The Many Faces of Spiritual Egotism

By George A. Boyd © 2016

This article builds upon our article, “Reflections on the Ego,” and explores the dimension of spiritual egotism in greater depth. Our original commentary is found in an article, “The Seven Postures of the Ego,” where we discuss the seventh form of egotism, which is spiritual egotism. We will quote from this article on this aspect of egoic expression:


Subtle Egoic Identification – This aspect of the ego enables you to identify with a spiritual essence, and then to form certain beliefs, attitudes, and judgments about self and others when you are in this state of identification. For some, it gives then a sense of superiority, of specialness, of being a member of an elite group. For others, this takes the form of comparing their progress with others, and being dissatisfied with the rate and quality of their spiritual progress. For others, it is a belief that they are flawed; that they are demented, blind, worms that can never gain enlightenment or receive the blessings of God. For others, it can become a sense of narcissism and grandiosity—that they are a Divine Being incarnate, and they are entitled to special treatment, and worship and obedience from others.”

“The belief that one has been born again and has adopted a new state of identity carries along with it this subtle egoic identification. When people say, for example, they are Christians, Yogis, Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists; they are activating this subtle form of identification.”

“This new state of identification can become a pseudo-personality, as UCLA researcher Dr. Jolyon West called it, and take on a life of its own—divorced from the genuine feelings and issues of human life. When people dwell in pseudo-personality, they live a spiritual agenda instead of their authentic lives. They adhere to a sense of purpose that a spiritual teacher defines; or a lifestyle that a Divinely-inspired scripture commands, or that is revealed through inner communion with an advanced spiritual being through inner visions, revelations, and channeled or prophetic messages. When they are so “inspired and guided,” they no longer inhabit their own lives; they are committed instead to follow a spiritual path, whose precepts inculcate what they should choose, think, and believe, and how they should act.”

“Many spiritual teachers emphasize the egoic aspects (3) [the defensive posture] and (4) [the shadow], which are largely negative, and advocate (7) [subtle egoic identification] instead—re-identification with a higher spiritual essence. Tolle is no different here: he seeks refuge from the unconscious aspect of the ego, the shadow, by keeping attention anchored in “Being, ” e.g., present time state…” [Please see the article, “Reflections of the Ego” cited above to learn about these egoic aspects.]


In this article, we wish to use these initial insights as a springboard to examine the facets of spiritual egotism in greater depth. We seek to answer the questions, “How does subtle egotism manifest?” “What are its links to distorted mental functioning?” “How can a wayfarer upon the Path, who recognizes that subtle egotism has taken a sinister turn, eradicate these patterns from the mind?”

How Does Subtle Egotism Manifest?

Subtle egotism takes a variety of forms:

