Ego and Mindfulness, by Corrado Pensa

Statue of Buddha in Vietnam

Image via Wikipedia

I would like to consider the words of Buddhadhassa Bhikkhu when he said that many people suffer mental disorders, but a much more common disease is a spiritual disease which goes by the name of ‘me’ or ‘mine’. Most of us, it seems, need to work to be healed from this illness.

What is it, then, that we usually refer to in this way? What is it that we call ‘ego’, ‘me’, or ‘mine’? Ego is the totality of what is classically called ‘afflictions’, the afflictions being attachment, aversion, and ignorance; ego is our deep habit for attachment, aversion and ignorance. In other words, ego is being attached to attachment, being attached to aversion, being attached to ignorance. Unless we taste real peace, we tend to be attached to desire. We see desire as having a value in itself, something energetic, as something which can for a while take us from our boredom and depression, etc.

Unless we taste some inner stability which gives us a little more clarity and perspective, we are easily attached to our several forms of aversion. We think we don’t care about the many resentments we have against other people, or against ourselves, and then we go into retreat and start seeing a mass of aversion. The most important thing we begin to see, however, is not the aversion itself, but that we are holding onto it as though it were a treasure and we are afraid of letting this treasure go; we are afraid that if we lose this important thing, if we start letting go of this resentment or aversion, then we shall lose our identity.

Sometimes when we hear the words ‘let go’ we think that means letting go of something fascinating. That is true to a certain extent, but much of what is meant by ‘letting go’ is related to what is painful. Out of a deep habit, we are attached to many forms of aversion, which is to say, we are attached to many forms of suffering, and we hold onto them. We are also attached to ignorance. We may know, for example, that being recollected, being mindful, is a good thing; we know we have never regretted being mindful, and yet we choose to drift along with a total lack of mindfulness. Isn’t that attachment to ignorance? Isn’t that yielding to the momentum of unawareness and to its power and strength?

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