I just read a very interesting article on “The True Jihad” on the Enlightennext.org website, and here is my response. Please read the article first before reading this comment:
Key to this article is that view that the inner jihad – inner spiritual battle against evil – demands the existence of the enemy, namely the ego. Thus the current mindset that tries to look away from evil, thinking that the evil should be brought to the fold and not be discriminated against, is a total humbug. We need an evil, so that author says, in order for our struggle to be meaningful. If we lost sense of the evil, then the evil will have done away with us all.
That’s quite a nice point. But it enters into some kind of paradox that is very hard to get out of. Bear in mind that we are talking about inner spiritual battle here, the kind that Jesus went through when he was tempted by Satan, when the Buddha was tempted by Mara, and so on. And the Islamic tradition certainly has it right on the spot when it identifies that the enemy of the spiritual battle is our own selves. In the end the largest and most meaningful spiritual battle is one raging inside our minds, when we can overcome our own tendency to the ordinary ways of living and thinking, which is no different from blind people rushing about from one place to another hitting into things. Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed taught that this is only because we fall prey to our own egos; their hold on us is so strong that it takes utterly strong effort to see through.
The paradox, however, arises when the author insists that the egos are real. He is correct when he says that if we don’t take our egos seriously, or if we want to “include” the egos so that they, too, could be liberated, then the whole spiritual edifice breaks down and we will continue running around as blindly as before. But then in the zest to defeat the ego we have to be very careful not to fall prey to it yet again. So the longer the ego is needed, the further still from the eventual goal of spiritual battle we will be. In our enthusiasm to kill our egos we seem to have brought back those very same egos through the back door without our knowing through our very enthusiasm. If we are intent on destroying the ego with hatred, then not only will we not accomplish anything, we will suffer from self hatred, which is completely as bad as any form of hatred if not more. The longer we are convinced that the ego is there, existing substantially, then we cannot defeat it. We might believe we have crushed it by brute force, or sheer will power, but then the ego is a very wily enemy, one which has a way to catch us unaware at any time. So it seems that if there is no ego, then no spiritual battle is meaningful, but if there is an ego, then fighting against it just brings it back.
So what do we do? That question lies at the very heart of the spiritual battle. We realize that the so-called “ego” is ultimately speaking just a creation of our own mind. This is not the same as not engaging in the spiritual battle. The slothful who does not practice has no way of spiritual advancement because he does not make any attempt to see. For him things are just right the way they are. They are completely under the spell of their egos. But the truly spiritual also realizes that reifying the ego creates the same problem. So the way out is first to identify the enemy, which is the sense of “I” or “mine” that has gripped us for so long and is the source of all our problems. Then we see that this “I”, this ego, is no more than an illusion. At first the illusion appears real because it is the face that it is perceived to be this way that is the source of the problems, then the only way to get rid of the problems is to realize that the ego is only an illusion, and has been so all along.