The idea, or rather the reality, of an ego is paradoxical. On the one hand, it gives us a healthy supply of self-esteem, which in turn provides us with the necessary energy to face the world and its inherent storms. On the other hand, it can drive us so deep into self-consciousness that all we can see is ourselves, which leads to a very closed and negative existence. Let’s call the first ego our worthy ego and the second our petty ego.
When our worthy ego is engaged, we cling to nothing, we carry no hate, no fear, no jealousy; we concern ourselves with others and are able to see the larger world and our place in it. When the petty ego is active, our world gets very small; we only care about the world around us insofar as it will give us what we want; we define and relate to everything in the first-person singular, the “I,” the “self.” This is a very treacherous zone. And until we establish a strong and consistent practice of concentration and mindfulness, it is usually our petty ego that has the loudest voice and the strongest control over us. Our practice here is to distinguish between the two egos and whenever petty ego rises up, notice it and then drop it.
Petty ego is our conditioned mind, and if we remember that everything changes, that nothing is permanent, then we can conclude that ego too has no consistent nature, that it is not a fixed phenomenon. This makes it easier to discard when it appears. There is a Zen saying that will help here: The occurrence of an evil thought is a malady, not to continue it is the remedy.
Replace evil thought with petty ego, and you’re on your way to creating yourself anew each moment, to not relying on conditioned ego, and to being present in the moment.
True freedom is attained when we gain freedom from the tyranny of our ego, from our desires.
When we are in our petty ego, we see ourselves as the center of the universe. When we drop our petty ego, we can see that we are not the center of the universe, but a part of it, and that each part is interconnected and integral to the whole. This automatically leads to unselfish behavior that benefits you and the universe. And this lifts your worthy ego, diminishes your petty ego, and results in a grateful and serene mind.