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Do you think that pointing out ego fixations publically serves to free students of their egos? What do you think are the advantages, and drawbacks of this teaching method? Why do you think it works or does not work? In more ancient times, it was very common for aspirants to be repetitively humbled by teachers, in an attempt to free them of ego attachment. That is a less common tactic nowadays, but I have seen it still show up occasionally. I had two experiences in which a teacher has pointed out my ego fixations in front of a group, leaving me to feel humiliated. The first time it happened I ended up more cemented in my own suffering. The second time I was able, later in my own meditation, to take a perspective on the experience and see how my false-self was keeping me stuck in fixation. Now I find myself standing more firmly in my own truth, but less confident in the teaching I was given. Does anyone have a similar experience?

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Do you think that pointing out ego fixations publicly serves to free students of their egos?

In general, no. To me, it is cultish behaviour.

What do you think are the advantages, and drawbacks of this teaching method?

No general advantages. Probably some drawbacks, such as making the student project ego onto the guru. The student that cannot free the mind from ego will abandon their ego & take up the ego of the guru.

Why do you think it works or does not work?

The Buddha, according to the Pali suttas, simply pointed the way/path & the student went off & practised alone. The capacity to give up ego can only occur in a mind ready & prepared for it.

In more ancient times, it was very common for aspirants to be repetitively humbled by teachers, in an attempt to free them of ego attachment.

Possibly in Hinduism, Mahayana or Zen but I do not recall reading this as something that commonly occurred in the ancient Pali suttas. While I have read public admonishments in the Pali suttas by the Buddha for monks publicly preaching wrong views (e.g. MN 22; MN 38), I don't not recall many of these public admonishments leading to enlightenment (although there might be some, somewhere). For example, in SN 22.85, Venerable Yamaka was publicly preaching wrong views and the Venerable Sāriputta approached Venerable Yamaka, in private, addressing Venerable Yamaka as "friend", to rectify the wrong views, which resulted in Venerable Yamaka attaining enlightenment.

I had two experiences in which a teacher has pointed out my ego fixations in front of a group, leaving me to feel humiliated.

Indeed.

The first time it happened I ended up more cemented in my own suffering.

Indeed.

The second time I was able, later in my own meditation, to take a perspective on the experience and see how my false-self was keeping me stuck in fixation.

Yes, in your own meditation. If the teacher gently pointed out the ego-fixation in private, the same result may have occurred. I think public humiliations give a bad example to students. Often students imitate their teachers.

Now I find myself standing more firmly in my own truth, but less confident in the teaching I was given. Does anyone have a similar experience?

Yes. Teachers can disappoint us when they do not act with the virtue & care we expect however this gives us an opportunity to be more firm & mature in our own virtue & care. Even if a public humiliation resulted in your mind eventually abandoning 'false-self', this does not mean you should engage in this cultish behaviour.

  • Thank you for your answer. This is very interesting and appropriate. The term "cult" never occurred to me, but I see how this is a dynamic that goes on in such circumstances. This teacher is definitely not a cult figure, but I do see how she has internalized some institutional pathology. – Laura Karlinsey Feb 6 '18 at 22:32
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    Also, I want to say that I completely agree with you about not engaging in this behavior! (I am resisting the urge to add 10 more exclamation points) – Laura Karlinsey Feb 6 '18 at 22:41
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Here's another perspective.

My core practice and a teaching that got me into Buddhism was radical annihilation of ego. I suppose normally it is considered an advanced practice but that's what I got from day one. Murder the ego.

No egoistic thoughts were allowed, no defending self, no saving face, no looking better, no emotional revenge, no congratulating oneself on achievements, no feeling superior - none of that stuff that normal people do to feel themselves strong and whole was allowed in my life. Don't ask why.

In the hindsight I'm not sure I wish anyone go through that, but I must admit it was very effective. Having no room for ego takes away the clear goal behind all decision making, and forces oneself to always try and evaluate everything from different perspectives. It requires one to always try and be perfect, without ever feeling entitled to own position.

Traditionally, ego is considered the biggest obstacle to Enlightenment. Not because accepting anatta is some sort of requirement. Not even because un-identifying with "I" removes the context in which death could apply. It is mostly because ego is the very tangle of attachments and illusions that we are trying to liberate from. The act of maintaining a consistently flat social image is the opposite of opening to one's true multidimensional nature.

So when Buddhist teachers shatter one's social image, they only do one a service, by helping destroy that which holds one down like an anchor.

Now, I don't say it's not painful. But you have to understand that pain and humiliation is not the point. It's not that ego is killed by making one look bad or feel bad in front of others, that's just a side effect. Ego is murdered by shattering it's consistent model of the world (and by implication, consistent idea of oneself as a person, cuz the two are related like mirror and its reflection).

Those models cannot always be explained away. Oftentimes the teacher does not have time or energy or conceptual vocabulary to deconstruct one's illusions step by step. It could take years, like it does sometimes with therapists you know. Instead, Buddhist teachers take karmic responsibility for playing a tribal surgeon and causing much pain, with the hope of helping one break out of the box.

So please, focus on your model of the world and image of self, and not on humiliation. Feeling offended will only serve to lock you in your own prison. The more someone gets enlightened, the more difficult they are to offend or humiliate, because they get so round and fluid that there's nothing to grasp them by. Enlightened people are so down to earth and no nonsense, and can navigate situations so well, that they are never even in a position when they can be embarrassed, because they don't get attached, they don't fight themselves into a corner. In this sense they seem like the simplest and most normal people you ever met. Authentic and comfortable in their own skin, regardless of circumstances.

Why don't we try to imitate that rather than getting offended?

  • Very interesting thoughts. This gives me another way to consider the situation. – Laura Karlinsey Feb 8 '18 at 20:34
  • And if you have written anything about your journey to ego annihilation, I would be interested to read it. – Laura Karlinsey Feb 9 '18 at 1:45
  • The first comment sounds like passive aggressive way to say you found my thoughts disagreeable ;) For the second part, no I'm not normaly in the habit of talking about my dear self, and I think I said enough already. – Andrei Volkov Feb 9 '18 at 2:08
  • :D Since I read your comment I have been trying on the perspective of going willingly toward ego annihilation. I discovered that my ego is guarded by cosmic terror--that is why I asked about your story. I was curious if you had experienced the same thing. But I understand everyone's journey is their own. – Laura Karlinsey Feb 9 '18 at 15:51
  • Try "Cutting through Spiritual Materialism". I don't remember if it's really that good, I read it 20 years ago, but that's what got me started on annihilation of ego. – Andrei Volkov Feb 9 '18 at 17:55

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