Has Spirituality Become Another Ego Identity?

Spirituality in the West has been severely distorted; being a marketplace of trinkets, self-help gurus, healers, a huge variety of spiritual practices, substances and so on.

Somehow this culture has taken something very pure and simple and turned it in to something commercial, something competitive and into that which it is not. Our western mind is moulded into wanting to attain something and some people on the spiritual path have spent their entire lives trying to attain, only to be as stuck and bound as they ever were.

It’s this very desire to attain something, this wanting to reach a ‘higher state of consciousness’, which is what keeps people bound and seeking. By definition, to be a seeker, you have not yet sought, and therefore those who are always seeking do not find. One of the great Tibetan Buddhists Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche who played a crucial role in bringing Buddhist teachings to the West during the Chinese occupation has this summary to say about awakening/meditation/enlightenment in Meditation in Action:

“Meditation is based on three fundamental factors: first, not centralising inward; second, not having any longing to become higher; and third, becoming completely identified with here and now.”

So in context with the rest of the chapter this is in, he is referring to our ego, or our idea of who we are, the “me”, the “I”, has no solidity to it, and not to uphold the belief that it exists. He denounces the striving to become better or higher – as pure consciousness cannot be increased or diminished. Nothing about healing, nothing about crystals or chakras or ascension or needing to strive or to take certain substances… just to be.

Enlightenment

It’s a funny word this one, and has so many connotations and ideas surrounding it. In western culture it’s usually thought to be something that one attains after maybe 3 or 4 decades meditating in a cave, but the more I read and the more I journey, the less it seems this word is about reaching higher states or personal attainment.

“Strictly speaking, there are no enlightened people, only enlightened activity.”

This was said by the great Zen master Shunryu Suzuki and I can see how this fits in exactly with what Ram Dass’s Hindi guru Maharaji said to him when asked how to become enlightened. He replied “Love everyone, feed everyone, serve everyone.” How very simple hey? But in today’s mad world, do you know anyone who truly does this?

It seems that enlightenment refers to realising our true being – what it is that we really are. This is why all the spiritual teachers I’ve come across – from Tibetan Buddhism to Zen to Advaita Vedanta to the Upanishads, usually refer to it as “Self Realisation” rather than enlightenment. Finding out that we are not our thinking mind, we are not our body, we are not our emotions, feelings, desires or aversions; that we are aware of all these things, not intrinsically them. They use words like awareness, consciousness, God, the Buddha nature, emptiness and so on. It’s essentially awareness being aware of itself, and seeing as each and every one of us are already this awareness, we are all already “there”, but we have identified ourselves with the things we are aware of (body and mind) and have limited ourselves by doing so, making this the cause of all the suffering in the world. We are used to focusing on external appearances; our body, our intellect, our differences, our beliefs, but the more we turn our attention inward to our own inner workings and that awareness that is always there, we find a depth to our being that is almost scarily profound.

So this is not something that we can attain – which is hard for the western mind to comprehend, because it is so conditioned to attain. It always wants to one-up others, to be on a pedestal, to be seen, to be higher, but it is this very egocentric behavior that keeps people bound. This is why anyone who refers to themselves as being enlightened, you can rest assured that they are not; and usually when the great spiritual teachers are asked whether they are, they will dodge the question.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche once said in one of his talks “So you’re enlightened… what now?” He was poking fun at the western worlds way of wanting to attain and become a higher or better person, but practically in everyday life what does that mean for us? Do we shut ourselves away in a dark room meditating all day? Do we walk around with our chest puffed out, our groupies and our inflated ego? This is where for me, it comes back to what Maharaji said. If we act from the place of that realisation that we are all the same essence just with our different masks on, then we will treat others as our self, making differences irrelevant and the notion of “other” as inevitably irrelevant too.

“Everywhere I go, I meet myself”

Shunryu Suzuki

Surrender

The underlying current of most sages and mystics on spirituality is that of surrender; in giving yourself over completely to the whole, to help and heal those in need, and relinquish all desire in furthering our own career/bank account/self-image. We can help so many people, if we just step out of the social norm of progress and work, and stop caring so much as to what others think of us. There are most likely people living on our own street that struggle with bills, food, money, TLC and there are the seniors who could benefit from our youth, the poor who could benefit from our generosity, the lonely who could benefit from our warmth. Do any of these struggling people truly care about how well one can meditate?

