A definition of "ego"

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A definition of "ego"

Postby steveb1 » Sun Jan 13, 2013 9:26 am

I've carried this definition around probably since 1984 when I first heard it from New Testament scholar Dr. Marcus J. Borg (author of many books and former Jesus Seminar member). It seems pithy and descriptive, so I duplicate it "in so many words", namely:

Religions and spiritual systems tend to define the ego as the anxious, grasping self.

For me, this definition is handy and pragmatic for the personal reason that, with Freud, I view the ego - my little flickering ego-flame - as "the seat of anxiety". On a less personal level, the definition can apply across a wide range of personality descriptors without getting hung up in - say - materialistic/neurological definitions of ego, or in any particular psychological school's definition.

It seems that fruitful spirituality does indeed positively impact the anxious, grasping self, whether from the stereotypical Western view of "the freeing up of the self"; or from the familiar Eastern/mystical view of "freedom from the self". Most of us are familiar with Buddhism's methods for loosening up "the ego" and/or transcending it; and the Gospel Jesus encourages us to take up our cross (Luke: "daily") on a path of ego-diminishment; Paul view baptism as a participatory way of "dying and rising with Christ"; Ramana Maharshi taught turning away from the ego to constant remembrance of the Self; etc., etc.

To me, the more Dharma and the more "Spirit" and the more Awareness and the more "God" ... lead to a less grasping, anxious self, and to less ego attachment in general.

Obviously, I'm not being very profound, but I just wanted to share this particular definition of ego for those who haven't heard of it, and for those who might find it as handy as I do :)
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Re: A definition of "ego"

Postby Wayfarer » Sun Jan 13, 2013 10:39 am

They are all profound points, actually.

I remember when I first read Ramana Maharishi on the subject of ego, and what he said. It was something like, if you prune a bush, it grows back with even more vigour. It has to be uprooted altogether, which is the death of ego. (I'm not anywhere near that, mind you. I remembered that today when I was trying to uproot a particularly annoying feral plant that has taken root in my yard. I couldn't completely uproot it, so I know it will be back. Just like the defilements.)

But it is worthwhile to remember that use of 'ego' as a word was coined in modern terms by Freud. I don't *think* there is an equivalent in Buddhist philosophy (unless you count 'atma' which, however, has rather a larger range of meanings). In case, here's a handy definition: what we think we are. Ego is essentially the expression of our thoughts about ourselves. That is why those who don't think about themselves, are without ego. Much easier said than done, though.
Learn to do good, refrain from evil, purify the mind ~ this is the teaching of the Buddhas
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Re: A definition of "ego"

Postby deepbluehum » Sun Jan 13, 2013 6:24 pm

Just habits.
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Re: A definition of "ego"

Postby Ayu » Sun Jan 13, 2013 7:31 pm

Hey, "the anxious, grasping self" is a very good definition for what i feel about ego these days. Very helpfull. Thanks.

Short formulas i find helpfull because they are useable quickly. For example: "Not I " , just shortly spoken in mind...
Because, if our mothers, who have been kind to us
From beginningless time, are suffering,
What can we do with (just) our own happiness?
From 10th of 37 Bodhisattva Practices
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Re: A definition of "ego"

Postby Sonny » Sun Jan 13, 2013 8:04 pm

Interesting, thanks for sharing.

An article I find particularly helpful with regard to ego:

http://www.dharmafriendship.org/transcripts/t-ego.html
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Re: A definition of "ego"

Postby steveb1 » Mon Jan 14, 2013 5:34 am

Sonny wrote:Interesting, thanks for sharing.

An article I find particularly helpful with regard to ego:

http://www.dharmafriendship.org/transcripts/t-ego.html


NIce, succinct article.

And thanks to everyone for replying to my post.
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Re: A definition of "ego"

Postby greentara » Mon Jan 14, 2013 7:44 am

Can an animal have a grasping self an ego? On that note if an animal can have an ego who's to say a rare creature can't reach liberation?
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Re: A definition of "ego"

Postby oushi » Mon Jan 14, 2013 10:10 am

greentara wrote:Can an animal have a grasping self an ego?

