My Ongoing Affair with Ego:
Arica, Osho, and the Marketplace

by Ma Deva Padma

The juicy subject of ego was first introduced to me by my boyfriend in 1964. His eldest brother had joined the Scientology movement, so to keep him interested I figured I’d better tune in to what “going clear” was all about. I read L. Ron Hubbard and learned of the strange things called Ego and Id.

After struggling through Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead my awareness of psychology began to bud. Back then acknowledging ego was mostly a finger-pointing affair: attacking someone else’s personality flaws. It had not yet occurred to me to point that same finger at myself. But those were important years of essential ego development. I chafed at what egoists my snobby parents were, for putting down some neighbor because of the way their lawn looked or the kind of car they drove! I was in hell and every night made damned sure that everyone at the dinner table knew it. There was no equanimity then, no detached observing of self, only a passionate battle to break free from the deadening mediocrity of the privileged.

Things took a radical shift when I learned meditation in 1972, at the Arica Institute. It was then that I realized, for the first time, that it was possible to witness the mind and therefore the ego. Oscar Ichazo, the founder of the Arica School, released his profound work on ego fixations in ’73. It was based on the nine points of the Enneagram. Ichazo’s talks on that exquisite symbol and its meaning were founded on Gurdjieff’s work, and I was spellbound by it. During the advanced stages of our training the emphasis was on Ichazo’s new system for ego spotting in oneself and in others. During that advanced training in New York, Ichazo, in person, identified each of our ego fixations. He did it by looking at mug shots of each trainee, which were projected onto a wall. He pointed out this or that identifying facial aspect...the melancholic side of a nose: “She’s a Four...Melan!” Or someone’s indulgence revealed in the shape of his or her left eye: “A Nine if there ever was one!” It was horrible and awesome at the same time, and I was utterly hooked, desperate to be that knowledgeable. The impact of his system hit home upon learning about my own ego fixation, then being grouped with 30 other trainees who all had the same one. A phase of self-inflicted ego bashing then began. It usually manifested in lengthy sessions of admission to all kinds of stingy, greedy, gluttonous, and self-involved thoughts and deeds.

By 1975 I was in Pune and longing to be free of the imposing grid of Arica work. During discourse I would pray for the Master to erase my mind so I could simply experience the moment without constantly needing to understand what it meant. While living in the commune, the issue of transcending one’s ego was a primary goal for all of us, but the method was much subtler than anything I’d previously known. It looked like simply chopping wood, but for me those early years were rife with inner turbulence. Self-doubt and spiritual comparison were plaguing me. As a result I worked ever harder to be a good disciple. Whether sitting in His presence, standing in line for lunch, or making my bed...awareness of the differences between ego and essence had become my primary concern. The fact was slowly dawning on me that when I felt relaxed, wasn’t creating an agenda, was in the flow, the chances were pretty good that ego was in the minus column and essence, like a glimpse of sunshine on a gray day, was shining through.

Osho didn’t provide theories or systems for how to be. In His extraordinary wisdom, He continuously set the stage for each of us to become so fed up with our own needy egos that we’d spontaneously jump free (if only for moments) of the illusion. We were the froggies in His pan as He turned up the heat whenever the time was right. In my case He answered that prayer to be free of the Arica mind by inviting me and a few fellow Aricans to form an Arica group in the ashram! However, He said we were to do it with heart – only then could the tools of Arica be of benefit. By the time that group was done I was well and truly over Arica.

In early Pune many of us believed that ego was what you were before you started meditating, or became a sannyasin wearing a mala. By wearing orange you were free to do as you pleased; after all, you were a “spiritual” person in India (for heaven’s sake), and you lived in an ashram! This obviously had to mean you were out of the ego loop that kept the rest of humanity lassoed. We were blissfully unaware of our elitism, and it came as a mega shock when ego was revealed to be running our very own Eden.
In discourse we “orange people” were snoring away in dreamland more than any rickshaw driver or dhobi walla, and constant rude awakenings brought that understanding home to us. But our collective ego managed, cleverly, to take shape in a variety of spiritually acceptable forms. There were cliques of samurais, mediums, and therapists. There were hierarchies and infighting, and the specialness of not being special at all! The focus of ego spotting had shifted from everyone outside to what was happening within the community itself and, more to the point, what was pumping away within each of us.

