The Much-Maligned Ego
If you read spiritual books, follow spiritual groups on Twitter or Facebook, or have friends who are learning how to be spiritual, you have probably heard that ego is the enemy and it must be destroyed. One popular spiritual writer today seems to have that idea as the single note in his songbook. I started reading one of his popular books once and gave up about halfway through. It seems he says nothing but “you need to destroy your ego” in a variety of ways on nearly every page. Many people read this and accept it as truth. Many conclude that this man has sold millions of books so what he says must be true. But what they don’t seem to notice is that he hasn’t taken his own advice!
According to Eileen Flannagan, “Many spiritual traditions talk about the value of letting go of our egos. It’s the whole point in Buddhism.” But just because some religions teach this, doesn’t mean it is a good idea.
Ego is drive; personality; the desire to accomplish, even if struggle is necessary; and a decision-making ability. If this author had destroyed his ego, he would have no desire to ever write again, no desire to hold seminars, no desire to accomplish anything. So a man with a completely functional and intact ego is advising others to destroy theirs. If he hasn’t destroyed his own ego, neither should we. Also, this writer would have no readers without ego. It is only because they have an ego that they have a desire to better themselves. A big ego is unhealthy, but most psychologists say ego is a necessary part of what we are, and we in Cosolargy agree with them.
The Dark Side of Ego
“Now, we may remember from a reading of Genesis where Eve is talking to the Serpent. Of course, this is an allegory. What is the Serpent? Ego, herself, the Darkness within her! We’re speaking here about the allegorical Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. …Now, Eve had been instructed not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, as told to her by the Elohim, the Angelic Beings of Light. They told her, don’t eat from this tree. The Serpent, Ego, opposed this by saying (as taken from Genesis 3:5–7), “God knows that when you eat of it [the Tree], your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, and you will know good and evil.” ~Gene Savoy, Sr. (Theological Lecture)
There is a dark side, an evil side, of ego. But thinking that destroying the ego is the solution is much like the proverbial throwing out the baby with the bathwater. In a way, ego is a lot like a baby. If it is cared for, taught properly, and controlled, it grows into a healthy personality, and that is a good thing. If Winston Churchill didn’t have a healthy, but good ego, he couldn’t have been the leader that he was. The dark side of ego, or the overblown ego, can be controlled by the awakened soul. That is a better solution than destroying the ego.
“If you can see yourself as a mite, how do you expect that mite to change the world? It’s ridiculous, but people through their arrogance, their ego, believe that in a few years they’re going to really make an impact on this planet. It’s really . . . it’s hilarious. It’s ignorance.” ~Gene Savoy, Sr. (Theological Lecture)
Being egotistical is one form of an ego that is not beneficial. This is something like the health benefits of wine. Having one glass each day or a few times a week can have health benefits. Drinking a lot more than that has the opposite effect: it can ruin your health.
When the ego becomes too large, too powerful, we can become narcissistic, greedy, and lacking in empathy with others. Like with the wine, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing. But the ego is generally needed to function in this world, so it is not automatically evil. Self-confidence comes from ego, and we need that to accomplish anything. The fact that some have an unhealthy ego doesn’t mean that it is impossible to have a healthy ego.
The Good Side of Ego
While some may differ on this, having children is generally a good thing. If we all decided to not have children, the human race would die off. So we need children. But it takes a certain amount of healthy ego to make us want to have children. Having children is difficult, so a person with little or no ego is not going to have them unless someone else forces them too.
Having children can increase our sense of self-importance. It can contribute to our overall well-being. But only if we have an ego.
Having a Job or Profession
“Only by discovering alchemy have I clearly understood that the Unconscious is a process and that ego’s rapport with the Unconscious and its contents initiate an evolution, more precisely, a real metamorphosis of the psyche.” ~Carl Jung
While some may not like the idea, the fact remains that we need to have a job to function in this world. A good job or profession means we will have the money to meet our material needs and be in a better position to practice spiritual growth techniques. It is almost impossible to practice spiritual techniques when you hunger for lack of food or hurt for lack of medical care. But to have a good profession or job requires a certain amount of ambition, and ambition is a part of ego. Destroy ego and you have no ambition, no desire to excel, no desire to advance in your profession. Without self-esteem there will be no personal growth, and if you don’t continue to grow, professionally or otherwise, you will fall behind those who do.
I once knew a person who had a weak ego and hated to brag about himself. He was a good computer programmer that was working on the same project I was on. When that project ended, the rest of us all found good jobs within that profession. The guy with the weak ego didn’t. Because he was unwilling to brag about his accomplishments, even in a job interview, he couldn’t get hired. He ended up in a minimum wage job at Walmart.
Learning with Ego
When you were a child and learning how to ride a bicycle, you were using your ego. Everytime you fell or failed to ride the bike properly, you got up and tried again because you had an ego. When you became a teen or young adult and took driving lessons, you made it through that even more difficult process because you had an ego that would not let you fail. Ego gets a bad rap when it is destructive, but it is also constructive.
In the business world, making decisions is important. But you need ego for decision-making. In an old episode of Star Trek, Captain Kirk was split into two beings. One side was smart but timid and couldn’t make any kind of decisions. He lacked ego. The other side had ego but wasn’t very smart. The two halves had to be put back together again in order for him to be a proper captain once more. The answer was not to dispose of his ego, but reconnect it with his intellect. All great leaders, much like Kirk, need ego to function. Although it is true that too much ego can turn them into despots and dictators, a controlled ego is needed.
Ego in Spiritual Growth
It is mostly in the area of spiritual growth and development that we hear of the idea of destroying the ego. As already noted, this is a major tenet of popular Buddhism. The idea being that everyone should be equal in a spiritual community, and ego doesn’t want to be equal. Ego needs to be in charge. But is destroying the ego the solution? We in Cosolargy don’t think so, and I think many Buddhists don’t really destroy their egos either. Of course, it is hard to know if your own ego is healthy; but if you are seeking self-improvement, you still have an ego. And famous Buddhist writers who promote the destruction of ego clearly have not destroyed their own or they would not have the desire to write and publish books.
Real spiritual growth is more than sitting around meditating, humming mantras, or praying. Spiritual growth is an activity, and a difficult one. There are many worldly forces today that oppose wasting time on spiritual things. There are even more malevolent forces and beings called demons who will also oppose your spiritual growth. They will fight hard and you must be strong to resist them. Such mental and emotional strength is found only in those who have a healthy ego.
“Needless to say, it is imperative that we have an understanding of the workings of both our human or physical attributes in relation to the absorption of solar energy, which must also involve the mind and psyche and their reaction to or response to solar energy IF absorption, and also that of our Spiritual attributes, that of higher Consciousness and higher Form. Let me explain what I mean by this. For example, we speak about Spiritual Consciousness. Very few people understand what I mean by that. They haven’t been able to bring their Spiritual Consciousness into contact with some personal or egoic concept. You can only have Spiritual Consciousness that has meaning to you if you have ego consciousness. That’s very difficult to achieve.” ~Gene Savoy, Sr. (Theological Lecture)
In Cosolargy, we are taught that when we have awakened and developed our spiritual faculties, we must get the awakened soul to control the ego. The ego is needed to function in the material world, but it can also oppose spiritual growth if it doesn’t understand it. The soul teaches the ego why spiritual development is important, even for the ego. Sheep don’t need ego, human beings do. Maintaining a sense of self-worth is not being selfish, it is being productive. God needs spiritual warriors who are strong and productive.