When the body dies, is that the end of the ego?

Q. When the body dies, is that the end of the ego?

A. That’s actually one of those rare questions that the Course gives conflicting answers about. In Chapter 4 of the Text, we find these passages:

The so-called “battle for survival” [in myths] is only the ego’s struggle to preserve itself, and its interpretation of its own beginning. This beginning is usually associated with physical birth, because it is hard to maintain that the ego existed before that point in time. (T-4.II.9:4)

[The ego] tells you this life is your existence because it is its own. (T-4.III.3:5)

These passages clearly convey the impression that the ego begins with birth and ends with death, that its existence is confined to this life. However, note these passages from Chapters 5 and 6:

When the ego was made, God placed in the mind the Call to joy. (T-5.II.3:2)

When your body and your ego and your dreams are gone, you will know that you will last forever. Perhaps you think this is accomplished through death, but nothing is accomplished through death, because death is nothing. (T-6.V.A.1:1-2)

The first implies that the ego was made right before God created the Holy Spirit, which in time was billions of years ago. The second explicitly states that our ego will not be gone at death. So if we put these two together, the ego existed before birth and will exist after death.

The resolution for this, I think, is that the term “ego” is undergoing an evolution in these chapters. When it first appears, which is briefly in Chapter 3 and more fully in Chapter 4, it is somewhat confined to the bounds of the Freudian ego. However, as the chapters progress, the term “ego” expands in scope, so that it extends deeply into the unconscious mind. And it also seems to expand in time, so that its roots are incredibly ancient.

I think we need to accept both of these views. In other words, there is a deep and ancient ego that we have been carrying around since the separation began. However, when we enter a body, we fashion a more specific and superficial version of that ancient ego. This superficial ego is a belief in who we are that is tailored to this body and this personality. When we die, this superficial ego goes. We no longer see ourselves as that particular separate being.

However, the deeper ego is still with us. We are still on an unbelievably ancient journey, still walking the long road of letting go of the primordial ego. And it is only when we reach the end of that road that we will truly be free.

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