The Master stays behind;
that is why she is ahead.
She is detached from all things;
that is why she is one with them.
Because she has let go of herself,
she is perfectly fulfilled.
The secret to a peaceful and fulfilled life is right here, in the palm of your hand. But what does it all mean?
Having reflected on and tested this concept many times over through my own life experiences, I believe it is the small self that is referred to here - the ego self. For the record - I have nothing against the ego even though I feel that it gets a lot of bashing in the spiritual word! I feel that it is as necessary to us for functioning in the material realm as is the operating system and the various software uploads on a computer's hardware. It gives us our identity, a way to navigate and function in the world, a way to relate to others. But it is also the collection of experiences imprinted on our individual phyche as a belief system. Regardless of the validity our brains accept early childhood experiences as the absolute truth and in absence of the ability to differentiate, I am talking about 0 to 5 years here, these experiences, in form of feelings and emotions, are downloaded and stored to our subconscious. Ego begins to form - a strong sense of identity based on the information stored and re-enforced through the external stimuli. Every subsequent output is defined by this algorithm, unique to each of us.
So, why is it so important to let go of the ego? Ego beliefs are deeply ingrained. They are our 'safety net', the familiar place we know and identify with from the moment we are born. Regardless of whether these beliefs are good or bad, joyful or painful, they give us comfort and security. That is why we cling on to them. Not only that, but we will fight hard to protect them - 'the world is a ..... place', 'I don't deserve ......', 'I am not ..... enough for ......'. Often when these beliefs are challenged by others, or by life itself, we will work hard to defend them. It is the fear of loosing our identity that keeps us from stepping out and even strengthens our ego. What we forget, however, is that the ego self is not The Self. It is something that we have created to help us operate in this world but it is what's behind it, the hardware so to speak, that is important.
The truth is, when we strongly identify with the ego, we are reactive. We are constantly engaged in enhancing, protecting or defending it. As comforting as it may be at times, the suffering we experience as a result of the ego held beliefs feels very real. Real to the point where people harm others or themselves. That is why it is so important to develop spirituality. It helps us create a safe space from which we can experience our True Self. Note - you can not know it by reading about it, talking about it or imagining it - it is only known experientially through practice and your practice can be your daily life - as long as you are prepared to reflect on it and learn from it.
But once you've experienced it, if only for a split moment, the self protecting walls of ego may already start to crumble! Why? Because you will begin to question it's validity. At last. You will touch a place where there is no pain and no judgement. The place of oneness and absence of duality. And then you can stand still. You can detach. But not in the cold, heartless sense. When you detach from the ties of illusion (maya) and begin to distinguish between your Self and the ego self, and that of others, the separation disappears. It goes because in the knowledge of complete oneness you no longer need to defend the illusion. You begin to see yourself in everything and everyone and see everything and everyone inside yourself. This is when you experience the sweetness in your heart, Ananda, bliss.
And even though the ego and you will never separate, not until the day you die, your experience of life will inevitably change. Letting go of taking ourselves seriously is the path to a more fulfilled life.