"Ego" and Buddhism

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Greg
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"Ego" and Buddhism

Post by Greg »

The loanword "ego" is used often in English-language books on Buddhism. It shows up often in books by Zen teachers, and Chogyam Trungpa in particular used it often. In his books he characterizes ego as a sort of active, strategizing agent, as seen in the following examples:

"In the third stage, ego develops three strategies or impulses with which to relate to its projections: indifference, passion and aggression."(The Myth of Freedom)

"The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use, even spirituality."(Cutting through Spiritual Materialism, pg 15)

My question for the scholars on the board is, is there any equivalent term in Tibetan or Sanskrit that would be used in this way in a traditional context? In looking into it myself, the following terms seem to be candidates:

ātman (bdag), asmimāna, ātmamāna, māna, asmitā, ātmadṛṣṭi

However, as far I can tell, traditionally none of these terms is ever used in the same way that CT uses "ego." His use of ego seems to be more similar to ahaṃkāra as used in the Samkhya system - a more volitional, active (but mistaken) agent. Is that correct? Was this usage in the Buddhist context an innovation of Zen teachers and CT, or are there traditional texts describe ātman/bdag as a sort of scheming agent rather than just a nonexistent, falsely imputed thing?
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Paul
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Re: "Ego" and Buddhism

Post by Paul »

I think this is a very good question. The term ego is used a lot in English language Buddhist texts, but maybe not understood that well.

Is the seventh consciousness the 'scheming ego'? I think it's a good fit, especially as it's specifically named the klesha mind.
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muni
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Re: "Ego" and Buddhism

Post by muni »

Indeed! Many words' translations are seeming to have other meanings by cultural backgrounds.

The root of the tricky movie.
Ego or Mickey Mouse. Big ears, so behaviour, mice characteristics, colors, language so and so...

Not a bad behaviour or bad one but being tricked by own created thing and 'becoming' it. All what Mickey Mouse experiences as passing natural so called thoughts is his, many outer things 'are/are not' his. All what is his is right, others right is wrong....the world of Mickey Mouse who is in fact surpressing, fooling nature like it is. It is a concept which we seem to become; all the time playing someone while dragged in created changing movie.

To see how the movie is going in action, without being dragged by or run behind/in phenomena...and so with most simple joy ( without because). then indifference isn't while no consciously intention is benefitting neither.

The lion watches from where the stone is coming, the dog runs behind. To be the lion and 'see ego'. You see?

One way to talk about the word "ego" only.
*I do not teach separation.* sz.

Wisdom beings know that we are not separate. This is why they are able to grant blessings."
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tobes
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Re: "Ego" and Buddhism

Post by tobes »

I think it is extremely misleading, and should be abandoned.

'Ego' in the western philosophical parlance has many different meanings, none of which have anything to do with the logic of avidya, the skandhas, and the relation between Atman/Anatman.

Probably the most useful starting point is to consider Descartes cogito: the ego as a thinking substance....and the various permutations of this idea via Kant's transcendental unity of apperception, phenomenology (Hussel's transcendental consciousness) and existentialism (Sartre's being-for-itself). Nothing in that particular philosophical history strikes me as being commensurable with Buddhist ideas (caveat: Yogacara and Husserl, but that it is a different matter).

I think the other main context is psychoanalytic, where in Freud's model the ego is the reality principle constantly mediating between the ID (unconscious) and the superego.....again, to deploy this sense of "ego" in the Buddhist context, unless one is engaging in a specific comparison with Freud, is simply a confusion.

One more context to consider is not so much philosophical, but more an ordinary usage ~ where 'ego' tends to imply narcissistic self-interest. I think that is the sense in which Trungpa uses the term, and it is somewhat helpful.......but ultimately I think that using the term in that way simply leads to a reification of something which in every respect, never existed in the first place: there is no ego, in any of the senses I've just mentioned, so what point is there speaking as if there is?

:anjali:
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mudra
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Re: "Ego" and Buddhism

Post by mudra »

I tend to agree with Tobes for similar but perhaps not identical reasons, it depends.

