The Mandala of the Ego

By George A. Boyd ©2022

Q: Many spiritual teachers regard the ego as evil and they attempt to transcend it and eradicate it. In Mudrashram®, you say the ego is a complex of functions and not all aspects of the ego are bad. Can you explain this divergence of opinions?

A: If we study the ego in situ, where it dwells in the Conscious mind, we find there are nine layers of the ego. These layers, which form the mandala of the ego, consist of the following:

  1. The wheel of integration – In this first layer of the ego, the ego appears to be a hub in which the active centers of the Conscious mind unite and are coordinated. Levels of the Conscious mind that are integrated in this center include: the waking state of consciousness, the movement awareness center, the sensory center, the deep body awareness center, the feeling center, the thinking center, the egoic octave of will, the life consciousness—the awareness of the ego embedded as the actor in human life—and the preconscious.
  2. The wheel of human activity – These are twelve categories through which people organize their lives. People may share some of these categories, such as body and health, emotions and relationships, education and career, money and finances, or ethics and spirituality; however, some may have distinctive categories, such as addiction recovery, travel, or adventure.
  3. Motivational matrix – These are the underlying desires and emotions that motivate behavior in one or more of these categories. For example, you might have a desire to lose weight (body/health category), to find a new romantic partner (emotions and relationship category), to finish your degree in computer science (education category), to find a better-paying job (career and finances category), or to practice meditation or prayer daily (ethics and spirituality category). We describe this level in our book, The Practical Applications of Meditation in Daily Life and Education, and show you how to set goals for each of these areas, so you can fulfill these desires.
  4. Egoic roles – These are the “I am statements” of the ego, which organize your behavior, feelings, and thoughts into discrete roles. Some of the roles with which you might identify might be “I am a parent,” “I am a worker,” “I am a gardener,” “I am a musician,” “I am a member of a political party,” or “I am a member of a particular religion.” We teach our students in the Introduction to Meditation Program how to monitor this inner processing for each of these roles through a targeted Vipassana-style meditation.
  5. Life narrative – This is your record of achievements in your life. When you itemize your skills and experience on your résumé, you are drawing from this level of the egoic complex. On the basis of what you have achieved—or how you may have failed at some of the things you have wanted—you develop your sense of self-esteem. You feel good about yourself if you have been largely successful in attaining your desires; if you have had a lot of failure and frustration experiences, you may feel badly about yourself and you may even feel depressed.
  6. Zone of defenses – These are the defense mechanisms through which you attempt to hide your painful and negative feelings and behavior from others. These layers of mental resistance hide behavior, feelings, and thoughts about which you may feel ashamed or guilty. This wall of diversions and prevarication block others’ knowledge of your fear, your forbidden desires, your addictive cravings, your rage, your jealousy, your envy, your greed, your arrogance and narcissism that dwell in the next layer, the Shadow. To the degree you have worked through these issues in the Shadow, your defenses attenuate.
  7. The Shadow – This is where your issues actually dwell. This level of the mind has been called the personal unconscious or the lower unconscious: it is repository of the issues you have not worked out, and integrated into your ego. These mental tendencies, in many people, function autonomously to the volition operating at the level of the ego and at the level of the Self. Spiritual teachers view the ego as complex of issues in the Shadow and the layer of defenses that protect them—they seek to transcend these issues through re-identifying with an altered state of consciousness and uprooting these tendencies of mind.
  8. Egoic seed atom – This is the “wonder child” that views the beauty and goodness of the world. This is the healthy, innocent “inner child” that lives beyond the pain and struggles of the issues of the Shadow. Psychotherapy aims to help clients reclaim this part of the their nature, instead of viewing the world through the distorted lens of fear, paranoia, anger, shame, and arrogance. This seed atom tunes up as the Soul evolves.
  9. Spiritual ego – This part of the mind identifies with a higher spiritual essence and compares its development to others. People who identify with their cosmic consciousness nucleus of identity might feel superior to those who have not awakened this aspect of their nature; they might feel jealous that another disciple seems to be able to spend more time with their Guru. This part of the mind loses touch with normal human boundaries; it can become grandiose, narcissistic, and arrogant. While disciples of some spiritual teachers transcend the layer of defenses and the Shadow with their spiritual practices, this subtlest aspect of the ego can creep in and vitiate their humility and other spiritual virtues.

In our soon-to-be-released e-Book, A Compendium of Articles on the Ego, we discuss these nine levels and show you ways you can strengthen the healthy aspects of your ego and begin to work with its negative aspects. We believe that it is important to consider the entire egoic complex, and not merely select the negative parts of the ego.

A functional ego enables you to carry out normal behavior in the environment around you. When the ego is compromised, your behavior becomes abnormal and dysfunctional. Your task is not to destroy the ego, but to domesticate it, so it can carry out the direction of your Soul—and you can be of service and enact your Soul’s Expressed Purpose in your human life.

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…”