Ego Death

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

John 3:3

The death and rebirth motif in comparative mythology is arguably at the heart of all spiritual and religious traditions. It is certainly at the heart of Christianity. The radical spiritual enlightenment Zen aims for is possible only through the “Great Death”, the death of the ego, and the experience of ego dissolution has been the cornerstone of psychedelic mysticism in the West at least since Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception was published in 1954.

“Die before ye die”. This is the the essence of the Sufi fana, or self-annihilation. It is the “immortality key” of what Brian Muraresku calls “the religion with no name”, a “religion” which potentially stretches back to the Paleolithic around two and a half million years ago, even to the dawn of human life on Earth. As it evolved, it found various expressions, primarily in the form of shamanic initiatory rituals, still practiced today among the Yanomani and other tribes throughout the world.

“The main aim of shamanic initiation among the Yanomami people of the Upper Orinoco River region in Venezuela is the metamorphosis of the human body into a cosmic body, or what I term “corporeal cosmogenesis.” During the initiatory ordeal, the neophyte undergoes an intense experience of death through dismemberment by the spirits and subsequent rebirth, thus overcoming the human condition and becoming an individual living spirit.”

Zelko Jokic

In The Psychedelic Experience, Leary, Metzner and Alpert note that “one of the oldest and most universal practices for the initiate to go through the experience of death before he can be spiritually reborn. Symbolically he must die to his past, and to his old ego, before he can take his place in the new spiritual life into which he has been initiated.”

This is a frightening prospect. Some writers, such as David Loy, go so far as to claim that the fear of egolessness can be even stronger than the fear of physical death. But you get used to it. After the first initiation experience, it is possible to “die” and be “reborn” countless times. It becomes as natural as falling asleep at night and waking up in the morning.

It really should come as no surprise that a culture without a living tradition and practice of ego death and rebirth, or one that has lost it, will begin to suffer from the evils of egotism: selfishness, narcissism, empathic failure, hyper-individualism, atomisation, addiction, rampant consumerism, domestic abuse, violent crime, racism, cultural fragmentation and the despoilation and destruction of the natural environment.

If we are serious about addressing these issues in our culture, we need to look long and hard at ourselves and at their psychological and spiritual causes. If we think we can come up with political or technological solutions and just carry on as normal, taking what we want when we want, we are still missing the mark. This is a spiritual crisis, and it requires spiritual solutions.

In my little psycho-spiritual system, I define six discrete ego states, based on the six realms of the Bhavachakra, the Tibetan Wheel of Life. These are the Diva, the Muggle, the Muppet, the Addict, the Victim and the Demon ego states. Because we move around the wheel, embodying different types of ego or sub-personality, we are under the illusion that we are only sometimes egoically possessed. The truth is that the mode may vary, but the ego remains intact.

The solution I have come up with is a simple mantra, carefully designed to counteract the activity and loosen the grip of these egos on our lives. There are actually five mantras. One is associated with the seven chakras of the Indian kundalini system, situated along the spinal column. The other four are associated with the seven points of the double cross (third eye chakra, sacral chakra, left hip, right hip, left shoulder, right shoulder, heart). They are “body-mantras”, rooted in the body. I have nicknamed them “the Staff of Moses” and “the Armour of Christ” respectively (see my blog, Staff and Armour).

The five mantras are as follows:

The Staff of Moses

Amun Ra Atum Ka Ba Gaia Jah (corresponding to the seven chakras from base to crown)

The Armour of Christ

Mystic Shaman Warrior Monk Philosopher King Friend (the six inverse archetypes of the six egos plus a seventh at the heart)

Zen Soma Body Heart Mind Soul Spirit

Humility Chastity Diligence Temperance Patience Prudence Gratitude (the Christian Virtues)

Peace Love Goodness Beauty Truth Consciousness Bliss

The full meditation has twelve steps:

  1. The Grounding
  2. The Clearing
  3. The Tao
  4. The Staff of Moses
  5. The Jewel in the Lotus
  6. The Armour of Christ 1
  7. The Armour of Christ 2
  8. The Armour of Christ 3
  9. The Armour of Christ 4
  10. The Lord’s Prayer
  11. The Hail Mary
  12. The Glory Be

Ego death and rebirth needn’t always be as dramatic and traumatic as the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ or the dismemberment and re-assembly of Osiris and Dionysus. It can be as gentle, quiet and unassuming as a child praying the rosary at a deserted bus stop.