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Personality, Individuality, Ego and Self

Given below are excerpts from Osho’s spontaneous response to a question one of his disciples asked him about Personality, Individuality, Ego and Self.




THE FIRST THING to be understood is about the words ‘individuality’ and ‘personality’. ‘Individuality’ means one who is indivisible, one who has become a unity, one who is no more divided. It is a beautiful word. In this sense, Buddha, Jesus, Zarathustra, can be called individuals—in this root meaning of the word, not the way you use it.

Your use of ‘individuality’ is almost a synonym for ‘personality’. ‘Personality’ has different orientations. It comes from Greek drama. In Greek drama the actors used to have ‘personas’, masks. They would be hiding behind the mask. You could not have seen their faces, you could have only heard their voice. ‘Sona’ means sound. ‘Persona’ means you can have a contact only with their sounds, not with their faces. They are hiding somewhere. From that comes the word ‘personality’.

In that sense Buddha, Jesus, Zarathustra, Lao Tzu, have no personalities. They are just there in front of you, not hiding anything. They are naked, confronting you in their absolute purity. There is nothing to hide. You can see them through and through, they are transparent beings.

So you cannot say rightly that they have personalities or that they are persons. They are individuals, but remember the meaning of the word—they cannot be divided. They don’t have fragments. They are not a crowd. They are not polypsychic. They don’t have many minds. Their manyness has disappeared and they have become one, and their oneness is such that there is no way to divide it. No sword can cut them in two. Their indivisibility is ultimate.

In that sense you can call them individuals. But it is dangerous. Because this oneness comes only when the many is lost. When the many is lost how can you say even that one is one? Because one can be called meaningfully one only when the possibility for many exists. But the very possibility has disappeared.

That’s why in India we call God advaita, non-dual. We could have called him one, but we have resisted that temptation. We have never called him one, because the moment that you call something one, the two has entered—because one cannot exist without the two, the three, the four. One is meaningful only in a series. One is meaningful only in a hierarchy.

If really one has become one, how can you call him one? The word loses meaning. You can call him only not-many; you can call him non-dual, advaita, not two. But you cannot call him one. Not-two is beautiful. It simply says that the twoness, the manyness, has disappeared. It does not say what has appeared, it simply says what has disappeared. It is a negative term.

Anything that can be said about the ultimate truth has to be negative. We can say what god is not, we cannot say what he is. Because to say what he is, we define him. Every definition is a limitation. Once god is defined he is no more infinite, he becomes finite.

So in a way you can call Buddha an individual, but it will be better to resist the temptation. He is certainly not a person, he has no personality, but to call him individual is also not right—better than calling him a person, but still not perfect. He is not a person, he is not an individual—because he is not.

The very idea of his being has disappeared. He is just a vast emptiness. He is space. He has no boundaries now.

Somebody becomes an individual only when he has become infinite. It will look paradoxical, but let me say it: somebody becomes individual only when he has become universal, when he is one with the whole. Then somebody is an individual. But then to call him an individual will be stretching the meaning of the word too far. It will be a little too outlandish. It is better to call Buddha a nobody—neither a person nor an individual. All those things have been left far behind. He has transcended all limitations.


Personality and ego are two aspects of the same coin, just as individuality and self are two aspects of the same coin. The personality has a center—that center is called the ego. Because personality itself is false, the center is also false, because a false circumference cannot have a real center and a real center cannot have a false circumference.

Personality is unreal. Personality is that which you pretend to be, but you are not. Personality is that which you show, but you are not. Personality is your exhibition, not your reality. Personality is that which you create around yourself a fiction to deceive—but you are not. This personality has a false center, as false as it is itself. That false center is the ego. When you drop personality, ego disappears. Or you drop the ego and the personality collapses to the ground, to the dust.

Remember not to pretend that which you are not, otherwise you will never be able to drop the ego. Then you go on feeding the ego. Never try to look in any way different than you are. Whatsoever the cost, be true to yourself. Don’t try to decorate it, to clothe it in manners, etiquettes, a thousand and one falsities. Be naked as you are. Let people feel your real pulse, and you will not be at loss.

In the beginning you may see that you are getting into trouble, but soon you will find that you are never at a loss. With reality nobody ever loses. With unreality you only think you are gaining, you go on losing. That’s how many people destroy their whole life—by being unreal—and then they say that they are not happy. How can an unreal person be happy?

It is as if you have put stones in the soil instead of seeds and you are waiting, you are waiting for them to sprout and bloom and fill your life with flowers and fruits. It is impossible—those stones cannot grow. Those stones are not seeds of something, they don’t have any potentiality. They may look like seeds, you may have coloured them in such a way, you may have painted them in such a way that they look like seeds, but they are not seeds, they cannot grow.

