Recently, local coach Penny Boyd interviewed Genpo Roshi. In a little over an hour, they explore a number of facets of Genpo’s history and approach, Big Mind Big Heart. His web site refers to this as “Western Zen” although it deviates from traditional Zen in practice and potency.
In his teaching, Genpo speaks of directly addressing the “voices” of higher or “Big” mind, beyond small self. He more recently realized that every aspect has a mature and an immature voice. When it becomes more healthy and mature, it serves better. He gave the example of how anger can mature into ruthless “male” compassion. Tough love, as it were. Another example is the ego.
But first, a little definition. I use the term “ego” to mean the mental concept of being separate. Ego gathers stories or concepts that supports it’s beliefs. It is driven by emotional drivers that energize the stories into dramas. And beneath that, the core identity and it’s grip of fear. Much of this is sub-conscious or unconscious. I describe this together as the “person” or 3 am-ego’s. Our unique expression. But this description would be the immature person. (I separate them out as this is how they are often experienced as we clear them)
The mature person has lost this idea of separation, the dramas, and the grip of fear that divides ‘me’ from the world. But they have not lost the story. There is still a back story to their life or they would cease to be in the world. It is the story that calls us into being and sustains our life. Our purpose if you like. I’ve tended to emphasize the getting rid of aspect but Genpo takes another look.
In this context, Genpo uses ‘ego’ the way I use ‘person’. And he makes a potent observation. Many people, including his own Zen teachers, work to get rid of the ego or disown it. He suggests we don’t want to piss off the ego or we’ll get into a “scramble for control.”
He observes that the ego also wants to be egoless. Who else would be wanting it? But it is the egos greatest fear to lose itself. This is the core conflict within many spiritual journeys. Ironically, it is also a battle for control with itself. The mature with the immature. We can reduce this fear by being nice to the ego and letting it grow, transcending itself into it’s mature form. The person without bondage.
How can one have an ego and be egoless? He explains this with his way of describing unity, the “apex” of a triangle*, when the world of the ego and Self come together. I can also note as above that the idea and fear of separation end, thus allowing the person to exist within the larger Self without conflict.
This ending of the idea of separation is what gives the sense of “ego death” often described. It is the end of the ego as I define it, not the end of the person. Although it can sometimes feel like that at first. (laughs)
A useful reminder and perspective. The interview is just over an hour if you’d like to hear the whole thing.
Speaking of perspective, he also comments on the value of being mindful of shifting perspective, noticing when we’re changing where we’re looking from and altering how we’re looking if necessary. For example, when we change from mature to immature ego, from seeker into tribal. It can at least help us see why we’re choosing a specific kind of reaction.
* it’s worth noting that a triangle apex is more literal than it may seem. The intention of a person rises out of infinity into a point.