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CONTENTS7. How to Annihilate Ego or Ahamkara  

 

 

 

 

 

               7. How to Annihilate the Ego or Ahamkara

 

 

 


     A Christian mystic is reported to have said that the Cross is a symbol of the annihilation of the ego. If we put a bar across 'I', it becomes the symbol of the Cross. In the Third Chapter of the Gita, Verse 27, Sri Krishna says:


     Prakrteh kriyamanani

     gunaih karmani sarvasah |

     ahamkara-vimudhatma

     kart'aham iti manyate ||


     - While all kinds of work are done by the modes of nature, he whose soul is bewildered by the self-sense thinks 'I am the doer'.


     Now Ahamkara, which is a modification of ignorance, is responsible for the cycle of birth and death. This is pointed out as follows in verse 298 of Vivekachudamani by Sankaracharya:

 

     Santy anye pratibandhah

     pumsah samsara-hetavo drstah |

     tesam esam mulam
     prathama-vikaro bhavaty'ahamkarah ||

 

     - There are other hindrances also to man which are the causes of Samsara. Of these. Ahamkara is the root and the first modification.


     All the great ones, who have realised God, point out again and again that one has to renounce the false ego. It is because of Ahamkara that our intellect gets deluded and imagines and projects the concept of 'I'. To put it in another way, all our troubles can be traced to this concept of 'ego' or 'Ahamkara.' In the language of logic, we can put it as follows: There is a concept called the falsity of the premise. Thus, suppose we say that all philosophers are mad. Emmanuel Kant was a philosopher: and therefore, Emmanuel Kant was mad. This can of course be easily challenged. For here the major premise that all philosophers are mad is wrong. So our conclusion too is wrong. It is vitiated by what is called in logic, the 'falsity of the major premise'.


     To apply this in the present case, we make so many distinctions such as 'I am so and so, son of so and so, born in a particular family. I belong to this religion and I speak this language; I am an engineer; I am a housewife; I am a student, I am a doctor' so on and so forth. All these are wrong conclusions, as they suffer from falsity of the premise. We forget our real divine self, our true self, and we lean upon our false ego and we suffer. Therefore, if we want to realise God, this ego-centric 'I' must be completely rooted out. Unless it is done, one cannot realise one's true nature.
Sankaracharya develops this problem of false ego in a subsequent verse (verse 299):


     Yavat syat svasya sambandho

     ahamkarena duratmana |
     tavan na lesa mdtr'api

     muktivarta vilaksana ||


     - So long as there is any connection of oneself with the wicked Ahamkara (ego-sense), there cannot be any talk, even in the least, of liberation which is unique.


     So long we have the relationship with the vile ego, not even the slightest talk of liberation is possible. Why? As long as we live on the plane of the ego, so long we have endless varieties of mental agitations about our name, family, wealth, learning, etc. Once this concept of 'ego' is overcome, the varieties pertaining to so many Upadhis, to which we are subjected because of the deluded intellect, disappear, and we realise the supreme self.


     Ahamkara is here called Duratma - wicked. What is our usual attitude? Either I am the doer (Karta) or I am the experiencer (Bhokta). These are nothing other than the expressions of ego or Ahamkara. These attitudes have to be eliminated. Once we confine ourselves to this vile ego, what happens? We confine ourselves to the body, to the intellect, to the mind and to all sense organs. As a result, through ignorance we super-impose upon ourselves various sorrows and imperfections and suffer from all these. I think, 'I have got the body, I was born, I have this painful disease; mentally I am dejected and very unhappy. I am depressed.' But all these are from the standpoint of the vile ego. But when we transcend the limitations of this vile ego and reach somehow or other the higher dimensions of life, then these super-impositions drop off by themselves. Until then we shall remain deluded. Why do we think wrongly? Because of our incorrect identification with our body-mind complex. We think that we are going to die and that we have so many kinds of deficiencies and that we suffer endlessly. This makes life miserable. All these can be traced to the falsity of the premise. Thus we find in the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XIII, Verse 8, where Sri Krishna tells Arjuna:


     Indriy'arthesu vairdgyam
     anahamkara eva ca |
     janma-mrtyu-jara-vyddhi-
     duhkha-dosanudarsanam ||

 

     - Indifference to the objects of sense, self-effacement and the perception of the evil of birth, death, old age, sickness and pain.


