we mistakenly identify with. In doing so our vision becomes distorted, as we see through the lens of ego, and have ego-centric motives underlying much of what we do.

Even when people have pure intentions, these intentions become hijacked be ego’s fear and desire for validation. People turn to spirituality or meditation with a sincere motive to awaken, and become invested in glamorizing their self-image with spiritual symbols, wanting to be seen and validated as a spiritual person.

The ego is very tricky, and we are easily deceived by it. In fact, our entire culture is under its spell, aside from those rare beings that choose to look inward and find freedom from ego’s deception.

Ultimately, ego operates out of unconsciousness. When we are unaware of reality in the present moment, we are absorbed in the dream of ego and its incessant thinking, and are out of touch with our essential being.

There are many ways to describe this fundamental mis-identification with ego, and the consequent lack of understanding of our true nature. Every spiritual tradition has their way of explaining it, and all have validity to them from their perspectives. What matters is not the words, but what they are pointing to, and whether or not you receive and apply the message.

Truth is universal, owned by no one, available to all. It has no tradition, and no religion has control of it. However, ancient teachings and traditions can offer us great help on the journey of awakening, as long as we understand the fundamental principle that it is not the religion or tradition that matters, but the Truth that they are pointing to.

That being said, one tradition (among many) that offers a very clear understanding is that of the Tibetan Nyingma tradition and their teachings of Dzogchen. This tradition has a primary focus on distinguishing the ego (what they often refer to as the conceptual mind) from Consciousness (which they refer to as Rigpa, pure awareness, the fundamental mind, the nature of mind, or non-conceptual awareness).

"Liberation from suffering occurs when we recognize and abide in our true nature. That which recognizes is not the conceptual mind; it is the fundamental mind, the nature of mind, Rigpa. Our necessary task is to distinguish, in practice, between the conceptual mind and the pure awareness of the nature of mind."

—Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

The below passage is an excerpt from the book, "The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep" by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. We do not claim the rights to this information, we are merely sharing it for the benefit of all beings who read it:

Conceptual Mind

"The conceptual or moving mind is the familiar mind of everyday experience, constantly busy with thoughts, memories, images, internal dialogues, judgments, meanings, emotions, and fantasies. It is the mind normally identified as "me" and "my experience." Its fundamental dynamic is engagement with a dualistic vision of existence. It takes itself to be a subject in a world of objects. It grasps at some parts of experience and pushes others away. It is reactive, wildly so sometimes, but even when it is extremely calm and subtle--for example, during meditation or intense concentration--it maintains the internal posture of an entity observing its environment and continues to participate in dualism.

The conceptual mind is not limited to language and ideas. Language—with its nouns and verbs, subjects and objects—is necessarily subject to dualism, but the conceptual mind is active in us before the acquisition of language. Animals have a conceptual mind, in this sense, as do infants and those born without the capacity for language. It is the result of habitual karmic tendencies that are present before we develop a sense of self, even before we are born. Its essential characteristic is that it instinctively divides experience dualistically, beginning with subject and object, with me and not-me.

The Mother Tantra refers to this mind as the "active manifestation mind." It is the mind that arises dependent on the movement of karmic prana (life force), and manifests in forms as thoughts, concepts, and other mental activities. If the conceptual mind becomes completely still, it dissolves into the nature of mind and will not arise again until activity reconstitutes it.

The moving mind's activities are virtuous, non-virtuous, or neutral. Virtuous actions host the experience of the nature of mind. Neutral actions disturb the connection to the nature of mind. Non-virtuous actions create more disturbance and lead to further disconnection. The teachings go into detail regarding the discrimination between virtuous and non-virtuous actions, such as generosity and greediness and so on. This, however is the clearest distinction: some actions lead to greater connection to Rigpa (consciousness) and some lead to disconnection.

The ego bound by the duality of subject and object arises from the moving mind. From this mind all suffering arises; the conceptual mind works very hard, and this is what it accomplishes. We live in memories of the past and fantasies of the future, cut off from the direct experience of the radiance and beauty of life.

Non-Dual Awareness: Rigpa

The fundamental reality of mind is pure, non-dual awareness: Rigpa. Its essence is one with the essence of all that exists. In practice, it must not be confused with even the subtlest, quietest, and most expansive states of the moving mind. Unrecognized, the nature of mind manifests as the moving mind, but when it is known directly it is both the path to liberation and liberation itself.

