Ego, Attachment and Liberation

By Lama Thubten Yeshe
Melbourne, Australia 1975 (Archive #329)

In 1975, Lama Yeshe undertook his most extensive international teaching tour, being on the road for nearly nine months. This book contains the teachings and meditations Lama gave at a five-day retreat he led near Melbourne, Australia, in March 1975. In line with Lama’s intentions, this book is dedicated to the awakening of inner freedom within the minds of its readers and all other sentient beings.

See the Related Links for each chapter to access the audio recordings and read along with the unedited transcripts.

Lama Yeshe teaching at Vajrapani Institute, California, 1983. Photo: Carol Royce-Wilder.
Chapter Three: Give Your Ego the Wisdom Eye

If your ego is obviously giving you trouble, reciting the mantra of Lord Buddha can help. Mantra is inner sound; therefore, when you recite a mantra verbally, you can feel it vibrating in your heart at the same time. As it does so, it digests and controls your ego’s energy force.

The connotation of Lord Buddha’s mantra is, “Control, great control, greatest control.”* Recite it three times and then stop and listen silently to the inner sound of the mantra in your heart.


When you realize through your own experience how the powerful energy force of your ego comes and goes, you will realize that as well as your physical body there exists another, different kind of energy—your mind.


Instead of fearfully running away when confronted by the energy force of your ego, it is better to stand up to it with wisdom. Face up to ego problems with wisdom. The narrow mind, the mind weak in wisdom, cannot face the problems ego brings.

Fulfilling your human potential

You can discover through your own experience that when you investigate with introspective knowledge-wisdom the way in which your ego functions, it disappears. That small experience gives you confidence that you have the power and the potential to discover egolessness, the basic nature of the human mind. You may not have truly realized egolessness, but your experience shows the logical possibility of doing so. You can see that you possess wisdom and intelligence and are not hopeless by nature. It is extremely worthwhile for you to gain that understanding.

Basically, your mind is weak. You don’t comprehend that you have the potential to realize something like eternal peace. It doesn’t even occur to you. However, a small experience of egolessness will give you a logical reason for generating the brave, courageous mind that strives for such heights of human attainment. Such understanding does not come from the wisdom or the power of the lamas. It comes from your own wisdom, the power of your own mind.

Realizing egolessness

We always use the word “ego,” but although we’re constantly saying “ego, ego, ego,” we have no idea of the psychological nature of the ego or the way it controls our mind. We seem to think the ego is some kind of physical entity. Therefore, it is crucial to discover that the ego is not physical but mental.

Our lives are short; we do not have much time to realize egolessness, but striving to do so is what differentiates us from animals. Otherwise, how are we different? Animals enjoy the sense world and lead their lives to the best of their ability. Just like ourselves, they like those who feed them and dislike those who beat them. What’s the difference?

Perhaps you think, “Rubbish! I can conceptualize, I can write; I can make money to support and enjoy my life.” But even rats and mice can look after themselves with ego and attachment. They can collect and store food many times their own weight. What about bees? Even though their lives are so short, they collect enough honey to last for maybe hundreds of years. What, then, is the difference between bees and so-called intelligent humans if the mental attitude is the same, where both are living only for sense pleasure? Perhaps bees are even more intelligent than we are—they live such short lives but accumulate vast amounts of what gives them pleasure.

Therefore, I think it’s extremely important that while we occupy these precious human bodies, where intelligence and many other good qualities have come together, we take this opportunity to seek our inner nature and release ourselves from all the problems of mental defilement, which come from our ego. From the time we were born, everything we’ve done has come from our ego, but whatever pleasure we’ve experienced has been so transitory and small. Nevertheless, don’t think, “Oh, I’m too bad; my mind is completely dominated by my ego.” Don’t put yourself down. Instead, be happy to realize what’s happening.

Guiding yourself

To realize that only your own mind and effort can release you from your ego is most worthwhile. For years and years, all you’ve done is build up your ego, and under the influence of its hallucinated projection of the sense world, you’ve run, run, run from one thing to another, as if you’d lost your mind. To now have even a flash of recognition of this reality is most worthwhile and well worth the effort. Don’t think that without your own effort, without using your own wisdom, you can stop the schizophrenic mental problems that result from the energy force of your own ego. It’s impossible.

No lama believes that he can solve your problems without your own effort and action. That’s a dream. If that’s what you think, it’s a complete misconception. “God will do everything for me; Buddha will do everything for me. I’ll just wait.” That’s not true either. “I don’t have to do anything.” That’s just not true. You’ve already done everything and now you have to experience the powerful consequences. You can see all this through your own experience. Just one meditation session is all it takes.

