In Buddhism the concept of an ego, in the sense of consciousness of one’s self, is seen as composed of non-valid factors, as delusion. The concept of an ego arises when the dichotomizing intellect (the sixth sense) is confused into presupposing a dualism between I and not I (or other). As a result, we think and act as though we were entitles separated from everything else, over and against a world that lies outside of us. Thus the idea of an I (self) becomes fixed in our subconscious, a self which produces thought processes like “I hate this, I love that; this is yours, this is mine.” Nurtured by such conceptions, we reach the point where the I or ego dominates the mind; it attacks everything that threatens its dominance and its power. Enmity, desire and alienation, which culminate in suffering, are the ineluctable results of this outlook, which in Buddhism is cut through by the practice of INSIGHT MEDITATION. Thus, in the course of PRACTICE(discriminative meditation) training under a GURU, who leads people on the path to ENLIGHTENMENT, the dominance of the ego illusion over the practitioner’s thinking and aspirations is gradually overcome.
ENLIGHTENMENT is the word used to translate the Sanskrit term BODHI (AWAKENED). A person awakens to a nowness of emptiness which he himself is, even as the entire universe is emptiness and which alone enables him to comprehend the “true nature” of things. The emptiness experienced here is no nihilistic emptiness; rather it is something unperceivable, unthinkable, unfeelable, and endless beyond existence and nonexistence. Emptiness is no “object” that could be experienced by a “subject”, since the idea of a subject itself is dissolved in to “emptiness”. In a profound experience of this kind, it becomes clear that emptiness and phenomena, absolute and relative, are entirely one. The experience of true reality is precisely the experience of this oneness. “Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form”, it is said in the HEART SUTRA. In profound enlightenment, the ego is annihilated, it dies. Thus is said in Zen, “You have to die on the cushion.” The result of this “dying,” of this “great death”, is “great life,” a life of freedom and peace.