The ego should either become nothing or everything. When it comes to the ego, I don’t believe in the proverb that says that something is better than nothing. You should either become nothing or become everything, but not something. Nothing is better than something. We know that the extremes always meet. Either something expands until it returns to the origin or it reduces until it becomes nothing. You could become nothing, which means that you are completely free from ego. You would just think, I am only an instrument. Or expand the ego and think, I am responsible for everything, the entire world is my projection. If I say somebody is my friend, that is my projection. The next minute, I may say they are my enemy, and again it is my projection. So put yourself into everything, or take yourself completely out from everything. Either way, you come and meet at the starting point.

Actually, the ego is not to be destroyed even though some people interpret what they read that way. The destruction that is sometimes written about is not really destruction. We use a lot of terms such as: self-denial, self-annihilation, self-destruction, self-negation, and so on. But you can’t destroy anything; it is impossible to destroy and it is impossible to create anything. But you can change one thing into something else or the something else into the first thing.

The ego is not completely different from the true Self or the higher Self—it is only a matter of feeling that there is a difference and that is what we call the basic ignorance. It’s only a feeling that, I am different. When that feeling is taken away, there is only oneness and that is what you call annihilation or surrendering. For example, if you take a mud pot or a glass pot and immerse the pot in a water source—such as the sea or in a river—when the water enters into that, you see a division. Now there is the water inside the pot and the water outside the pot. Or, in our daily life, we may see kids playing with a balloon. Blow into the balloon and it fills up with air. The very same air that is outside, got into the balloon.

Why would you separate the air into the inside and outside air? If not for the balloon, there is no inside air and outside air. The inside air is something like the ego and the outside air is something like the Cosmic Consciousness; the thin wall of the balloon is what we can call ignorance. It is that ignorance, that film, that makes things seem separate. When that ignorance is broken, when the balloon bursts, the inside air becomes one with the outside air and there is no more separation. But as long as there is a balloon, if you keep on blowing, what happens? At a particular point whether you let the air out or when it bursts on its own, there is only one air.

As long as you feel some individuality, you are feeling expansion. You can watch, you can experience the expansion to a certain point, because as you add the air into the balloon, the inner air feels that more air is coming in, is it not? That feeling is only lost when the balloon bursts. Until it bursts, or until it is let out completely, there is the feeling of separateness. So whatever kind of partition is there, it must be completely taken out, and all of a sudden you lose yourself in the cosmic one and you don’t feel separate any longer.

Truly speaking, this ignorance, or the illusion of an inner and outer, is what is called the “original sin,” according to the Bible. What this really means is that you have separated yourself—you have forgotten your original divine state. The Sanskrit term for that ignorance is avidya. We must realize our original state and that is what is known as enlightenment. You can get this enlightenment at any time. There is no individuality in that experience. But due to karma, due to destiny, or due to some pre-planned motion, which has given a certain momentum you may temporarily feel that you are different. It is similar to your knowledge of a dream after you wake up. When you are dreaming the dream is real to you; when you wake up from the dream, it is unreal but you are still conscious of the dream—you are not dreaming, but you are laughing at your own dream.

You may even go and tell everybody, “Oh what a fantastic dream I had.” In the same way, after realizing the source, you may not be completely out of this world, may not be forgetting everything. You may still speak of yourself in terms of an individual, “I am so and so, I am this and that, I am saying this, doing that,” but you do it as if you are narrating your own dream. There is no truth behind it. In an untrue world, in a world of conditions, if a realized person just goes and says, “I am Self, all are Self and it is the Self that talks to Self and so on, it will sound rather odd. Anyone who speaks like that is not fit for the world. So a realized person allows some karma to continue, until it is completely exhausted. Otherwise, a Self-realized person cannot function in the world.

So expand yourself until you burst into that cosmic state. Or, contract yourself till you again become that cosmic one, but don’t stay in between. That is what is meant by the expansion or contraction of the ego.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda