My ongoing work on zanshadtao has led to some clarity concerning path and egos leading to this advice. Through studying Connie Zweig’s book “Meeting the Shadow of Spirituality: The Hidden Power of Darkness on the Path", I contrasted my limited understanding of Buddhism with her approach on Self; and this gave me a greater clarity on path and egos that I will try to convey in this advice.
It started to become clear when I investigated her idea of Holy Longing, this would be like Quest in Viveka-Zandtao. For Connie Holy Longing was an individual’s spiritual search – that we all have, so this would be very much like that quest. But what was not clear when I wrote Viveka-Zandtao and is clear to me now is that quest is not individual, it arises from the path. And in the same vein the path is not individual either (that was clear in Viveka-Zandtao). In Viveka-Zandtao quest led to faith in the path but that faith was not individual – not a set of views but the magnetic force that draws us to the path. Neither quest nor faith nor path are individual, they are just sunnata – always active waiting to happen. What is called a spiritual search – a holy longing – is not an individual aspiration of Self or self, but the path reconnecting with itself.
The path happens not through awareness of Self but awareness of the path, faith is not a creed that leads to an understanding of Self but a faith in the path – a non-individual thing. It is what this awareness is and how we can practically be aware that is the theme of this advice.
Awareness of the path brings with it the understanding that we are all this path – sunnata, and awareness generally is concerned with reconnection. The path is not "my path", the path is not other, we are all part of the path; then the question that arises is “What prevents us from reconnecting?” And that is the separation that comes from egos; if there were no egos there would be unity – just the path. So the question of following the path becomes a question of dealing with egos.
To look at how we deal with egos we need to consider how they arise, and that is through conditioning as described in the law of paticcasamuppada:-
But there is another natural way in which ego arises in us as children – survival through instinct. From birth we form attachment to our parents esp our mothers, then we form attachments to our upbringing and education so that by the time we reach adulthood these attachments have become a self that we are identified with and by. But this self is a collection of attachments, and these attachments are egos that have arisen according to the law of paticcasamuppada.
At some point when this survival process has ended, as mature adults there is a process of reconnecting with the path by releasing egos. This releasing takes two forms – releasing the attachments that have already arisen through childhood survival and preventing the creation of new egos through conditioning as described in paticcasamuppada. This appears a huge and daunting task; our childhood selves and a lifetime of conditioning needs to be released, where do we begin? How do we recognise all these egos and release them?
I asked this question of myself, and I realised that I had not released all these egos individually; so I began to investigate how all the egos that had gone had been released. This started with the individual egos that I identified and released, and the most obvious of such was Nyanga. Nyanga, the name of the place where this happened, was a build-up of pain shadow from a relationship with Peyton Place in which the pain had been internalised. Nyanga was a taut but releasing night where I went inside found the pain shadow in my stomach, relived the pain and released it; the next day I felt a refreshing release. There have been less dramatic Nyangas ever since. The other notable release was during the centring summer, the techniques of which included Nyanga but were discussed in the second part of the Manual. As a young adult I was the characteristic angry young man that I associate with Colin Wilson, but the wiki says started earlier. So retained anger was an ego I eventually dealt with. This anger was based on the essential compassion that arose in my partial awakening – replacing the anger about my childhood repression. Because of compassion looking at the defiled world, I become angry; but I know it will arise, I let it rise and fall away – I don’t hold onto it. Nor do I repress it, compassion is essential and anger is a natural emotional response. But such anger if egoic can still be attached and therefore destructive – and separating from the path. Individual events of anger arise, and through mindfulness of the contact (phassa) of paticcasamuppada can be released so that egos are not formed – not becoming egos.
But this was not the only way I released egos, I started this release as recommended by Buddhadasa by removing ignorance. This study started for me when in retirement a lifestyle was developed that was building up to 100% dedication to path. With study and meditation, the first thing that was recognised was the need for sila. On partial awakening there was some commitment to path, but over sila there was a dilemma. In education I was surrounded by intellects who justified anything by moral reasoning. It became clear to me that conditioning of these intellects required only the rationale of moral plausibility. This is typified in the politics of government where any rationale is presented and accepted as an excuse to maintain the defiled world. I see this especially true about sunnata's planet where any rationale is presented, accepted by excuse as the truth and we are left with the continued defilement that so harms our home. Sila is far more than moral reasoning and excuse-making, we can only survive as a society when we all live by sila - as discussed in siladhamma in zanshadtao.
However the main understanding that helped me releasing egos through removing ignorance was the 5 khandhas, Buddhadasa spoke of “removing the I and mine from the 5 khandhas”. It was this question that helped me the most “what is there in what humans do other than what the 5 khandhas do?” Seeing the 5 khandhas as part of sunnata then helps with understanding anatta, there need not be self – releasing attachments there is no self – removing I and mine from the 5 khandhas. Other studies led me to an understanding of kilesa, the 4 Noble Truths and upadana. Working on zanshadtao I realised that removing ignorance through study had helped with releasing egos.