  1. Comparison with others – this can manifest as superiority (“I am so much more advanced than him on the Path”) or inferiority (“He is so much more advanced than I am and he is making much faster progress than me. What’s wrong with me?”)
  2. Jealousy and Envy – this form appears when it appears that another disciple is getting more attention from the spiritual Master, or greater blessings from God. This manifests as a “sour grapes” attitude (“Well, he might get attention from the Master because he knows how to show off before the other disciples he loves the Master, but the Master knows that I am his true devotee, and I don’t have to make vain displays.”)
  3. Narcissism – This takes the form of absorption in a spiritual essence coupled with a sense of greatness or omnipotence. The disciple feels vastly superior to others—like the God King, Pharaoh, to his “mortal” subjects—so that he expects that others will serve him; show him deference and the highest respect; anticipate his every need or wish; never disagree with him, because he has superior insight and wisdom; and indeed, should even worship him. Extremely narcissistic disciples cannot take public transportation, because they might be polluted or drained of energy by common people; they cannot broach any criticism, and consider it a personal affront; or cannot deign to do any work themselves, but delegate it to those who are their “inferiors”—as they cannot be bothered to do these menial tasks, as others are “meant to serve them.” [If severe, spiritual narcissism can transform into narcissistic personality disorder.]
  4. Grandiosity – The grandiose disciple loses his human grounding and feels that he is a god-like being endowed with supernatural powers and great wisdom. This grandiosity can take three forms: (a) distorted identity (narcissism – q.v.), (b) delusional thinking and belief (mania), or (c) perceptual aberrations (illusions and hallucinations). When grandiosity becomes increasingly severe—and when all three forms accompany it, the disciple migrates into psychosis—delusional disorder, mania, and grandiose paranoid schizophrenia.
  5. Intense focus on the faults of self and others – In those disciples who have a very strict conscience, or are disciples of teachings that expect they will adhere to the highest standards of moral purity and saintly behavior, they can be extremely harsh in their criticism of their fellow disciples, themselves [this pattern can lead to depression], and even of their spiritual Master.
  6. Idealizing spiritual aims and devaluing personal ones – Those disciples that create an idealized vision of what it will be like when they reach a certain state of the Path may become so enraptured with their vision that they neglect to attend to their personal lives. They may fail to find a marital partner. They may neglect their education. They may find it impossible to focus on complex work, and instead, find employment in low pay, low skilled jobs.
  7. Expecting miraculous outcomes and Divine intervention – Those who regard themselves as “special,” “beloved of God,” one of “God’s children,” or “one of the chosen ones [the Elect],” may expect, even demand that God must take care of them. They expect that they will not need to make any effort other than praying, affirming, decreeing, claiming God’s promises by faith, or visualizing their desired outcome, and the “Law of Attraction,” “the Universe,” the “Divine Mind,” or “Providence” will instantly manifest whatever they need or desire.

We encourage aspirants and disciples to examine themselves honestly to uncover the signs of emerging spiritual egotism.

  • Are you comparing yourself to others’ progress or behavior?
  • Do you feel you are special? Do you feel that you have God’s special favor?
  • Do you feel you are great and powerful, and far superior to others?
  • Have you become arrogant? Do you belittle or condemn others because they do not believe as you do?

Antidotes to these tendencies to spiritual egotism include the following:

  1. Humility – realize that whatever your spiritual attainment, you don’t stop being a human being with limited knowledge and ability, emotional fragility and vulnerability, character weaknesses—and you are mortal.
  2. Keep your human grounding – don’t stay in altered states of awareness for long periods of time—for this can bring about sustained identification with these states in which you feel god-like, grandiose, and omnipotent
  3. You are competing only with your self – Stop comparing yourself to others, as you must focus on the mission you were meant to accomplish. What abilities are you meant to develop? Develop them through study, practice, and experimentation. What knowledge, understanding and wisdom do you need to gain to carry out your mission? Gain them through study, contemplation, and reflection. What virtues were you meant to acquire? Work on your character to bring these qualities forth. What masteries were you called to manifest? Study each aspect of the Path connected with that stage of development and synthesize the necessary abilities, knowledge, and ministerial competencies to operate from that platform.
  4. Realize that everyone is suffering – Climb down from the mountaintop of arrogance into the valley of the heart. Before you give others a thorough tongue lashing—heaping invectives and insults upon them for not living up to your standards—realize that they may be coping the best that they can given the issues with which they are dealing, and are doing the best that they can right now.
  5. They may not be ready or suitable for your Path – Before you assume you know best for others and presume they need to join your religious group or take initiation into your spiritual Path—because you believe it is the best and highest one—consider where their Soul is on the Path, and what are the personal issues with which they are dealing. It may not be appropriate for them to leap up onto your Path in the Cosmic, Supracosmic, or Transcendental bands of the Continuum—they simply are not ready.
  6. Consider what you are avoiding in your own self – In many people that adopt grandiose and narcissistic mindsets, these states of power and inflated sense of identity are reactions to not wanting to look at very painful areas within them. They become great in their own eyes, so they don’t have to confront their own feelings of inferiority, lack of competence, and weakness. You may wish to question, “What’s behind this grandiosity?”
  7. You’ll never be as great as God – The Divine is part of another order of Nature. Your consciousness is anchored in your physical body; the forms of the Divine encompass the entire planet, the solar system, the Monadic Life Wave, the galaxy, the physical universe, the astral cosmos, the causal-mental cosmos, and the ultimate Source from which the Soul and the spirit were born. Your job is to actualize your human and spiritual potentials, and stop trying to play God. Instead consider: “How may I be of service?” How can I use my knowledge and abilities to benefit others?”

