A cowherd took his cows to the meadows every morning and brought them back to the cowshed at the end of the day. One evening, as he was tying the cows up for the night, the boy found that one of them was missing her rope.
He feared that she might run away, but it was too late to go and buy a new rope. The boy didn't know what to do, so he went to a wise man who lived nearby and sought his advice.
The wise man told the boy to pretend to tie the cow, and make sure that the cow saw him doing it. The boy did as the wise man had suggested. The next morning the boy discovered that the cow had remained still throughout the night.
He untied all the cows as usual, and they all went outside. He was about to go to the meadows when he noticed that the cow with the missing rope was still in the cowshed. She was standing on the same spot where she had been all night.
He tried to coax her to join the herd, but she wouldn't budge. The boy was perplexed. He went back to the wise man who said, "The cow still thinks she is tied up. Go back and pretend to untie her".
The boy did as he was told, and the cow happily left the cowshed. This is what the guru does with the ego of the disciple. The guru helps untie that which was never there.
Like the cow, due to our ignorance, we believe that we are bound by the ego when, in fact, we are completely free. We need to be convinced of this, however. The ego is an illusion with no existence of its own.
It appears to be real because it is animated by the atman. The ego itself can be compared to dead matter; for without the atman, it would have no life. Stop supporting the ego, and it will withdraw and disappear.
We ourselves lend the unreal ego its reality. Expose it for what it is, or rather, for what it isn't, and that will be the end of it. A dog wags its tail — the tail does not wag the dog. The same is true with the mind.
The mind, or the ego, should be nothing more than a useful tool; a sadhaka (spiri-tual seeker) shouldn't let herself be ruled by the whims and fancies of the mind. The ego consists of our thoughts and our mind.
Our thoughts are our own creation. We make them real by cooperating with them. If we withdraw our support, they will dissolve. We simply have to observe our thoughts.
A lion made of sandalwood is real to a child, but to a grown-up it's a piece of sandalwood. For the child, the wood is concealed, revealing only the lion. The grown-up may also enjoy the lion, but he knows it is not real.
For him, the wood is real, not the lion. In the same way, to a Self-realised soul, the entire universe is nothing but the essence, the "wood" that comprises everything, the Absolute Brahmn or Consciousness.
Excerpted from Amy Edelstein's interview with Amma for What is Enlightenment? magazine published by Andrew Cohen.