The personal ego is a self-serving mechanism by its very nature, designed to protect our perceived individuality. Curiously, it will even place protecting itself above protecting the organism when convinced to do so. Soldiers on the front lines, for example.
This makes waking up rather challenging as the ego can be quite convoluted in its attempts to justify, protect, and mask itself. It lays claim to everything it knows, creating self-justifying stories of great complexity. For example, it will use memories of spiritual experiences to call a part of itself ‘spiritual being’. Then it plays that off the ‘personal me’ and we tell ourselves we’re being mindful. But what is watching what?
Ego also creates internal conflicts with these ‘selves’ to distract us from seeing through the maze. But happily it’s not the ego that wakes up so we don’t have to disentangle its maze to get through it. With enough clarity, consciousness will simply see through the noise. Like rising up out of a maze to see it all.
With spiritual awakening, the attachment to the ego falls away. With that, the core of the stories of a me collapses and over time, what no longer serves fades away.
Some people experience awakening with a sense of ego falling away or dying. But only the attachment to it ends. The ego itself remains as a function, only now much more in the background and shrinking.
Renunciates are trained to take ego-denial further but for those of us in the world, it’s necessary to have a functioning person. It is hazardous to culture the idea that you are now ego-less. Being detached from is not the same as without. A denied ego is a recipe for delusion.
If you are here in a human life, then you have remaining desires and unresolved experiences. This is perfectly normal and good to recognize. Without that insight, those can rise up behind us and cause problems.
And this is the essence of spiritual corruption. While moral corruption can certainly be an issue in spiritual circles like anywhere else, the corruption I’m speaking of is a more subtle form.
Spiritual progress can bring abilities and other forms of power on-line. These can be seen as a marker for purity but they can also corrupt. If our shadow side is unrecognized, it can easily arise and unconsciously manipulate our conceived good works. Classic ego dynamics like control, manipulation, and power lead us into temptation and then trouble.
When the motivation of a spiritual teacher is driven primarily by the divine, then good results for all unfold. But if subtle manipulation creeps in, it becomes about the teacher and individuals rather than wholeness. The same external behaviors yield different results.
The greater the power, the greater the hazard. Thus the need for vigilance actually expands with spiritual growth. Of course, vigilance here doesn’t mean control – just awareness.
Everyone makes mistakes. But if we’re more conscious of our own shadow dynamics, then we’ll catch them much sooner and not fall as far into it. But if we believe in our own perfection and specialness, trouble will soon come to visit.
This is not just true of the teacher. As Mariana Caplan discusses in her book Half Way Up The Mountain, the expanded ego can’t get far without enablers. Students attracted by charisma, knowledge and little miracles can become willing to overlook problem behavior. They become complicit in the corruption for their own interests. Often this means surrendering their self-authority.
Have unresolved parental issues? A teacher happy to treat you like a child is not creating a healthy, adult relationship.
The little game that sees the teacher as perfect is for fools – especially for a newer teacher who has not yet been tested. Certainly, a teacher deserves your respect but always recognize there is a human in front of you, no matter how enlightened.
I’ve seen teachers I’ve known personally fall into this trap. Then ego defends it’s new position and power and they develop a new identification to be released. Not to mention more difficult karma, especially if they distract students from wholeness. Some groups have had vast dramas that have played out of this.
For every inflation there will come a deflation.
The recent trend of self-made teachers outside of a tradition that have no peers and nothing to give them honest feedback is hazardous. Worse are those who claim a lineage and titles that are only in their head.
How do we learn about corruption? From practical life experience. It’s present in all fields. The more fame and power, the more temptation.
Some people have also learned about corruption through spiritual organizations. The groups around great teachers can be full of egos wanting position and control. And yet, they see their motivation in terms of purity, righteousness, and so on.
It’s common to become cynical after an experience like this. Many go through a “falling away” after poor treatment by a spiritual group. But cynicism is not the answer to corruption. Discrimination is. Then we learn from it.
When we know what it looks like, we can avoid it. We can also learn not to be an enabler.
If you think you could never be entangled like this, you might like the film Kumare. Or read about some types of Cognitive Bias. You’ll probably see some familiar and some not so familiar ones. We all have a bias and tend to gravitate towards people who support our bias. Then we support that group bias. You’ll notice many of the 12 relate to this discussion.
Curiously, even modern Internet search engines enhance personal bias. They track what you search for and try to give you more of the same, enhancing your impression that the world thinks like you do.
Self-awareness of both our light and our dark plus self-authority with a foundation in wisdom can go a long way to avoid such traps. Life experience is the biggest lesson though.