At the time we are born, apart from the hereditary information contained in the DNA, we have no other information or memory.
The hereditary information relates to the development, functioning, growth and reproduction of the individual. And then, after birth, we acquire all the rest of the information, including learning, perception and memory. The hereditary information and the acquired information come together to form the personality which we identify with. This includes: our name, our physical body, our family, our moral / legal / belief systems, our financial and property needs and desires, our sexual and other pleasures, our nationality, our social circle of friends, acquaintances and colleagues, the foods and drinks we like, the arts and entertainment we enjoy, the literature or journals or other material we read or get information from and so on and so forth.
While the personality (the sum total of the above) keeps changing based on the information we keep accumulating and our priorities in life, the one thing that remains unchanged is our belief in, and attachment to, the ‘I’. Every individual has this self-centric view of the world in which the ‘I’ / the ego is at the centre of attention and whatever is not part of this ‘I’ is the other / the world. Both, ‘I’ and the world, are seen through the lens of the ego / the personality. The personality, which is the sum total of the hereditary and acquired information, determines how I see myself and how I see the world.
In one of my earlier Posts, we talked about the gestalt theory advanced by the Berlin School of experimental psychology, which postulates that human beings create a gestalt, i.e., a model of the world, a world view and then everything in the world is defined in terms of that model, that gestalt. Our personality (the sum total of the hereditary and acquired information), which is the ego, is that gestalt. Once that gestalt is created by the mind, we then view everything in terms of that gestalt. The ego is the lens through which we observe everything.
Jiddu Krishnamurti used to say, the observer is the observed. What he meant was that the observer and the observed, meaning ‘I’ and the world, come from the same source, i.e., the ego or the personality. There is no independent observation as long as the ego is in control. The ‘I’ and the world are images coming from the same source.
The great wisdom teachers all saw this control of the ego and suggested ways and means to enable us to see beyond the ego, to look without any lens, to observe independently. But humanity has failed to rise to the challenge. We are too comfortable with the system. We are addicted to the ego, the ‘I’, and there are so many other things going on in life that it is impossible to even stop and take a look at the bigger picture.
Stephen R. Covey wrote his most popular book, Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, many years ago when I was in many late teens and I remember it as the first and one of the most effective self-help books I have ever read. One of the things he has encouraged us to do is to develop the ability to take a look at the bigger picture. An example he gave in this regard was that of a group of lumberjacks who get a contract to cut trees. They go into the jungle and start their work. After some time, one of them, who had some doubts about the location where they were working, went up one of the trees and took a view of the whole jungle and realized that they were in the wrong part of the jungle.
What Covey is telling us is that sometimes we need to rise above the smaller things in life and look at the bigger picture. And in doing that, we may learn something new, we may develop a new perspective on life, we may realize that what we are working on currently is not what we were meant to do.
That is also what the great wisdom teachers have been teaching. Rise above the ego and take a look at the bigger picture. And, in the spiritual sense, the teachers are saying, take a look at your bigger self. And once you see your bigger self, you might realize that your whole life, to date, has been futile. The real treasure is somewhere else. The real net worth is something else. The real love is something we have not experienced yet. The real meaning of family is something we have not understood. The real religion is something we have not come across yet.
So, the biggest addiction is this addiction to the ‘I’, the personality which is the gestalt / the lens we use to perceive and interpret the world.
A part of this gestalt of the ego is the idea of death. Death is a construct / an invention of the individual mind. For the ego, there is birth, the beginning of life, and there is death, the ending of life. This ending is the end of the ego. It is the point at which the personality, the sum total of the hereditary and acquired information, dissolves and ceases to exist as a unit. In reality, if you look deeper, there is no ending. At the point of the so-called death:
– the human body, which is a packet / quantum of energy, disintegrates and some parts of it are consumed by other animals and some parts of that energy just disintegrate and become one with the universal field of energy
– the brain, which is also part of the above quantum of energy, disintegrates with the body
– the mind, the silent observer, which was a part of the universal mind and which contains the imprint of all the events that occurred in its field of observation, remains as part of the universal mind.
Nothing ceases to exist except the ego. So, if there is a ‘death’, it is the death of the ego. If all you have is the ego, then death is certain. But if you have realized something in addition to the ego, then death is just a concept, a construct of the mind which can be put aside.
This is what was meant when the first part of this Post mentioned that the ‘I’ addiction is the most fatal addiction. Except for a handful of people down the ages, no one has escaped the ‘I’ addiction and it has lead everyone, billions of people, to their deaths. Those few handful who saw beyond the ego realized that there is a whole wide world beyond the ego, the real world, not the world projected by the ego, not the world which is a construct, an image, an idea, set up by the ego, but a world beyond the images, beyond sense perception. Those are the only ones who escaped death.
That world, the other world, exists when this world ceases to exist. As long as we are here, we cannot be there.
Words cannot describe that world, even the words of great wisdom teachers. And least of all the words in this Post. It is beyond words and images. In that world, you / the ego does not exist. So, death is not even a possibility.
With this view of death, we can now circle back to the key realization which all the Buddhas, the Jesuses, the Lao Tzus of the past have been reminding us, let go of the ego and regain your deathless / eternal nature.
As I mentioned in Part 1 of this Post, it took me 16 years to give up my cigarette addiction. I have been working even longer on my ‘I’ addiction. As of now, I can experience only a few moments everyday that I can see, and be independent of, my ‘I’ addiction. Very few moments. But those few moments are the most tranquil yet powerful and exhilarating moments of every day. They keep me going, they give me a purpose of life and they keep me passionate about life. And I feel that with time, these few moments will increase to bigger time intervals in which I will be free of the ‘I’ and be more in sync with the bigger picture. I hope to continue working on that.