Basically ego is a very specific term in 'western' psychology, and has a very specific function etc, which I strongly feel doesn't really represent what self cherishing/self grasping is about. I think the two do overlap in some ways but are not identical.

Using the term in Buddhism simply confuses the matter. To be fair during Trungpa's days (early days in non-academic western introduction to Tibetan Buddhism) it was probably expedient to use the term in so far as it hadn't really been thoroughly thought through. But translations and terms change and improve, it's evolutionary, culturally contextual, and also depends on the translators themselves. (Terms are major stumbling blocks, but idiom too can trip up a translator).

Every language has it's own mindset, and it can take quite a long time for these things to be ironed out between one language and another. Having done direct, consecutive and simultaneous translations (not from Tibetan) for about 20 years, I can assure you that it can be quite a headache not only to develop precise terminology in languages that have a completely different mindset, but then, as you evolve, to change or take the superseded terms out of circulation. But like it or not, you do have keep evolving. So even if a term like 'ego' was used by Lamas early on, it doesn't really justify the continuing use now.
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Re: "Ego" and Buddhism

Post by muni »

Using 'ego ( related meaning through culture! ) or solid me' in teaching can clarify deeply the root of misperception, as that it is. It is easy to compare consciousness stream with a river. The river Ganges has no little me who is the boss of the freely streaming water. Like that consciousness streams without frozen thoughts but freely thoughts. As in these freezing thoughts little separate me settles, conditioned by its illusory creations by habitual tendencies. Ego = Samsara.

Shechen Gyaltsap said:

"Clinging to the notion that a self actually exists
Is taking the thought of I to be an actually entity
And results from a mistaken apprehension
Of the perishable aggregates.

If one examine properly
The collection of these aggregates,
Which are multiple and impermanent
Like lightning, a waterfall or a butter lamp
One sees as when mistaken a rope for a snake,
That the self is nothing but a misperception;
It is non-existent, devoid of intrinsic reality".

It is said: Ego is subtle, its tools intellectual-emotional easy turn in weapons (to protect its being) and so suffering state. In that way I see this translation which is a very important one.

Another word can be taken! If the word brings confusion, to what?

In Psychology is there now talk by some broad minds, not all, about ego arising out of the idea of a me who is. But then they say: "how so can there be a me without a you? How you can be there without me". And so the veil of the separation gets a light on it for further psychological investigation in interconnection. Then they say: "finally we come to a point we cannot further examinate".
So there is some recognition of the limits of the conceptual mind, which is great. but again only so by broad minded ones.

Just a thought: we are analysing too much, thinking too much while not the words but their meaning as tool are important.
*I do not teach separation.* sz.

Wisdom beings know that we are not separate. This is why they are able to grant blessings."
https://garchen.net/wp-content/uploads/ ... ditate.pdf
Greg
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Re: "Ego" and Buddhism

Post by Greg »

Interesting discussion so far, thanks to all. I'm more or less in agreement with the above.

It seems to me that characterizing ego as a scheming, volitional, active agent rather than a nonexistent, falsely imputed thing is potentially highly problematic. Perhaps he had in mind the seventh consciousness of the Yogacara system, as suggested above.

In any case, it seems to me an illustration of the pratfalls that come with the early establishment of a tradition -- it is very hard for the initial audience to suss out to which aspect of a generally heterodox tradition the teacher is referring, and also very hard to suss out what are his own possibly suspect interpolations.
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Grigoris
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Re: "Ego" and Buddhism

Post by Grigoris »

The word ego (εγώ) just means "self" or "me". The permamanency of Atman seems to put it more in line with the term "soul" rather than "self". But from a Judeao-Christian-Muslim perspective "self" and "soul" are almost synonymous, actually I would say that the soul seems to be the metaphysical basis for the self since even these traditions understand the impermanence of the physical body.
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ronnewmexico
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Re: "Ego" and Buddhism

Post by ronnewmexico »

