Sharon Salzberg
Vipassana Teacher and Co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts

“There is no ‘thing’ to let go of, but a concept, an idea of an ego that burdens us. As soon as we posit a ‘thing’ to let go of, we’re in trouble. We need to change our view of reality, not attack a nonexistent entity.”

Surya Das
Author, Lama in the Nyingma and Kagyu lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, and Founder of the Dzogchen Foundation in Bloomfield, New York

“Letting go in the present moment of the present moment, not to mention the past and future. Letting go of whatever is holding on. Total openness, naturalness, relaxation implies letting go of everything, totally, at once—in the now, in each instant, now and forever. A surrender to the ultimate simplicity of just being, which is prior to and more fundamental than all forms of doing. So let go of all concepts, including those of clinging and letting go.”

Joseph Goldstein
Vipassana Teacher, Author, and Cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts

“It’s really not a question of letting go of the ego. We simply need to stop creating it, stop identifying with passing phenomena. As Wei Wu Wei said, ‘We’re like a dog barking up a tree that isn’t there.’ When we see there’s no tree, we can finally stop barking.”

Robert Thurman
Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo- Tibetan Studies at Columbia University, New York City

“The habitual assumption of the individual, self-sufficient, intrinsically identifiable ‘I’ which we have assumed to exist from beginningless time. The key to the meditations on selflessness, emptiness, and so on, however, is not to jump into them right away, but to look carefully at what is this ‘assumed I.’ What is the self that the self-habit holds? Observe the self for a long time before trying to negate it. In the Tibetan tradition, they speak of developing a fragment of consciousness, a spy consciousness, that observes the self from the corner, as it were. The best time to see this ‘I’ is said to be in a state of injured innocence, when you are indignant, when you feel that you have been wronged. The thought: ‘I am right. . . this has been done to me!’ contains the firm feeling, the hard nut of the self.

“The key, again, in the Buddhist sense, is not dissolving but developing the ego into a more flexible and permeable ego. This is considered a strong ego, capable of both surrender and function. The weak ego is the rigid, defensive one.”

Dai-En Bennage
Head Teacher, Mt. Equity Zendo Muncy, Pennsylvania


Susan Augenstein
Meditation Teacher in the Zen and Vipassana traditions, New York City

“I don’t talk about letting go of the ego. I feel that along with everything else, there is nothing to let go of. The one who lets go is the one who holds on. The idea that it is better to let go than to hold on is wrong. In that sense there is no ego, no self. On the absolute level nothing exists: it is holding everything always in potentiality, but these potentialities keep manifesting in many different vibrations. On that relative level where we are that manifestation or appearance, there is this feeling of cohesion or continuity. On that level, this could be seen as the ego, a commitment to that form expressing itself fully until its disappearance, which is our dedication to being the expression of absolute reality that we are, and then there is no problem. If anyone asks you who you are, you have to say this absolute reality and ‘Jane’ or whoever; if you forget the absolute reality or if you forget the ‘Jane,’ you’ve missed the point.”

buddhist teacher ego

Sunyana Graef
Head Teacher, Vermont Zen Center, Shelburne, Vermont

“In a sense nothing, since ego doesn’t really exist; but in another sense it means letting go of all those small self-centered thoughts, actions, desires, attachments, and so forth that cause pain to others and ourselves. For example, letting go of negative feelings before they have a chance to pollute the body-mind. Practice in this sense is a constant process of letting go.”

ask a teacher ego

Shinzen Young
Vipassana Teacher and Co-founder of the Vipassana Support Institute, Los Angeles, California

“Through consistent practice we develop the skill of mindfulness, which allows us to detect with great precision the often subtle self-referential ideas and body sensations as they arise in each act of perception. We also develop equanimity so that we can allow these ideas and body sensations to expand and contract without suppression, interference, or clinging. Eventually, contact with the sense of self becomes so continuous that there is no time left to congeal or fixate it. The self then becomes clarified in the sense that it is no longer experienced as an opaque, rigid, ever-present entity, but rather as a transparent, elastic, vibratory activity. It loses ‘thingness.’ We realize that it is a verb, not a noun; a wave, not a particle. According to this paradigm, what is let go of is the unconsciousness and ‘holding’ associated with those ideas and body sensations which produce a sense of self. The sense of self becomes a home rather than a prison. You can come and go freely.”

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