We encourage you to observe your own tendencies to spiritual egotism, and to root out these weeds from the garden of your spiritual heart. We suggest that you will benefit from using the antidotes to spiritual egotism to help you correct these inflated, narcissistic and arrogant mindsets, and to settle back into your humanness again.

Reflections on the Ego

What Is the Ego?

By George A. Boyd ©2019

Excerpted from A Compendium of Articles on the Ego

We can consider the ego in seven different contexts:

  1. Function – the ego’s activity as the integration center of the Conscious mind
  2. Motivation – the ego’s nexus of desires arranged in 12 areas
  3. Life story – the history of your significant life events and achievements
  4. Psychological armoring – the layer of defenses that protect you from experiencing painful or shameful memories
  5. Core psychic wounds – these are the painful and shameful unresolved issues that make up your shadow
  6. Wonder child – the aspect of your ego that is in touch with the Soul, and expresses wonder and delight
  7. Spiritualized ego – this aspect of your ego identifies with a spiritual essence, and then compares you to others’ development in this area—this aspect of the ego may generate feelings of superiority or inferiority to others through comparison of spiritual attainment, acquisition of spiritual powers

These layers of the ego are described in greater depth in our article, “Reflections on Eckhart Tolle.”

“When Tolle speaks of the ego, he paints a picture of this essence as malevolent, devious, manipulative, and the source of all human ignorance, misery, and pain. This is an accurate portrayal of the ego as many people experience it in one of its postures, the Shadow, but does not capture the other six postures of the ego—which are not entirely evil as Tolle depicts.”

“These seven postures of the ego are described below.”

  1. The Embodied Ego – This is the structure or chakra system of the ego in expression. These chakras include the waking state of awareness (feet), movement awareness (base of spine), sensory awareness (navel), deep body awareness (solar plexus), emotional awareness (heart), rational mind awareness (throat), “egoic will” (point between the eyebrows), and the sense of identity surrounded by the 12 areas of human life (brain). The egoic will in this context is the ability to initiate individual units of behavior—for example, tie your shoes, stand up straight, walk over to the counter and pour a glass of water. The 12 areas of human life comprise the zone of the Operational Ego, which is the second posture of the ego. At the level of the Embodied Ego, you intuitively experience the present time at each of these centers.
  2. The Operational Ego – This is the constellation of identity that captures the roles the ego plays in your life. These are mapped into 12 different areas—while each individual may label these categories and organize their contents differently, the general structure of 12 areas appears to be a stable component of the Operational Ego.
    1. Physical body
    2. Vitality and health
    3. Emotions and relationships
    4. Home and family
    5. Education and mental development
    6. Career and avocation
    7. Finances
    8. Social life (recreation and social activities with friends and family)
    9. Civic engagement and community involvement
    10. Cultural experiences and travel
    11. Ethical foundation and values
    12. Spiritual, religious, or philosophical life

In the Operational Ego, you experience the ambition to improve yourself and to attain what you desire, and to strive for what you want.

