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Rene Guenon - Fundamental Distinction Between the Self and the Ego

Rene Guenon - Fundamental Distinction Between the Self and the Ego

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11/08/2012

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FUNDAMENTAL DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE SELF" AND THE "EGO"CHAPTER II
from "Man and His Becoming according to the Vedanta, René Guénon, Translation: Richard C. Nicholson, 1958) IN order thoroughly to understand the teaching of the Vedânta as it pertains to the human being, it is essential to define from the start, as clearly as possible, the fundamental distinction between the "Self," which is the veryprinciple of the being, and the individual "ego." It is hardly necessary to explain that the use of the term "Self " does not imply on our part any identity of view with certain schools who may have used this word, but who,under an Oriental terminology, generally misunderstood, have never set forth any but purely Western views,highly fantastic at that ; we are alluding here not only to Theosophism, but also to certain pseudo-Oriental schools which have entirely distorted the Vedânta under the pretext of adapting it to the Western mentality. The misuse which may have been made of a word does not, in our opinion, provide adequate grounds for declining to employ it, except where it is possible to replace it by another word equally well suited to express the same meaning, which is not the case in this instance; besides, too great a strictness on this score would undoubtedlyleave very few terms indeed at ones disposal, especially as there exist hardly any which at one time or another have not been misapplied by some philosopher. The only words which we intend to reject are those invented deliberately to express views which have nothing in common with what we are expounding: such, for example,are the denominations of the different kinds of philosophical systems; such, also, are the terms which belong specifically to the vocabulary of the occultists and other "neo-spiritualists"; as for terms which the last-named have merely borrowed from earlier doctrines which they habitually and shamelessly plagiarize without understanding anything about them, we obviously need have no scruples about employing such words, while at the same time restoring the meaning which normally belongs to them.In place of the terms "Self " and "ego," we may also use those of " Personality" and "individuality," with one reservation, however, for the "Self," as we shall explain later on, may denote something over and above the Personality. The Theosophists, who seem to have taken a delight in confusing their terminology, interpret the Personality and the individuality in a sense which is the exact opposite of that in which they should rightly be understood; it is the first which they identify with the "ego," and the second with the "Self." Previously, on the contrary, even in the West, whenever any distinction has been made between these two terms, the Personalityhas always been regarded as superior to the individuality and that is why we say that this is their normal relationship, which there is every reason to retain. Scholastic philosophy, in particular, has not overlooked this distinction, but it does not seem to have grasped its full metaphysical significance, nor to have extracted the most profound consequences which follow from it ; this is moreover what often occurs, even on occasions where Scholasticism shows the most remarkable similarity with certain portions of the Oriental doctrines. In anycase, the Personality, metaphysically speaking, has nothing in common with what modern philosophers so often call the "human person," which is, in fact, nothing but the individuality pure and simple ; besides, it is this alone and not the Personality which can strictly be called human. In a general way, it appears that Westerners, even when they attempt to carry their views further than those of the majority, mistake for the Personality what is actually but the superior part of the individuality, or a simple extension of it1: in these circumstances everything which is of the purely metaphysical order necessarily remains outside their comprehension.The " Self " is the transcendent and permanent principle of which the manifested being, the human being, for example, is only a transient and contingent modification, a modification which, moreover, can in no way affect the principle, as will be explained more fully in what follows. The " Self," as such, is never individualized and cannot become so, for since it must always be considered under the aspect of the eternity and immutabilitywhich are the necessary attributes of pure Being, it is obviously not susceptible of any particularization, which would cause it to be "other than itself." Immutable in its own nature, it merely develops the indefinite possibilities which it contains within itself, by a relative passing from potency to act through an indefinite series of degrees. Its essential permanence is not thereby affected, precisely because this process is only relative, and because this development is, strictly speaking, not a development at all, except when looked at from the point of view of manifestation, outside of which there can be no question of succession, but only of perfect simultaneity, so that even what is virtual under one aspect, is found nevertheless to be realized in the "eternal present." As regards manifestation, it may be said that the "Self " develops its manifold possibilities, indefinite in 
 
