By Joseph Smith 5th of October 2007
I define "ego" as desire, hatred and ignorance within one’s mind/heart. Ignorance, here, is specifically of oneself or one’s own experience, the world within, not the external world. Ego is there for a purpose, to be learnt from. Ego is that which causes us to be egocentric and egotistic, sometimes called “selfish”, but it is a fully self directed or self absorbed selfishness, not an “enlightened self interest”. The latter is beneficial to others as well as one’s self.
Ego is different from “I”, “me”, or “[my]self”, which are personal pronouns used to distinguish one individual from another. Ego would be dispensable, but such personal pronouns like “self” and “other” would be necessary for ease of communication and life in human society. Psychology teaches that the distinction between “self” and “other” is a healthy part of mental development.[4a - a note for Buddhists]
These games are played as a distraction, when ego is at risk of being exposed [in conflict or confrontational situations]. Common justification for ego games: they are doing something I don't like, often saying something I don't want to hear, essentially, “it’s their fault, they made me do it.”
Ego games variously maintain the position of “being right” even if it is about some negative view about oneself, but usually about others generally as people [not specifically about behaviours etc]. Ego can play with this knowledge and superficially change the language one uses, but not the attitude underneath it [a superficial kind of diplomacy, possibly a kind of “political correctness”]. For integrity, one must face the attitude first, the “inside out” approach, otherwise it is just a Band-Aid solution.
“The truth doesn’t suffer from investigation.” If what we think is right, then there would be no fear of looking into its reasons, clarity/intelligence or emotional integrity.
There are many secondary ego games. In reading these you may see some that you do. If you recognise any of these in your life and you want to do something about them, then read the primary ego game carefully. Ego could use this information on secondary ego games to confuse and dishearten, with thoughts such as "there are so many, so much work I need to do, I shouldn't do this, I shouldn't do that..." but it was in doing one thing, stopping the primary game, that, over time, I became aware of and could eradicate the secondary ones. It's happening naturally as a consequence of eradicating the primary ego game.
The Tall Poppy Ego: Talking to others about a certain person's mistakes [mentioning names], or what one thinks is their mistakes, without the plan to talk to the person themselves. Talking to others about a certain person's mistakes, AFTER having spoken to the person themselves, but WITHOUT their permission to talk about it.
The Split Personality Ego also Two Faced Ego also Situation Ethics: Double standards are the basis of what's commonly called, "split personality". One lives one set of values in one scenario and another in another scenario. One does not commit to a set of values that one sees as fair and equitable to all concerned, which may need polishing as it is tested in life. If double standards become epidemic within one, then one progresses to a clinical diagnosis. "Insanity" is just a matter of degree.
The Grass is Greener Ego: When asked for an idea of interest, one replies with "I might be interested". When asked for a commitment to meet, one replies with "[I'll get back to you], soon", even "I have to check my diary", but both without a commitment to when they'll let one know. This is treating people like fill ins [I'll call this person if nothing better comes along] or like back ups [I'll call this person if this other thing doesn't work out]. It is also not acknowledging one's indecision.
The Deaf Ego: not listening: reading into what others are saying and assuming one knows/understands what the other means. It's easy to listen when people are saying things that we want to hear. With confusion, we don't see the difference between constructive feedback, which is specific to behaviours or attitude and personal attack, or we do, but we want all "criticism" to be couched in pretty/nice/unharsh/"positive" words. When people are suffering, they may not be able to present their complaint perfectly, ego uses that to dismiss the complaint, rather than try to find out what is the real behavioural problem [and any possible negative attitude behind it].
The Dismissing Ego: “you’re stupid”, “you’re weird”, closing all communication lines at the drop of a hat; interrupting people when they’re trying to communicate [especially constructive feedback], cutting mid-sentence and bringing up another issue before the original one has been resolved. This secondary issue often is a counter complaint. This is an ego game of diversion or digression, to avoid the original issue.
