In the same way, just like the skin, is the ego. The skin holds your body into a pattern, into a definition, into a limit. The ego holds the contents of your mind into a limit. The ego is the inner skin so that you know who you are; otherwise you will be lost – you will not know who is who; who is me and who is the other.
The idea of self, I, ego, gives you a definition, a utilitarian definition. It makes you clearly separate from others. But that too is a skin, a very subtle skin, that holds all the contents of your mind – your memory, your past, your desires, your plans, your future, your present, your love, your hate, anger, sadness, happiness – it holds all that in a bag. But you are not that ego either. Because that too goes on changing and that changes more than the bodily skin. Each moment it is changing.
Buddha uses the analogy of a flame. A lamp is lighted: you see the flame, but it is continuously changing, it is never the same. By the morning when you put the light off, you don’t put the same flame off. It has been continuously changing the whole night.
Every single moment the flame is disappearing in the smoke and the new flame is replacing it. But the replacement is so fast that you cannot see the absence – that one flame has gone, another has come. That is gone, another has come. The movement is so fast that you cannot see the gap between the two. Otherwise there is only a continuity; it is not the same flame. But still, in a way, it is the same flame because it is the continuity of the same flame. It is born out of the same flame.
Just as you were born out of your parents – you are a continuity. You are not the same. You are not your father, you are not your mother – but still you are your father and your mother, because you continue the same tradition, the same line, the same heritage.
Buddha says the ego is a continuity, it is not a substance – continuity like a flame, continuity like a river, continuity like the body.
The problem arises…we can concede to it that okay, it may be so: if a person dies at death and everything disappears, then perfectly true – maybe it is just a flame. But Buddha says a person is reborn – then the problem arises. Then who is reborn?
Then again, a few analogies. Have you seen a big house on fire, or a jungle on fire? If you watch you will come to see a phenomenon. Simply a flame jumps from one tree and reaches to another tree. It has no substance in it, it is just a flame. It has no material in it, it is just pure energy, a quanta of energy, a certain quantity of energy – it jumps from one tree and reaches to the other and the other is on fire.
Or, you can bring an unlit torch close to a lit torch. What happens? The flame from the lit torch jumps to the unlit torch. It is a quantum leap, it is a jump. The pure flame jumps towards the other torch and starts another continuity.