“Man has no individual ‘I’. But there are, instead, hundreds and thousands of separate small ‘I’s, very often entirely unknown to one another, never coming into contact, or, on the contrary, hostile to each other, mutually exclusive and incompatible. Each minute, each moment, man is saying or thinking, ‘I’. And each time his ‘I’ is different. Just now it was a thought, now it is a desire, now a sensation, now another thought, and so on, endlessly. Man is a plurality. Man’s name is legion.”
~ G.I. Gurdjieff
In the Gnostic teachings, the term “ego” or “the egos” is used to describe the many subjective elements that comprise the subconscious mind. The egos have also been referred to as “the many selves”, the “I’s”, the “psychic aggregates”, the “screaming selves”, the “myself”, “the legion”, etc. In the Gnostic teachings, there is a clear distinction made between the consciousness (also known as the essence or Buddhata) and the egos. The former is who we are at the core of our psychological structure – the eternal and divine principle that reincarnates from lifetime to lifetime. It is a small part of the Human Soul, seeking to merge back with it, and through it, with the Being, by the process of the inner work and the Path to liberation. In an average person (who has not done a conscious work on eliminating their egos), 97% of consciousness is bottled up within the ego, which means that all of their life experience is lived through only 3% of free consciousness.
The ego, on the other hand, is not eternal, nor constant, but is ever-changing. During the course of many existences of the soul, the ego changes and becomes more and more complicated. The ego are things such as anger, pride, jealousy, envy, lust, fear, greed, laziness, excitement, elation, as well as many others that derive from those just mentioned. They are also all untransformed impressions that we receive during our daily life, which is then stored as memory. It is said that there are thousands of egos, all of them presenting themselves as “I” when they manifest in the psychological centers of the human machine (the five psychological centers where the ego manifest are intellectual, emotional, sexual, instinctual and motor), which is why it is said that a man is a plurality, and not a unity as it is commonly believed.
The egos form the subconscious mind; they are of it, but there are also egos in the unconscious mind, and the latter are the type of egos that do not manifest themselves in the way that we can spot them with the technique of self-observation, but rather they appear in certain instances, such as during dreams or in deep meditation. These types of egos belong to the “dark side of the psychological moon”, and the work on them takes place during an advanced stage of the Path to liberation.
Each of the thousands of the egos have within themselves a trapped particle of consciousness, or rather, the ego occupies the space of that imprisoned consciousness. This trapped consciousness is also called the conditioned consciousness, because it is conditioned by the ego in which it is imprisoned, making us see things incorrectly, through the glasses of the ego. Without the consciousness that is trapped inside it, the ego would not be animated and would not be able to perform its role in nature.
Every ego has its role in nature, especially in the animal kingdom – it makes sure that animals survive and reproduce, and when the soul reaches the human kingdom, the ego evolves and it has similar function, but on a more refined scale. But the ego is also the main cause of suffering, and it is the main impediment for a human being to reach the next stage in his or her evolution. In order for him/her to achieve this, it is necessary to disintegrate the ego so that the trapped essence is liberated, bringing the wisdom of the darkness in which it was trapped. This is achieved through the process of the Path.
Unlike the teachings of modern psychology, the Gnostic teachings (that are based on ancient wisdom) insists that there are no good or bad egos; that one ego is not better than the other, and that one ego cannot be used to dominate another ego. This is because all the egos are mechanical and animalistic in their nature, and they cannot be trusted, especially not when someone is trying to achieve self-realization, in which case all egos have to be eliminated so that one hundred percent of consciousness is free.