It’s very easy to get caught up with the spiritual tag, and use it as a concept, an identity, instead of as a way of being. It’s really easy to get attached to the idea of being spiritual and to identify as one of the many labels out there from “indigo child” to “lightworker”, which really only separates us in another form from our fellow humans, as it’s a way of raising our self to be of supposed higher moral ground and special.

Being spiritual doesn’t mean continuously working on our self in meditation and yoga. That’s the whole point; service to others, ending the suffering and separateness in other beings. Giving and sharing without the need for reciprocation or acknowledgement. If a hand feeds a mouth, does it matter to whom they belong to? The best way it seems to attenuate the ego, to surrender and release ourselves of attraction and aversion is to serve others. Not to worry about gaining all these amazing experiences, communing with angels, seeing in different dimensions or raising ourselves on the meditation pedestal. Surrender ourselves and serve others.

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43 comments
  1. Someone had to say it and you said it perfectly! I couldn’t agree more, thank you for reminding me & everyone else what truly matters.

  2. Awesome article, Andrew. The fact that this spirituality movement is changing peoples egos, is a great sign that it’s working- but I agree, it’s not great to see self-proclaimed enlightened people with their chin up, spreading their smug ego around. Of course, we can’t be ego-less all the time, we’d have to be isolated all the time, with constant influence of these positive values. We just have to make it so that the ego is subservient to these values; to the spirit. It’s either that, or we settle with constant conflict pertaining to self-gain.

    “Strictly speaking, there are no enlightened people, only enlightened activity.”
    That quote just about sums it up, so we must take action and influence. Much like you have with this article, thank you.

  3. Great article and spot on. It has become another set of labels, concepts and judgement. Its really the opposite of all of that. We should just be of service, without any of the above.

  4. This is why I hate when people call others “sheeple,” or “sheep,” or to a lesser extent, “still asleep.” Yes, it’s important that we as a collective learn of our true nature and begin serving humanity before it’s too late, but separating ourselves as the better, enlightened ones isn’t going to help. Insulting others for not getting on the ‘enlightenment’ train faster than you isn’t going to quicken their progress of getting there- it’s going to slow them down and make them resent you if anything. The fastest way to love is to be loving.

    Unfortunately, I still suffer from this myself and am trying to reach a state where I can meditate for the sake of talking to angels and moving around in dimensions because it’ll be pretty cool. I’ve recently been encountering a lot of ‘coincidences’ where I’m being told that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be done. Thank you for writing, this has lead to some beneficial self-reflection.

    1. Seeking powers is a negative-ego trap. Seek Truth and Morality is the Way and Path. It has nothing to do with other realities, other dimensions and other being. Be here and now on the ground in this reality and help to change it. Peace.

  5. Serving others is not the point either, just chill. Enlightenment is just another label for a grasping people. Activity, what a fearful people does. Let go and let God… be still and know that I am God. It’s not complicated until we decide to complicate it.

  6. Its so good to see this sort of thing written. There is a term called spiritual selfishness that is abound in this age, and in addition to that spirituality has become packaged and processed. Makes you want to run a mile and empty everything out.#

  7. I like what you said. It reminds me of the Voice Dialogue process and the book “Embracing Ourselves” which they do talk about the spiritual self can be a primary self and disown other parts of self as judging them as being less than. I have never understood the term enlightenment and it seems another state to strive for. It’s a word that gets tossed around but I don’t understand it. I guess I will one day.

    1. Light is truth. Enlightenment happens when One begins to remove any uncertainty or doubt. It is these grey areas that obscure your true light. Simplification is the Way. Lets try to enlighten your sentence to find the light of absolute:” I guess I will one day.” By removing the grey area of “I guess” leaves “I will One day.” And simplifying the enlightened sentence even further lead “I” to “One” I equals One, just One. Be One,
      I hope this helped enlighten you,
      =

  8. This is a very good article much of it resonated with me. I think I’ve done a lot of the things he said I’ve become a little obsessed with “becoming” and looked down on others who didn’t appear to be as “enlightened” as me. I think the solution is so workable its been called the “golden rule” seeking out the welfare of others is something I can do and so can anyone else. It seems to be true that the western version of spirituality has, often, become the comodifying of spirituality. Thank you for this timely response.