The Absolute Relativist Ego [vis Post-Modernism]: “what you think is just your opinion, it’s not the truth [we all have our own truth]”. This is a more subtle way to dismiss. The thought itself is an attempt to be right. It is an absolute position. It makes relativity an absolute and in effect renders the other’s opinion worthless, so no need to examine it for ANY truth. Opinions MAY or may NOT reflect the truth. They are not the truth in themselves, which is a lived experience, not just something believed and clung onto as the truth.
The Outgoing Ego: expressing one’s opinion and not being interested in another’s, usually identified by not asking. Expressing one’s opinion, when others aren’t interested, is not of much communicative use ["taking to the wall"].
The Introverted Ego: devaluing one’s opinion, not thinking it should be expressed at all. This is very different from finding the right time to express it, e.g. when others are in a space to listen.
The Joking Ego: using ignoble forms of joking as a diversion, e.g. jokes at other’s expense, sarcasm, lude & crude jokes… If they are the major type of joking one uses, then one would judge another who doesn’t use them as “boring” or “with a poor sense of humour”. I’m happy to be judged so. Though I still sometimes degrade myself and practice the lower forms of humour. Joking may also be used to avoid confrontation about one's unfulfilled responsibilities, there's a laugh, then it's forgotten.. by the unthinking crowd.
The Innocent/Stupid Ego: “What are you talking about?” Probably be from impatience: not wanting to spend time to consider the point, linked with not wanting to look at one’s behaviours or attitudes. The question may be asked at an inappropriate time. So if the other person says “not now”, it can be easily made their fault: “I tried to talk about it, but they didn’t want to.”
The Ignorant Ego: totally not responding to a point raised, even if it’s merely to say, “I disagree” or “I think that is foolish”.
The Generalities Ego: “I DO listen”, “I DO care” without the “but on that occasion I didn’t/may not have”. GENERALLY one may do so, but when it comes to conflict or confronting ego, one may switch off at that ponit in time. The criticism might also be foolishly made as a generality, which ego likes because it can continue to play with that, but on the path to integrity, one would examine to find the specific behaviour that is considered problematic/disrespectful.
The Judging [-the-person] Ego: when unhelpful behaviours are identified, the ego takes it personally and develops a negative attitude towards the one speaking, making them the problem and thus closing the door to constructive feedback.
The Stand-over Ego: The nice version is "patronising" or "micromanaging", where one offers advice, or tries to solve another's problems, without asking if they would like help, or advice. "Micromanaging" could be justified as "[on the job] training". In effect, patronising and micromanaging are, thinking for the other, [as if they couldn't think for themselves]. The ugly version is "threatening" with reference to an escalation of violence, where "it is to be done my [this] way or else". Both come from the arrogance that one knows what's best for another, or one understands the other's situation, maybe even more clearly than the person themselves. There are, of course, different types of relationships and "[true] friendship" would include an openness to advice or suggestions from the other party, such that they wouldn't have to ask first.
“I am [not]…” [absolute] statements. Statements which are not simply a description of behaviour, e.g. not statements like “I’m going shopping”, but rather statements which are attempts at self equation [with something], self definition, self image or self identity. This game is played to distract oneself from knowing oneself fully. It singles out one aspect of one’s self, ignoring/suppressing others and tries to build an identity or image on that one aspect. It’s easier to play this [self image] game than know oneself fully, just as it’s easier to take a photograph [2D image] than make a [3D] sculpture. Some examples are:
|I’m right, [you’re wrong].||I’m wrong, [you’re right].|
|I’m good, [you’re bad].||I’m bad, [you’re good].|
|I’m ok, [you’re ok].||I’m messed up, [you’re messed up].|
|I’m better [than you].||I’m worse [than you].|
|We’re equal.||We’re the same.|
The Buddha called this game "the conceit 'I am'". Comparing oneself as better than, worse than, or equal to others, is based on the arrogance of thinking [the conceited thinking] one knows someone else [without knowing oneself] completely, as a whole person. When I know myself wholly, I do not need to compare myself with others. For a long time ego got the better of me. It confused me to think it is the "I", "me", "myself", "my", "mine" [personal pronouns] that are the problem, rather than the conceit "I am". Thus I got stuck in just changing my language and not my attitudes. This approach has been promoted by such ideas as "we must eradicate the 'I' in 'I am'". The Buddha taught we must eradicate the " 'I am' conceit". When we do, we can use pronouns "without being fooled by them".