Dzogchen teachings often use a mirror to symbolize Rigpa. A mirror reflects everything without choice, preference, or judgement. It reflects the beautiful and the ugly, the big and the small, the virtuous and the non-virtuous. There are no limits or restrictions on what it can reflect, yet the mirror is unstained and unaffected by whatever is reflected in it. nor does it ever cease reflecting.

Similarly, all phenomena of experience arise in Rigpa: thoughts, images, emotions, the grasping and the grasped, every apparent subject and object, every experience. The conceptual mind itself arises and abides in Rigpa. Life and death take place in the nature of mind, but it is neither born nor does it die, just as reflections come and go without creating or destroying the mirror. Identifying with the conceptual mind, we live as one of the reflections of the mirror, reacting to the other reflections, suffering confusion and pain, endlessly living and dying. We take the reflections for the reality and spend our lives chasing illusions.

When the conceptual mind is free of grasping and aversion, it spontaneously relaxes into unfabricated Rigpa. Then there is no longer an identification with the reflections in the mirror and we can effortlessly accommodate all that arises in experience, appreciating every moment. If hatred arises, the mirror is filled with hatred. When love arises, the mirror is filled with love. For the mirror itself, neither love nor hatred is significant: both are equally a manifestation of its innate capacity to reflect. This is known as the mirror-like wisdom; when we recognize the nature of mind and develop the ability to abide in it, no emotional state distracts us. Instead, all states and all phenomena, even anger, jealousy, and so on, are released into the purity and clarity that is their essence. Abiding in Rigpa, we cut karma at its root and are released from the bondage of samsara (the cycle of death and rebirth).

Stabilizing in Rigpa also makes it easier to realize all other spiritual aspirations. It is easier to practice virtue when free of grasping and the sense of lack, easier to practice compassion when not obsessed with ourselves, easier to practice transformation when unattached to false and constricted identities.

The Mother Tantra refers to the nature of mind as "primordial mind." It is like the ocean, while ordinary mind is like the rivers, lakes, and creeks that share in the nature of the ocean and return to it, but temporarily exist as apparently separate bodies of water. The moving mind is also compared to bubbles in the ocean of primordial mind that constantly form and dissolve, depending on the strength of the karmic winds. But the nature of the ocean does not change."

—Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep

Distinguishing Mind from Awareness

The purpose of providing the above passage was to show that there is a distinction between our overactive thinking mind, and the deeper awareness that the thinking mind arises from. We want to help you discover the true nature of your own mind, to discover your primordial essence, which is absolutely pure, perfect, and complete as it is. The conceptual mind is the source of all suffering. It causes us to resist the impermanent and ever-changing nature of reality, propelling us to endlessly seek for and grasp at pleasurable experiences, and avoid experiences which are unpleasant. It causes us to live in a world of judgments and discriminations which we impose on reality and distort our view in the process. It causes us to live in confusion, unaware of who we are, and unaware of the stories that we tell ourselves—stories that define our lives, and often stories that keep us in a mental prison of suffering.

None of the stories you tell yourself are a truthful representation of reality. They are all based on your conditioning, your memories, your language, your habits, and the many impressions that have been made on your mind. The mind is a powerful thing, and if we do not recognize the essence of the mind, we can easily get lost in the mind and its projections.

By recognizing your true nature, and stabilizing yourself in it, you allow life to take its natural course, flowing with change and embracing the reality of your direct experience. By recognizing your true nature, you find freedom from the suffering created by the mind, and you find peace within yourself, opening yourself up to the beauty and mystery of life.

Having an intellectual understanding of these concepts is great, and often very necessary, but it will not take you all the way. If you want to realize your true nature you must do so yourself. No teacher, book, or article can do that for you. You must apply this information to your own life, and be open to what it can reveal to you.

"If you never try, you can never be successful; if you do try, you might surprise yourself."

-Lama Yeshe 

Having the intellectual understanding is important, but it must be balanced with practice and personal experience. In our Introduction to Meditation course, we offer a total overview of the meditative path, providing the foundations to practice, multiple guided sessions, as well as tips and teachings to integrate meditation into your daily life. This information is powerful and transformative, and if you are looking for ways to positively change in your life, we cannot overstate the value of learning and applying this information.


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