It’s common to hear people on a spiritual path saying that we need to destroy or erase the ego. However, while we have a physical body, it’s necessary to have an ego just as much as we have a mind and intellect. Rather than focusing on eliminating the ego, our aim should be to balance it so it acts in harmony with all our other layers of life.
In terms of evolution, the non-local Absolute manifests the Jiva or individual soul. The individual soul brings with it the karma for this lifetime and creates the ego to help facilitate this. From the ego emerge the intellect, the mind and our physical world as projections of our karmic tendencies. The karmic curse is that we have forgotten who we really are and instead, the ego creates all the stories, labels and roles of who we think we are. Thus the ego knows us intimately and, if left to its own devices, becomes the director of our life story.
Up until the age of about two, the ego is fairly dormant. Then, all of a sudden the word “mine” is discovered. Even though this may be challenging for those around us, we enter the period when the ego plays an important role in our lives. As we grow, the ego supports us in our education, career, starting a family and generally establishing our life. The ego loves to organize things but unfortunately it also loves to control not only our lives but also the world around us.
If not managed, this negative side of the ego manifests as arrogance, pride, vanity, judgements and prejudices. In the more extreme cases, it emerges as the need to control, the lust for power, fanaticism or an obsession with materialism. Unfortunately, many people forego a more spiritual approach to life and become stuck with these seductive qualities of the ego. This leads to one definition of ego as being Edging God Out!
Those of us who have begun to realize that there is more to life than materialism will sooner or later embark on our spiritual journey which will eventually take us “home”. However, this is a time when the ego can be most troublesome. As we’ve said, the ego likes to be in charge to con-trol, whereas our spiritual practices are to break us out of boundaries and live in freedom. When we first start our sadhana (spiritual practice), the ego doesn’t take much notice. It thinks, “It was that new diet last month and the exercise program the month before, this won’t last either”. However, as we continue and become regular with our meditation, yoga asana, etc., the ego starts to grow nervous.
The driving force within the ego is fear and, if we allow it, the ego will install fear into all areas of our life. Any greed, lust, intolerance and anger are based in fear and guess who’s behind it all, the ego. The ego knows all our weaknesses, our repressed desires, our areas of denial and will use them against us, to knock us off our spiritual path. Most of the doubts and worries we encounter are ego based, “Am I doing it correctly?”, “Am I on the right path?”, “Does this teacher know what he/she is talking about?” Even simple thoughts like, “I don’t have enough time” or “When will the meditation be over” have been subtly slipped in by the ego.
Now this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use our common sense but, when these types of thoughts or doubts arise, ask yourself, “Is this my Higher Self or my ego talking?” Maharishi Mahesh Yogi used to say, “When doubts arise, first doubt the doubter”. The doubter is usually the ego. While our techniques themselves are effortless, as we progress on our path, it’s important to remain focused, vigilant and disciplined in our approach to them. As long as we have a physical body, an ego will be with us. When the karma for this lifetime has been exhausted, the body ceases to exist and with it the ego. A new ego will be born with a new incarnation, again as a reflection of the karmic contract for that lifetime.
Even after Enlightenment, some trace of ego still remains. In the Vedas this is called Lesha-Vidya or the “left over seeds of bad habits”. An enlightened teacher must be very aware of this so he/she doesn’t fall prey to spiritual pride and arrogance. In the early stages of Samadhi, the yogi may gain new and exciting qualities and yogic powers. If these are recognized as merely a part of the journey and treated with humility, he/she will progress to the higher levels of Sa-madhi. However, if they are used to control and manipulate, the ego takes over becoming like a “hungry ghost”. Such a yogi may gain temporary power and fame but won’t progress spiritually and will ultimately sow the seeds of his/her own downfall. This is why Vedanta tells us to, “Seek the company of those who seek enlightenment but run from those who claim to have found it”.
To manage the ego then, we need to live our lives consciously. Be aware of your choices and why you are making them. Be aware of the effects your choices have on others. There’s an Arab proverb which says:
The words of the tongue should have three gatekeepers.
Before words get past the lips, the first gatekeeper asks, “Is this true?” That stops a lot of traffic immediately. But if the words get past the first gatekeeper, there is a second who asks, “Is it kind?” And for those words that qualify here too, the last gatekeeper asks, “Is it necessary?”
We often hear the expression that someone has a “big ego”. Actually it’s the opposite. People who stamp around with their chests puffed out, have very small egos which are fighting for their lives, like a cornered wild animal. Love your ego, play with it, have fun with it, make it your friend and do not take it seriously. Seriousness is the ego playing the victim. Teach your ego humility through selfless service and compassion. When you love your ego, it will expand and cease to feel threatened. When the fear is removed, the ego will take its rightful place and be-come your biggest supporter on the path to enlightenment.