There was a time in India when the householders approach had become universal. The sage Shankara revived the path of renunciation for that small percent who are naturally monks. But then the pendulum swung to the other extreme and the householders path became obscured in many teachings.
Practices came to emphasize renunciation, even for householders. Inquiry is prominent, for example, even though it is primarily a monk’s approach. This is because close inquiry into reality is difficult when we have worldly responsibilities. We have to pay attention to appearances. 🙂
Extracting oneself from ego identification is key for Self Realization in either case. But that’s not the same as no ego, in the ahamkara or “I” sense.
Even for householders, there may be a subjective experience of an ego death. Yet as I’ve mentioned, this is breaking identification, not killing the “I” sense itself.
With Self Realization there are three changes in self-sense:
a) The asmita or possessive self (mine-ness) ends with the end of ego identification. It was a side-effect of that identification. It may soften considerably prior.
b) The “I” sense or ahamkara ends its identification as the primary sense of self. And yet there still needs to be a personal self-sense to function as a human. Not as “who I am” but as a function. We still need to distinguish what is this body and what is the floor or wall. We still need to take care of the physiology and avoid hazards. This personal self-sense is a function to be in the world. It just loses its dominance.
c) The self-sense shifts to the cosmic Self or Atman, the self as universal consciousness. It’s called the Self because it gains the “I” sense but as an infinite “I”. This is experienced as a liberation. We drop the constraints of being a person and become boundless.
Some wake up to a sense of no-self when that personal identification ends. This may be because the cosmic sense of Self is not yet clear. In such a case, there is usually a sense of emptiness rather than fullness. Update: this can also arise because of a renunciate emphasis in the approach where the local sense of self is denied.
This isn’t just jiva recognizing atman (the point recognizing the whole), it is atman (the whole) waking up to itself through this body-mind (point).
Some suggest there is no local self-sense at all. That seems delusional here. It can leave us blind to the shadows that remain. Just note any enlightened being you’re aware of. They have a very distinct personality, opinions, and dislikes. The laws of nature they’re born with continue. What has changed is from where they’re experiencing them.
Further along, I’ve observed that people in Brahman stage becomes a law unto themselves. Freed even from the restrictions of the cosmic, they’re driven by totality.
Our body and mind are a vehicle for enlightenment to be lived. We require a functional human for the stages of enlightenment to unfold. We can’t follow this path as an angel, for example.
Yes, it may be necessary to lose the world to gain the absolute. The hazard is in resting there or thinking this is the entire picture. Wholeness and oneness arise when the absolute and relative come together.
The body-mind is not who we are but is a vehicle, a means of enlightenment. We carry baggage and identifications that impede clear seeing. But that’s not their fault any more than low oil in your car is the car’s fault.
The content of our body-mind, the thoughts, emotions, and sensations, are also not who we are. Nor are they the problem.
The key is going beyond the body-mind to discover our true nature. Then we can bring that back into our daily life. We can be a human who knows their cosmic reality. That is a blessing indeed.