Each “I am [not]” statement is projected out there with “You are [not]”, “He/she is [not]” etc statements, the opposite to justify segregation and the same to try to prove an imagined bond. These 2nd and 3rd person statements are based on the former [1st person statement], the internal dialogue we have with ourselves.
These identification statements are non-specific regarding the various aspects of oneself or experience [body, sensations, ideas/beliefs, emotions and awareness – from less subtle to more subtle], e.g. “I’m right” is probably about some thought, statement, belief or expressed opinion, not about all of me/my full experience/me as a whole person. Whereas: “What I said was right.” would be specific to ideas, in this case, ideas expressed verbally.
Surely it is better to have a positive self image than a negative one, thus we have modern encouragement to develop "positive self talk" and "positive affirmations", but they do not eradicate the conceit 'I am', but rather subtly enforce it. Therefore they would only ever be Band-Aid solutions. One can try and deal with or eradicate the secondary games, but they would mutate if the primary game were not dealt with directly. The Buddha has given a method to do so: "stop being caught up in your head thinking 'I am' [or "I am not"] in regard to the five aspects of experiential clinging: body, sensations, ideas/beliefs, emotions and awareness". Instead examine and see the five aspects as they really are: impermanent, suffering and not Self or not soul. When not clung to, the five aspects are of enlightened experience, that is, happiness, but they are still impermanent and not Self [not soul] and are known clearly as such.
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 This is based on the Buddha’s definition of “suffering” or “dukkha” [S 43.1-44 : S iv 359-373 ; S 45.4 : S v 6 ; S 45.40 : S v 27 etc].
 “In this fathom long body is to be found the world and the end of the world.” The Buddha [A 4.4.47 : A ii 49]
 The Buddha’s definition of “wholesome” is that which does not harm oneself or others. [A 3.107-8 : A i 263 etc]
 The Buddha said he uses the language of the world without being fooled by it. [D 9 : D i 202] Later texts, or later influences on early texts would have him avoid using personal pronouns for himself and rather call himself by various third party names.
[4a] In the spirit of the Buddha's teaching, which values and integrates both heart/emotion and mind/intellect, the Dalai Lama said that he would never teach his followers to practise something that was against science. The misunderstanding of this principle of the Buddha's teaching would lead to thinking enlightenment means, we get rid of the ideas of "self" and "other", which would be unworkable in everyday life. This is also the answer Hinduism offers and would be why the Hindus declared the Buddha as the ninth[?] incarnation of Vishnu. The Buddha's former teachers thought this was enlightenment. Distinction between self and other temporarily stops in the first formless state of consciousness [aruupajhaana]. The intellectually challenging and stimulating metaphysical philosophy of "[there is] no self" invalidates the work of eradicating ego. If there is no self, not even a temporary one that has temporary suffering, then there is no owner of action and the Buddha's teaching is meaningless. The Buddha said his teaching was for "this very life" [D 25 : D iii 55 ; S 12.13-4 ; S ii 14-17 ; S 12.16 : S ii 18 ; A 3.13 : A i 108] and that those who cling to extreme statements/beliefs of "there is" [atthi] and "there isn't" [n'atthi] could not understand his teaching [e.g. S 44.10 : S iv 399-400].
 “Judge not lest you be judged”. [Matt 7:1] “Judge not by appearances, but judge a righteous judgment”. [John 7:24]
 "asmimaano" [M i 139, 425; M iii 115; A iii 85; Vin i 3 etc]