The Ego/Self-System Part IV:
- May 20, 2019
- Posted by: jaime
- Category: Consciousness
Krishnamurti said that what he was talking about was very simple, and, being simple, the audience would miss it.
We have reached the final installment of the series. From the previous installments, there is now a lot of information, along with ideas and contrasts, available for consideration and speculation. Also, at this point, a juncture has developed. So far, the stated positions of Krishnamurti have been contrasted with others, which may form junctures of agreement concerning views of self and ego. However, going beyond the ego is the sole province of Krishnamurti, and that is where we are now.
Psychology, as mentioned earlier, only seeks to bring about more comfort and ease within the ego. Brain science, even though it can describe the neurological processes creating representations, admits it really cannot explore the inner workings of the ego because it is purely subjective. The information collected and parallels explored will provide a platform for exploring Krishnamurti’s comments further, regarding what going beyond the ego may entail.
As in the other parts of this discussion please be aware the author is not trying to convince. The following material is exploratory and speculative; it is formatted to hopefully aid in the examination and understanding of the self and ego.
Who Are We, Anyhow?
The research presented in these articles indicates that the sense of self is just that, a sensation created and projected into consciousness by the brain; basically, it is an idea of who we think we are. And, like all ideas, it is a representation and not a “thing.” The idea of self is attached to identifications: heritage, family, nationality, occupation, really any kind of affiliation in any way and with any group, past or present, that it is identified with. All of these identifications blended together form a sense of self, but is that who we really are? Are they not all a composite collection of descriptions captured as fragments in memory? These fragments in memory can have a useful function for mapping and locating social and occupational positions of the self that are rather legitimate. However, it is the sense of ownership, of command and control, which may send human consciousness in a wrong direction for life’s management. And this sense of self-ownership is essentially the ego with all of its attached psychological reactions, judgments and ambitions. Krishnamurti, in discussions with Dr. Bohm, says humanity has made and continues to make this “wrong turn.” Krishnamurti also speaks of a place that thought should never go. Are these statements closely connected? In other words, is the wrong turn the place thought should never go? If so, the indication would have something to do with formulating a fixed idea of who we are and then confusing the idea for reality.
Krishnamurti said that what he was talking about was something very simple, and, being simple, the audience would miss it. He also frequently mentioned that an unconventional view of time was involved in what he was trying to say. The ending of time is presented as a necessary ingredient in gaining a negation of held false concepts. Did he mean the negation of past and future and a focus on the now? If we assemble an ending of time, the wrong turn, misplaced thought and all we have learned about how the word, as self/ego, is not the thing of who we are, is there a way to view all of this in one glance that identifies something very simple? Here, for your consideration, is a possible answer to that question: simply stated, are we what we are doing? Are we really our current, active behavior, nothing more, nothing less? The doing, though, includes not just our activities and the immediate sense of motivation and decision, but also, and more significantly, all the material in the turgid darkness of the subconscious. Most of the ego is in these depths, and from it, subtle but powerful energies from our entire psychological makeup directly, but invisibly, influence and direct what we are doing. That is the area that awareness must attempt to illuminate.
We know what the conscious is; we know we live, move, function from day to day, keep going on without knowing like a machine which is running down the hill or up the hill. When this is pointed out to you, the conscious mind then begins to watch itself. But there are hidden layers of the unconscious, which control the conscious, because the deeper layers are much more vital and much more active than the so-called superficial mind. Is not the so-called unconscious mind the residue of all the struggles, pursuits of all humanity, which expresses itself outward, as in the Hindu, with its big tradition of custom and culture?…
It is important to find out what is the unconscious. Do not read books. They will only describe what the unconscious is. But their description will prevent you from discovering it. But if you begin to enquire into it intelligently, not judging, not saying ‘this is it’ or ‘that is not it’, but watching the whole process of the mind – which is meditation – then you will see that there is very little difference between the unconscious and the conscious.
