There is a popular movement today with the coming of a so called “New Age,” to partake of spirituality, instead of just religion. Many of the ideas from Eastern religions stress enlightenment, and dissolution of the power of the ego. In these religions the concept of the isolated self is false. The idea is to come to knowledge of the true self, the self that lies beyond the false self constructed by those around us. The true self is the larger self, the one connected to everything.

In the world of dualism this is a difficult teaching for some. The dualists who hear it and agree with it work to let go of the idea of ego and false self quickly, wanting to abandon it right away, and wanting to be in contact with the true self. It is the right thing to do to them. In Eastern thinking, however, this dualistic tension usually doesn’t exist. One example of the lack of such tension can be seen in Taoism and in Tibetan Buddhism.

In Tibetan Buddhism there are thousands and thousands of wrathful and peaceful deities, as well as Bodhisattvas that you pray to during your journey through the bardos in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. In Taoist temples there are often pictures of Gods that people venerate. At the same time, these are non-theistic religions. The practitioners find no tension in the fact that there are many Gods, but none, whereas some of the westerners try to uphold such religions as religions without a God. The truth is, however, that these religions realize that reality is too great to possibly understand. Images of God or Gods are a tool for understanding powers and concepts they can grasp. Some feel comfortable focusing on Gods to do this, and some don’t On the surface it may seem that these groups are practicing different religions, but at a deeper level, both have the same belief. That belief is that we cannot be absolutely sure until we are there. Using our energy to discover if there is or isn’t any such things as God is only a tool of the ego that stops us from the true work of spirituality. It is that simple.

In the western mind there is a great deal of unrecognized ego attachment. A theist must remain theistic because his idea of humanity and who himself is attached to his idea of being a theist. If he should be convinced to become an atheist or non-theist, he will have lost the battle of wits between these different parties. He will have given one of his most central core beliefs, and therefor, will have lost the battle. Accepting a new idea of a God would make an atheist have to surrender. She would have to give up her identity as an atheist—someone who has been standing against superstition. What would her friends say? Doesn’t this whole discussion and holding on and letting go sound like the fruit of the ego? That’s what it is.

As we begin to partake of these various Eastern religions, and even Western spirituality and mysticism, it is important for us to remember the ego, and how it subtly shapes our experience of the world and our belief systems about God and humanity. Dualism is the main tool of the ego. In order to loosen the boundaries of the ego it is necessary for us to begin to see the world holistically, not dualistically. In holistic thinking there is a place for dualism, but in dualism there is no place for holistic, singular thinking. In the self actualized person there is a place for ego, but in a person with an ego ruled life, there is no room for self actualization or enlightenment, because the ego is afraid of such things.

While partaking of your spiritual journey, therefor, be sure to notice where ego begins and ends. Your ego could actually be shaping your spiritual experience to the point that everything you experience, everything you study, and every teacher that you have, is being suggested by the ego so that you can remain the way you are and can strengthen the beliefs that you already have about the world, thus making the ego impenetrable. You can become more ego attached by doing spiritual exercise and meditation. If they are the ones you feel comfortable with, they are probably being chosen by the ego. Spirituality does not feel comfortable most of the time. In the beginning it rocks ones world and causes stress. It tears apart comfortable ideas about the world and stretches one to the point of breaking sometimes.

After the breaking and during the mending one feels comfortable and one grows. If, however there is no stress, there is no fear, disillusionment and breaking at various points during one’s spiritual journey, one should question whether he or she is really doing the type of spirituality that will bring about enlightenment, or if he or she is religiously feeding the ego in yet another way. Be aware of the ego, my friends, because the ego is a Fifth Avenue penthouse cage when it needs to be. Through our spiritual practice we could just be relaxing the mind and strengthening the body so that the ego can use it to partake of the world of illusion with more vehemence and persistence.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. John W. Gilmore is a writer and the founder of the Universal Circle of Creation Spirituality. You can find information about his books and his Journal of Practical Spirituality, and many more articles at, as well as a link to his interfaith Cyber Service based on the teachings of Matthew Fox and University of Creation Spirituality.