(About a 2 minute read)
Quite often, people tell me they want to attain nirvana, mosksha, kenshō, or enlightenment by abolishing their ego or “lower self”. But I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. At least not on the face of it.
I think I can see where they are coming from though. In popular speech, the “ego” is synonymous with our pride. Pride is quite often a source of foolishness, and can easily enough be seen as wholly unnecessary. After all, pride isn’t exactly the same thing as self-esteem. To many people “pride” is excessive or unjustified self-esteem.
But I see the ego as much bigger than pride — and much more important, too. To me, the ego is the psychological self. The self we think of as “me” or “I”. In other words, I use the word in it’s original Latin sense. Moreover, I do not believe pride can be abolished without abolishing the ego.
As I understand things, it is impossible to wholly abolish the ego. I profoundly agree with Joseph Campbell that the powers within us we deny or repress do not wither and die. Instead, they become our demons.
So, I think efforts to abolish the ego end up creating monsters.
Beyond that, the ego — or psychological self — strikes me as quite useful to us. In fact, I can’t see anyone surviving for long without it. Near as I can figure it, the ego is key to at least a dozen functions that are themselves both useful and vitally important to our survival.
I won’t go into them here other than to mention those functions include foresight, planning, self-defense, and many forms of motivation. In sum, I do not believe it wise or beneficial to abolish the ego. Or even try. Instead, one’s objective should be to tame it through wisdom and/or love.