With an understanding of kilesa (defilements) comes the realisation that we live in a defiled world, by defiled world I mean a world that is conditioned by kilesa. There are many characteristics that are defilements – broadly I use greed, aversion and delusion with aversion including hatred and avoidance. With the world being defiled the ongoing causality of conditioning supports the way of the world so if we accept our conditioning without questioning – deep enquiry – then we develop conditioned egos of kilesa. Through deep enquiry into what we accept from society we can avoid kilesa, without this deep enquiry we become conditioned – we accept egos.
Greed is one of the kilesa, and it is evident in our society that greed is an issue. At the same time because of this greed we are endangering ourselves through the ecological damage we are doing to the physical body of sunnata – our planet. As individuals not being defiled by greed means that we try to live sustainably, but we are limited in how we can do this because of the way of consuming that is encouraged by the way we trade. Living sustainably means that we consume only what is necessary, and through mindfulness we can individually consume less. But what is available for us to consume? Are those in charge creating a society with the potential of mindful consuming? Are those who produce what we consume mindful of sustainability? On a personal level I might live with optimal sustainability but I know that when I ask is that enough to protect our planet? the answer is no. What we produce and trade with as a society has to be sustainable; yet our production methods are far from sustainable, and the greed that dominates the way we sell is also not sustainable. Unless greed is released from the way we produce and sell, there can be no sustainable living, and that does not bode well for the future of sunnata’s body – ourselves – life on earth.
The work I do for releasing egos occurs through meditation. For a long while meditation helped with the release of egos but I became more aware of this when I worked on MwB ("Mindfulness with Breathing" by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu) – and the Companion. The method of MwB works on the 4 tetrads – the 4 foundations of mindfulness. Through this meditation method we go through 4 stages in each tetrad during each meditation – kaya, vedana, citta, Dhamma. Essentially this method aims to reconnect with the path each meditation. Through this method I attempt to perfect the vihara of kaya (body), vedana (feelings) and citta (mind) to reconnect with the path – Dhamma – sunnata.
In terms of egos, through this method I look at releasing egos from the khandhas of kaya, vedana, citta (including sanna and sankhara). At the same time, in the citta stage I release egos from kilesa, upadana and again the khandhas. This does not preclude the release of individual egos if they arise but is more about “a generalised release”.
But I realised that this was not all that meditation had done to release egos – I was somehow releasing egos in meditation prior to MwB and not individually. And this comes back to awareness – meditation increased awareness. By increasing awareness I brought the vihara more in alignment with the path – bringing the vihara into harmony with nature (sunnata). The more we are aligned with our paths the less egos are formed as there need not be conscious attachment to the khandhas, need not be kilesa arising, and need not be clinging to upadanas. Through awareness, in MwB developing the 4 Dhamma Comrades of sati (mindfulness), panna (wisdom), samadhi (concentration) and sampajanna (wisdom-in-action), we begin to perfect the vihara thus aligning with our paths. In the advice on vihara and faith, through MwB we release attachments that can create a magnetic force of faith that aligns us with our paths – releasing egos and using the released consciousness as faith to reconnect with our paths.
Finally, there was a significant event in my life that helped me follow my path – I retired from being a professional teacher. Although I later did some volunteer teaching there was no investment in the institution, no demands from the institution just an interaction between the students and I – and whether they chose to learn. Because of the lack of institutional involvement there was no ego in the volunteering, but the earlier demands around being a professional teacher contained much ego. On early retirement I was free from this, how and when I taught was my choice; as part of my retirement I discussed the problems of institutional teaching here. I had sufficient money to retire early in Thailand so what was left was path and personal egos.
My lifestyle was not focussed around institutional demands, and I developed a way of life that was harmonised with nature. Significantly I spent time under a tree on a deserted beach with only the waves for company. The sea and the apparent individuality of waves taught me about nature’s harmony as I watched the seasons change. So not only did I develop a harmony of the vihara in meditation, I developed a similar harmony of the vihara in nature. This way of harmony reduced egos as well as not creating conditions for new ones.
For me the zanshadtao z-quest gave a clarity concerning paths and egos, we reconnect with our paths by releasing conditioned egos. In summary we can do this through
Individual methods such as Nyanga.
Removing ignorance eg understanding “removing the I and mine from the 5 khandhas”.
Improving MwB through releasing egos of kilesa, upadana and khandhas to develop faith in the path.
Improving MwB by developing the 4 Dhamma Comrades to help us harmonise our viharas with our paths.