What I would like is for each of you to become a wise human being instead of one dominated by the energy force of a super-sensitive ego. At the end of this meditation course, I’d like you to be thinking, “Well, that was my own meditation course, given by my own wisdom.” If you feel like that, the course was worthwhile, but if you go around telling people, “This high Tibetan lama gave a meditation course; I was there,” it’s just another ego trip. What’s the purpose? Your old habits, your schizophrenic mental attitudes, haven’t changed a bit. So what was the meditation that you did? Lord Buddha is already enlightened. Through his own effort, with his own wisdom, he freed himself from the schizophrenic mind, but here we are, still agitated and confused.

Realization is highly personal. It depends upon each individual’s mind, effort and wisdom. Realization is completely individual. Even though you’re all meditating on the same thing, from morning to night, each of you has different experiences according to the level of your own mind.

If you think, “Oh, I have so much to do at home…my house, my family, my friends…it’s difficult to sit and meditate,” it means your mind is ensnared by the worldly life. You’ve been like that from the time you were born until now, and if you keep going that way, you’ll end up dying with nothingness. If this is how you live, how will you ever finish anything? In the materialistic life, work continues to pile up—one thing after another, then another, another, another—and you never reach the point where you can say, “Ah, at last I’ve finished everything; now I can sit and meditate.” That time will never come.

When your mind is occupied by ego energy, it’s like constantly having needles stuck into your body. That would be pretty uncomfortable, wouldn’t it? Being under the control of ego is exactly the same. Thus, you can realize how important it is to release attachment and ego. If you can manage to do so, you will realize everlasting joy, inner freedom, inner liberation, nirvana…it doesn’t matter what you call it.

By realizing the agitated nature of his ego department, Tibet’s great yogi Milarepa fled to the mountains. There, eating only nettles, he lived like an animal, but his mind was much happier and he had far greater pleasure than before. You can be eating three meals a day and still think that your life is too ascetic. If you were sent to live like Milarepa, you’d freak out: “Oh, that’s his trip, not mine.” Maybe you’d worry that if everybody were to live like Milarepa, there’d be nobody left to eat all that supermarket food and it would go to waste. Don’t worry about the supermarket; if you retreat to the mountains, the supermarket will come to you.

Learning from all phenomena

For those seekers investigating the nature of inner reality, problems help; instead of harming, problems benefit them. Problems give them more energy, greater wisdom and deeper realizations. Negative experiences become positive. They don’t even see such experiences as negative but as opportunities to learn.

For example, there’s another story from the life of Milarepa. After many years’ study with his guru, Marpa, Milarepa was sent back to visit the village where he was born. “Go back home,” said Marpa. “Some-thing will happen.” When Milarepa finally reached his old house, it was completely deserted, dilapidated and occupied by wild animals and birds. At first he was a bit shocked, but the experience became a teaching—he realized the inevitability of decay.

Also, all villagers were afraid to go near Milarepa’s old house. Even after his mother died, everybody avoided it because they were afraid of his black magic. In fact, when Milarepa first got back nobody recognized him, and when he asked about the house, the neighbors said, “We’re too scared to go near it because that’s where the black magician Milarepa used to live.” Milarepa learned from such experiences; he saw deeper into the nature of reality.

Anyway, slowly, slowly, he went to the house and saw how derelict it had become. But even though his mother had died long ago, all the family possessions were still there because nobody had dared to touch them. As he looked around, he saw some old bones lying in the mud on the floor. When he picked them up he realized they were his mother’s. This, too, became a great teaching for him; he saw clearly the impermanent nature of all phenomena. He didn’t need anyone to tell him, “All things are impermanent.” He realized it clearly for himself.

We, however, do not see the world as clearly as Milarepa did. Because of the way our ego interprets things, we see the sense world as solid, self-existent, concrete. Those who have realized impermanence see it completely differently. They see the world changing automatically hundreds of times a minute. You can understand this yourself by watching your mind in meditation. You can see how your internal world—the feelings and sensations that continually rise and fall in your mind—change automatically from moment to moment. That inner expression of impermanence is similar to what is happening in the external world.

Exploring your internal world

Actually, watching your internal world is much more interesting than watching a movie and certainly more worthwhile. Once you’ve seen a movie, you don’t want to see it again; you get bored the second time. But if you watch your mind with skillful wisdom you will never get bored. Every minute, there’s something new. Your mind is constantly moving. It’s a remarkable experience.

Every time your ego contacts an object, its interpretation leaves a different imprint on your consciousness. Those imprints react again and again. That’s what we call karma—cause and effect. The imprints are the cause; the reaction is the effect. That’s karma. Therefore we say that karma is very powerful. Why? Because the imprints left by previous ego activity are very powerful; extremely strong.

