The feeling of a separate "I", which we call ego-consciousness,
is directly related to the strength of ignorance, greed, and hatred.
The deepest meaning of ignorance is the believing in, identifying
with and clinging to the ego, which as we have seen, is nothing
but an illusive mental phenomenon. But because of this strong clinging
to ego-consciousness, attachment/desire, anger/hatred arise and
repeatedly gain strength.
The ego needs activity in order to exist. Like and dislike, attachment,
aversion, greed and hatred are the main overt activities of the
ego. The more desire and aversion we have the more alive we feel,
the more real and concrete the ego seems. In reality, the ego depends
on desire, its life-blood is desire. The ego and desire are like
the two sides of a coin one cannot exist without the other.
The ego is projected desire, and desire is projected ego. It is
like pedalling a bicycle: if we go on pedalling, the bicycle goes
on moving; but if we stop pedalling the bicycle will start slowing
down and eventually collapse. The more we go on generating desire
the ego seems very real. When desiring stops the ego then appears
as an illusion.
This is why desire cannot be satisfied. If we stop desire (and
this means aversion also) then our sense of self starts getting
weaker, it starts to dissolve. Actually, the objects we desire,
like or dislike are not really that important. They are merely scapegoats
or excuses for the activity of the ego, to prevent ego-death. Any
object will do. Though to keep from appearing foolish, superficial
or unwise the ego comes up with all kinds of good-sounding reasons
and justifications for why it needs to acquire something or get
away from something else.
That is why people in the West, especially in America, have yard-
or garage-sales. They have attics, closets, and garages full of
things they don't use any longer, and not because it is necessarily
worn out or broken. Some of it clothing, toys, gadgets, tools,
etc. were probably used very little or perhaps never. These people
need to empty out their closets and attics in order to make room
for more. Much of it, including the shopping trips, are simply more
activities, more life-saving ruses of the ego. And even getting
upset, irritated, and angry at others for seeming trivial things
is often only more excited energy to make the ego seem more alive.
However, at the same time it entails and generates a lot of suffering.
So we can see the direct connection between ignorance, desire and
This is why it is so difficult for the average person, who does
not meditate, to quieten their mind and experience total rest. We
are called human beings, but a better term would be "human
doings". Even in sleep the body will toss and turn and the
mind goes on dreaming. The hardest thing for the average person
to do is to sit still, not move the body at all, close the eyes,
and do not go to sleep or get lost in daydreaming. After a few minutes
they would become increasingly restless, wanting to do something.
They cannot simply enjoy just being.
This is because the ego-self would feel uncomfortable, strange,
useless and either go to sleep or start dissolving. The latter is
in fact what happens during deep concentrated meditation. That is
why many people shy away from or do not want to meditate. Many who
do meditate, cannot go into deep meditation for very long. The ego
shrinks away from the deep silence (even unconsciously) because
it feels like death -ego death.
Ego or "I" consciousness arises as a resistance to the
flow of impermanence coming through the senses. Resistance manifests
as attraction or aversion to sense stimuli, including our thoughts,
memories, and emotions etc. When attraction and aversion subside
resistance also subsides and along with it the strength of ego awareness
subsides. This can be directly observed during meditation.
Desire is also directly related to the past and future. When we
see, hear, smell taste, touch, and think, the mind unconsciously
brings in our past memories of attraction and aversion and reactions
to the present sense stimulation, and then it projects these into
the future with the subsequent thoughts, emotions, and reactions
in the next moments (or microseconds). So the conditioned mind is
always moving between the past and future, and this movement activity
creates the illusion of time. It also creates the illusion of "I"
consciousness. Both time and the ego are simultaneously created
through the deepest inner activity of the mind, generated by ignorance
The practice of mindfulness or vipassana meditation is essentially
a practice of keeping the attention in the present moment, being
aware of whatever the body and mind is doing in the present moment.
We try not to let the mind get carried away with attraction or aversion
or allow it to remain lost in thought. We tune the attention on
the flow of impermanence as it arises and passes away through the
six senses. We try to watch and let go of resistance to discomfort
or pain, to open up and relax more and more into the present.
When we can rest the mind (consciousness) more and more in the Present,
then the past and future, desire and the ego all start dissolving.
And with this suffering also vanishes. This is direct experience
of the Dhamma, of the Four Noble Truths.