Our questions to Him were perfect reflections of our inner state. They were another of His masterstrokes, which exposed the seemingly infinite masks of ego that had us duped. Listening to old discourses reveals how hard we worked to word our queries so as not to appear too self-involved. But no matter how hard we tried, our expressions of angst with the isness of things invariably exposed the no-saying, defensive self. Additionally, our poetical or theoretical outpourings functioned as mirrors for that very same ego and never had anybody fooled – except briefly ourselves. In darshan or discourse, He would hold up our latest mask for all to see, and we’d depart, licking wounds, sometimes wiser but lighter all the same.

Exposure of one’s asleep-ness did not always require the Master’s immediate involvement. Gradually we tuned in to another frequency that enabled us to identify within ourselves, or someone else, when ego games were at play. When free of ego’s particular scent there was a lightness, a 360-degree roundness, which felt fluid and fine. On the other hand, investments in ego gratification felt toxic, like eating a lot of sweets, or like an exhaustion from overcompensation of one kind or another.
In 1995 I moved out of the commune. It was the year the Osho Zen Tarot was published, and I had been to-ing and fro-ing to London a lot.

Completing that project was a challenge for me, as during the years I’d spent creating it I’d had a cozy corner where no one else could tread on my toes. I’d been left to myself to dance with my inspiration, as it chose and when it chose, and I liked the exclusivity my creativity appeared to be providing. Quite frankly I liked the expanded sense of freedom, and with each return to the ashram it felt like I was squeezing into outgrown shoes.

Once I made the decision to move out – actually, just down the road to Yogi Park – many things fell effortlessly into place. At that critical juncture in my life it was obvious the timing was right, and so I managed to catch the wave, shoot the curl, and have been doing so ever since.

Nowadays my ongoing affair with ego has become more refined and is actually rewarding. I live with Ashika – my husband, partner, and fellow artist – in a remote area of the Macedon Ranges in Australia. Ashika and I have been here for seven years, and throughout this time we have lived solely by our wits and creative expression. During that time the Tao Oracle was created and published, which was an exercise in finding my way in the labyrinthine world of corporate publishing. For both of us the marketplace has shown itself to be an interesting and challenging beast – scary at times but tame-able enough for a brief ride now and then. Both Ashika and I have opted to enter its world for periods and then retreat to the sanctuary of home where we spend lengthy periods quietly creating. He spends hours on end with his stones, and I’m often in front of my easel. Ideally we’d stay put here forever (with our sheep and cat), but life hasn’t taken that course for either of us. Instead we are regularly challenged to interact and work with others.To be relaxed in the marketplace inevitably means working with ego, rather than fighting it. That nemesis of the past has now become an interesting soul mate, a kind of shadow character that needs to be firmly in place when you go out there. It seems to me, you’d never bother to knock on all those doors if you didn’t believe in the worth of your own work! It’s not a question of being better than the next guy. Rather, it’s a koan of how to get the door open in the first place, and once you’re in, the work (and your presence) speaks for itself. Then the rest rolls on as it will.

Last year we opened an art gallery, called Embraceart, in the country town of Woodend, and we have been amazed at the variety of people who have come through. We were eager to show our art in a serene, aesthetic environment, unencumbered by the visual noise so often found in art galleries. In the early months of operating the gallery we repeatedly made assessments of our visitors and thought we had them pegged (an ego-game throwback to those Arica days)! However it was startling to realize how off our projections were. We eventually realized that our attempts at assessing our visitors were, in fact, stemming from a lack of trust. It was as though the ego was preparing for some unreal scenario of its own creation, and that was preventing us from enjoying what was really happening. So we suspended all that and opted to be really open when we’re really open, so to speak. As a result we’ve met some extraordinary people, and more often than not have been delighted, and occasionally even humbled, by what has been shared with us. Our art seems to speak for itself, and it is so satisfying to hear conversations quiet down when people enter the space. The Osho Zen Tarot and Tao Oracle are displayed and available there, and they often serve as prompts for stories to be shared. Sometimes we’re asked questions about meditation, India, and Osho, and it is a marvel to watch people’s eyes get bigger and their body language loosen up as we weave our stories back to those exquisite years communing with Nature, each other, and Him.;