Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The ego and the I

A number of accomplished Buddhist practitioners have noted that traditional Buddhism did not develop the kind of structures as did psychoanalysis. The ego is one of them. Yes, Buddhism has an effective notion about the separate self sense lacking inherent existence, but that applies to everything including emptiness and enlightenment. (Well, depending on which school of Buddhism...) For example, Wilber in Integral Spirituality:

"This view of the early stages of I formation—this phenomenological history of the damaged-I
(especially during the first few years of life) [....] is indeed one of the great contributions of Western psychology, a specific contribution we find nowhere else in the world" (153-4).

And echoing Kornfield above: "Painful experience has demonstrated time and again that mediation simply will not get at the original shadow, and can, in fact, often exacerbate it" (154).

Wilber cannot be accused of a supposed biased Theravada like Korfield or Epstein. Nor can David Michael Levin (another shentong), who says in the Levin thread here:

"In stage III, the individual is committed to further training, a practice of self-discipline.  By virtue of this commitment, this work on oneself, the self-responsible individual grows beyond an ego-logical identification and begins to live the more creative becoming of a Self.  Recognition of the difference between (the being of) the ego and (the being of) the Self is crucial.  Whereas the ego is a defensively adaptive structure identified with an essentially fixed, socially conforming content, the identity which begins to form in the work of stage III, the way of living I am calling the 'Self,' is an ongoing process of self-development, a structure of individuation creatively open to change, a structure organized by, and identified with, processes that carry forward learning and growth."

I'd here point out that what he is calling the Self is indeed how Epstein defines the synthetic function of the ego, whereas the self-represented 'I' might be more akin to Levin's ego per se. However Levin makes clear that the ego is necessary in this Self journey. For it is only

"after the ego is firmly established, it becomes possible to 'return' to these echoes, not only making contact with our bodily felt sense of that pre-ontological openness -- whatever sense of that 'primordial ecstasy' we may now, by virtue of some directed exertion, be able to feel -- but also 'retrieving' it and freeing it for an ongoing integration into present living."

It is only after the "ego is firmly established" that we can return to and integrate our prior state/stages and go transrational via a Self that is more than an 'I' and more likely more ably (postmetaphysically) defined as the synthetic aspect of ego, itself a developmental outgrowth of the "I." The ego ideal is much more associated with this "I" aspect, and ironically enough with an emphasis on concentrative meditational techniques designed to get past this "I" by fusing with a pre-egological awareness.

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