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The ego and the shadow || Acharya Prashant, on Rumi (2017)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
20 min
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”How does a part of the world leave the world? How does wetness leave water? Don’t try to put out fire by throwing on more fire! Don't wash a wound with blood. No matter how fast you run, your shadow keeps up. Sometimes it's in front!

Only full overhead sun diminishes your shadow. But that shadow has been serving you.

What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle. Your boundaries are your quest.

I could explain this, but it will break the glass cover on your heart, and there's no fixing that.

You must have shadow and light source both. Listen, and lay your head under the tree of awe.

When from that tree feathers and wings sprout on you, be quieter than a dove.

Don't even open your mouth for even a coo.”


Questioner1 (Q1): Can the shadow be our ego?

Acharya Prashant(AP): Whose ego? Whose shadow?

Use your questions and you will come to yourself. Look at your questions. Your questions are the shadow. Look at your shadow if you don’t have a mirror and you will know something about yourself. You are saying, ‘Our ego’; whose ego? Your question betrays the assumption that you consider yourself as somebody different from the ego. That’s why you are saying ‘my ego’. Don’t say ‘my ego’, say ‘me-ego’. There is nothing called ‘my’ ego. You are not the owner or the master of the ego; you are the ego. You are the ego and the world is the shadow. The world means everything— thoughts, ideas, views, ideologies, opinions, memories, knowledge, worldviews, all that is perceivable through the senses—all that which can be touched, seen, heard, smelt. That is the world. All that which can be contained in the consciousness is the world, all that which you can think of is the world, all that which can be given a name is the world. That is the shadow.

The ego means ‘I’. You are saying ‘my ego’; you are saying ‘my ‘I’’. You are saying, in other words, ‘I’ is I, my ‘me’. The ego literally means ‘I’. You are saying ‘my I’. Then who are you? You are that I; you are that ego. But it is humiliating to identify with the ego. Rather, it is humiliating when your identification with the ego is exposed. You want to act as someone who is a little separate from the ego, who uses the ego, who controls the ego, who manipulates and deploys the ego. Sorry, sir! That is not the case! You do not control and deploy your ego; your ego is all over you. It has seeped right to your core. So, you are the ego.

If there's one party that is using the other, if that is the language that you want to use, then it is the ego that is using you; you are not using the ego. Actually, nobody is using anybody because the two are one. But if you want to still stand by that artificial separation, then it is more accurate to say that you are the ego’s ‘I’. It is not as if you can say, ‘my ego.’ The ego should say, ‘my I’; the ego should claim the ownership.

Look at your life, do you really control the ego? Even the thought of control comes from the ego. So, how would you control the ego? Who else wants to control anybody? The very desire to control is ego. So, even when you say that I control the ego, it is the ego in action. You are not the owner of the ego. I know that hurts the ego (laughs) . You are so identified with the ego that, even when you say ‘it hurts me’, it is actually the ego that is being hurt.

The ego is a piece of sun that has gone astray, so, it is no more resplendent on its own. It now is dependent on external light. The ego is a piece of the sun itself that has come apart. The sun is immense; the sun is the symbol of the infinite. A little finite piece drops out—that is the ego. A piece of the sun that is no more close to the sun. Had it been there up with the sun, it would have had light of its own. Now it requires the light of the sun, and even when it receives the light of the sun, it receives that light along with the shadow.

You see, the sun has so much light but no shadows. But when that same light of the sun falls upon you, there is a shadow. That is the punishment of being small. As a small one, even when you receive light, it creates a shadow. When the small one receives even light, it results in shadow. That is the punishment for smallness. You are getting light and you are creating darkness.

Now you know why it is so difficult to learn from the scriptures or the Gurus because you learn as the small one. So, the Guru might be shining upon you as the sun, but even the great sun cannot prevent you from casting your shadow. Look at the size of the sun and look at your size, yet you defeat the sun. Irrespective of how brilliantly the sun is shining upon you, you will still manage to create a shadow. That is the price you pay for smallness. That is the price you pay for having a distance from the sun.

You will get light. No doubt, you will get light, but that light will be of not much use to you. Because that light will be conditional. When your face would be receiving light, your back would be against the light. When your back would be receiving light, your face would be against the light. You will never be totally able to have the sun. Some part of you would be opposed to the sun. One part of you is with the sun, another part is behind, another part is looking elsewhere, hence, the shadow. That’s the price you pay for being finite, being somebody.

And you know, the brighter is the sun, the sharper is the shadow. On cloudy days the shadow is quite vague. On sunny days, a shadow is so marked out, so conspicuous. The brighter the source is—the teacher is—the sharper will be your shadow. In fact, you will be able to know the darkness of your shadow only when the sun is brilliant. Such an irony.

Q2: In the same poem Rumi says, ‘Darkness is your candle’.

AP: Rumi is saying, ‘Darkness is your candle’. Is that what he is saying? “Only full overhead sun diminishes your shadow, but that shadow has been serving you.”

