Higher Reasoning: Does Ego Exist?

1. Ego is thought to be an enduring ‘something’ that persists throughout the changes undergone by this bodymind.

2. Ego occupies a peculiar position in a first respect: this ego must be married to this bodymind. That is, (a) it can’t be that bodymind A is married to egos X, Y, and Z. Nor (b) can it be that bodyminds A, B, and C are married to ego X. Nor (c) can it be that ego X first takes up bodymind A, then (i.e., successively) bodymind B, then C, and so forth. The relationship between ego X and bodymind A must be unique and ongoing for as long as this bodymind lives.

3. Ego occupies a peculiar position in other respects: (a) it can’t be exactly the same as bodymind A, yet (b) it can’t be totally different from bodymind A either. Moreover, (c) the ego must be self-identical (i.e., self-same) throughout the changes undergone by bodymind A. In a strange sense, the ego “hovers” “around” or “within” bodymind A.

4. Ego does not exist. (a) Ego is either exactly the same as bodymind A, or else it is totally different from bodymind A. (b) If it is exactly the same as bodymind A, then whenever any body part or mental part changes, the ego would change also. But it can’t change while still being a separate, enduring self. (c) If the ego is totally different from bodymind A, then there’s no way of establishing the uniqueness of the relationship between this ego (call it X) and bodymind A. And this for at least two reasons. In the first place, whenever we investigate ego in its own terms, we find no distinguishing marks that tell us that here is a limited, finite, individuated being. We only find awareness. In the second place, we discover no marks that connect it uniquely–or at all–with bodymind A, let alone to any bodymind whatsoever. There’s just no-thing here.

5. The only way to “salvage” ego is to accept that the I is permanent. But doing so involves severing the presumed marriage between I and bodymind A–as well as that between I and any other bodymind (like B, C, or D). What “occurs” is an “expansion” of I to the point at which it is understood to be all-encompassing, whole, complete. This is the Real Self, the only Self that is.

6. Of course, then it becomes clear that there is a self for bodymind A. That self is the Real Self. And the Real Self is also expressed fully in bodyminds B, C, D, …, n.

Does Ego Exist? An Exploration

We can use our conclusions from yesterday’s post to provide us with “the coordinates” we need in order to ascertain whether ego exists. Those coordinates are: direct experience and awareness.

What Is There?

For now, let’s say that “what there is” is direct experience (that is, whatever is arising right now) as well as awareness (which is rather like a space in which direct experience X is occurring).

Is There an Ego?

Our “logic” or “set of coordinates” can make short work of this question. If ego exists, then it must be (i) exactly the same as a direct experience or (ii) totally different from a direct experience.

Concerning (i): can you find an ego inside of a direct experience like a thought, a feeling, or a sensation? The answer is no: what you find is only the thought, or the feeling, or the sensation. That is, you find a tautology only: a thought is a thought, a feeling is a feeling, a sensation a sensation, etc. No ego entity identifiable.

Concerning (ii): can you find an ego outside of a direct experience? Answer: no. What you find is only awareness or “the space” of awareness. Check this.

But (i) and (ii) exhaust the universe of logical possibilities. Therefore, the ego does not exist.

Further Passes

Because the ego-illusion is sticky, especially in the cases of emotional contractions and physical tensions, we’ll need to take further passes at this question in order to arrive at the same conclusion. For now, let’s see whether this understanding loosens the grip on the belief that the ego exists.

‘Outside Of Consciousness, Does Anything Exist?’

I take the following brief exchange during satsang to be of seminal importance:

Nisargadatta: “Outside your consciousness, does anything exist?”
Questioner: “It may exist without my knowing it.”

I Am That, p. 198.

We need to understand that the questioner’s statement cannot be true. But how can that be, given that he seems to be saying something that most of us have readily believed or perhaps still believe?

Direct Experience

The starting point for a contemplative science in Advaita Vedanta is direct experience. By “direct experience,” I mean whatever it is that can arise. A thought can arise; so can feelings, sensations, perceptions, and desires.

“Can a unicorn arise?” Yes, but only as a mental picture, not as a visual perception.

“Can an ego-entity arise?” Yes, but only as an I-concept, i.e., I-thought.

“Can mass or spin arise?” Yes, but only as concepts (i.e., as thoughts).


When the questioner states, “It may exist without my knowing it,” he’s making a mistake, albeit a common (realist) one. He thinks that objects can exist outside of direct experience, but that’s not true. There is no ‘existent something’ unless it is identical with a direct experience. Contemplate this until it’s clear.

So, whatever exists must be an experience.

“But how do you know this?” That which knows this is awareness. It’s awareness that is aware of any direct experience, i.e., of any arising. It’s awareness, then, that can “look” and “see” whether any experience could be outside of itself. Ask yourself: “Do I find any borders or boundaries in my direct experience?”

The answer is that there cannot be any existent outside of awareness. Verify that this is true.

Being Awareness Knowingly

“But if there is no experience outside of awareness, then how come I can feel pain without being aware of it?”

First, no pain can arise without awareness shining its light on the experience of pain. Understand this.

Second, there is a distinction to be drawn (at least for now) between (a) awareness illuminating experience X and (b) awareness knowingly illuminating experience X. The latter is sometimes called “metacognitive awareness.” That is, meditation could be said to be being awareness knowingly.

Being awareness knowingly means two things. In the first place, awareness is knowingly aware of, e.g., pain arising. In the second place, awareness is, above all, aware of itself. That is, awareness knows that it is itself–and nothing else.

One More Assumption: Coda

The assumption, of course, is that awareness is personal and is thereby limited. Investigate this until you know that awareness is impersonal and limitless. This is called self-knowledge (or moksha).

Nothing Has Ever Happened

Papaji, a disciple of Sri Ramana Maharshi, taught, “Nothing has ever happened.”


1. When there is the appearance of mind arising, there is also the appearance of space-time-objectivity.

2. Independent investigations reveal the following: (a) There are no objects as such; there are only arisings-to-awareness. (b) Time does not exist; there is only presence. (c) Space does not exist; there is only here.

3. Space-time-objectivity, as it’s ordinarily deployed, is only a concept, a concept of mind apparently arising. That is, space-time-objectivity is dependent on mind apparently arising.

4. Does the mind exist in its own right? The investigation reveals that it does not. The mind has no inherent, that is, independent, existence.

5. Since mind does not exist in its own right, that upon which it depends does not really exist. In which case, space-time-objectivity does not really exist.

6. Thus, nothing (no thing) has ever really happened.

* * *

“Why has nothing ever happened?”

A: No why!

“Well! What remains? What is here?

A: No question!

Neither The Wild Thyme Unseen Nor The Wild Strawberry: A Poem

The first poem is an excerpt from Eliot’s Four Quartets, the second–a reply–my own.


I. From T. S. Eliot, “East Coker,” Four Quartets

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.


And I said to Myself, O gentle Atman,
What is this death and
what this birth?
What is either to Me?

Unbecome am I
so that I never once
thought of death
as taking off an old, tight shoe.
No, not even once.
How silly would that have been?

Meet me, O friends,
where there is neither darkness nor light,
neither the wild thyme unseen nor the wild strawberry.
No this, no that.
No am, no is.
No I, nor you.
Just radiant love true.