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.

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