Why is there so much conflict in our lives about everything, from conflicts in our own personality to conflicts in our family and community to conflicts with other countries and other regional and global conflicts? Can these conflicts be avoided and, if so, how? And is it possible to create a society which is free of conflict?
As we have seen in the previous posts, most of the conflict in our lives and in the world is created by the ego. What is the ego? The ego is the sum total our hereditary and acquired information. It is the persona that each one of us develops as a result of all this information in our minds and we become this persona. This persona consists of views not only about our own self but also views on everything else in the world.
Why does the ego create conflict? The ego is not without purpose. It has a purpose and this purpose is to protect life so that life can grow and reproduce. If you walk into a big grocery store, like a Walmart or a King Sooper, there are Asset Protection Officers, called APs. These APs are the ones who are roaming around the store and also sitting in the back office looking at the CCTV, watching out for people fond of shop-lifting and other activities damaging for the store. That is the function which ego performs for the individual organism. It creates a mind-set and thought process within the individual which makes the individual take actions to protect itself from others and keep itself safe, with the ultimate objective of growth and reproduction.
This mind-set includes being aware of the surroundings and responding effectively to all perceived threats arising to the individual. This means that the ego will consider every individual, apart from the host individual, as a potential threat and actually the whole world, apart from the host individual, will be considered as a potential source of threat. That is where division arises. We, as individuals, acting under the influence of the ego (which is acting as our personal AP), start perceiving everyone else as ‘others’ whose interests are mutually exclusive and opposed to ours and who must be kept at a distance.
Or, to take another example, we remember one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most famous portrayals as an actor, the Terminator, whose duty was to protect the young ‘John Connor’ who was to become the future “Resistance” leader. That’s a bit similar to what the ego is doing. It is protecting our young self so that it can grow up and reproduce.
That is the purpose and role of the ego. And the beginning of the world of the ego marks the end of the world of love. Our paths, as individuals, will now be separate. My interests will never be the same as yours. The oneness which we have inherently is now clouded over by the separateness coming from the ego. We stand divided. And once this division sets in, it naturally leads to three outcomes, i.e., self-centredness, judgement and conflict.
Self-centredness: since the ego’s goal is to protect the host individual, hence, obviously, the mind-set created by the ego is based on self-centredness. ‘I’ am the centre of my world. Everything should revolve around me. Everything should be geared towards fulfilling my individual needs.
Judgement: The self-centredness gives rise to, and becomes the foundation for, the principle of fairness and systems of morality and ethics. Everything which is centered around me is ‘fair’ and ‘right’ and ‘good’. And anything which does not centre around me is ‘unfair’ and ‘wrong’ and ‘bad’. That is the system of morality and ethics and fairness which the ego puts in place. Not too difficult to understand, given the task assigned to the ego, i.e., growth of, and reproduction by, the individual.
Conflict: I will be in conflict with everyone and everything that is ‘unfair’ and ‘wrong’ and ‘bad’, as defined above.
That is the definition and root cause of conflict.
Lets not forget, we are not judging the ego or the mind-set that it creates within the host individual. We are just trying to look at what might be factually going on in our minds when we act under the influence of the ego.
So, now, can we avoid this conflict? It will be a bit complicated, but as the wisdom teachers have been teaching us, it is possible.
Conflict arises because of judgement, which comes from self-centredness which comes from division. So the root cause of conflict appears to be division. And this division comes from the ego’s inherent identification with the host individual and its need to protect the host individual and to help it grow and reproduce, which is genetic. It is an in-built design. That is how we have evolved.
So, then, the question becomes, can we rebel against our genetic make-up? Can we swim against the tide of evolution? Or can we only flow along with it? Almost all of us do. We only flow along with the ego. We become our ego. The ego takes over and runs the show.
Very few have woken up to this reality. How did they wake up? How can I wake up?
It will be difficult. It is a matter of life and death for the host individual, that is, the physical me. I am built to listen to the ego. That is why it appears that all the great wisdom teachers have failed so far. Actually, they have not failed. We are still sitting here discussing the message they left for us. It might appear to us that what they have been telling us to do is suicide, but that is not true. They are taking us towards infinite, unending life.
We will go into that. But first, lets see why it will be difficult to shake off the ego.
As we discussed in the earlier post, ‘The ‘I’ Adiction’, at the time we are born, we bring some hereditary information with us, which 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. The acquired information also includes information on how to protect ourselves in the given physical environment.
As we grow up, we arrive at puberty which is life’s way of preparing us for reproduction. This process includes hormonal development. The body becomes capable of releasing hormones like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. These hormones make it rewarding for us to have sex, which ultimately results in procreation and once we have children, the purpose of life is served. We have done our part. We ran with the baton and, upon child birth, we have handed over the baton to our children, who now need to do the same.
So, to answer the question that we ask ourselves repeatedly, i.e., what is the purpose of life, this is the basic answer: to grow and reproduce.
That is the basic purpose. And that becomes the basic passion in life. And that passion stands fulfilled when we get married and have kids or have kids even without marriage.
However, given our evolution as a race, we have developed ideas about life that go beyond growth and procreation. We now think that there has to be more to life than just that.
And that is the cause of the phenomenon known as the ‘mid-life crisis‘. We educate ourselves, run after well-paying jobs, hunt for a good-looking spouse who will give us beautiful, smart kids, buy the best house possible and so on and so forth and then, when we have achieved all of this and the purpose of life is served, a point comes in life when the same question comes back in life, i.e., what is the purpose in life now? That is the real crisis in life, loss of purpose. And thats when people go off into different directions. Some, perhaps like me, try to find purpose in spirituality. Others find other hobbies or get divorced and remarry, trying to find the lost passion.
In any case, we have now seen why it is difficult to shake off the ego, i.e., we need to fulfil the inbuilt purpose and passion of life, which is procreation.
Now, lets go back to what the wisdom teachers have been telling us. Just to take the example of Jesus, the main thrust of his teachings was that we are eternal beings, covered by layers of the ego, which make it difficult for us to see our real self. We need to take off those covers and lose the ego. When we do that, the ego will die, the smaller, temporal, temporary self will die and we will be re-united with our eternal self. Or rather, more apt to say, we will become our eternal self. We will discover our godly self. The name he gave to this discovery of our godly self was ‘Kingdom of Heaven‘. But people thought he was talking about a political kingdom and when they crucified him, one of the charges against him was sedition, i.e., insurrection against Roman authorities.
Every true wisdom teacher had the same message, maybe delivered in different words or ways. But the gist of the message was always the same. I am not what I think I am. The real me is hidden behind the fake me. The fake me will have to die for the real me to emerge.
We did a post a few days ago called, ‘Tagore, The Moon And The Candle’, in which we saw how Tagore described the night when he sat working in the light of a candle. When he snuffed out the candle, the whole room became filled with the beautiful light of the moon.
That is a great parable for our lives. The real me hides behind the fake me, which is the ego. The ego has to do its job, i.e., prepare me for procreation. But by the time I have procreated and the ego’s job is done, I have become so accustomed to the fake me that it becomes impossible to say good-bye to it. The fake me becomes me. And the real me, the universal me, gets lost in the whole shebang we call life.
Now lets loop around to where we began, i.e., conflict.
Conflict begins with the development of the ego and this development is natural and in-built into our design. That is how life meant for us to grow. It created ego as a tool to protect us. But ego creates conflict. So, if ego is natural, then conflict is also natural. So, what do we do? Do we fight what is natural to us?
No. Fighting is never a good idea. The solution lies in the problem. Jiddu Krishnamurti used to say, the answer lies within the question. The mind, which contains much more than we can imagine, created the ego. And the mind also provided the wisdom teachers with the solution. And that solution is realization of the ego. As simple as that. The moment we realize what is going on, we have taken the first step towards resolution of the problem. The realization itself is the first step on the way back to ourselves. Ego / the divided self / the temporary self goes outwards into the physical world, the manifest world. Oneness / the universal self / the eternal self, from which the ego came, goes inwards into the un-manifest world, that which we cannot see. Once we start that journey, we are going back home, where we came from. That first step, the realization of the ego, will sound the death knell for the ego. We start becoming immortal and the ego starts dying. The two happen simultaneously. The more the ego dies, the more we become eternal / godly / immortal. And vice versa.
Hindus have called life leela, a play. Life is just a play of universal forces. These forces take us on a journey. One part of the journey is through this material world, in which we move with the ego and become the ego. The next part of the journey might be into the non-material world, where there will be no ego. We will be ourselves. Un-manifest, unknown, still, timeless.
The path to getting back home is stillness. This stillness will be easier once an individual human being has fulfilled the so-called purpose of life, once it has given birth to new life, once procreation has happened. But even before that, the silence, the stillness, the meditation required to realize our true eternal self is possible. In utter stillness, the ego evaporates.
And the moment the ego is gone totally, there is the Kingdom of Heaven, we have nirvana, moksha, tao, call it whatever you may. We fall out of time and into eternity.
And that is the end of conflict.
Of course, not everyone in the world is looking to end conflict. There are those who thrive or benefit in some way from conflict. And they may not initially find these words helpful. I am talking about military personnel, defence contractors, a certain kind of politicians, gangsters, hitmen, thugs, criminals, criminal lawyers, corporations who are invested in conflicts, bankers who fund wars and arms manufacturing and conflicts, etc.
And, going beyond that, actually, if we start thinking about it and start looking at our daily lives, there is conflict in almost every aspect of life. From people trying to overtake you in traffic or you trying to block them, to football, baseball, basketball and other sports, to encouraging your kid to be at the top of the class, to beating that other guy to a promotion at work, to beating the other person to the registers at the grocery store, is there anything in which we do not have conflict?
The best part is that some of these conflicts are seen as “healthy competition”. Healthy competition? No, sorry, but there is no competition which is “healthy”, which, of course, depends upon the definition of healthy. If you mean by healthy competition that the persons or teams competing will get better in that particular sports or activity by competing, then, yes, there might be healthy competitions. But if my definition of healthy is something that makes us more connected and compassionate human beings and makes the society a better one to live in, then, sorry, no competition can be healthy.
Next, am I advocating that we should not have sex, we should not get married or that we should not have kids. Not at all! I am not advocating anything. All I am pointing out is that (regardless of whether one enters into physical relationships with other individuals) there might be another way of living, in which the ego is not the master, in which fear does not control all of our actions, in which we may not need to divide ourselves and then compete with each other and thrive on conflict rather than oneness and compassion. On the one hand is the world of actions, acquisitions and movement. On the other hand is the world of stillness. And I am saying that its possible to look at both the worlds and that looking at both the worlds may bring a balance in our lives which, unknowingly, we perhaps need desperately.
Finally, a very huge question which I know I will not be able to answer fully in this post, but still, we can look at it very very briefly: can we turn the human society away from conflict?
A big NO; as we are today, we cannot turn the society in general away from conflicts.
But, an even bigger YES, we can turn the society away from conflicts. Even if just one person starts looking at herself / himself, if just one person takes that first step of realizing that conflicts are not necessary, that we do not necessarily have to be ego-based individuals, then the society has already changed a little bit. And I know in my heart that that one person will become a catalyst for further change.