It is increasingly popular within the new age movement to villainize the ego and see it as something constantly at war with our spiritual evolution. While this does appear to be its main purpose at times—especially among people who live under its constant control—that is to understand only one aspect of what it does. Since the personality is a manifestation of the sponsoring ego, which is itself a byproduct of the mind, it is also responsible for helping us operate in the physical world, making any effort to destroy the ego not only impossible but unwise.
We need our ego, without which we would simply drift along in life without any meaningful interactions or experiences being possible. Additionally, a truly egoless person would have no sense of self (or time and space, for that matter) making their continued presence on this planet a moot point. The ego is a necessary component of living within the physical world, without which we would be left adrift like a rudderless boat. It is the energy behind not only our personality but our creativity, determination, emotions, and desires, without which we would have little capacity to do anything but remain in a timeless state of eternal bliss.
While that might sound like an ideal state of being, it would be the end of the process of spiritual evolution, at which point there would be no reason for the soul to take on more incarnations. In that respect, then, it really may be the means of ending the treadmill if rebirth, exactly as eastern religion maintains.
This is all fine, but what about the claims that the ego is that part of us which makes us often dangerous? After all, it was the same egoic energy that drove Hitler to try to conquer Europe, leaving millions of dead in his wake, so isn’t it something we might be better off without, especially considering the potential danger it represents?
There’s no doubt that an unbalanced ego can be a dangerous entity in the wrong hands. The ego can drive a person to commit the most violent acts of cruelty if it does not develop in a healthy manner. What happens in such cases is that the ego becomes so dominant that the manifested personality it produces becomes incapable of seeing others around it as things of equal value to itself, often resulting in narcissism and, in extreme cases, murder—sometimes on an industrial scale (as was seen with Adolf Hitler and many top Nazis).
It also is the cause of much individual suffering as well. It is the ego that grows bored or depressed or jealous and reflects that in personalities devoid of joy, peace, and forgiveness. In some cases, an ego can be so wounded that it can drive a person to commit not only horrific acts of violence but even compel a person to take their own life. It is the energy behind most divorces, addictions, crimes, and murder, and on a collective basis is the power behind racial strife, the exploitation of the environment, social injustice, corporate greed, and war.
Further, it can be difficult to detect in oneself, for it often hides itself behind a veneer of self-righteousness, self-defense, and self-confidence. It can even be charming and personable to a degree, making it especially difficult to see clearly in many people. What makes it dangerous is that it usually sees itself as the center of the universe, making any efforts to deny it that perspective an attack upon it.
To the ego, even something as benign as constructive criticism, a challenge to a statement made in jest, or even some minor difference of opinion can be seen as an attack that demands an immediate counterattack or, at best, a temporary withdrawal. This is why people often react so angrily to even innocent, off-handed remarks that it perceives to be an attack upon their character or competence, or why some people seem to withdraw from all human contact after being criticized. It is because their ego feels diminished, and so it either attacks or pouts, which is, in turn, reflected in the mood or actions of the personality it manifests. This is the cause behind so much discontent, unhappiness, or resentment in our lives—or what spirituality calls “pain.”
It is no wonder, then, that many teach that the way to eliminate pain in our lives is to transcend the ego. However, I believe that even if such was possible, doing so would be a mistake for reasons already stated. But we can’t just let it run wild, creating all kinds of problems and difficulties for individuals as well as entire societies, so what is the solution?
That’s where the soul enters the picture.