A Great Tragedy
"Love makes the ego lose itself in the object it loves, and yet at the same time it wants to have the object as its own. This is a contradiction and a great tragedy of life."
– D.T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism
A Great Tragedy is based on the quote above, which comes from the Zen tradition. In this short book, I tried to show not only how we can subtly take the people and things we love and turn them into simply one more thing to please us, but also, more generally, how easy and natural it is for us to create lives centered on self.
The term "ego" is a hazy term and is often used in different ways by different authors. In the way Suzuki and similar authors use the term, "ego" is roughly equivalent to attachment to self-will. In this sense, the book's main character, Tony, is truly ego-centric. He spends his time over-analyzing what will or will not make him happy. He sees people and things mostly in terms of how they do or do not benefit him. He does the things he likes; he avoids the things he doesn't like. He regrets his actions which cause him pain, and he doesn't regret his actions which bring him good. Although Tony may not seem to be an overtly bad or self-absorbed person, he is designed to show how normal and easy it is for us to interpret the world only in terms of what it can offer us. Tony, mostly, is supposed to be an "everyman." The small cracks in his interpretation of life through the lens of self-will come either when he realizes that he has hurt someone outside of himself, or when he loses himself in love or simple acts of service to another.
The alternative to ego-centric living is to lose oneself in something greater than oneself. In an abstract sense, from the perspective of the contemplative traditions, this often means "giving yourself wholly to the Will of God," or, from a Buddhist perspective, "losing all attachments" thus gaining the ability to live with lovingkindness toward all things, without needing to possess or use those things for one's own gain. In more concrete terms, it might mean dedication to family, vocation, or one's neighbor over self. The contemplative ideal is summed up in the title of a Kierkegaard work – Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. According to Kierkegaard, a pure heart wills only the good, or what some would call the Will of God. Sometimes what you would naturally want for yourself (i.e. "self-will") is part of that, and sometimes it's not. Breaking attachment to self is what can allow one to live from this broader perspective.