Yes.
On that note if an animal can have an ego who's to say a rare creature can't reach liberation?

It cannot see delusion of ego, if it doesn't see the ego.
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Re: A definition of "ego"

Postby greentara » Mon Jan 14, 2013 12:44 pm

The ego is illusory, deceptive so can a rare animal be selfless, egoless? You sometimes hear for example a dog allowing a small kitten to drink its milk. Is this spontanious, is the the animal being compassionate perhaps even selfless?
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Re: A definition of "ego"

Postby Ayu » Tue Jan 15, 2013 8:00 am

greentara wrote:The ego is illusory, deceptive so can a rare animal be selfless, egoless? You sometimes hear for example a dog allowing a small kitten to drink its milk. Is this spontanious, is the the animal being compassionate perhaps even selfless?

This must not be a selfless deed. For a mother it may be a need to give away her milk.
But dogs seem to be a little bit compassionate sometimes.
The egos from human beings and animals may differ just like the minds differ. Why not?
Depends also which animal. Dogs are quite near to the realm of human beings. They can be proud, jealous, sad, anxious, happy and angry.
Because, if our mothers, who have been kind to us
From beginningless time, are suffering,
What can we do with (just) our own happiness?
From 10th of 37 Bodhisattva Practices
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Re: A definition of "ego"

Postby lowlydog » Tue Jan 15, 2013 12:52 pm

Nirvana.
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Re: A definition of "ego"

Postby Punya » Tue Jan 15, 2013 6:09 pm

lowlydog wrote:Nirvana.


:twothumbsup:
Unless the inner forces of negative emotions are conquered
Strife with outer enemies will never end.
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Re: A definition of "ego"

Postby wisdom » Tue Jan 15, 2013 7:06 pm

The ego is a protective mechanism, it protects our idea of ourselves as an independent entity, separate from everyone else. It protects us from our inner pain, the wound that exists deep within our heart. It locks away our inner child, all our openness and unconditional love, because its too painful for the ego to bear. It keeps us unconscious, and left unchecked sends us spiraling downwards towards the very depths of unconsciousness. The most egotistical people are the least self aware, they are the least aware of the pain they cause others, and they are the least aware of their own conflict and strife. They are just trying to run, to hide, to get away. Its a natural response, but its ultimately unhealthy. Its a fight or flight situation where running is always bad, because running actually multiplies the demons chasing you rather than diminishes them.

Ego is more or less the internal process and maintenance of closing yourself off to the world around you, both the good and the bad. The difficulty and struggle then becomes trying to let in all the good with none of the bad, and so we end up as selfish people seeking only our own benefit. Egotistical acts are always done with one motivation- making oneself look or feel better. Boasting, pride, and so forth. Slander, gossip, and so forth. Finally, hiding from ones own faults. The first makes you appear better in the eyes of others by only displaying your good qualities and acting as though you have no bad ones. The second makes you appear better by displaying only the bad qualities of others and not any of their good ones, making you seem better by comparison. The third makes you appear to yourself that you are better than you really are, ignoring all your faults and short comings.

Just one big protective mechanism. Burn that desolate and lonely tower to the ground!
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Re: A definition of "ego"

Postby oushi » Tue Jan 15, 2013 7:32 pm

Ego is a "piece" of society stored in a human brain, which illuminated by Buddha nature appears as mind.
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Re: A definition of "ego"

Postby songhill » Tue Jan 15, 2013 7:56 pm

To the author of the OP, thank you for your contribution. Going through my pages of notes I found this.

"The ego has taken over the task of representing the external world for the id, and so of saving it; for the id, blindly striving to gratify its instincts in complete disregard of the superior strength of outside forces, could not otherwise escape annihilation" (Freud, New Introductory Lectures).


The modern idea of "ego" or "egoism" is not found in the original teachings of the Buddha. It didn't even exist for Samuel Johnson. We don't find the concept in his dictionary. It is something we moderns have added to Buddhism.
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Re: A definition of "ego"

Postby Azidonis » Tue Jan 15, 2013 8:38 pm

neti neti
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Re: A definition of "ego"

Postby futerko » Tue Jan 15, 2013 8:39 pm

songhill wrote:To the author of the OP, thank you for your contribution. Going through my pages of notes I found this.

"The ego has taken over the task of representing the external world for the id, and so of saving it; for the id, blindly striving to gratify its instincts in complete disregard of the superior strength of outside forces, could not otherwise escape annihilation" (Freud, New Introductory Lectures).


The modern idea of "ego" or "egoism" is not found in the original teachings of the Buddha. It didn't even exist for Samuel Johnson. We don't find the concept in his dictionary. It is something we moderns have added to Buddhism.


That might be because ego is simply the Latin/Greek word for "I". Johnson clearly had a concept of selfishness and so did the Buddha.
In terms of Freud the ego is seen as the rational referee between the drives of the Id and the moralistic policing of the superego. Personally I think that the superego imperative, based upon "what others may think" is far more damaging to practice, and is also what translates the drives of the Id into "socially acceptable" desires.
we cannot get rid of God because we still believe in grammar - Nietzsche
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Re: A definition of "ego"

Postby songhill » Wed Jan 16, 2013 12:13 am

futerko wrote:Johnson clearly had a concept of selfishness and so did the Buddha.


Not with regard to the modern concept of "EGO" such as egoism, egoist, etc. It doesn't seem that you have looked at Samuel Johnson's dictionary.

Égotism. n.s. [from ego, Latin.] The fault committed in writing by the frequent repetition of the word ego, or I; too frequent mention of a man's self, in writing or conversation.
Égotist. n.s. [from ego.] One that is always repeating the word ego, I; a talker of himself.
To Égotize. v.n. [from ego.] To talk much of one's self.


Of course Dr. Johnson had a concept of selfishness, but not in the word ego. Selfishness was "Attention to his own interest, without any regard to others; self-love.
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Re: A definition of "ego"

Postby futerko » Wed Jan 16, 2013 8:36 am

songhill wrote:
futerko wrote:Johnson clearly had a concept of selfishness and so did the Buddha.


Not with regard to the modern concept of "EGO" such as egoism, egoist, etc. It doesn't seem that you have looked at Samuel Johnson's dictionary.

Égotism. n.s. [from ego, Latin.] The fault committed in writing by the frequent repetition of the word ego, or I; too frequent mention of a man's self, in writing or conversation.
Égotist. n.s. [from ego.] One that is always repeating the word ego, I; a talker of himself.
To Égotize. v.n. [from ego.] To talk much of one's self.


Of course Dr. Johnson had a concept of selfishness, but not in the word ego. Selfishness was "Attention to his own interest, without any regard to others; self-love.


Actually I can't find "self" in there either, although there is an entry for "I".

The point I was trying to make was about how Freudian theory was distorted when it became Americanized. In Europe, studies of Freud suggest that his idea of self is intrinsically interwoven with the development of the "social", and the idea of one's own interest in fact arises and is defined by one's relation to others.
we cannot get rid of God because we still believe in grammar - Nietzsche
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Re: A definition of "ego"

Postby muni » Wed Jan 16, 2013 9:01 am

futerko wrote: what translates the drives of the Id into "socially acceptable" desires.

:thanks:
Its (idea) appearance, seen through habits must fit its surroundings. This is an example of the suffering pain by dual perception we have. The exhausting struggle of "how can I be better than you or how can I be like my hero or at least like the others".
This is like enslaved by drugs, triggered by a social must to be great/acceptable in eyes of others.

We can give the example, parents explain children the suffering by the endless trying to be conditioned perfect, to see the craziness of such artificiality.

We like the movie actors. Me and my enemy and me and my friends...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=en ... LPIJjY13YA
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