Seemingly No Way Out
Deepen your meditation practice enough and soon you’ll realize something: unless you realize your true nature, the dis-ease you experience will never, ever end. This is because the root of your dis-ease is not living in the wrong place (so moving elsewhere won’t bring lasting peace and happiness), being around the wrong people, being in the wrong relationship, having the wrong job, not experiencing the right mental states, not having the right kind of experiences, not growing enough, not being recognized or seen or understood, and so on. No, the root of your dis-ease is ego itself.
The following diagram, somewhat influenced by Neoplatonism, came to me while I was meditating:
The purpose of this post is to set out how to interpret it and thus how it can be a guide that helps you to investigate yourself.
Thought: The Third Hypostasis
When you meditate, what you first notice arising is thought. For a while, it may seem as if there is no rhyme or reason to the emergent thoughts but, in reality, there is.
Most thoughts are enlisted on behalf of the ego to resolve a problem–namely, the problem of dis-ease. Consider the content of thoughts: you want to resolve X, you want to make sure that you have everything ready or prepared in advance of Y, you want to make sense of Z, you have relationship troubles with A, you intend to say this or that to person B, and so on. The presumption–a mistaken one–is that “objectification” (i.e., taking dis-ease and projecting it onto objective phenomena) will actually, ultimately dissolve all your dis-ease and, in turn, allow you to abide in lasting peace and happiness.
From your own experience, you can see that this strategy is doomed to failure. Every time. Momentary relief is not ultimate satisfaction.
Emotion: The Second Hypostasis
In lieu of going out into the world via thought in hopes of resolving our dis-ease, we can start to make the slow journey home or within.
Notice–and this will come as a surprise–that what is immediately underwriting most of our thoughts is some negative emotion. In fact, as your thoughts fade away during meditation, if you meditate long enough you’ll observe that emotions are more basic. Now that there is greater quietness here is anger! Here fear! Here excitement!
In the early stages of this inquiry, it might seem as if an emotion is just that. You might intuit: “I’m angry because John threatened to harm me or actually did harm me.” And that’s that! No, don’t stop there!
See, first of all, that emotion often “hands the baton” to thought to try to dissolve the dis-ease (second –> third hypostasis). If anger arises, then are there not some thoughts having to do with how to resolve the situation (or how to actually act vengefully)? On whose behalf is one fearful? Etc.
See, second of all, that emotion itself is also enlisted on behalf of an alleged entity dwelling farther upstream. What is that alleged entity?
Ego-self Identification: The First Hypostasis
By “ego-self identification,” I mean to suggest the following formula: “I am ______.” A basic form of hurt will emerge. Examples:
–“I am powerless.”
–“I am lonely.”
–“I am insignificant.”
Observe how, for instance, “I am powerless” –> anger –> thoughts about doing something or else thoughts about not being able to do anything. Observe how, for instance, “I am uncomfortable” (in this full-lotus position) –> fear (“I am hurting this body.”) and desire (“I want to get up.”) –> thought about (a) pushing through the pain, (b) enduring the pain, (c) getting up right now, (d) bargaining, and so on.
But what is at the root of all this? What is the source of this endless dis-ease?
The Ego Itself: Ego = Lack
“I am insignificant” is simply the first hypostasis of the more basic illusion, which is the illusory belief and feeling that an ego-self exists. And what is the character of the ego itself?
It can be seen that its basic character is lack. It’s not that ego has lacks; it’s that ego IS lack! It’s not that ego has problems or troubles; it’s that the ego IS the problem, IS trouble itself!
This is the most basic insight. The First Noble truth states, “There is dis-ease.” The Second Noble Truth states, “There is a cause of dis-ease.” The ego, as lack or lack itself, IS that cause!
The key to this understanding is to see that ego, as lack, will continue to produce more dis-ease in myriad forms. Ego is like a vibrating string; it will always find one way or another to vibrate. Ego is restlessness or agitation itself; as such, it will always find ways of agitating. If it’s not “I am uncomfortable” (and thus it goes down the path of endless desire), then it is “I am unworthy” (and then it goes down the path of fear and sadness). Pick your poison.
Of course, all this must be seen in one’s actual experience. One of the points of meditation.
The situation, in a nutshell, is impossible. For the ego will continue to try to get rid of its dis-ease without–irony of ironies!–being able to see that it is itself the source of dis-ease. The illusion will have to be fully seen through for dis-ease to come to an end and thus for there to be genuine rest, complete peace.
We have a name for this dis-ease coming to an end. It is nirvana. And nirvana is enlightenment.
Great enlightenment means being fully established in this non-egoic way of being.