If we are, in reality, what we are doing, some very interesting aspects appear. First, the implication would be that we are all something, along with all else, that happens in the now, and this now is a timeless place of constant interaction of all the cosmic elements from which issues constant creation. It also means we have no ownership of who and what we are; we are a manifestation in the constant stream that is the now. If this is correct, and if there is no way to capture who we are by thought, what could see or view the person as a doing entity? It would seem that, to view something in the moment, the viewer must also be in the moment, and, as far as consciousness is concerned, using images and ideas from memory would not qualify. That would constitute a past, as self/ego, invading and commandeering the present. I think a great question arises from this seemingly impossible situation. Is there a state of consciousness, an awareness, that is not filled with thoughts? If so, would that be an awareness of the present in the present by the present? And, if that is correct, would this be an awareness that could grasp the totality of what we are doing?
An Interesting Duality
Let’s take a different perspective to see if the situation can be clarified. A duality can be discovered by examining how humans tend to view existence. One view looks out at the world and sees objects and events as manifestations of creation. The human observes something, anything, in the outer world, and that thing, whether it be a tree, a mountain, the stars, an insect or whatever, is just there as something brought into existence by nature; it is essentially owned by nature, the cosmos. And everything that observed object can do is a part of its cosmic and evolutionary development. The object does not own these properties, has not created these properties. Everything just is the way it is, and it all is happening in the present moment. Now, however, when we view ourselves or fellow humans, a totally different perspective is used that is essentially from an ego’s perspective. Say someone has just accomplished something and has received recognition of some kind. Ego comes in and says, “I did this,” and there are usually many implications in this claim of ownership. Pride may be there as a part of ownership that may also spawn a sense of comparison and judgment of others, resulting in a sense of superiority. Accomplishment can feel really good, but not just as an accomplishment, but also as a sense of ambition for becoming, of finally almost getting there. One feels buoyant and energetic about the future while seeing one’s self succeeding there. This is just an example of many possible events and different evaluations, some positive and some negative, but the essence remains. There is the formation of an idea of the self associated with ownership of the self doing the event and the judgments from ego that follow to create a mood carrying into an imagined future. Even when we say we are this, that or whatever, we are fixing this position as a place in the future, because it is a fixed sense of identity going into the future.
Basically, the duality comes from viewing events and objects outside of ourselves outwardly and events concerning ourselves from an inward, ego-oriented position. Can the duality be challenged by asking if an accurate and realistic position requires all, including ourselves, to be viewed from an outward position? Let’s put the question differently. If everything our brain is observing issues from the same cosmic source then amongst what we are perceiving should we not also include our own thoughts, feelings and mental processes including ideas of who we think we are as a self/ego construct? I think that if everything is seen inclusively that the ego claiming itself as a “doer” must be seriously challenged because everything, including the “me” or the “us” is arising from the same source in the same timeless moment of now. We, along with all else, are just events happening. If this is true, it means who we are is what is being generated by the brain in the moment, and the only way the brain can maintain a sane relationship with the now is by paying close, honest attention to what it is doing via the feedback loop of consciousness. This is the only function by which the brain can observe its own functions in real time. Without close attention, the brain easily goes into fantasy realms and hallucinations. Sensory hallucinations were proven in sensory deprivation experiments decades ago. And, if ego is dominating the observation process, inevitable distortion from the defense mechanisms will occur in the information feeding back to the brain. Ego is basically a way the brain cherry picks received information. The ego protects the brain from contradictory information about who we think we are. In this way, the illusion of self buffers against the intrusion of an outside view that could dispel that comforting illusion.
Another question now arises. If the brain is observing a steady stream of incoming information in a way that it takes no position regarding that information, which would include the observation of itself mixing in a feedback loop with fresh sensory input from the outer world, it would seem the quality of the observation would be free of memory. Observation would mesh with the flow from the outward position, crystalline and be free of prejudice, as pre-judgments accompany an inward position. Pure observation. If this is possible, how would something new be received by the brain and brought to consciousness? It could not be in the form we are generally accustomed to because that process involves holding a concept as a thought in consciousness and then mulling it over. That is called thinking, and it involves thoughts from different memory representations being contrasted and compared. It is a super tool and totally necessary for designing and building things. Thoughts and ideas are contrasted with other thoughts and ideas as a stream of ideas emerging from the interactions. This works well when the materials used can retain fixed properties long enough to be useful. But nothing truly new can come of it: no radical departures, no revolutions; only modifications and extensions are possible, and that is what seems to happen when self/ego is formulated. It would seem that awareness issuing from consciousness in pure attention would be of a totally different nature and would be the only mental process that could track the brain’s own thinking processes. I wonder if Krishnamurti is describing just such a process when he speaks of insight. Is insight a coalescence in consciousness, originating from the brain’s contact with nowness?
