Action through the ego, the limited ‘I’-self is not pure action. When power is experienced at the individual level danger arises as the individual confuses power with their limited identity. As this happens, the ego grows with power. The greater the power becomes, the larger the ego becomes in relation to the other aspects of the self.
Why is this dangerous? It is a danger because the experience of the ego functions primarily to separate the individual from the world. In its proper place it assists in the recognition of the individual person, and in particular their difference from those around them – in its simplest form, the ego is the one that knows ‘I am James’ or ‘I am an Australian’. This is absolutely fine and very useful. However, when it becomes exaggerated it can become a monster – ‘I am King of the world.’
History has thrown up some conspicuous cases of this. Individuals who have an exaggerated sense of ego, and hence superiority (elevated difference) have become tyrants, emperors, and very materially rich business tycoons. Think of Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Hitler, Saddam Hussein. In each case, their rise to power has been driven almost entirely by ego, and as their power rose, their egos became more and more massive. With this rise, also comes great cruelty and pain because the individual, who has a diminished sense of unity with humanity, and is only aware of difference, also becomes afraid of everyone around them. Everyone becomes a threat to the ego. And this is quite natural as the ego does not function to join us with others but to separate us. So, commonly, the result might be that the individual has great material wealth or power but their life becomes one of total fear, consumed with hate. The world they create around them also becomes consumed with fear and hate, manifested through different forms of aggression, persecution, and war. This is why, ego when out of proportion with the other aspects of the self, can give rise to insanity and great suffering, not just for the individual, but ultimately as a function of causality, the whole world in which they inhabit.
You might respond by saying, “Well, I never wanted to be king of the world, or even the ruler of my country, or my work.” The challenge does not arise from being in a position of authority or power. The challenge arises when the power of that office, and especially any feeling of power or superiority is owned by the ego. This power does not belong to the ego. The power that you experience comes from a much deeper place, a place that has nothing to do with ‘individuality’ or separateness. Think about it. What is power? Where does it come from? Do you really believe that just because you experience power that it is something that the ‘You’ – the separate ego self – created. That would be absurd. This is like going out on a sunny day, feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin and enjoying the blueness of the sky, and then thinking that the ego is responsible for this. Can you see how this is crazy, literally. Yes, you might say power is everywhere, and so it is appropriate and wise to recognise your part in this – this is a very powerful truth. But this is not the ‘ego’ you in this situation. When you are experiencing power, a healthier way of experiencing it is, like the sun, just to enjoy the warmth and the light that it gives. To be able to use power, without your ego taking control, without losing your mind or your self, it is necessary to recognise that you are sharing in the life force of the universe. When ego arises, you must stop and remind yourself of this, otherwise your actions, whether it is teaching a class, or tending to a patient, or administering justice, quickly become impure. The doctor’s pill becomes poison. The words of the teacher become poison.