The ego cannot grow. It is dead, a false entity. It is not alive. You can go on and on living with it, but your whole life will become like a desert... empty. No fulfillment, no contentment, no bliss will ever knock at your door.

You can wait for eternity, nobody will ever come. Because in the very beginning you missed something—something very essential and basic. Only you can grow, not the pretensions.

I told you the word ‘personality’ comes from ‘persona’. If you have a mask, the mask will not grow. You will grow. You may have put the mask on your face when you were a child, now you may be a young man—but the mask will remain the same... a dirty old thing, rotten. It will simply rot, it cannot grow. You will be growing behind it, and it will give you many pains because it will be a confinement. It cannot grow and you are growing. It is as if you are still wearing your childhood clothes. You are growing and those clothes are not growing, so they have become a bondage. They don’t give you freedom, they confine you, they crush you. You feel continuously a pressure, a tension, an anguish.

You can try it. You can wear shoes which are smaller than for your feet, and walk—and you will know what is happening to millions of people. Their personalities are too small and their being is growing. Try to walk with shoes two sizes too small....

Look at the faces of people—their agony and anguish is written so clear. They are broadcasting nothing else but their agony and their anguish. And the problem is they are wearing a dead mask, a personality, which cannot grow with them. Of course it is always lagging behind. It cannot grow. They are growing continuously and it becomes a dead weight.

Remember, with the false you will be crushed. Never keep company with the false. If you really want to grow into a blooming being, if you really want to give freedom to your being, never keep company with the false. Be true, whatsoever the cost. I repeat again: in the beginning it may seem that these pretensions are very good. They are not. Your mind is deceiving you.

And if you try to keep company with the true, ego will disappear on its own accord. Otherwise it goes on finding new ways, new methods to feed itself.

People go on keeping their etiquette, their mannerisms, their falsities, their pretensions, even in such situations where it is unimaginable.

I know one man whose house was on fire, but the first thing that he did running out of the house was to tie his tie. The house is on fire and he could not run out of it without his tie. The personality becomes so clinging to you and you become so clinging to it.

I have heard about a great professor who was so polite that even when he was angry he would be polite—even in the expression of his anger. One day he was so angry with a student that he was boiling hot, and he said, ‘Please go to hell!’... Please go to hell?

Just watch yourself. Personality is the father of the ego. If you drop personality you will find the ego has died on its own accord.

The ego is the child of the personality. Many people would like to drop the ego, but they don’t understand the inner connection. They would like to drop the ego because it gives so much misery. It continuously hurts, it is like a wound. It never allows you any rest, it always keeps you restless. It is a disease. Many people by and by start feeling that it is better if they can get rid of the ego, but they never think that this is the child of the personality. If you want to get rid of the ego, you will have to drop your personality.

That’s why Buddha left the palace—because it was impossible to drop the personality and still be a prince. Mahavira became naked, he dropped even his clothes—he was one of the most courageous men the world has ever known—because he came to realize that even clothes are not for the body; they are just part of a social mannerism, just part of a social etiquette. Of course he suffered for it. He was chased out of towns—people used to throw stones at him. They thought he had gone crazy. He suffered for it, but his achievement was tremendous out of it.

Mahavira for twelve years completely dropped everything. He was the perfect dropout. Language, clothes, society, security, everything he dropped. Then by and by his innocence surfaced; all the layers of personality dropped, ego disappeared.

Remember, ego is very tricky. It is very subtle, its ways are very subtle. You drop it from one side, it comes from another. Unless you become very, very alert how it arises, how it feeds....

The ego can find food from anywhere. Whatsoever the game, I am the top. Whatsoever the game—the name of the game may be humbleness, but I am the topmost humble man. The names can be different. Always remember that whenever you start feeling that you are the topmost—maybe it is humbleness, it makes no difference; maybe it is egolessness, it makes no difference—if you think that you are the most egoless person in the world you are again in the same trap.

The ego lives on claims. The ego is competitive and personality goes on feeding it through subtle ways. Personality is the circumference of your pretensions, of your exhibitions, of your deceptions, and ego is the center. They go together, they remain together.


Now the second couple: individuality and self. Individuality is the circumference, self is the center. They are more real than personality and ego, they are more real than the first couple, but still not ultimately real.

When personality is dropped, you become individual. When you become individual then a sense of self arises—‘I am.’ It has no claim, it is not competitive. Self is not competitive: it does not say that I am better or worse, that I am ahead or far behind. It does not compare, it is not comparative. It simply says ‘I am’. It is not relative to others. Individuality is a simple expression of whosoever you are, and a deep sense of ‘I am’.

