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Ego Death

Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Ego Death?

"Ego death implies the total freedom from the overall self-representation."

— A. H. Almaas

Ego death is the complete annihilation of identity, one does not have identity in the usual sense; our identity is now with the presence of Being. 

The Point of Existence, pg. 129 

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Ego Death

Can a Person Experience Ego Without a Body Before he Dies?

So the death experience we have just described, the dissolution of the identity with the body, does not necessarily mean the death of the ego. The death of the ego itself is a deeper thing. You may know that you aren’t your body, but you still have a mind, an ego. You are now attached to your inner experience, experienced as somewhat disembodied. You’re attached to your psychological identity, your psychological makeup, to all your thoughts and feelings. This is the source of all the other identities. The self-image, the body image, the body identification all emanate from this kernel, this pea of identity. This finally is the ego. This is why people who die are not necessarily free from the personality, the ego identity, because even when they die consciously they are not free from the mental configuration, mental existence, their personality. This means that a person can experience ego without a body before he dies. The moment you see that you’re not your body, it is possible then to see the ego, finally to identify the center of the personality—the ego that we call “myself” or “I.”

Cessation of the Activity of Identifying

The capacity for global disidentification allows us to be permanently in touch with our essential presence, although the identity and the self-representation remains in experience. This condition allows the experience of self-realization to arise, at least occasionally, when the identity relaxes to the extent of total absorption by (or into) essential presence. The more this capacity for global disidentification develops, the more frequent, and the deeper, are the experiences of self-realization. This development continues, in principle, until permanent, full self-realization, where total global disidentification coincides with complete absorption of the self-representation, and complete openness and flexibility of identity. Complete flexibility of identity raises the phenomenon of disidentification to a new level, beyond the normal egoic experience. This flexibility involves the dissolution of self-identity, or more accurately, the cessation of the activity of identifying. This condition, which occurs in isolated experiences of self-realization, but is the permanent condition of full self-realization (enlightenment), is what is referred to by some traditions as "ego death" or "the death of the self." In this state of complete annihilation of identity, one does not have identity in the usual sense; our identity is now with the presence of Being. In other words, our identity has shifted from the self-representation to Being.

Death of the Self-Identity

It is clear here that the ego or self which is annihilated in “ego death” is not the ego of depth psychology and it is not the actual self. It is specifically the self-identity. The death of this identity merely means that there is no barrier or resistance to the presence of Essence. There is no need to uphold an identity based on a psychic structure that is bound to have some rigidity for the simple reason that this psychic structure is based on a representation, and that the representation is based on past experience. This might prove to be irrelevant to the arising dimension of presence, but it is an irrelevance that is bound to function as a measure of inflexibility. Ego death also implies the total freedom from the overall self-representation. This condition does not necessarily mean there will be no more self-representation or identity; it means that this representation does not pattern the experience of the self and that the identity is not experienced as oneself. The self is the presence of Essence itself, and when the identity is present in experience, it is perceived to refer to a superficial manifestation of oneself.

Ego Death Feels as if Everybody Else is Dead

To be completely you means being alone. When this is experienced, it will bring very deep grief and sadness. You have to learn to say good-bye to everything you have loved -- not just your Mommy and Daddy, your boyfriend and your cat, but to your feelings, your mind, your ideas. You are in love with all of these. Letting go of them will feel like a great loss, even a death. It is not you who dies. What dies is everyone else. In the experience of ego death, you don't feel you're dying; you feel everybody else is dead. You feel you're all alone, totally alone. You have lost a boundary which was constructed from past experiences. But this boundary never really existed! It was just a belief. When you experience reality as it is, there is no sense of boundaries or of being separate, of inside or outside.

Experience of Complete Ego Death

Beyond this experience, all light disappears, all awareness ceases. There is no perception of anything; there is simply no experience. When the soul is completely concentrated on the absolute there is nothing to perceive, for to perceive total darkness is not to perceive. Light is the awareness that arises out of this total darkness, revealing that the absolute is prior to light, awareness, and consciousness. This experience of cessation is the experience of complete ego death, for it is going beyond the world of manifestation, beyond even awareness of the world of manifestation. There is no awareness of self or soul, for there is no awareness at all, without this being unconsciousness or sleep. When awareness looks out again, which we experience as the return of awareness, the manifest universe reappears. With the return of awareness the logos appears as the displaying of time and space, and all the phenomena of the universe. We are here the absolute, the luminous night, witnessing appearance arising within it, out of it, but we still experience ourselves as the immense stillness and stupendous silence underlying all existence and all appearance. We feel fresh and clear, as if our consciousness has dipped into the cleansing energies of the source, and returned renewed and rejuvenated. This is similar to the rejuvenation we experience after deep sleep, except we are here clear and awake, bright and lucid.