The energy force of ego bursts into your mind without permission. Even if you don’t want it to enter it forces its way in. If someone were to rush into your house without knocking you’d get really upset, wouldn’t you? “What’s going on? You didn’t even knock!” Even if your closest friend comes in without knocking you’re likely to object. So isn’t it silly that when the negative energy force of ego walks uninvited into your mind, instead of getting upset you say, “Welcome, ego. Please come in. How are you? Have a cup of tea. Would you like some chocolate?”

All we ever do is try to please our ego; it’s like we’re always paying homage to our ego, offering it tea, chocolate and prayers. We dedicate all our energy to our ego and what do we get in return? What does our ego offer us? Mental pollution. It brings such a foul, suffocating smell in our minds that there’s hardly room to breathe.

So from now on, instead of welcoming your ego’s energy force, stand guard against it with mindfulness and wisdom, watching with penetrative attention for the first sign of its arrival. And when it comes, instead of greeting it warmly, “How are you, ego? Come right in,” examine it with a great big wisdom eye—a wisdom eye bigger than your head. Just watch it. When you give your ego the wisdom eye it disappears all by itself.

Mental continuity

In the next meditation session, I would like you to check how your mind of today is related to the experiences of yesterday’s ego games. Check; observe. How are they linked? Similarly, check back to last week; last month; last year. Go all the way back through your life. Check with your big wisdom eye how your ego and attachment have functioned over the years; how you have identified things at different ages; how you have perceived different views, all of which have been projections of your own ego.

If your mind were not connected with last year’s ego, there’d be no reason for memories to keep coming back uncontrollably into your mind. Therefore, check how these experiences relate to the continuity of mind. Go back as far as your time in the womb. Forgetting previous experiences and clinging to the future is not realistic. Unless you have psychic power, you have no idea whether you’ll be alive next year or not. Nobody can guarantee you that. And you don’t have to be sick to die. One minute you can be well, drinking a cup of tea; the next minute, you’re dead. We all know that this can happen; we’ve seen it. We’re not babies.

If you check well enough you’ll find that even when you were in your mother’s womb you experienced ego and attachment. Check where that came from. It didn’t come from itself; it had to come from some-thing else. There is no such self-existent entity that doesn’t depend on something else—for example, a permanent soul. There is no such thing as a permanent soul, ego, consciousness or mind of attachment; nor is there any self-existent physical entity, either. Belief in such things is a wrong conception. Some religions, like Hinduism or Christianity, talk of an eternal soul. That’s a misconception. They have no understanding of the characteristic nature of the soul. Impermanent means changing every moment. How could there be a permanent, never-changing soul? It’s impossible. If you accept the existence of a permanent soul, you have to accept the existence of a permanent human being. It’s impossible for there to be a permanent human being. Where is that person?

Therefore, in the next session, check back through all your experiences of how your mind has perceived the sense world from when you were in your mother’s womb up to now. Check its different interpretations, its different feelings. You will find this meditation very helpful in integrating your mind and life and introducing a little order into both.

Begin the meditation by concentrating single-pointedly on the movement of your breath and the feelings in your body. Then move on to an analytical meditation, checking your experiences as I’ve just described. When you find an object, or experience, on which you want to focus, practice placement meditation—concentrate single-pointedly on that object. In Sanskrit, this kind of meditation is called samadhi. Keep your mind on the memory of that experience for as long as you can. When your mind begins to get distracted by other thoughts, repeat your analytical meditation until you get to that point again and re-focus your attention upon it.

Now it’s time to stop. Start the next session with questions and answers with Dr. Nick and then do the meditation I’ve just described. Questions and answers are good. Be open; just say whatever you think. Don’t have any expectations. Don’t worry, “Perhaps I’ll ask a stupid question. Perhaps Dr. Nick will freak out; he mightn’t like my question.” I guarantee he won’t freak out. Whether you agree or disagree, just speak your mind. It’s most worthwhile. Our discussions are not for some material purpose; we’re searching for what’s best for the human mind. Also, when you ask questions you’re not trying to find answers for yourself alone but for the benefit of all.

Furthermore, when different people in the group express themselves you hear a wide range of opinions, which can only help to deepen everybody’s understanding. It’s almost like psychotherapy, group psychotherapy. We’re working together with compassion to solve everybody’s problems and help each other. You also ask the group leader questions out of compassion—to help him destroy his misconceptions. We all have misconceptions. Therefore, don’t worry.

Thank you so much. Thank you.

*Note: At other times Lama has explained that these controls mean (a) control over the causes of the suffering of the lower realms; (b) complete control over the delusions and karma that prevent liberation; and (c) control over self-cherishing and the sub¬tle dualistic mind, which prevent enlightenment.