Ego

The adult’s ego-feeling cannot have been the same from the beginning. It must have gone through a process of development, which cannot, of course, be demonstrated but which admits of being constructed with a fair degree of probability. An infant at the breast does not as yet distinguish his ego from the external world as the source of the sensations flowing in upon him. He gradually learns to do so, in response to various promptings. He must be very strongly impressed by the fact that some sources of excitation, which he will later recognize as his own bodily organs, can provide him with sensations at any moment, whereas other sources evade him from time to time — among them what he desires most of all, his mother’s breast — and only reappear as a result of his screaming for help.

In this way there is for the first time set over against the ego an “object”, in the form of something which exists “outside” and which is only forced to appear by a special action. A further incentive to a disengagement of the ego from the general mass of sensations — that is, to the recognition of an “outside”, an external world — is provided by the frequent, manifold and unavoidable sensations of pain and unpleasure the removal and avoidance of which is enjoined by the pleasure principle, in the exercise of its unrestricted domination. A tendency arises to separate from the ego everything that can become a source of such unpleasure, to throw it outside and to create a pure pleasure-ego which is confronted by a strange and threatening “outside”.

One comes to learn a procedure by which, through a deliberate direction of one’s sensory activities and through suitable muscular action, one can differentiate between what is internal — what belongs to the ego — and what is external — what emanates from the outer world. In this way one makes the first step towards the introduction of the reality principle which is to dominate future development.

In this way, then, the ego detaches itself from the external world. Or, to put it more correctly, originally the ego includes everything, later it separates off an external world from itself. Our present ego-feeling is, therefore, only a shrunken residue of a much more inclusive — indeed, an all-embracing — feeling which corresponded to a more intimate bond between the ego and the world about it.

Sigmund Freud – Civilization and Its Discontents

Introduction

It is natural to suppose that, before philosophy enters upon its subject proper−namely, the actual knowledge of what truly is−it is necessary to come first to an understanding concerning knowledge, which is looked upon as the instrument by which to take possession of the Absolute, or as the means through which to get a sight of it.

This apprehensiveness is sure to pass even into the conviction that the whole enterprise which sets out to secure for consciousness by means of knowledge what exists per se, is in its very nature absurd; and that between knowledge and the Absolute there lies a boundary which completely cuts off the one from the other. For if knowledge is the instrument by which to get possession of absolute Reality, the suggestion immediately occurs that the application of an instrument to anything does not leave it as it is for itself, but rather entails in the process, and has in view, a moulding and alteration of it.

Or, again, if knowledge is not an instrument which we actively employ, but a kind of passive medium through which the light of the truth reaches us, then here, too, we do not receive it as it is in itself but as it is through and in this medium. In either case we employ a means which immediately brings about the very opposite of its own end.

Or, again, fear of the truth may conceal itself from itself and others behind the pretext that precisely burning zeal for the very truth makes it so difficult, nay impossible, to find any other truth except that of which alone vanity is capable − that of being ever so much cleverer than any ideas, which one gets from oneself or others, could make possible.

This sort of conceit which understands how to belittle every truth and turn away from it back into itself, and gloats over this its own private understanding, which always knows how to dissipate every possible thought, and to find, instead of all the content, merely the barren Ego − this is a satisfaction which must be left to itself; for it flees the universal and seeks only an isolated existence on its own account.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel – The Fenomenology of Spirit

Form of Appearance

It will first be necessary to explain as distinctly as possible our opinion in regard to the fundamental constitution of sensible cognition in general, in order to preclude all misinterpretation of it.

We have therefore wanted to say that all our intuition is nothing but the representation of appearance; that the things that we intuit are not in themselves what we intuit them to be, nor are their relations so constituted in themselves as they appear to us; and that if we remove our own subject or even only the subjective constitution of the senses in general, then all the constitution, all relations of objects in space and time, indeed space and time themselves would disappear, and as appearances they cannot exist in themselves, but only in us.

What may be the case with objects in themselves and abstracted from all this receptivity of our sensibility remains entirely unknown to us. We are acquainted with nothing except our way of perceiving them, which is peculiar to us, and which therefore does not necessarily pertain to every being, though to be sure it pertains to every human being. We are concerned solely with this.

