Dear Mr. Lucille,
Thank you for your reply. Let me tell you, however, that there would have been nothing wrong with a well-founded, well-supported criticism of what I said in my letters; no quarters given to my ego. But for one reason or another, you brushed it all aside, wishing to “start from scratch” and “forgetting everything you and I know about the spiritual path to liberate a space in which a mutual understanding can blossom.” Still, even this would have been alright, were it not for the fact that you had no intention to keep your side of the bargain. It would have been fine as well, had I been talking about the ego without troubling myself with its diverse meanings. Fine too if, rather than trying as best I could to support my argument, I had indeed wanted to show off what I know of the spiritual path.
I said what I said in my letter in order to make a point. My point was, that the ego does have a relative existence, contrary to the claims of an acquaintance of mine, who supposedly spoke on your authority. To support my position, I touched upon all three meanings of the ego; even four. I spoke of individual consciousness and likened it to a drop of the ocean; the latter being Consciousness as such (two “meanings”). I spoke of mind which, via memory, vehicles your no.2, namely “personal memories, skills, qualities, behavioral patterns,” etc. I will call it now ‘empirical ego.’ And I recognized no.3, stressing however the culpability of its passion. I tried to show, that this last layer of the subjectivity, is just as real or unreal as your second; and to show that the individual subjectivity with all its aspects is real in one sense and unreal in another; except, of course, the innermost divine Center which, as you say, is ultimately the “sole, real agent at all the stages of the way.”
Having touched on all these meanings, more or less, and subsumed them under the term ‘subjectivity,’ I argued that they are all real at their respective levels; something you implicitly did as well. For, if words have any meaning at all, then the ‘meaning’ of a word is the reality of that, to which the word points. Clearly, then you addressed yourself to three realities, or to three aspects of the one reality which I called the ‘subjectivity.’
The weakness of my position lay in the fact that I did not classify… which, in a way, justified your intervention, as well as the fact that some of what I just said, and am saying now more explicitly, was then rather vague and more or less implicit. Your input, therefore, helped and forced me to be more precise. But, in so doing and, in a sense, guided by your classification, it became obvious to me, not only that your classsification was fragmented and fragmnetary, but that your denial, of what I would call the ego of ignorance and passion, was ill-conceived. What is more, the meaning attached to ego by my acquaintance was already given by his statement, which I quoted, and quote again: “I exist, but not as a psychological construct, a mere concept, a non-entity, which is what the so-called ego is.” He is clearly not speaking of the first two of your classification, but refers to the last; no need, therefore, in making your answer dependent on what anyone may have meant by ego. This last of your explanations, on the other hand, is to Westerners, who are more likely to be mired in the outermost layer of their subjectivity, quite deceiving. For, it seems to say that there is no such thing at all.
You may recall my purpose of writing to you: to get definitive, clear answers from you for a man who seems to think, subconsciously, or whose passionate ego wants to think, that Enlightenment via Advaita Vedanta is a purely cognitive affair; so much so that it would appear to him that the Way of Advaita is certain to leave the passional side of his lower ego unscathed. This illusion on the part of a Westerner in the face of Advaita Vedanta is all the more plausible since the latter lays doctrinal stress on the cognitive aspects of the human subjectivity. And this is as it should be, for Easterners are more contemplative and less passional (to distinguish it from passionate) than are Europeans. It is not for nothing that the West has known, more or less, (for the last two millennia; almost four in the Abrahamic tradition) only of religions who saw the culpable, passional ego as the root cause of the human predicament.
But both doctrinal emphases, the Eastern and the Western, are equally correct. For the former it is the dimming light of the descending ray which is emphasized, for the latter it is the concurrently fading heat of that self-same ray. None, however, would be complete if it did not, and does in practice, incorporate its complement. After all, you will agree that apart from men who are simply ignorant, there are men who do not really want to know some truth or the Truth; and others who, both consciously and unconsciously, oppose it (this is individualism). As for Westerners, not only are they more action and passion oriented than the peoples of the East, but their passional individualism sits deep, having been ingrained in the course of close to seven centuries of so-called ‘progress.’
All meanings of the ego, therefore, as you defined them, have this in common: they lack the aspect, sentiment (‘heat’ in the analogy above). In pure Consciuosness this is represented positively by the ethical as well as the aesthetic or musical dimension of the divine Reality, which balances the mathematical. At the level of the empirical ego, which you also accept as somewhat real since it is, as you say, “not an empty concept,” it is the emotional make-up of the individual which more or less determines how he sees himself. Number three, finally, is for you nothing but ignorance; yet, here it is where sentiment becomes passion.
This lack of symmetry, this absence of the the complement throughout, makes your classification fragmentary. It is fragmented, furthermore, by the fact that it distinguishes three separate meanings, which would not only be meaningless unless these meanings pointed to realities but, it seems to me, these meanings or realities should be considered as being parts or aspects of the one reality, which I have called ‘the subjectivity.’ The transcendent center of it would then be the transpersonal subjectivity of the Self. This on account of the necessary correspondence between the macrocosm and the microcosm.