     Arjuna was advised to ponder over and meditate upon the evil effects of all these: Janma, Mrtyu, Jara, Vyadhi etc. But these Janma, Mrtyu, Jara, Vyadhi etc., pertain to our limited and finite self. We must continually ponder deeply over the evil effects of this, and in doing so we should cultivate the attitude, 'I am neither the doer, not the experiencer. I have a higher dimension in my life.' So we must practise absolute self-effacement. Further, we have to be indifferent to the objects of the senses. So it comes to this: if we want to realise the goal supreme, we are to get rid of Ahamkara; and once we get rid of Ahamkara, what happens? Here is the consequence, as Vivekachudamani, verse 306 puts it:


     Sad'aika-rupasya cidatmano vibhor

     ananda-murter anavadya-kirtek |

     n'aiv'anyatha kvapy'avikarinas te

     vin'aham adhydsam amusya samsrtih ||

 

     - But for thy identification with that egoism, there can never be any transmigration for thee who art immutable and eternally the same, the knowledge absolute, omnipresent, the bliss absolute, and of untarnished glory.


     Once we overcome the limitations of this ego, then we realise in this very life our true nature as eternally pure, intelligent, unlimited and of the form of bliss. If we are after the final goal, we must take care of the means, many of which have already been discussed. We are now dealing with one such important means, that is, the absence of the ego.


     To continue further this very important point, it is relevant to quote what Sankaracharya says in verse 307 of Vivekachudamani:


     Tasmad ahamkaram imam sva-satrum

     bhoktur gale kantakavat pratitam |

     vicchidya vijnana-mah'asina sphutam

     bhunksv' atma-sdmrajya-sukham yathestam ||

 

     - Therefore destroy this egoism, thy enemy which appears like a thorn sticking in the throat of a man taking his meal, with the great sword of realisation and enjoy directly and freely the bliss of thy empire, the majesty of the Atman.


     Therefore, since it is agreed by all that absence of ego leads to the realisation of the goal, we should remember always that this Ahamkara is a formidable enemy. Unless we destroy Ahamkara which is to be considered as a thorn in our throat, we cannot attain the goal we want. Suppose we are eating and somehow a thorn sticks in our mouth: what happens then? We cannot eat or enjoy the food, however delicious the dish may be. Why? Because there is a thorn in our throat. What is the remedy? Somehow or other, the thorn has to be taken out. Sometimes, it so happens that it gives such a painful sensation that one has to go to an E.N.T. specialist, as the patient cannot eat or relish any food.


     Similarly, we have to destroy the enemy - this sense of ego. Otherwise we cannot enjoy the bliss of the Self. As with the help of the forceps or knife the thorn is removed from the throat, so that we may enjoy our food, similarly with the help of the sword of Jnana, we have to remove the ego-sense to enjoy the felicity of the empire of the Atman.


     While discussing the concept of ego, it will be appropriate to refer to a discussion that took place between Vijaya Krishna Goswami and Sri Ramakrishna. Vijaya asked, 'Sir, why is it that we are bound like this? Why is it that we do not realise God?' Sri Ramakrishna replied, 'All troubles come to an end when the ego dies.' The ego has to be killed. All troubles will be over, once the ego dies. Then Sri Ramakrishna added, 'If, by the grace of God, a man can realise that he is not the doer, not the Karta nor the Bhokta, just an agent, then he at once becomes a Jeevanrmikta; though living in the body, he is liberated.' These are words of assurance to all of us. Sri Ramakrishna here has not mentioned that only monks can become Jeevanmuktas. Anyone who, by the grace of God, can realise that he is not the doer, becomes a Jeevanmukta. While living in this body, one becomes liberated. That means one must give up one's false ego. Then this is possible. To substantiate his point, Sri Ramakrishna just gives one example. He said that Sri Rama was only two and a half cubits away ahead of Lakshmana but Lakshmana could not see him because between Sri Rama and Lakshmana, stood Sita. So Sri Ramakrishna said, 'Lakshmana can be compared to the Jiva and Sita to Maya.' Man cannot see God on account of the barrier of Maya. It is the ego that separates the Jiva from Brahman. Once the ego is removed, the Jiva realises that he is none other than Brahman. Then Sri Ramakrishna says that the Jiva is nothing but the embodiment of Satchidananda. But since Maya or ego has created many Upadhis, the Jiva cannot realise that he is Satchidananda.


     Now, here is another important point. Suppose, through the grace of God or through spiritual practices, we are successful in rooting out this ego, the sense that 'I am the doer, I am so and so.' Even then this ego may again somehow revive. So Sankaracharya says in Vivekachudamani (Verse 309):


Samula-krtto'pi mahan aham punah

vyullekhitah syad yadi cetasa ksanam |

sanjivya viksepa-satam karoti

nabhassvata pravrsi varido yatha ||

 

     - Even though completely rooted out, this terrible ego-sense, if revived in the mind even for a moment, returns to life and creates hundreds of mischiefs, like a cloud ushered in by the wind during the rainy season.


