A LADY ASKED, “What is the difference between no ego and no self?” This is a crucial point within inner enquiry. In contemplative traditions, the self can unite with God as the ego is dropped and the body/mind is flooded with the arrival of a supreme energetic awareness (known as God). This can cause blissful, ecstatic states as the realisation is that the journey is over and God has been found. This new and sublime understanding is held deeply with profound pervading joy in the inner sanctum of the energetic depths of the body. From thereonin, all actions and gestures in life are performed as the one who has found God (He who replaced the ego), and with the possible (and often) belief that one has been selected as one of ‘the chosen few’.
Life is thus performed in the name of God, sometimes evangelically, sometimes educationally, sometimes charitably. This spiritual achievement is seen as the ultimate for the seeker, and is known in Christian mysticism as the Unitive state described by its saints and mystics, and Ramana Maharshi refers to it as Cosmic Consciousness. I believe the Buddhists do not acknowledge this point of arrival of unity with God.
It is, of course, delusion. There is a further step which is the ultimate surrender of one’s life. It is alluded to by the Christian saints, St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa of Avila, but no further discourse is offered anywhere in this tradition. The belief with the Christians is that such a state could not exist if human life is ticking over; but it was seen briefly by the above saints as a kind of satori. So what is this next unexpected step?
No-self is the complete dropping of both inner God, plus the energetic mechanism holding together the self, acting with and on behalf of God. The gripping and holding together (because of God) vanishes together with any idea of who you think you are. It is a complete wipeout, and any idea that you are God’s agent vanishes together with the delusion of the self. The actual truth is that the God found checks out, taking ‘you’ and all your ideas of life, meaning and accumulated values with Him. This is the emptiness referred to in the Non-Duality tradition, and if it occurs without preparation in any spiritual belief system through contemplation, meditation and bodily preparations (e.g. yoga), it can be almost destructive in terms of human survival. Ramana called this God Consciousness, and it is the Great Death in Zen Buddhism.
The self – the knowing, feeling part of you; the energetic scaffolding of ideas, accumulated and refined over the years in order to be unique, important, of value; attractive, worthy of notice and desirable, vanishes. How this is known is simply because there is the realisation that there is nothing left. Death of the self is what has occurred, and it is what we see in our elders in the winter of their lives when they are preparing to leave. It is, in effect, the last of the Russian dolls to vanish.
The self is recognised by its absence. When in place, it is that mechanism we use to self-reference – the point of central command in the body, often felt at the solar plexus but it radiates throughout as an inner (protective) lining. The body/mind’s inner architecture is nuked, and what is left, after (long) investigation is not a vacuum, but life seen through the eyes of God without the encumbrance of the stubborn house of cards, built on sand, that finally fell to the Divine. This is an act of ultimate grace because the Divine has intervened, taking hold of your life so you no longer suffer (suffering arose from the vanished self); thus you can live your life with the same grace as Divine exploring Itself.
There is, then, no mistaking the difference between no ego and no self, but it is experiential and, clearly, completely incomprehensible to the mind.