Your classification is fragmentary as well by the fact that you literally conjure away the outermost layer of the subjectiviy. For, if ignorance is the absence of truth or reality, it does not follow that, therefore, it has no existence whatever, unless that absence is total. Being total it would be another Absolute; and surely, you cannot mean that. The fact is, that nothingness is something, not in itself, but in virtue of Being.
It is Being that lends it reality. For the world is real to the extent to which it partakes in Being and it is unreal to the extent to which it partakes in nothingness. Were it not for the structural constituent, nothingness, in the being of the world, the world would be the Self. No one could then call it by any other name.
We only know nothingness as the lack of something. Lacking something it has deleterious effects; and effects prove real causes. Would the Buddha have been moved by compassion for the sufferings of humanity if the nothingness of absent health or eternal life, etc. had been no more than the figment of his imagination? We are beset with privative phenomena which testify by their very relative existence, that any lack of someting is something relatively real.
What follows, if I reasoned correctly is, first, that the question of the ego’s existence does not at all depend on the particular meaning one happens to have in mind. For the ego is one ego, or subjectivity, and the so-called nothingness of its outermost layer is relative, not total. It therefore exists, just the same. You say: “Ignorance is a belief that is totally devoid of supporting evidence. The only role it plays on the way is to get out of the way,” meaning, by contrast to your foregoing discussion of the empirical ego, that there is no such thing. This, I submit, is an ingeneous way of negating something, while not really negating it. The first part of it playing the seeming role of denial, the second being a veiled affirmation. But the first part is also misleading, for it sees ignorance, the “belief that is totally devoid of supporting evidence” as a nothingness, pure and simple. Yet, human ignorance is always a lack of something, namely of some, or part of a, truth; even the Truth. And that, as I have shown, can never be total.
All I have done was trying to apply the lessons I learned from my Master, who knew how to put things where they belong, and considered it important that one had the certainty of real knowledge - in the mind - before attempting to interiorize it, existentially, via the method. That this involved the virtues and their practice, as well as the invocation of the Holy Name goes without saying. I, therefore, pray that it was veracity which moved me, when I said what I said, and I hope that it will be in the spirit of veracity that it be received.
For the sake of my acquaintance then, who always thinks that the grass is greener elsewhere, would you, please, answer the following questions with yes or no:
Is ‘ego’ a meaningless “psychological construct”, an empty concept, a “non-entity,” having no reality at all?
Is the passional, or ego of ignorance, likewise empty?
Does the latter play an important, though negative, role in the initial stages of the Way of Advaita Vedanta?
Do you consider this ego to be an obstacle in the Way, such that it must be moved out of the Way?
Would the lower ego of an as yet unenlightened person survive, as is, the rigors of the Advaitan Path?
I take from your letter that we both agree that the individual subjectivity with all its aspects is real in one sense and unreal in another; except, of course, the innermost divine Center which is ultimately the “sole, real agent at all the stages of the way.” From our mutual agreement follow logically the responses to your five questions, both at the relative level and at the real or absolute level:
The relative answer is no, The real answer is Yes
The relative answer is no, The real answer is Yes
The latter seems to play a role, but in reality only the innermost divine Center, the “sole, real agent plays all the roles at all the stages of the way.” The relative answer is Yes, The real answer is No
It seems to be an obstacle, but what could possibly be a real obstacle for the innermost divine Center? The relative answer is Yes, The real answer is No
The ignorance of an as yet unenlightened person who honestly seeks the Truth, no matter the path this seeker takes, will not ultimately survive.
The relative answer is No, The real answer is No.
Note regarding answer Nr 5:
The path which is the most appropriate, Advaita or another way, will be provided for by Grace to such a genuine seeker. If we wonder which one is the better teacher: an enlightened being with no knowledge of Advaita or one who teaches this method and hasn’t realized his true being, the answer is clear: the realization of the teacher is primeval, the method used, ancillary. The reason for this remark is that I am not attached to any method, and that my heart recognizes the same Truth in the teachings of many sages both of the East and of the West (Buddha, Lao Tse, Huang Po, Huei Neng, Ashtavakra, Gautapada, Abivanagupta, Shankara, Ananda Mai, Krishna Menon, Ramana Maharshi, among many others, on the East side; Jesus, Plotinus, Rumi, Parmenides, Meister Eckhart, Jean Klein, among many others, on the West side). Nor am I attached to the sole direct path of non duality. I equally recognize the value of the progressive paths which are better suited to many truth seekers, provided these paths are taught with absolute honesty by a truth lover. If this truth lover is completely free from ignorance, he or she can then guide the disciple all the way to the final realization. It is not Advaita that I honor, or any other method or teacher, but the Truth and the Love in all methods, teachers, beings, and especially in You, William, whose interest for the Truth is evidenced by the time you have taken to write these letters and the consideration you have given to my answers.