But Buddha or Jesus cannot be even called individuals because they go a little further, where even the sense of self disappears.

The ego is comparative, very ill; the self is a little healthy, not so ill—it has no comparison with anybody—but still the very idea that ‘I am’ divides, separates from the total unity. The way of Jesus is: ‘My father and I are one.’ That is his way of saying, ‘I am not a self, my father is myself.’ You can translate it better if you say that the center of the whole is my center; then the language becomes more scientific.

Buddha is even more keen. He says simply, ‘I am not.’ Because the danger is—saying that I am god, or god is my center—the danger is that the ‘I’ may enter again from the backdoor. Buddha says, ‘I am not.’ He simply goes on dissecting the very phenomenon of ‘I’, and comes to a point where nothing is left. Just as matter disappears in the hands of the physicist, self disappears in the hands of Buddha.

I have heard:

One day an elephant went walking through the jungle. He was feeling in the pink, ready to challenge the whole world. As he walked along he met a poor little mouse with a runny nose and pink eyes.

‘Why are you not as big as I am?’ he roared.

The mouse looked up at him and said, ‘I have been very sick lately.’

Everybody, even a mouse, has his own ego. Everybody, even a religious man, has his own ego. Even while declaring, ‘I am just dust underneath your feet,’ you are gathering ego.

The ego and the personality have to be dropped, then you will find individuality arising... a feeling of uniqueness. Yes, you are unique. Everybody else is also unique. In this world only unique people exist, so comparison is just stupid, because you alone are like yourself. There is nobody like you, so how to compare?

Comparison is possible if there are many people alike, similar to each other, but this existence is so tremendously creative, so originally creative, it never repeats. It does not believe in carbon copies. It makes everybody an individual, unique. When personality is dropped you suddenly feel you are unique—but remember, you also feel everybody else is also unique. Uniqueness is a common quality of all, there is nothing to brag about. It is the universal quality of every being.

With the individuality you have a subtle center of a feeling—‘I am’. Buddha goes far beyond it. Mahavira, Krishna, Jesus, they don’t say anything beyond this. But Buddha goes to the very end of his logic. He says personality has been dropped, now drop this individuality also. The ego has been dropped, now drop this ‘I-amness’ also, this self-hood also.

Then nothing is left, then only nothing is left, and in that emptiness you become virgin, uncorrupted. Emptiness cannot be corrupted. Being is, but there is no feeling of ‘I am’.

Have you not ever come to some moments when you are, tremendously you are, but still there is no feeling of ‘I am’? Those are the moments of grandeur, grace. They happen to everybody. You may not have noticed, you may not have accepted them, you may not remember them, you may have rejected them because they seem so outlandish. They don’t fit with your life—with your life of the ego and personality. They don’t fit. They are not consistent with your routine way of life, so you drop them, you forget them. You think that they may be just the imagination, a dream.

But to everybody those moments come. I have not come across a single human being who has not in some way or other, in some moment or other, felt himself tremendously there and yet with no sense of ‘I’. Those are the moments when you feel beauty, when you feel love, when you feel wonder.

Looking at the stars in the night suddenly something disappears, suddenly an emptiness arises in you... virgin, uncorrupted, unpolluted by society, culture, civilization, religion, scripture, tradition. Again you are pure, innocent. You are. In fact, for the first time you are very substantial but with no ‘I’ anywhere. There is empty sky and the stars shining, and here you are—empty—and the stars reflecting. Two skies, both empty, meeting.

These are the religious moments—moments of prayer, beauty, wonder, awe. They come to everybody.

But remember, whenever you are a doer you are missing, because the doer carries his ego. The doer is the ego.

Whenever you are a non-doer there is a possibility you may fall into line with the whole, you may fall into harmony with the whole—what Buddha calls the way, the dhamma. You will become one with the dhamma, and suddenly a rush of bliss—it rains all around, your whole being becomes saturated with a new benediction that you have not known before.

Personality has to go. With personality goes the ego. Then individuality has also to go, and with individuality goes the self. Then nothing is left and you are at home. Gone—you have arrived.

One of Buddha’s names is tathagata. It means ‘who has gone very skilfully, disappeared very skilfully’. Gata means gone. Another of Buddha’s names is sugata—well gone, who has gone so well that you cannot find a trace behind... nothing is left, just pure innocence. Become a sugata, become a tathagata. Allow yourself to evaporate and disappear. Only then will you find who you are.

You are not you. Your very sense of ‘I’ is a confinement, a bondage, an imprisonment, a cage. When the cage disappears the whole sky is yours.

Even the sky is not your limit. You contain the sky in your inner being. You are vaster than the sky, bigger than the space.


Courtesy: The Discipline of Transcendence, Vol. 1


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