‘Ego’ is a frequently used word in spiritual teachings. An ‘egoist’ is defined as one who is completely devoted to his own interests; a selfish person. ‘Egoism’ is defined as inordinate concern for one’s own welfare and interests; selfishness i.e. self-centered nature. The ego will edge God completely out of our lives. A person, who is selfish, concerned only for his own welfare, is a person who is deliberately pushing or edging God out of his life.
The ego constantly attempts to determine your self-worth based on comparison with others. This comparison comes out of a very little understanding of who you really are, and creates both superiority and inferiority complexes, both of which do not serve you. You are complete the way you are, regardless of what you do, what you own, and what others think of you. Nothing you do or no do adds or takes away from the glory of who you really are.
Ramana Maharshi said that one should search for self-identity by asking: “Who am I?”. In meditation one should ask this question an d with gradual evolution find calmness and peace. The question really means, what is the source or origin of ego? To find the answers you need to be free of attitude. Give up the attitude that you are the body related to name, profession, region, language and other such acquired identities.
There is no need to have an attitude about your real nature. It exists as it always has. It is real. Some ask that does not the enquiry ‘who am I?’ turn out, in the end, to be an empty question? Self-enquiry is not done in vain. It is more than the repetition of a mantra. If the enquiry were a mere mental exercise, it would not be of much value. The very purpose of self-enquiry is to focus the entire mind at its source. It is not one eye searching for another eye.
We have all been taught to let your mind make the decisions and not to listen to your heart. Your mind after all, is a terrific machine and can work anything out. Ego is this barrier between the heart and the mind. The need to express your views on a given subject - because you ‘know’ it to be right, regardless of whether people want to listen or not.
Ignoring the feelings of others because your actions are the ‘right’ actions to take. Our need is to control ego. The ego thinks it knows best. The voice of the heart doesn’t stand a chance. We have not been taught that what is simple is what is right. The universe operates simply. Balance and harmony in the natural world, in the animal world is needed. Any world that does not have ego, operates very simply. It seems the goal of spiritual beliefs to return us to our connection to that universe, to our eternity so that we, too, can live simply.
Letting go of ego is a very hard lesson to learn. Very hard. But despite its difficulty, it appears to be the only lesson if it is your goal to achieve peace. Or enlightenment. It is the only lesson if your goal is to reach that place where you can truly say: I don’t want to be better than you; I want to be better than me. And so letting go of the ego is a hard process, which is also a very scary process.
But losing the ego is also a wonderful thing. It brings us closer to our hearts. It enables us to feel more than we have ever felt. It can enable us to see ourselves in a totally different way and in doing so, find new dimensions to ourselves.
The loss of ego may give us the sense that we are living closer to our souls. Until we start the process of turning down and finally shutting off the voice of ego, the voice of our hearts cannot be heard. Self-enquiry leads to knowledge of Self. One is aware of the Self even though the Self is not objectified. When you say you do not know the Self, it means absence of related knowledge because we are so accustomed to relative knowledge that we always look for same. Because of this the goal of self-realization appears to be distant. To gauge progress on the journey of self-realization see the degree of absence of thoughts. Self-realization itself does not admit to progress. The obstacles are thoughts. Progress is measured by the degree of removal of these obstacles.
The removal of ego is a spiritual idea. It takes the form of real world experiences. God is in us and we are God’s operatives. These experiences that God gives us are important not so much for what they are but more for what they teach. And one version of what they teach is that they are there to allow us to shed our ego and connect with God. And one reason we need to connect with God is to allow us to let go of fear. And one reason we need to let go of fear is that it is fear that separates us from each other and in so doing, keeps us from finding ourselves.
This article is an ‘Ashirvachana’ given by His Holiness Sri Balagangadaranatha
Mahaswamiji, 71st Pontiff of Sri Adichunchanagiri Math