First thing, ‘The shadow has been serving you’. Second thing, ‘What hurts you, blesses you’. Third thing, ‘Darkness is your candle, your boundaries are your quest.’ Please understand.

I said, ‘Go into your questions; your questions will lead you to yourself’. I said, ’When you don't have a mirror, look at your shadow, you will be able to know something about yourself. Your shadow is your candle’. That's the world of the mystic: everything is topsy-turvy, everything gets inverted. Now what does one do, one is finite. Even the great sun cannot eradicate the shadow, what does one do? One has to live with the shadow.

The answer is: then live fully and honestly with the shadow. Don’t be shy of the shadow, don't lie about the shadow, don’t dispute the shadow, don't refuse the presence of the shadow. Look at the shadow. That will tell you about who you are, that will tell you what your relationship with the world is, what your relationship with the sun is.

What does it mean to look at the shadow? The shadow represents the world. ‘Looking at the shadow’ means looking at your relationship with the world. Look at how the world appears to you. Is the world to you a frightening place? Then you must know that you are nothing but condensed fear. Is the world to you a seductive place? Then you should know that you are nothing but a frozen desire. Are you always looking out for adventure, or entertainment, or knowledge, or liberation, or power, or prestige, or money, or sex, or security, or a retreat, or peace or what? What is it that the world means to you?

If you can look at how you look at the world, if you can look at how the world appears to you, you have known yourself. You are nothing, but your relationship with the world. What is your relationship with the crow, with the cow, with the little sparrow? Have you ever seen a solitary drop on a high tension electric line? What is the relationship with that drop? It's a solitary drop, hanging, and it won't be hanging for long. Sticking, it won't be able to stick for long. What is the relationship with that? If you can know that, you know yourself. Stuck in a traffic jam, have you ever seen what your relationship with the world is? How do you look at another car, when you are in a traffic jam? If you can see how you look at the fellow travellers, the other cars, or your own vehicle in a traffic jam, you will know what your relationship with the world is.

Your shadow is your candle . The world is an open book. But to look at the shadow, you will have to seek the blessings of the sun. You will have to ask the sun, “Come and sit behind my eyes, give me light so that I may look at my shadow.” Looking at your shadow will not be possible without the sun because, darkness cannot look at darkness. To look at the world really, honestly and accurately, you will have to surrender to that which is beyond the world. Being of the world, you will never be able to know the world. Identified with the world, you will never be able to know the world. In beyondness, you know; in beyondness, you understand.

Being yourself, you can have all the knowledge about the world, but that is not the same as knowing the world. Being yourself, you may know all the names, the definitions, the systems, the forms, the figures, the history, the functioning—you may know all of that, but that is not the same as understanding.

So, the shadow is your candle. But the light of the candle is the light of the sun. Look at the shadow, but don’t start bowing to the shadow. Even if you say that the world is your teacher, you must know that you are able to learn from the world because the faculty of learning has come to you from a point beyond the world. Otherwise, a great mistake can happen, and there are many who commit this mistake. They say, “I am self-sufficient, I will learn from the world.” Yes, you are right sir, you will learn from the world, but will the world give you that which enables you to learn? Has the world given you that? But that mistake is so very possible.

When you say that you are learning from the world, then you start feeling as if the matter is between you and the world and there is no other party, no third party, no beyondness involved. All is due to the third party, all is due to the beyondness; it is not about you two. You may look at a wall and learn something. But even if that learning has happened, it is not because one end of duality has been able to learn from the other end of the duality. It is because this end of duality (pointing to himself as an indicator of ego) surrendered, got dissolved and hence got one with the other end and hence learnt.

No learning is possible in separation. And you cannot merge with the world. The only way to not remain separate from the world is to dissolve in that which is a universal solvent and hence, dissolves both you and the world.

Even if you are looking at the wall, from where will the attention come? From the wall? Will the wall teach you how to be attentive? In attention, yes, you can know the wall and yourself, but where has attention come from? From the wall? From the world? From the bricks? Form the soil? From books? From convention? From education? Is that where your attention comes from?

So, the statement is wonderful, poetic, deep, and instructive, The world is your candle, your shadow is your candle . Great statement, but it can mislead, so, be careful. As I said, the light of that candle is the light of the sun. So, remain eternally grateful only to the One. Even if some other teacher appears to be teaching you, remember that, in the form of the teacher, the One is teaching you. Even if the world appears to be teaching you, don’t start bowing down to the world. And even if you bow down to the world, in your heart you must know that you are bowing down to the One. And if the one that you are bowing down to is not a real representative of the One, then don't bow down.

Q3: In the poem, Rumi says, ‘I could explain this, but it will break the glass cover on your heart, and there's no fixing that.’