When I act on a conclusion, my action must be continuously mechanical, though at the beginning I may have had an insight into it. Now, if one doesn’t draw a conclusion at all but only insight, then action is non-mechanical. Therefore that action is always creative, it is always new, it is always living. So a mind that has insight and doesn’t draw a conclusion and therefore acts, is in the movement of continuous insight, constant insight. Have you understood this? Understand, not verbally but actually, you see the truth of this, as you see the truth of a precipice.
This constant insight without a formula, without a conclusion which puts an end to that insight, is creative action. Please look at it, go into it yourself. It is astonishingly beautiful and interesting, how the mind, which is thought, is absent when you have an insight. Thought cannot have an insight. It is only when the mind is not mechanically operating in the structure of thought, then you have an insight.
Insight is acknowledged and people have reported its effects. Generally, it is described as an uninvited, lightning-like event in consciousness that leaves the one having the experience feeling taken aback. Inventors and artists have spoken of it, as well as others. It has been described as an epiphany, an unexpected awakening, something profound, a departure from held views, a deep sense of inescapable truth. We know it happens, but we know nothing about it. It is a mystery; we have no control over it, and it has nothing to do with effort or plans.
I think we shall understand the significance of life if we understand what it means to make an effort. Does happiness come through effort? Have you ever tried to be happy? It is impossible, is it not? You struggle to be happy and there is no happiness, is there? Joy does not come through suppression, through control or indulgence. You may indulge but there is bitterness at the end. You may suppress or control, but there is always strife in the hidden. Therefore happiness does not come through effort, nor joy through control and suppression; and still all our life is a series of suppressions, a series of controls, a series of regretful indulgences. Also, there is a constant overcoming, a constant struggle with our passions, our greed and our stupidity. So do we not strive, struggle, make effort, in the hope of finding happiness, finding something which will give us a feeling of peace, a sense of love? Yet does love or understanding come by strife?
Now, Krishnamurti acknowledged the place of thought; it was necessary for specific activities; it was a great tool, but it had its limits and, if it those limits were transgressed, it brought about chaos and unnecessary suffering. So, is the creation of ego that transgression? Does ego block or sever the connection to insight? Conversely, was insight a core guidance connection that Krishnamurti relied on, thus relieving his mind of a need for control and the fears that create that need? It does seem that fear, control, ego and the invention of the past/future time complex are somehow tightly interwoven.
The problem, then, is not how to free the mind from fear, or how to have a quiet mind in order to dissolve fear, but whether fear can be understood. Though I may be afraid of many things – of my boss, of my wife or husband, of death, of losing my bank account, of what my neighbors say, of not fulfilling, of losing my self-importance – fear itself is the result of a total process, is it not? That is, the “me”, the self, the ego, in its activity, projects fear. The substance is the thought of the “me”, and its shadow is fear; and it is obviously no good battling the shadow, the reaction.
The “me” is protecting itself, longing, hoping, desiring, struggling, constantly comparing, weighing, judging; it wants power, position, prestige, it wants to be looked up to; and can that “me”, which is the source of fear, cease to be, not everlastingly, but from moment to moment? When that feeling arises, can the mind be aware of it, examine it without condemnation, judgment, choice? Because, the moment you begin to judge, to evaluate, it is part of the “me” that is directing and so conditioning your thinking, is it not?
I think we can now look at other aspects of the possibility that we are, and only are, what we are doing, by considering other statements of Krishnamurti. He speaks of reading the book of one’s self as being our only real guide. In fact, he stresses that he and his statements are not important except as an indicator of the need to carefully examine and read this book of self. Put Krishnamurti aside once this is understood; go into yourself. You will be alone on this journey without a plan or map of the terrain. It is the unknown, a place that cannot be captured by thought, idea or image. It is the pathless land. It may also be the place where the insight connection is formed. One thing is rather clear about insight, it cannot be controlled or harnessed. It seems to be beyond the grasp of ego and intent. However, it seems that, for most people who have experienced insight, there is no record of them having a profound change inwardly. But, for some, insight seems to have brought profound change. Krishnamurti and Buddha come to mind, perhaps some others, but this type of occurrence is very rare. So, what could account for the fact that insight does not always bring profound, personal change and a radical revolution in consciousness? We have to speculate here by wondering if a specific insight is necessary for a true transcendence of ego. If that is the case, logic would indicate that an insight into the ego itself might be the key that opens the door. But that could bring in an existential paradox, as the ego, which originates from the brain to protect itself from existential fear, wants to have nothing to do with losing its security blanket. Opening up to allow insight into the nature of ego might be similar to asking a person who is terribly frightened of heights to leap off a cliff by telling them that, after they leap, a parachute will magically materialize and open to save them.
This seems like a horrible dilemma, but perhaps there is a different way of viewing it. Maybe in being born we have already leapt off this cliff anyhow, and we are falling and falling to our inevitable end, all the while practicing our beliefs and struggling to maintain the ego and stay busy with all our habits and preoccupations — falling while mulling over the past and fantasizing about the future. Maybe falling is life, unavoidable and, except for some puny abilities we have, mostly uncontrollable. The upside is that, really, we have nothing to lose in deeply doubting the reality of our ego-projected world. Let’s face it, it is a pretty messed up place anyhow.
Truth Is a Pathless Land
The dilemma of life for humans has prompted much thought, speculation and proposed methods for an alleviation of our existential suffering. Different types of so-called meditation, diets, exercises, retreats, beliefs, etc. have been proposed as a way of transcendence. If the material of these articles is correct, they will not work. The reason is actually technical. The known, as in knowledge and information, is stored in memory and memory can only be of the past. The issue is, once again, time. Going beyond involves contact with the unknown, which is the unfolding of the now, that scary place the ego wants to stay away from. Plans and programs for liberation are sleights of hand whereby the past, via desire (for liberation), is working (it thinks) toward the goal. Simply put, this is just the past projecting its desires into the future. More ego, different package, new and improved! It is desire wearing the robes of spirituality.
Freedom from the Known
If the information and research presented are correct, a series of logical conclusions can be drawn regarding the teachings of J. Krishnamurti:
- We all share this thing called ego. (You are the world.)
- The ego is a creation of the brain in an attempt to manage existential fear. (The ending of fear.)
- Consciousness is filled with memory downloaded by the brain. (Consciousness is its own content.)
- As the creator of the ego, the brain is the true observer looking at itself. (The observer is the observed.)
- Conscious efforts and methods stem from the ego as a proposed path. (Truth is a pathless land.)
- Abandoning the ego is up to the brain by seeing the danger of its creation. (Choiceless awareness.)
- The brain’s surrender would happen from the brain’s silent operations. (Without effort.)
- Abandoning the ego by the brain is an embrace of the now reality. (The ending of time.)
- Undistorted observation of the brain by the brain can bring profound change. (The seeing is the doing.)
Krishnamurti shared his insights with us, and they are stunning. Only now are some of them being confirmed by science. In the years before the technology and knowledge were available, thought alone could never have come upon Krishnamurti’s claims concerning the operations of the brain. Truly, this must have issued from the action of insight. Examining the self-centered concerns of the ego probably lies beyond science’s reach. This is why I think Krishnamurti’s insight concerning the implications about the pathless land is so amazing yet so totally logical. However, a paradox seems to arise. Can there be a silent mind, or a place in the mind, that can function outside the grasp of the ego to be able to observe it? In other words, is there a silence to observe the noise? I think there would have to be, otherwise, the ego-noise goes on uninterrupted forever, or at least until death do us part. There would be no reason for Krishnamurti to even discuss it or bring it up. However, this dilemma or paradox is a valid consideration. My guess is that many people would deny that they have powerful and deeply buried fears of life and death and that their sense of self/ego has been devised by their brain to prevent paralysis. Everyday awareness says this is ridiculous; there is no paralyzing fear and self/ego is real. If this is the case, and if Krishnamurti and science are right, a different quality of awareness must be necessary for penetrating ego’s wall. A superficial view will not suffice to plumb the depths of the subconscious. Finding the quality of awareness to do the job is probably the deepest challenge facing all serious inquirers of Krishnamurti’s teachings. That, too, is part of the pathless land, and I wish you all very best in your pursuit. It will not be easy, but, after examining the consequences of a life centered around self/ego, is there really anything else worth giving one’s life to?
Article by Robert F. Steele, MA
Robert is a retired mental health counselor and lifetime student of Krishnamurti.
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