  9. Continually ‘working’ on Meditation and yoga serves me immensely. Doesn’t concern me whether it’s spiritual or not, nor does it feed my ego. It does however nurture my body and is helping me overcome chronic pain and injuries that I’ve ‘carried’ over the past 20 years.

  10. I once heard a term, called; “spiritual arrogance” at a spiritual conference held by Divine Meetings The speaker was referring to how, even on our spiritual path, we can compare spirituality with others thinking ours is more significant and essentially creating separation… the opposite really of what spirituality is about.

  11. I once heard a term, called; “spiritual arrogance” at a spiritual conference held by http://www.divinemeetings.com The speaker was referring to how, even on our spiritual path, we can compare spirituality with others thinking ours is more significant and essentially creating separation… the opposite really of what spirituality is about.

  12. “If it must be that one’s most sacred shrine be profaned, let it be the clean assault of laughter rather than the slimy smear of sanctimoniousness!”-Aleister Crowley

  13. Well said!

    My thoughts are filled with doubt, hate and remorse for those that consider themselves religious – christians in particular.

    I feel religious individuals fill their thoughts with a philosophy that creates a mentality of discrimination towards other individuals. My mentality is that I am better than those that are religious!

    How hypocritical, of me, to think in such a way; in essence, I am not only filling my thoughts of doubt towards religious individuals, but myself as well.

    I have had numerous psychedelic experiences showing me that we are all one, and yet, my mentality is not truth entirely parallel with the truth.

    This article gives me further drive to put action towards the fact that we are one.

    Thank you

    1. Brian, well expressed. I identify with your comments regarding psychedelics & conscious awareness as well as the balance of your statement.
      Thank you for articulating so elegantly

  14. I see the alignment of practice and principle being clarified in the article. An important distinction. Where do you see the spiritual discoveries happen? For the individual? For Humanity? For instance Physics has developed into a system to understand the nature of forces. There is a known area in the pedagogy and then at the outer shell of this concept where all the doctorates pool is the cusp or ever expanding boundary of what that concept is. What systems work for understanding the mind? If we are not our minds. What is a thought? What is an idea? what is a concept? How do they interact with us? Do they exist with out physical human experience? I have recently realized that I don’t really know these answers and that has lead me to some interesting discoveries.

  15. quietly delighted to ourselves that articles like these are written & shared among the conscious community!
    spiritual ego can be one of the strongest egos there is xx
    ‪#‎collectiveevolution #consciousIRL‬ #BeChange #‎Anonymous‬ #‎YouCanToo‬ #‎globalshift‬ #onthejourney

  16. This is such an eye opening and ego smashing article. It’s exactly what I needed to read. I am so grateful/ Thank you.
    I know that it will be a journey to get back to serving, and retraining myself out of my selfish ways, but I can try my best.
    Once again, thank you.

  17. Everyone’s path to surrender is different – I think it is important to honor them all, even if they “seem” like a label to us.

  18. This is why people like Terence Mckenna, Timothy Leary, Joe Rogan, etc are such advocates for the psychedelic experience. Psychedlics are very ‘democratic’. They work for everybody. No need to meditate for decades, or to cling to a guru or whatever. Take a sufficient dose, and they will disolve your ego, they will deliver. 5 to 6 hours of your time is all it takes. Terence Mckenna nailed it when he said ‘ i shopped the whole spiritual supermarket, and there is nothing that interests me on the level of 5 grams of psilocybine mushrooms. That’s where the pedal meets the metal, that’s where the rubber meets the road’

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIG25NdOWIs

    1. I agree David, only to an extent though. My belief (and that’s all it is), is that psychedelics give us a little hint, a clue as to what’s possible, and the true nature of ourselves. But as Ram Dass always says “what comes up, always comes down.” I agree with this, in that the psychedelic experience is a temporary, transient experience.

  19. I agree that enlightenment isn’t real, it’s only the moment. I also think it can be a useful concept sometimes for describing the purpose of the path. I also agree that we live in a culture that has commercialized the spiritual but this article dismisses all explorations that don’t fit the author’s path. There are as many relationships to a spiritual path as there are people on a path. Chakras and crystals may not lead to enlightenment but there is an authentic side to this sort of exploration that can aid in deep healing, there can also be a very shallow relationship with this sort of identity. Overall, I think the culture is waking up in good ways, thinking differently, healthy exploration of traditions from around the world.

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