  1. The Developmental Ego – this is the state of identity that develops over time, and progressively integrates and identifies with a broader range of capabilities and abilities. These range from the highly dependent infant, to the capable, independent adult, to the caring parent, to the individual who can look out for the welfare and issues of the entire world. This is the experience of where you are in your life right now, and the capabilities you have developed. You draw upon this level when you summarize your educational and work experiences on a curriculum vita or résumé.
  2. The Defensive Ego – At this level, you attempt to maintain a positive image of yourself. This might be construed as keeping up a positive self-concept, to preserve your reputation and honor, or to adhere to an ideal image of your self (ego ideal). When you are criticized, attacked, or belittled, this defensive ego generates excuses, rationalizations, arguments, and a series of defenses to protect your self-concept. This defensive armor can be stirred to protect any area in which you feel weak or vulnerable, and may be extended to defend not only your reputation, but also to your possessions, your family, your job, your membership in different groups, and your values and faith.
  3. The Shadow – this is the unconscious level of the ego, and comprises the unconscious defenses that keep these painful and shameful aspects of the mind out of awareness. These unconscious mental patterns drive human obsession, craving, and suffering, and may appear to act autonomously, outside the control of your volition and intention. Many spiritual teachers, Tolle included, target this aspect of the ego and promote spiritual practices, such as mindfulness, “being present,” and remaining in “the present time” to overcome this suffering. When you tap this level, you experience identification with your suffering, fear, shame, anxiety, or depression.
  4. Egoic Seed Atom – This aspect of the human mind is tuned up as the Soul evolves. It is a state of wonder, of delight, of a joyful inner child that sees the beauty of everything around you. Perhaps Jesus was referring to this state when he said, “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you,” and “you must become as a little child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” You experience a heavenly world of magic and wonder when you are in this state of awareness.
  5. Subtle Egoic Identification – This aspect of the ego enables you to identify with a spiritual essence, and then to form certain beliefs, attitudes, and judgments about self and others when you are in this state of identification. For some, it gives then a sense of superiority, of specialness, of being a member of an elite group. For others, this takes the form of comparing their progress with others, and being dissatisfied with the rate and quality of their spiritual progress. For others, it is a belief that they are flawed; that they are demented and blind worms that can never gain enlightenment or receive the blessings of God. For others, it can become a sense of narcissism and grandiosity—that they are a Divine Being incarnate, and they are entitled to special treatment, and the worship and obedience of others.

“The belief that one has been born again and has adopted a new state of identity carries along with it this subtle egoic identification. When people say, for example, they are Christians, Yogis, Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists; they are activating this subtle form of identification.”

“This new state of identification can become a pseudo-personality, as UCLA researcher Dr. Jolyon West called it, and take on a life of its own—divorced from the genuine feelings and issues of human life.

“When people dwell in pseudo-personality, they live a spiritual agenda instead of their authentic lives. They adhere to a sense of purpose that a spiritual teacher defines; or a lifestyle that a Divinely inspired scripture commands, or that is revealed through inner communion with an advanced spiritual being through inner visions, revelations, and channeled or prophetic messages. When they are so “inspired and guided,” they no longer inhabit their own lives; they are committed instead to follow a spiritual path, whose precepts inculcate what they should choose, think, and believe, and how they should act.”

Methods to Transcend the Ego

“There are a variety of inner centers on which you can focus your attention that allow you to transcend your ego. Here is a partial list:”

  • The atom of eternity (vehicular seed atom)
  • The attentional principle
  • The Self (personal integration center)
  • The spirit
  • The wave of the present time on the Akashic Ether
  • The Star Seed in the Psychic Realm (vehicular seed atom)
  • The Moon Soul or Christ Child (nucleus of identity)
  • The Solar Angel (nucleus of identity)
  • The Soul Spark or Soul (ensouling entity)
  • Cosmic consciousness (nucleus of identity)
  • Cosmic soul awareness (nucleus of identity)
  • Astral Soul (ensouling entity)
  • Supracosmic seed atom (nucleus of identity)
  • Supracosmic Soul (ensouling entity)
  • The spirit on one of the Transcendental Paths
  • The ensouling entity on one of the Transcendental Paths

“Transcending the ego allows you to view it from a detached viewpoint, and to dis-identify with it. This shift is from being the actor in your life to a passive spectator of your life.”

“Like a trance state in hypnosis, when you enter these internal focal points, you passively view the content of the mind that makes up the ego, but you don’t interact with it. You retain the ability to objectively observe your ego from this detached standpoint, as long as you remain in this altered state of awareness. When you return your attention to its ground state in the waking state of awareness, your experience of the ego returns…”