Through sensibility we do not cognize the constitution of things in themselves merely indistinctly, but rather not at all, and, as soon as we take away our subjective constitution, the represented object with the properties that sensible intuition attributes to it is nowhere to be encountered, nor can it be encountered, for it is just this subjective constitution that determines its form as appearance.

Immanuel Kant – Critique of Pure Reason

No Proxy

What is the truth of Prophetism which lays down that God can be known only indirectly through a favourite intermediary, a ‘Sole Begotten Son’ or a ‘Last Prophet’? Indian spirituality did not argue, debate or oppose. But did it not provide a complete answer? It proclaimed that the true Godhead was beyond number and count; that it had many manifestations which did not exclude or repel each other but included each other and went together in friendship; that it was approached in different ways and through many symbols; that it resided in the heart of its devotees.

A fateful thing has been happening. The East is waking up from its slumber. The wisdom of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism is becoming available to the world. Already, it is having a transforming effect on the minds of the people, particularly in countries where there is freedom to seek and express. Dogmas are under a cloud; claims on behalf of Last Prophethood and Only Sonship, hitherto enforced through great intellectual conditioning, browbeating, and the big stick, are becoming unacceptable.

Religions of proxy are in retreat. More and more men now seek authentic experience. Borrowed creed will not do. Men and women are ceasing to be obedient believers and are becoming seekers. They no longer want to be anybody’s sheep, now that they know that they can be their own shepherds. An external authority, even when it is called God in certain scriptures, threatening and promising alternately, is increasingly making less and less impression; people now realize that Godhead is their own true, secret status and they seek it in the depth of their own being.

Ram Swarup – Hindu View of Christianity and Islam

Hide-and-Seek

Here’s a parable, an analogy, which comes from India, from the Upanishads, and is thousands of years old. It presents a parabolic answer to the root question of all religion and philosophy (Who am I and what is this?), and does so in a way which everyone can relate to.

In the beginning of the world, there was only Brahma. Being all there was, and therefore totally known to himself, Brahma soon realized that this totality of awareness would eventually become extremely boring… after all, when you know everything there is to know, then there’s no surprise, nothing to keep you interested. It’s like reading the same book for the seventy-eight millionth time. Anyway, since he was omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipresent (all-everywhere), Brahma decided to create a diversion for himself, a way of introducing the elements of surprise, intrigue and drama into his experience. He thought, “What would it be like to forget who I really am?”

So, he invented the game of cosmic hide-and-seek. According to the rules of this game, Brahma would pretend to break pieces of himself off from the whole so that to all appearances they would seem separate. That’s the “hide” part. Then, as the apparently separate consciousness at the center of each of those apparently separate pieces, and through their apparently separate and unique perspectives, he would “seek” to rediscover who he really was, which was, of course, everything.

Imagine seeing yourself from an infinite number of different perspectives, each one initially ignorant of its relationship to all the rest. Imagine going to sleep and dreaming a different lifetime each night, each lasting for more or less years, each complete with the full range and variety of emotional life and death details. Imagine having the same dream but playing a different role in it each night, seeing it through different eyes each time. Well, guess who those apparently separate pieces are? Since there is only one I Am in the universe, one consciousness, it’s all a game of hide-and-seek, and each one of us is in the same state: I’m It and You’re It!

Roger Stephens – A Dangerous Book

Māyā

In time each instant is, only in so far as it has effaced the preceding one, its generator, to be itself in turn as quickly effaced. The past and the future (considered apart from the consequences of their content) are empty as a dream, and the present is only the indivisible and unenduring boundary between them. The substance of this doctrine is old: it appears in Heraclitus when he laments the eternal flux of things; in Plato when he degrades the object to that which is ever becoming, but never being; in Spinoza as the doctrine of the mere accidents of the one substance which is and endures. Kant opposes what is thus known as the mere phenomenon to the thing in itself. Lastly, the ancient wisdom of the Indian philosophers declares:

It is Mâyâ, the veil of deception, which blinds the eyes of mortals, and makes them behold a world of which they cannot say either that it is or that it is not: for it is like a dream; it is like the sunshine on the sand which the traveller takes from afar for water, or the stray piece of rope he mistakes for a snake.

These similes are repeated in innumerable passages of the Vedas and the Puranas. But what all these mean, and that of which they all speak, is nothing more than what we have just considered.

Artur Schopenhauer – The World As Idea. First Aspect