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eve 
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lati
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gard
 
things
 
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this
 
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th
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w
ill
 
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consist 
 
sol
l
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st 
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b
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w
ill
 
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ex
nd
 
to
 
th
forml
ss,
 
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p
rising
b
oth
 
th
unmanif 
st 
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and
 
th
su
p
ra
-
indi
v
idual
 
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of 
 
manif 
station
. A
s
 
for
 
th
indi
v
idual,
 
it 
 
includ
s
 
all
 
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gr
ee 
s
 
of 
 
formal
 
manif 
station,
 
that 
 
is,
 
all
 
stat 
s
 
in
w
hich
be 
ings
 
ar
in
ve 
st 
d
w
ith
 
forms,
 
for
w
hat 
p
ro
pe 
rl
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ri
ze 
s
 
indi
v
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and
ss
ntiall
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constitut 
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is
p
r
cis
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e p
r
s
nc
of 
 
form
 
among
 
th
limitati
ve 
conditions
w
hich
 
d
fin
and
 
d
rmin
a
 
gi
ve 
n
 
stat 
of 
ex
ist 
nc
e. We 
can
 
no
w
sum
 
u
p
th
s
furth
r
 
consid
rations
 
in
 
th
follo
w
ing
 
ta
b
l
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h
Unmanif 
st 
d
 
Uni
ve 
rsal
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orml
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anif 
station
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b
tl
stat 
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ndi
v
idual
{ F
ormal
anif 
station
{
ross
 
stat 
h
rms
 
"su
b
tl
stat 
"
 
and
 
"gross
 
stat 
,"
w
hich
 
ar
assign
d
 
to
 
th
diff 
r
nt 
 
d
gr
ee 
s
 
of 
 
formal
 
manif 
station,
 w
ill
be exp
lain
d
 
lat 
r
; b
ut 
we 
ma
y p
oint 
 
out 
 
no
w
that 
 
this
 
last 
 
distinction
 
onl
y
holds
 
good
 
on
 
condition
 
that 
we 
ta
ke 
as
 
our
 
starting
p
oint 
 
th
human
 
indi
v
idualit 
y
,
 
or
 
mor
e p
r
cis
l
y
,
 
th
cor
p
or
al
 
and
 
s
nsi
b
l
e w
orld
.
h
"gross
 
stat 
"
 
in
 
fact 
 
is
 
nothing
ls
than
 
cor
p
or
al
ex
ist 
nc
its
lf,
 
to
w
hich,
 
as
we 
shall
 
s
ee 
,
 
human
 
indi
v
idualit 
ybe 
longs
by
on
of 
 
its
 
modaliti
s
 
onl
y
,
 
and
 
not 
 
in
 
its
 
int 
gral
 
d
eve 
lo
p
m
nt 
. A
s
 
to
 
th
"su
b
tl
stat 
,"
 
it 
 
includ
s,
 
in
 
th
first 
p
lac
,
 
th
e ex
tra
-
cor
p
or
al
 
modaliti
s
 
of 
 
th
human
be 
ing,
 
or
 
of 
eve 
r
y
oth
r
be 
ing
 
situat 
d
 
in
 
th
sam
stat 
of 
ex
ist 
nc
,
 
and
 
also,
 
in
 
th
s
cond
p
lac
,
 
all
 
oth
r
 
indi
v
idual
 
stat 
s
. I
 
is
 
th
r
for
e ev
id
nt 
 
that 
 
th
s
w
o
 
rms
 
ar
not 
 
trul
y
s
y
mm
trical
 
and
 
cannot 
eve 
n
 
ha
ve 
an
y
common
 
m
asur
,
 
sinc
on
of 
 
th
m
 
r
ep
r
s
nts
 
onl
y

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