How to Annihilate the Ego or Ahamkara
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:
karmani sarvasah |
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
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:
samsara-hetavo drstah |
There are other hindrances also to man which are the causes
of Samsara. Of these. Ahamkara is the root and the first modification.
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'.
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):
syat svasya sambandho
na lesa mdtr'api
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.
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.
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:
eva ca |
Indifference to the objects of sense, self-effacement and
the perception of the evil of birth, death, old age, sickness
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:
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.
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.
continue further this very important point, it is relevant
to quote what Sankaracharya says in verse 307 of Vivekachudamani:
ahamkaram imam sva-satrum
gale kantakavat pratitam |
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
another group of three verses of Vivekachudamani (326,328,329)
Sankaracharya has very aptly described the downward trend
of Citta. He narrates it thus:
tad gunan |
pumsah pravartanam ||
tu pataty'adhah |
n' aroha iksyate ||
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.
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:
pramadan na paro'sti mrtyuh
brahmavidah samadhau |
siddhim upaiti samyak
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.
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:
samsthita eva kami
kamayita katharh syat |
- 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.
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.
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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