     You might ask, 'How can this Ahamkara, which has been destroyed, again come to life?' It is like the dead being revived by the sprinkling of Amrita. Thinking of the sense objects is the cause of it. Even though we somehow overcome and conquer the vile ego, we should not allow our minds to dwell on the sense objects. If we allow the mind to ruminate on the sense objects, all our evil impressions may again be revived. Suppose there is a citron tree which has dried up. If we go on watering it, the apparently dead tree may flower again. Likewise, the sense impressions may recede into the background after we have made some progress in spiritual life, but even then we must be cautious lest the sense of ego should pull us down.


     Attachment for even a most innocuous, insignificant thing may pull us down and may lead us into endless bondage. To counteract this, one must be ever-alert and ever-vigilant. There was once a monk who renounced everything both externally and internally. His only possession was his loin cloth, but he was deeply attached to it. He even forgot the purpose for which he had gone to the forest. To save that loin cloth from being eaten up by rats, he thought that he should get a cat. So he bought a cat. But how to feed the cat? It has to be given milk. So he thought that he must now get a cow, and bought one. But then who will take care of the cow? Then he thought 'Oh, I must have a wife,' and so he married and had children. This is how ruminating over sense objects will cause the ruin of a spiritual aspirant.


     Those who are sincere seekers after truth and want to realise their divine nature, must not encourage anything that take the mind downwards. In the Gita Chapter 2 verses 62 and 63, Sri Krishna aptly analyses the fall of one from godhood:



     Dhyayato visayan pumsah
     sangas tes'upajayate |
     sangat samjayate kamah
     kamat krodho'bhijayate ||
     Krodhad bhavati sammohah
     sammohat smrti-vibhramah |
     smrti-bhramsad buddhi-naso
     buddhi-nasat pranasyati ||


     - When a man dwells mentally on the objects of senses, attachment to them is produced; from attachment springs desire and from desire comes anger.
     - From anger arises bewilderment, from bewilderment, loss of memory, and from loss of memory, the destruction of intelligence, and from the destruction of intelligence, he perishes.


     When man goes on thinking of objects, what happens? He becomes attached to them. From attachment comes desire, and if one's desire is not fulfilled, then arises anger; from anger comes delusion; from delusion loss of memory which leads to cessation of the discriminative faculty, and finally one perishes. In one of the verses of Vivekachudamani we see that armed with the sword of discrimination alone we can cross this ocean of worldliness. So if we lose discrimination, there is no hope of salvation.


     In another group of three verses of Vivekachudamani (326,328,329) Sankaracharya has very aptly described the downward trend of Citta. He narrates it thus:


     Visayesv'avisa-ccetah
     sankalpayati tad gunan |
     samyak sankalpanat kamah
     kamat pumsah pravartanam ||
     Tatah svarupa-vibhramso
     vibhrastas tu pataty'adhah |
     patitasya vina nasam
     punar n' aroha iksyate ||
     Samkalpam varjayet tasmat
     sarv'anarthasya karanam |
     apathyani hi vastuni
     vyadhigrasto yath'otsrjet ||


     - The mind, attached to sense objects, thinks of their qualities; by such strong thinking about them, desire for them arises; desire leads to action in regard to them. Due to that, a man gets deflected from his real nature; thus deflected, he falls down. One who has fallen down comes to ruin and for him there is hardly a chance of going up. Therefore one should give up thinking of sense objects, which is the cause of one's undoing, even as a sick man should avoid a baneful diet.


