Ego: A Useful Fiction

Osho on Ego


Prem parijat, man has no center separate from the center of the whole. There is only one center in existence; the ancients used to call it Tao, dhamma, God. Those words have become old now; you can call it truth. There is only one center of existence. There are not many centers, otherwise the universe would not be really a universe, it would become a multiverse. It is a unity, hence it is called the “universe”; it has only one center.

But this is to be meditated upon a little. That one center is my center, your center, everybody’s center. That one center does not mean that you are centerless, that one center simply means that you don’t have a separate center. Let us say it in different words. You can make many concentric circles on one center, many circles. You can throw a pebble in a silent lake: one center arises from the fall of the pebble and then many concentric circles arise and they go on spreading to the farthest shore — millions of concentric circles, but they all have one center. Each can claim this center as his own. And in a way it is his center, but it is not only his. The ego arises with the claim, “The center is mine, separate. It is not your center, it is my center; it is me.” The idea of a separate center is the root of the ego.

When a child is born he comes without a center of his own. For nine months in the mother’s womb he functions with the mother’s center as his center; he is not separate. Then he is born. Then it is utilitarian to think of oneself as having a separate center; otherwise life will become very difficult, almost impossible. To survive, and to struggle for survival in the fight of life, everybody needs a certain idea of who they are. And nobody has any idea. In fact nobody can ever have any idea, because at the deepest core you are a mystery. You can’t have any idea of it. At the deepest core you are not individual, you are universal. That’s why if you ask the Buddha, “Who are you?” he remains silent, he does not answer it. He cannot, because now he is no more separate. He is the whole. But in ordinary life even Buddha has to use the word ‘I’. If he feels thirsty he has to say, “I am thirsty. Ananda, bring me a little water, I am thirsty.”

To be exactly right, he should say, “Ananda, bring some water. The universal center is a little thirsty.” But that will look a little odd. And to say it again and again — sometimes the universal center is hungry, and sometimes the universal center is feeling a little cold, and sometimes the universal center is tired — it will be unnecessary, absolutely unnecessary. So he continues to use the old meaningful word ‘I’. It is very meaningful; even though a fiction, it is still meaningful. But many fictions are meaningful. For example, you have a name. That is a fiction. You came without a name, you did not bring a name with you, the name was given to you. Then by constant repetition you start becoming identified with it. You know your name is Rama or Rahim or Krishna. It goes so deep that if all you three thousand sannyasins fall asleep here and somebody comes and calls, “Rama, where are you?” nobody will hear except Rama. Rama will say, “Who has come to disturb my sleep?” Even in sleep he knows his name; it has reached to the unconscious, it has seeped through and through. But it is a fiction.

But when I say it is a fiction I don’t mean it is unnecessary. It is necessary fiction, it is useful; otherwise how are you going to address people? If you want to write a letter to somebody, to whom are you going to write?…It will be difficult if nobody has a name. Although nobody has a name in reality, still, it is a beautiful fiction, helpful. And nobody knows it more than I do, because I don’t think anybody in the whole history of humanity has given as many names as I have given. You can count on me!

Names are needed for others to call you, ‘I’ is needed for you to call yourself, but it is just a fiction. If you go deep into yourself you will find the name has disappeared, the idea of ‘I’ has disappeared; there is left only a pure am-ness, is-ness, existence, being. And that being is not separate, it is not yours and mine; that being is the being of all. Rocks, rivers, mountains, trees, all are included. It is all-inclusive, it excludes nothing. The whole past, the whole future, this immense universe, everything is included in it. The deeper you go into yourself, the more and more you will find that persons don’t exist, that individuals don’t exist. Then what exists is a pure universalness. On the circumference we have names, egos, identities. When we jump from the circumference towards the center, all those identities disappear. The ego is just a useful fiction. Use it, but don’t be deceived by it.

Parijat, you also ask, “Remaining unenlightened, are we always functioning through the ego or are there moments when we are free of it?”

Because it is a fiction, there are moments when you are free of it. Because it is a fiction, it can remain there only if you go on maintaining it. A fiction needs great maintenance. Truth needs no maintenance, that is the beauty of truth. But a fiction? You have constantly to paint it, to give it a prop here and there, and it is constantly collapsing. By the time you have managed to prop up one side, the other side starts collapsing. And that’s what people go on doing their whole life, trying to make the fiction seem as if it is the truth. Have more money, then you can have a bigger ego, a little more solid than the ego of the poor man. The poor man’s ego is thin; he can’t afford a thicker ego. Become the prime minister or president of a country, and your ego is puffed up to extremes. Then you don’t walk on the earth.

Our whole life, the search for money, power, prestige, this and that, is nothing but a search for new props, a search for new supports, to somehow keep the fiction going. And all the time you know death is coming. Whatsoever you make, death is going to destroy it. But still one goes on hoping against hope — maybe everybody else dies, but not you. And in a way it is true. You have always seen other people dying, you have never seen yourself dying, so it seems true also, logical also. This person dies, that person dies, and you never die. You are always there to feel sorry for them, you always go with them to the cemetery to say goodbye, and then you are back home again. Don’t be deceived by it, because all those people were doing the same thing. And nobody is an exception. Death comes and destroys the whole fiction of your name, your fame. Death comes and simply effaces all; not even footprints are left. Whatsoever we go on making out of our life is nothing but writing on water — not even on sand, but on water. You have not even written it, and it is gone. You cannot even read it; before you could have read it, it is gone.


Listen to complete discourse at mentioned below link.

Discourse Series: The Book of Wisdom Chapter #16

Chapter title: The University of Inner Alchemy

26 February 1979 am in Buddha Hall


Osho has spoken extensively on ‘ego’ in His discourses. More on the subject can be referred to in the following books/ discourses:

  1. Light On The Path
  2. Zen: The Diamond Thunderbolt
  3. The Dhammapada: The Way of the Buddha
  4. Communism and Zen Fire, Zen Wind
  5. Tantra: The Supreme Understanding
  6. Vedanta: Seven Steps to Samadhi
  7. And The Flowers Showered
  8. A Bird On The Wing
  9. The Discipline of Transcendence, Vol 1
  10. Sufis: The People of the Path, Vol 1
  11. Take It Easy, Vol 1

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