Monday, December 8, 2008

One Man's Ego

Even if the ego to which we attach so much importance is nothing more than a delusion, as the Buddhist teachings suggest, it still manages to create enough havoc in the world!

Case in point: The reports arriving via the news media from Zimbabwe about the growing cholera epidemic there are a tragic reminder of the destructive power of one madman's megalomania. It is unquestionably Robert Mugabe and his incompetence that have laid the groundwork for the current disaster. The economic chaos, with the percentage of inflation in the multiples of thousands, has left his citizens in abject poverty and bereft even of clean drinking water. His stubborn hubris in refusing to relinquish power even after this year's election results were an indisputable signal for him to do so, along with his betrayal of promises to share power with his rival are the direct cause of the misery from which his country suffers today. Thousands have already died from the cholera epidemic, and the lives of countless thousands more are threatened. And still he will not leave, preferring the sacrifice of the lives of others to that of his willfully blind ego.

Let's not be pointing fingers, though, when we have our own example of this folly in the White House. This ego-driven presidency has caused enough pain and suffering in the world to earn its own black mark in history. And I'm not thinking only of the foolish misadventure in Iraq. I'm thinking of all the ripples that have proceeded from that point throughout the Muslim world. I'm thinking of the denial of simple birth control methods and education to too many women who have died in childbirth, or to the children they have brought into the world without the means to support them and protect them from the ravages of hunger and disease--all because of the arrogance of one man who believes the Almighty speaks directly in his ear.

The toll of human life that can be attributed throughout history to the ruthless masculine ego is incalculable, unimaginable. It's a powerful force, both in the world at large and in the small world of our individual lives. I should know. I'm a Leo. I have my own past ego-driven actions to atone for, come karma-time, and my own current battles with this relentless monster. And I continue to struggle with the understanding that a great deal of good can come from the strong ego, in ways virtually indistinguishable from the harm. Therein lies another of those enigmas of the human nature that will never be resolved.


carly said...

I don't believe in a soul, but we can sure say he has no "soul". When blacks backed Simpson, they did the wrong thing. So far, it looks like they did the right thing in backing Barack. Learning curve there. Accounts for the silence. Simpson's ego could fill a room. Selfish, self-centeredness or unselfish ego for the good of the whole makes all the difference.

I have read more about India preparing to take action against militants inside Pakistan. Revenge rages in India, but a strike may be more like surgery to remove a cancer. It takes a cool head to wage war correctly. ex. Churchill

Hope you see in Friday's entry, a collection of wisdom by Einstein, which I placed there.

At a point when Buddhism merged with Chinese ideas in China, this wonderful observational nature simile emerged, in at least one Buddhist sect, the fractal-like metaphor of Indra's Net:

"Indra's net (also called Indra's jewels or Indra's pearls) is a metaphor used to illustrate the concepts of emptiness,[2] dependent origination[3], and interpenetration[4] in Buddhist philosophy. The metaphor of Indra's net was developed by the Mahayana Buddhist school in the 3rd century scriptures of the Avatamsaka Sutra, and later by the Chinese Huayan school between the 6th and 8th century.[2]
Buddhist concepts of interpenetration hold that all phenomena are intimately connected; for the Huayan school, Indra's net symbolizes a universe where infinitely repeated mutual relations exist between all members of the universe.[5] This idea is communicated in the image of the interconnectedness of the universe as seen in the net of the Vedic god Indra, whose net hangs over his palace on Mount Meru, the axis mundi of Vedic cosmology and Vedic mythology. Indra's net has a multifaceted jewel at each vertex, and each jewel is reflected in all of the other jewels
Huayan school
Francis Harold Cook describes the metaphor of Indra's net from the perspective of the Huayan school in the book Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra:
Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infintely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each "eye" of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring."

I don't see how exactly this would support emptiness. Seems more like support of the myriad things of Lao Tzu.

carly said...

Oh, forgot to include:

Indra's Net is derived from the nature observation of a spider's web and drops of water on the web, each reflecting the other drops, to infinity, another fractal in nature.

thailandchani said...

I still question that one a lot... the role of intent in the results of our actions. Is it only the result that matters? A big ego doesn't typically result in good things as far as I know.

It's an interesting question.


lindsey said...

As one who has been embroiled in a battle with her own ego for weeks now, I find myself reading this posting and hearing my ego say "See? I'm okay. At least I'm not causing wars or human rights violations. You can keep me around!" :-) Right...

carly said...

We might think of ego like pride. Forgetting false pride for a moment, pride can be bad or good.

In the science of handwriting analysis, what might be bad is factored as what might be a liability. Pride can be favorable, because it makes the person do the right thing. So depending on the circumstance, pride may be beneficial. Or it may be a liability, causing wrong behavior when circumstance factors in.

The same with ego. It can be part of what makes a person act well or act poorly, depending on other factors in the make-up, such as feelings of inferiority. We will never know what makes Simpson a man who thinks of evil first.

footnote: In handwriting analysis, the written stroke for pride if extended to long, gets into vanity. Richard Nixon had this excessive pride stroke in his writing.

Again, like all things, pride and the ego are good if it if balanced with something else and brought into equilibrium. And as usual, man is not as balanced as nature.

mandt said...

I think 'I' ergo ego. Without one we wouldn't be human.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Ego hampers our understanding that we are all connected and what affects us also affects our neighbors.

I think there is a fine line between the self-aggrandizement of ego run amok and creative energy. When ego impels us to perform good works, to some degree the end justifies the means but it's often impossible to tell where ego and right effort diverge.

Mugabe and Bush are extreme examples of the endless misery caused by one person's overweening ego. We are all capable of doing harm every day and need to consider our motivations and behaviors carefully to minimize the damage.