     Here is a very important point. Sense objects will produce their impression on our minds. We have to move about in this world, we cannot keep our eyes closed and we cannot keep all the organs shut. Naturally, we are to live in this world and different kinds of sense impressions will come. But trouble arises when we entertain a longing for these sense objects. Swami Turiyanandaji, who was a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, wrote a number of valuable letters. In one such letter he advised a devotee, 'Write on your mind's door, "No Admission." Different sense impressions will come. Let them come, "I will meet them as a master and not as their slave." The trouble begins when we allow ourselves to be victims of different kinds of sense objects with all their allurements and enchantments. Therefore, it is said, if the object comes to our mind, nothing bad is going to happen. But if the mind loves that object and also runs after it, then the trouble starts. Therefore, if sense impressions come to our mind, we should not allow ourselves to be overcome by them. One is the master, the lord, of oneself. Yet, if one does not have what is called Ichcha Sakti or will power - or it may be that the Ichcha Sakti is weak - then one may fall a victim to the allurements of this outside world. If one allows oneself to be a victim of the outside world, what happens? He becomes a slave to the world of appearances. He forgets his real nature; he falls from the ideal. If this happens, there may scarcely be a chance to rise again. Therefore, we must be very careful. We must have the determination that we must reach our desired goal in this very life and be merged in the bliss of the Divine. We must discover our real Self; this outside world has cheated us in many previous births; we should make up our mind not to allow ourselves to be cheated or deceived by this outside world any more. We must take to the discipline of discrimination. If we do not do so, we may go down and down. As the Vivekachudamani verse 327 says:


     Atah pramadan na paro'sti mrtyuh

     vivekino brahmavidah samadhau |

     samdhitah siddhim upaiti samyak

     samdhit'atma bhava savadhanah ||

 

      Hence to the discriminating knower of Brahman there is no worse death than inadvertence with regard to concentration. But the man who is concentrated attains complete success. (Therefore) carefully concentrate your mind.


     Then what is the remedy? In order not to fall, we should reject the tendency of the mind to contemplate on the objects of pleasure which is the root cause of all mischief. Suppose one is suffering from some disease and a doctor is sent for. He comes and says to the patient, 'I prohibit you from eating such and such food. If you follow my advice you will be cured of the disease'. Similarly, if we want to be cured of this disease of worldliness, we are to renounce the sense objects which are like the forbidden food. If we want to overcome worldliness, we must reject and rise above all kinds of sensuous thoughts. Who runs after sensuous thoughts? Who runs after sense pleasure? Why do they do so, knowing fully well that running after sense pleasures may cause their downfall? Why is it that we cannot control ourselves and why do we allow the mind to ruminate over the unreal things of the world? Sankaracharya has given the answer through another verse (311) of the Vivekachudamani:

 

     Deh'atmana samsthita eva kami

     vilaksanah kamayita katharh syat |

     atho'rtha-sandhana-paratvam eva

     bheda-prasaktya bhava-bandha-hetuh ||

 

      - One who is subject to the habit of identifying the Atman with the body is alone subjected to desire. How can one who is different be afflicted by desire? Hence, being concerned with the sense objects resulting from the idea of difference, is the cause of the bondage of Samsara.


     Here is a great formula. Let me refer again to the question, 'Why is it that we run after sense pleasures?' Here is the answer: 'Because of our identification with our body'. One who has identified himself with the body is naturally greedy for sense pleasures. But one who is devoid of such bodily identification will not run after sense pleasure. Therefore, being concerned with the sense objects is the cause of bondage. And this again is because of 'bheda-prasakti', the sense of distinction of duality. Perception of plurality implies constant contemplation of the world of objects. What is the truth? The truth is that the Atman alone abides. Brahman alone is true, and we are Brahman. Yet, we forget this and descend to a lower level, to our lower self, and identify ourselves with the body and mind. Then naturally desires come. Further, our identification with the outside world and our taking the outside world to be real, is possible because we see plurality. But the truth is unity of existence. Brahman pervades the entire universe. If we are established in that unity of existence, Brahman, then the goal of human life is fulfilled. We will swim, so to say, in the ocean of perpetual bliss. All the great ones testify to this and we should not have any misgivings or any doubt about this.


     Here is a subtle philosophical truth. Kama means desire. Who is a Kami? One with desires - a sensuous man who is permanently merged in the idea that he is the body. As long as one has this feeling 'I am the body', the body's demand for sense gratification will be there. And one becomes, let us be frank, shamelessly sensuous. Such a man thinks of the body only as a body and against this Swamiji said, 'Stop this wrong identification, the spirit now seen as body, must realise itself as spirit'. The moment one realises that, one is released. This gives great hope for us all. For the realisation of the supreme truth, we need not necessarily wait for hundreds of years or even for another birth. Some philosophers speak of what may be called 'postmortem realisation'. We are not interested in it. The question is whether it is possible in this very life and in this very body itself? Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and other great ones assure us, 'Yes, it is possible, provided we take care of the means. If we take care of the means, the end will take care of itself'.

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Purushakara yantra. Painting on cloth. Rajasthan. C. 18th century A.D. Private collection.
Purushakara yantra. Painting on cloth. Rajasthan. C. 18th century A.D. Private collection.


 

 

 

 

 

 


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