Unfortunately ego means many differing things in difering contexts. In freudian psychology which is its inceptive factor in modern english by most takes what we take to be ego in modern religious terms is really id. Id being the impetus for pleasure. That would probably extend to a kelesha consciousness by some interpretations. Ego then perhaps being in that context the sixth consciousness in tibetan terms.
So but one example we can have difficulty in this deterimination as our understanding of what is ego differs as per context.
Wikipedia as per example has three catagorizations of ego by common term/philosophical, religious and phychological.
"This order considers that progress can be achieved more rapidly during a single month of self-transformation through terrifying conditions in rough terrain and in "the abode of harmful forces" than through meditating for a period of three years in towns and monasteries"....Takpo Tashi Namgyal.
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tobes
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Re: "Ego" and Buddhism

Post by tobes »

gregkavarnos wrote:The word ego (εγώ) just means "self" or "me". The permamanency of Atman seems to put it more in line with the term "soul" rather than "self". But from a Judeao-Christian-Muslim perspective "self" and "soul" are almost synonymous, actually I would say that the soul seems to be the metaphysical basis for the self since even these traditions understand the impermanence of the physical body.
:namaste:
I'm not so sure ~ there is the problematic of authentic self vs inauthentic self in some of the theistic (and indeed, Brahmanic) traditions which complicates the picture.

In that respect, self, ego and soul are really not equivalent. Ego seems to invoke the idea of a lower, more base, more sensory, more desiring concept of the self, which is inauthentic against the purer, innately moral or reasonable 'higher' self, often signified as soul.

Sometimes, especially in ancient Greek thinkers, soul meant all the elements of the self or psyche (i.e. in Plato, reason, thumos and desire).

It's different for different thinkers.....so I think it's just confusing and misleading to deploy any of these terms without qualification.
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Pema Rigdzin
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Re: "Ego" and Buddhism

Post by Pema Rigdzin »

I think a Tibetan rough equivalent is something like "dag dzin" which I think is like "self-grasping". Doesn't ego just mean "I" in Latin and Greek? If so, I think it works perfectly. If one investigates one's mind, one will notice that none of the characteristics that we associate with "I" are constant; they actually turn out to be rather fleeting, even if we're so used to being aware of them so often that we feel they are inextricable from our "selves." What is constant, though - except in the event of being in one's primordial state - is the binding up of knowing within this grasping tendency - a strong habituation toward identifying knowing as "self", and objectifying both its constant emanation of mental events and the in-stream of sense perceptions as separate and belonging to it.
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Grigoris
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Re: "Ego" and Buddhism

Post by Grigoris »

Pema Rigdzin wrote:Doesn't ego just mean "I" in Latin and Greek?
Yes it does, well in modern Greek it does. Here it is not such a confusing and mysterious multilayered term, we use it everyday in common parlance and it just means "me", "I" or "self".
:namaste:
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde
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mudra
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Re: "Ego" and Buddhism

Post by mudra »

gregkavarnos wrote:
Pema Rigdzin wrote:Doesn't ego just mean "I" in Latin and Greek?
Yes it does, well in modern Greek it does. Here it is not such a confusing and mysterious multilayered term, we use it everyday in common parlance and it just means "me", "I" or "self".
:namaste:
Hi Pema Rigdzin-lags and Greg -

It is of course that in Greek - but it has acquired another meaning in English which simply can't be ignored, all tied up with modern psychology terminology and concepts. When words are brought into another language they very often acquire new meaning. In my native Indonesian, many loanwords from Sanskrit, Arabic, Dutch, Portuguese, even English, have acquired different definitions.

Experienced translators, both oral and written, are usually very aware of the trap of literal translations, and then there are always difficult decisions to be made when there is no one single word that fits. But in this case 'self-cherishing' and 'self-grasping' are expressions which come very close and are not that big a mouthful, and for that matter neither is 'self'. Why go with a word that is super-loaded and that will immediately bring with it many different connotations?

For instance in English, one doesn't say "my ego" for "myself".

But even aside from that, in Buddhism, and especially in Mahayana Buddhism, we are more concerned with:
a) the self grasping, so you would have to say "ego-grasping" or egotism
b) when you start talking about the self of phenomena it starts getting really silly

Best wishes

M
muni
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Re: "Ego" and Buddhism

Post by muni »

Lots of words having more than one meaning.

