The prime minister, Kuo Tzu I, of the Tang Dynasty,
was an outstanding statesman, a distinguished general,
and the most admired national hero of his day. But fame, power, wealth and success could not distract him from his keen interest and devotion to Buddhism.
Regarding himself as a plain and humble devoted Buddhist, he often visited his favorite Zen master to study under him.
He and the Zen master seemed to get along very well.
The fact that he was the prime minister seemed to have no influence on their association.
There was no noticeable trace of politeness on the Zen master’s part, or of vain loftiness on the part of the minister; the association seemed to be the purely religious one of a revered master and an obedient disciple.
One day, however, when he was paying his usual visit to the Zen master, he asked the following question: “Your Reverence, how does Buddhism explain egoism?”
The Zen master’s face suddenly turned blue, and in an extremely haughty and contemptuous manner he said to the premier, “What are you saying, you numskull?”
This unreasonable and unexpected defiance so hurt the feelings of the prime minister that a slight sullen expression of anger began to show on his face.
The Zen master then smiled and said, “Your excellency,
this is egoism.”
Ego is the basic problem, the most basic. And unless you solve it, nothing is solved. Unless ego disappears, the ultimate cannot penetrate you.
The ego is like a closed door. The guest is standing outside; the guest has been knocking, but the door is closed. Not only is the door closed, but the ego goes on interpreting. It says: There is nobody outside, no guest has come, nobody has knocked, just a strong wind is knocking at the door. It goes on interpreting from the inside without looking at the fact. And the door remains closed. By interpretations, even the possibility of its opening becomes less and less. And a moment comes when you are completely closed in your own ego. Then all sensitivity is lost. Then you are not an opening, and you cannot have a meeting with existence. Then you are almost dead. The ego becomes your grave.
This is the most basic problem. If you solve it, everything is solved. There is no need to seek God. There is no need to seek truth. If the ego is not there, suddenly everything is found. If the ego is not there, you simply come to know that truth has always been around you, without and within. It was the ego which wouldn’t allow you to see it. It was the ego that was closing your eyes and your being. So the first thing to be understood is what this ego is.
A child is born. A child is born without any knowledge, any consciousness of his own self. And when a child is born, the first thing he becomes aware of is not himself. The first thing he becomes aware of is the other. It is natural, because the eyes open outwards; the hands touch others, the ears listen to others, the tongue tastes food and the nose smells the outside. All these senses open outwards. That is what birth means. Birth means coming into this world, the world of the outside.
So when a child is born he is born into this world. He opens his eyes, sees others. “Other” means the “thou.” He becomes aware of the mother first. Then, by and by, he becomes aware of his own body. That too is the other, that too belongs to the world. He is hungry and he feels the body; his need is satisfied, he forgets the body. This is how a child grows. First he becomes aware of you, thou, the other, and then by and by, in contrast to you, thou, he becomes aware of himself. This awareness is a reflected awareness. He is not aware of who he is. He is simply aware of the mother and what she thinks about him. If she smiles, if she appreciates the child, if she says, “You are beautiful,” if she hugs and kisses him, the child feels good about himself.