If the Ego's greatest act of deception is to get oneself to believe that the Ego is who we are, then who are we?
Stated another way:
Stated another way:
If I am not who I think I am, then who am I?
Good question. It is a matter of perspective. Ego is the mistaken perspective that we are an independently existing, singular self. We actually are a collection of experiences loosely tied together. All these experiences depend on a large number of causes and conditions. In truth, the ego is an illusion; there is no singular, separately existing, independent self.
Following is an image of the Buddhist deity Manjushri. Manjushri has the ability to see the nature of reality as it is. Manjushri is seen holding the flaming sword of Discriminating Wisdom with his right hand and a book called Prajñāpāramitā with his left hand. Prajñāpāramitā in Buddhism, means "the Perfection of (Transcendent) Wisdom." The word Prajñāpāramitā combines the Sanskrit words prajñā ("wisdom") with pāramitā ("perfection"). The Prajñāpāramitā sūtras suggest that all things including oneself, appear as thoughtforms (conceptual constructs).
Our stream of consciousness is composed of five senses, feelings/emotions, and higher intellect/reasoning. What we perceive becomes the reality of ego and ego is at the center of all this experience. One moment we are focused on listening to music, the next moment we feel a chill, the next moment is lost in a memory, the next moment the cat catches our eye, etc. From this stream of discontinuous experiences that involve various different perceptions and mental events we deduce that an ego or self exists. We feel that a separately existing self resides at the center of these perceptual/mental events.
We experience the illusion of "self-awareness" in the midst of a seemingly objectively existing external world. We feel as if we are separate from others and an entire universe of separately existing objects, as small as atoms and as large as galaxies. The truth is that all things are temporary and inter-dependently existing. No-thing exists separate from any other thing. There is no external, objective reality. There are no separate, independently existing "selves" at all. There are no separately existing things at all.
CAUTION: this is not the same as nihilism. This is not a negation of existence. This is a reinterpretation of our knowledge gained through experience. We are simply arriving at a greater truth derived from higher order reasoning.
The truth is that existence is a collection of experiences tied loosely together. Reality is consciousness only. The mystery of the nature of human consciousness is revealed through meditation on the temporary nature of all things and the truth of selflessness. The Buddhists call this sunyata or emptiness. That is, experience is in actuality empty of separate, independently existing things and consciousness is empty of a self.
No self is required to explain phenomena. Occam's Razor states that among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected. The assumption of the existence of a self is unnecessary and should be discarded due to succinct reasoning.
We go through life in a fairly successful manner and make okay decisions even while under the false assumption based on the existence of an ego. We go through challenges, illness, periods of doubt, depression, pain and even mental anguish. Eventually we get to the end of our life and wonder what it was all about. Of course, waiting until we die to face the meaning of life is not the best strategy. Having to face death while clinging to an ego results in fear and mental anguish is not a good way to go.
If we are blessed with curiosity, a sense of wonder, or a sharp intellect, then we may explore alternative explanations for life's experiences even before we are faced with illness, pain and death. During moments of introspection and philosophical query we question the nature of what we are. The person seeking answers to life's mysteries may find that we exist on a wholly different level of reality than what is commonly held as actual reality.
To seek truth and meaning while facing the challenges of mundane existence is a spiritual warrior's path. It is a very difficult path, but it ultimately yields the greatest rewards. The spiritual warrior focuses the mind inward and sharpens their mental focus and inner calm. The spiritual warrior wields the flaming sword of Discriminating Wisdom to cut down falsely held beliefs, dispel the illusion of ego and clear a path to greater happiness and peace of mind.