Misleading Authoring About Ego Death

Many authors on inner development write about the void, or ego death, as if it were one definite experience that ends the ego identity once and for all. This is false and misleading. Ego death is a repeated, and in time a continual, experience. The void is a repeated and deepening perception. Writing about it as if it were one definitive experience that will completely end the individual's identification, and the accompanying suffering, in one shot is not only inaccurate, it is irresponsible and cruel. It will prejudice the student of inner development to seek a perfection or a kind of completeness that is unrealistic and will only add to the attachment to the identifications and to the already existing suffering.

Soul's Experience of Disintegration and Dissolution

To follow our example, when the soul begins to see the limitation of structure and experiences herself as presence, the structure begins to reveal its nature as a mental construct characterized by past conditioning, ideas, memories, etc. The soul begins to experience an inner emptiness, a meaninglessness, a dread of falling apart, and terror of death and annihilation. These experiences of falling apart or being annihilated actually come to pass as the structures dissolve. The soul experiences disintegration and dissolution, disorientation, and a loss of identity; she feels lost and despondent. These existential crises are actually elements of some stages of working through ego structures that then lead to deeper realizations of true nature, moving to timelessness and formlessness.

The Idea of Ego Death is a Misnomer

One important thing we see here is that there is no ego separate from the soul. The proverbial ego of spiritual terminology is nothing but the ego-self, the soul structured through ego development. There is no ego as an entity; there is only the soul that can become ego by becoming structured with mental forms. Therefore, the idea of ego death is a misnomer. There is no entity that dies, for the soul does not die. All that happens in such experiences is that an ego structure dissolves, and the soul field is liberated from its influence. More accurately, the soul ceases to structure her experience through these mental forms. This can bring about the dissolution or transcendence of one's identity, but this identity is a feeling that arises from the soul being structured by a particular self-representation. A representation dies, but no entity. Depth psychology itself, as in psychoanalytic theory, does not recognize an ego that is an entity. Ego in psychoanalytic thought is nothing but a mental structure, or a system of mental structures, and the processes and capacities that go into its development and functioning. In fact, some theoreticians consider the ego to be nothing but the organizing process itself. "The basic proposition we wish to develop is that the concept of ego, as it has evolved through its several definitions in the course of psychoanalytic theory construction, has become synonymous with organizing process." (Blanck and Blanck, Ego Psychology II, p. 15)

The Perspective of Unity Does Not Recognize Ego Death

Experiencing this unity reveals to us that life is beautiful. Prior to this, when you experience yourself moving from the state of the physical or of the personality to the state of the essential or of the boundless dimensions, there is the feeling that life is a problem. The best option seems to be to get away from life, and one may long to disappear or die. From the perspective of unity, there is no such thing as dying, nor of being reborn. There is no such thing as ego death, and no such thing as enlightenment either, since you are already the unity. This is the state of affairs all the time and always -- before you develop an ego, when it is dissolving, and after you are dissolved. All those parts are the unity itself, and so you are not going anywhere.

Facets of Unity, pg. 88

Why Must Identification with the Personality End?

For this final shift to occur, the deepest aspects of the structure of the ego identity have to be understood. Here the deep experience of ego death happens. The experience of the annihilation of the personality deepens and becomes very profound. This is because the sense of self is very much related to the functioning of instincts and in particular to survival. In fact, the whole development of the personality is primarily for survival. To understand completely the deepest truth of the ego identity is to understand the necessity of the ego and its identity for the purposes of physical survival. This is a profound question, and answering it leads to a knowledge of the relationship between essence, the personality, and the physical body. To understand and become free from the self-concept is to become free from instincts, from biological programming and evolutionary conditioning. This is made possible by coming to understand the relationship of life and death to each other and to essence. So to live the life of essence, the life of the pearl beyond price, the identification with the personality must end, through the discovery and the realization of the true and brilliant self.

Without Resistances and Without Defenses

Looking at the relationship between ego boundaries and our definition of self as we have just done is a way to recognize how deep our defenses go. Resistance operates in a similar way to putting up defenses. Thus, having no resistance and having no defenses both mean ego death at some point—the dissolution of the boundaries that define us as individuals. And we create many other kinds of defenses and walls and hard places to protect ourselves from experiencing certain parts of ourselves and our history. We defend against certain situations, against feeling the implications of those situations and what we perceive about them. So when we perceive something but we don’t want to let ourselves experience what it makes us feel, where does that put us? Immediately we feel we need to defend, to create an inner boundary that allows us to see things without having to feel how they affect us.

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