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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.