This is "Ego" and Buddhism, in which Ego is automatically ignorance (dualism), as it "cannot be", cannot dwell anywhere when consciousness and mental stuff, outerworld aren't separate. Cannot be in reflection as nonstop transforming stream. It cannot be compared with other philosophies in which habitually, words-language are seen as solidified knowledge of solid me who understand.

In Buddhism ego is the grasping root-concept of worldy grasping, of misperception or samsara. To see its nonexistence is the key as how can there be any clinging then?
Without recognition, how can we know?
*I do not teach separation.* sz.

Wisdom beings know that we are not separate. This is why they are able to grant blessings."
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tobes
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Re: "Ego" and Buddhism

Post by tobes »

When I think about it, there is possibly some justification for using the term in relation to the kinds of subjective processes described in Asanga's Abhidharmasamuccaya...which is perhaps the Buddhist context for Trungpa's descriptions.

But I don't really think so in relation to the Pali sutta's and Indian Madhyamaka ~ where it is just misleading to posit something which has never come into existence.

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mudra
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Re: "Ego" and Buddhism

Post by mudra »

muni wrote:Lots of words having more than one meaning.
Sure, but in any given language and context, one particular meaning will be dominant. It's simply a linguistic fact that loan words don't always carry the same dominant connotation or even definition in the borrower's language. Even in English, the application of the same word on different continents can be quite different.
tobes wrote:When I think about it, there is possibly some justification for using the term in relation to the kinds of subjective processes described in Asanga's Abhidharmasamuccaya...which is perhaps the Buddhist context for Trungpa's descriptions.
:anjali:


slight justification I would say, outweighed by it's common usage and connotation.
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PadmaVonSamba
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Re: "Ego" and Buddhism

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

tobes wrote: But I don't really think so in relation to the Pali sutta's and Indian Madhyamaka ~ where it is just misleading to posit something which has never come into existence.

:anjali:
There is no "thing" which can be found to be ego but there is the experience of a continuously existing 'self'. This is what people attach to, and this is what is referred to as ego.
EMPTIFUL.
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Re: "Ego" and Buddhism

Post by emptydreams »

In my humble opinion, in Dharma context the 'ego' does not refer to an object but to the inherent notion to protect ourselves and to place ourselves as a priority above others. I could be wrong tho
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tobes
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Re: "Ego" and Buddhism

Post by tobes »

PadmaVonSamba wrote:
tobes wrote: But I don't really think so in relation to the Pali sutta's and Indian Madhyamaka ~ where it is just misleading to posit something which has never come into existence.

:anjali:
There is no "thing" which can be found to be ego but there is the experience of a continuously existing 'self'. This is what people attach to, and this is what is referred to as ego.
Indeed ~ and texts such as the Abhidharmasuccaya articulate this kind of experience, whereas texts such as the MMK don't.

:anjali:
Malcolm
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Re: "Ego" and Buddhism

Post by Malcolm »

tobes wrote:I think it is extremely misleading, and should be abandoned.
Agreed.
I think that is the sense in which Trungpa uses the term, and it is somewhat helpful.......but ultimately I think that using the term in that way simply leads to a reification of something which in every respect, never existed in the first place: there is no ego, in any of the senses I've just mentioned, so what point is there speaking as if there is?
Ego simply means 'I' in Greek and Latin. However, we use it in English as a term derived from Freudian analysis (primarily). In this respect, this use of the term does not exist in Buddhism. In Buddhism, (as you note) there is no concept like the Western psychoanalytical personality per se -- only a sense of a mundane person or a transcending person, a virtuous person or a non-virtous person, driven by positive, negative or afflicted mental factors. There is no idea of a balanced personality, per se, apart from a person in good health whose dhātus (vatta, pitta, kapha) are well balanced.

However, all people are egoistic, since we all have our self-interest at heart, and atma-graha and bdag 'dzin can easily be translated as "egoism". Egotism, is mostly what Buddhist texts means by "pride".

N
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that name does not exist."
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