AP: Rumi is just toying with us. Rumi is saying, “I could explain this, but if I explain this, it would break the glass on your heart, and there is no fixing that.” He is already explaining, and he has already half-broken the glass. His words are deceptive, he is making you look elsewhere, while he proceeds with his business of breaking the glass. He is saying, ‘You know what, I might break the glass’, and even as he is saying ‘I might break the glass’, he is actually halfway through; the glass is gone. He is saying, ’I might explain this.’ Sir, you have already explained everything! Almost like Krishnamurti. He would start a session by saying, ‘We would talk about this thing and that thing, and that thing’. Midway through the session, he would say the same thing, ‘We are going to talk of this thing and that thing, and that thing’, as if he is going to talk of those things at some later point; he is already doing that. He is already doing that!

What is the glass on the heart? What is that? It means an armour that is tough but also very fragile. Glass is hard, is it not? So are all our armours—very hard, but very fragile. We are hard people, but we are hurt so quickly, aren't we? Look at the glass, how quickly it is hurt, and it is so hard, extremely hard. If you bang your head against the glass, someone is going to be hurt. If you don’t bang your head hard enough, then you would be hurt. And if you bang your head hard enough, then both of you would be hurt—you and the glass.

The glass is quite fragile, it appears hard, but is so weak. It already contains cracks. Have you ever wondered why particular patterns are formed when glass cracks? Have you seen those patterns? There is a large piece of glass and it gets hit by a stone at some point, from there, you find cracks streaming out in very peculiar fashions. It's almost as if an artist has come and drawn a figure. Strange lines, sometimes they appear beautiful. Those lines are already there, ready to widen and show-up when someone exerts some force. You don’t create those lines; they are there. Even in this piece of glass (pointing to a glass object in front of him) those lines exist, but they will show up when you hit. Such are our armours. We are already very hurt people, but we keep concealing our hurt. We are full of sorrow. The subconscious is about to cry out at any time. Even when we are smiling consciously, the subconscious is wailing. It’s just that when an external impact strikes, the tears that were in the depths come to the surface.

And glass once broken cannot be fixed. Rumi is saying that you are very fragile people. Spirituality and wisdom and the words of a mystic, they hit you so hard that the cracks are bound to be exposed. Now, you can carry on with your life pretending as if nothing has happened, but the cracks have shown up. You may pretend they are not there. The glass piece may still be kept together using some trick, you can have a solid frame that keeps the glass together, or you can use some lotion or tape it from the outside. But that which has been exposed has been exposed. That which the mystic has revealed to you has been revealed. Now you may decide to unsee it, but you will never succeed. What you will succeed in, however, is getting a life full of hypocrisy and internal deceit.

You will pretend to yourself, you will lie to yourself, and that will be very horrifying. There is an elephant in the room and you are pretending you are not seeing it. It is very, very unsettling. You are trying to act cool, you are trying to act normal, and there is an elephant in the room. The elephant is alive, moving and unhappy, because it is being ignored and you are trying to act normal. Don't try to unsee the obvious. You make a fool of yourself when you do that; you do that only when you are afraid.

You have heard the story of the naked king, right? The king was fooled by some cloth makers. They said, “We are weaving you and stitching you the most fantastic dress of all time. And he paid them a lavish sum. They came and they decorated him with the dress, and the dress was not there at all, but who dares to say that? Even the king will not dare say that because the cloth makers were clever enough to establish that only those with evolved minds and high IQs will be able to look at the dress. Now, even the king does not dare to say that he cannot find any dress upon himself. Having worn the dress, he is advised now to display himself to the public. So, a procession is taken out. And the king is standing like a king—regally; well, all naked! And the entire population, huge swathes, teeming waves of people upon people, so much public—they are all overjoyed. One fellow says, “Do you look at how beautifully the red contrasts with the blue.” The other one says, “Yes, yes that is obvious, but I am amazed at how the diamonds are sparkling on the shoulder.” And the lady says, “These threads, well, are they gold or silver?” Now, this is going on, and no one is talking of the obvious. The obvious is the king's fat and naked body. No one is saying, “How big that tummy is. How ugly is the groin and the testicles.” No one is talking of the obvious. People are referring to the imaginary. Can you see the king? Must be a very fat and ugly king. Even when he is displaying himself, he has put one leg up on the pedestal, so as to look more royal. And all his ornaments are hanging about him, and no one is talking about that. Until one little kid says, “What is that! What is that! (laughing) Is that what mamma calls as naked?” Even the kids, so many of them, would have looked at the king and wondered, “Look at this, look at that, all his dangling stuff”, but even the kids did not dare to whisper. One kid said, “Isn’t the king naked?”, and then the others had no option left. The broken glass had now been shattered. He didn’t break the glass; he just shattered it. It was easy to shatter, because it was already broken.

The trouble is not really that we do not know. The trouble is that we refuse to accept that we know. I have maintained that if you can experience, then you also realise. There is an arbitrary and dishonest line of separation between experience and realisation. Experience and realisation are one if you are not dishonest. So, if you know, why do you refuse to acknowledge that you know? Why do you live a life of unseeing? You have heard it, you cannot un-hear it. You have known it, you can't un-know it. And you will keep knowing because, you have ‘knowing’ in your nature. You will not be able to stop knowing ever. But pretence is another matter. You can continue to pretend.

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