How To Let Go of Your Ego
Here Rinpoche describes how to diminish your ego and the attachment to self-clinging, through engaging in a two-part contemplation.
Not all aspects of ego are bad. Sometimes when people study the Buddhist teachings, they begin to get the idea that “all ego is bad.” But I think there’s a misunderstanding there. Not all aspects of ego are bad. So don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, as they say.
In terms of working with ego, we have to take a couple of steps.
The First Layer of Ego
First, let’s take a look and see the first layer of our ego-clinging. This is the part that, when you look at it, is actually nonsensical. This aspect of ego is not productive and it’s not beneficial, but we are clinging onto it anyway. We cling to this ego due to various wrong habits we have developed. And those are the aspects we should put in our “Let Go” box. In another box we can keep a few aspects of ego that are still useful.
So this first layer of ego we’re talking about is the exaggerated ego. This is the part that insists on serving “I, me and mine” over the needs or feelings of others. If you contemplate the results this ego brings, you can easily see how its methods have never really worked.
They have never worked in our relationships––they’ve never brought any productive result there. They have never worked at our workplace environments or brought any productivity there, either. And they have never worked on our spiritual path, for sure. They did not bring any result of realization.
So why keep it? Why keep this layer of ego? It’s not good for our home life, it’s not good for us at work, and it’s not good for our path . . . so why?
If you start right there, it becomes easier to let go.
So you can start by considering that first layer of Ego –– the part that is useless, nonsensical, exaggerated, and nonproductive. Contemplate those attitudes, thoughts and behaviors that have historically given you and others so much trouble. Then it’s easier to become willing to let go of them.
So to begin with, we can develop a habit of letting go of our Ego in any of those situations where it tends to come up.
Next, Contemplate Further
Gradually we can look a bit deeper and begin to identify the various ways that we are being self-centered. At that point we can see even more clearly how this aspect of ego is not beneficial in the end.
A person who is self-centered, self-obsessed, narcissistic . . . Other people don’t really want to hang out with someone like that. But if you can let go of these aspects of ego, you feel so much joy, so much happiness. Everybody will love you.
When we look at our self-centricity and the reasons why we engage in such attitudes, it doesn’t make much sense. What can we really achieve with that approach? It’s just not logical. Because the more self-centered you become, pushing your agenda and insisting on whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish, it actually makes the whole thing much harder.
Getting to Know the Ego: An Exercise
1. Pick a time when you had a very strong wish for something to go a certain way, but it didn’t work out as you had hoped.
2. What was the ego’s position, or its message? What was it saying to defend its position? Write down this message briefly.
3. What about this message created a problem for you, or for others? Write down a few quick thoughts, nothing too elaborate.
4. If you were not able to let go of the ego’s message then, could you let go of it now? If so, take in a deep breath, gathering up any tension, then breathe out that tension, and relax. Sit quietly and rest for a few moments.
5. Go back to where you wrote down the ego message––the one you just let go of. Reading that message now, has anything changed for you? In a few words, write down whatever you notice.
To learn more about letting go of the ego, read “The Myth of the Self.”