Early on, I surrendered bits and pieces of my ego (the obviously more harmful bits) and in general my disciplined practice brought me much peace and contentment; I led a relatively calm life. But my ego was still very active on matters both large and small.
It is only quite recently that I am for the most part free of my ego … free of emotions, judgments, and attachments. (Even when I wrote my post “End of Suffering Cheat Sheet,” two years ago, all the necessary elements were not yet in place), It is a change in my life that is palpable as I go about my day. There is no question.
While I have discussed the various parts of this transformation in different posts, I wanted to aid my readers by clearly setting forth, in one place, what for me has been the path to this freedom from my ego. (This should be read in conjunction with the post, “12 Stepson the Buddhist Path,” as well as the “End of Suffering Cheat Sheet.”)
1. As I have often said and written, of central importance to making progress on the path is a rock-firm belief in the teachings of the Buddha … namely that we are all born essentially perfect with our true Buddha nature in side us; that our true self is that nature not our ego; that the cause of our suffering is craving, our emotions; and that we have the ability to free ourselves from our cravings and emotions and thus end our suffering by turning our will and our life over to the care of our true Buddha nature. This is the first requirement. Without that faith and belief there can be little progress.
Further one needs faith that our true Buddha nature would never lead us anywhere that would harm us, or where we would not find peace and happiness. For when we turn our will and our life over, we have no idea where our heart will lead us, probably not where our mind would have lead us.
I have had an unshakeable belief in the teachings of the Buddha from very early on in my practice. When I read Sogyal Rinpoche’s The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying a light bulb keep going on in my head, “Oh, that’s why this has been going on!” The teachings resonated with my life experience and made perfect sense.
2. And so from early on I had the second requisite to freeing ourselves, which is the intent to surrender my ego, to turn my will and my life over to the care of my true Buddha nature. I took the Precepts and began a daily meditation practice from which I have not wavered in 20 years.
But while I clearly had the intent, I cannot say that I was ready and willing to turn all aspects of my ego over to the care of my true Buddha nature. To surrender every last vestige of what I felt was myself.
That readiness and willingness, as explained in my post, “Step #5: Were Ready And Willing And Made A Decision To Surrender Our Ego … “ is essential to actually doing it. While as indicated above, I had that willingness regarding some aspects of my ego, the readiness to turn it all over required my experiencing the truth of the third requisite.
3. The third requisite is to know that not only is our suffering caused by our cravings and emotions, but the emotions, judgments, and attachments that are the source of our suffering are not our true self.
As the Buddha taught … if it causes us suffering, then “it is not us, it is not ours, it is not ourself, for ourself would not cause us suffering.” The monk, Huyen Te, told us of his practice of naming his various feelings and perceptions and saying, “Not me!” while flipping his arm up and snapping his fingers.
Intellectually, I had no trouble accepting this truth. However, that acceptance and the practice of saying “Not me!” did not change the power of my primal ego over me. My fears in particular had as much control over me as ever and caused me much suffering.
It was only many years later, in fact only a little more than a year ago, when in a meditation I realized the truth from within myself that fear, and thus all my emotions, were just a product of the mind. See my post, “Proof of the Nature of Mind - Fear, Ego, and Buddha Mind.” From that point on, fear rarely raised its head, and when it did it was easily put aside and I returned to my abiding faith that all will be well regardless what life throws my way because I will always return home to my true Buddha nature and be at peace and happy.
At this point, all the major emotions that had caused me suffering had been defanged. They were still part of my ego and thus will always be there, but they were no longer in control. I was ready and willing to surrender them.
4. But despite this rather huge step on the path, I could not say that I generally felt happy. Instead I felt that there was still a gray cloud hanging over me. It evidenced itself most concretely in the frown that I felt almost continuously in my facial muscles. I had been aware of this for more than 10 years and had tried different spiritual exercises at various points to rid myself of this frown. But nothing worked more than for a short period.
Then this past year, my partner and I read the Sufi book, Personality: The Art of Being and Becoming. The central teaching of that book is that our true self is our heart. That the heart is pure. That all the forces that disturb the heart’s peace and happiness, it’s harmony, are not natural, are foreign to it. That foremost in our practice should be our intent not to allow anything to disturb the heart’s purity, it’s harmony … not to allow outside impressions to imprint themselves on the heart and to purify it from those that have already imprinted on it. And the greatest purifying force is love, for oneself and all others.
The teaching of my heart being my true self resonated with me strongly. I had intuitively felt that before, but the teaching of this book crystalized this vague understanding. I now for the first time knew not just what my true self was not, I knew what my true self was. For my heart is light, love, faith, trust, compassion, strength, courage, and wisdom. This deepened my practice and strengthened me.
Then one day, as related in my post, “The Heart’s Embrace,” I was discussing my frustration with my perpetual frown with my partner and he suggested that I meditate on something he had recently read … opening up your heart to embrace all aspects of your being and experience. As related in that post, the meditation was transformative. With my heart’s embrace all internal and external struggle ceased because my mind rested undisturbed. As the ancient Chinese poem, “Affirming Faith in Mind,” says, “when the mind rests undisturbed nothing in the world offends, and when no thing gives offense all obstructions cease to be.” When nothing offends, there is no catalyst for the emotions, judgments, and attachments of the ego-mind.
As I went through my days in the following weeks, when I sensed I was feeling blah or gray, I would just take in a deep breath and feel my heart embrace all aspects of my being and experience, my in-breath hugged me, and I knew again that I had everything I needed within myself to be at peace and happy, and I would smile.
5. The final (possibly?) and related step occurred one day shortly thereafter when I was feeling blah at the gym. As related in my post, “Change Your Life by Changing the Direction of Its Energy Flow,” I realized in a flash that it was in my power whether I was at peace and happy or suffering. No one or nothing else had that power.
And the way I exercised that power (for peace and happiness, obviously, for I do not want to suffer) was to have the compassion and positive energy that is in my heart flow out to myself and everything and everyone that I encounter. To see everyone and everything through my heart, not my mind. That energy creates a force field around me which does not allow any negative energy from my ego or from what I encounter to reach me. That positive energy has the force of the outgoing tide which nothing could stop, unless I stopped it.
And so after more than 20 years of disciplined practice I have come to the point where for the most part I have found the way to turn my will and my life over to the care of my true Buddha nature; to surrender my ego. I say, “for the most part,” because I am not so foolish as to believe that I am enlightened or to believe that my ego will not find an opportunity to grab me by the collar and shake me again. But even if and when that happens, I have faith that all will be well because I have faith that regardless what life throws my way, I will always go deep inside myself and return to my heart and see things through the eyes of my true Buddha self, my heart.