Ego death is an experience that reveals the illusory aspect of the ego, sometimes undergone by psychonauts, mystics, shamans, monks, psychologists, and others interested in exploring the depths of the mind.
The practice of ego death as a deliberately sought "mystical experience" in some ways overlaps with, but is nevertheless distinct from, traditional teachings concerning enlightenment/"Nirvana" (in Buddhism) or "Moksha" (in Hinduism and Jainism), which might perhaps be better understood as transcendence of the notion that one even has any actual, non-illusory "ego" with which to experience "death" in the first place.
Methods of inducing the experience
Many other methods, practices, or experiences may also induce this state, including prayer, sleep deprivation, fasting, meditation practice, or through the use of an isolation tank. Less frequently, it might also come about spontaneously.
There are a variety of schools of thought about the aim, practice, and interpretation of the ego death experience. According to one person, for example (see egodeath.com) it is to be characterized as the perceived loss of boundaries between self and environment, a sense of the loss of "control," the loss of the accustomed feeling of existing as a "personal agent," loose "cognitive-association binding," and even
...a sense of being controlled by frozen block-universe determinism with a single, pre-existing, ever-existing future. Experiencing this model of control and time initially destabilizes self-control power, and amounts to the death of the self that was conceived of as an autonomous control-agent. Self-control stability is restored upon transforming one's mental model to take into account the dependence of personal control on a hidden, separate thought-source, such as Necessity or a divine level that transcends Necessity.
This "perceived loss of boundaries between self and environment" can be experienced through a sensation that one IS the whole universe (and therefore there is no need to differentiate the “I” from the “universe”) or by simply acknowledging the “I” does not exist. Either way, it feels as if new dimensions are perceived, such as a two dimensional being suddenly looking "up".
It should also be noted, within the context of this system, that ego death is not actual death itself, but rather a temporary state of mind which can be stabilised and reverted. This can be done either by thought-source control for any who have achieved the state, as well as by de-intoxication for those who have reached the state using psychedelics.
However, there are at least as many points of view about the nature of ego death as there are mystics, psychonauts, etc. who have had the experience. (Some, for example, may even go so far as to agree with the poet Dylan Thomas who said, "after the first death, there is no other.") It can also be argued that experiencing ego death is not possible because an ego is a functional necessity of experience and hence experience does not occur after ego death.
It can also be viewed as a great paradox that an experience referred to as an "ego death" can lead to beliefs that the person becomes one with the universe, and that the work and history of the whole universe is concluded in the momentary experience of "self", a view which can be viewed as the result of a vastly inflated ego, similar to the common expression used for someone experiencing an "ego-trip" - "s/he think the whole world revolves around him/her". For proponents of this viewpoint, an ego death would be best achieved by accepting one's reality as mere transient human and not equate oneself to such vast and powerful entities as the universe.
Modern claims of ego death
Some famous examples of people claiming to have had the experience are Carlos Cernello, Ramana Maharshi and U. G. Krishnamurti. More recently Eckhart Tolle has claimed that he underwent the experience after having suffered from long periods of suicidal depression. He says he woke up in the middle of that night and thought,
|“||I couldn’t live with myself any longer. And in this a question arose without an answer: who is the ‘I’ that cannot live with the self? What is the self? I felt drawn into a void. I didn’t know at the time that what really happened was the mind-made self, with its heaviness, its problems, that lives between the unsatisfying past and the fearful future, collapsed. It dissolved.||”|
Tolle recalls going out for a walk in London the next morning, and finding that “everything was miraculous, deeply peaceful. Even the traffic."
- Altered states of consciousness
- Death, Brain death, and Near-death experience
- Depersonalization and derealization
- Gnosis and Kenosis
- Mystical psychosis
- Night of Pan
- Psychedelic experience and Entheogenic experience
- Ego (philosophy), Ego (spirituality), and Self (spirituality)
- Ego Death and Self-Control Cybernetics
- Ego - The False Center
- The Effect of LSD on the Ego
- The Secret by Goa Gill