Effacement of Ego
Sri Swami Chidananda
This article is from the book Swami Sivananda: Saint, Sage and Godman.
It is well to remember that Sattva, Rajas and Tamas have their own hooks that keep the Sadhaka back and prevent him from soaring into the realms transcendental. The Sattvic hook is the most subtle of all and therefore most difficult to discern and detect. With Sannyasa floats the Sannyasa Abhiman, with Tyaga creeps in Tyaga Abhiman–most subtle and most dangerous almost impossible to get over.
I have been trying to explain to you why Gurudev has said, Bear Insult, Bear Injury. — Highest Sadhana. Why he has said so? It is extremely difficult to bear insult and accusations. Everyone has self-respect, a subtle form of ego, that would not allow you to bear insult, and that ego is our greatest enemy separating us from God. It is the wall between us and Him. So long as this wall is not completely shattered, annihilated, we would be on one side of the wall and God would remain on the other side; and we would not be able to attain Him, we will not have His glimpse. Whether it is Advaita Vedanta or Bhakti Marga or any other thinking, all emphasise this point. Whether it is Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or any other religion or any saint who has plunged himself deeply into spiritualism and mysticism, all recognise this basic truth that Sadhana cannot be complete without complete annihilation, complete dissolution of ego.
There are three abodes of ego:
1) The gross or the Tamasic ego: It is completely demoniacal and makes the person always thinking and doing in negative way. It always keeps the person far from the Lord and from the divine qualities of peace and joy. He himself becomes the cause of all his miseries and sorrows as he plunges into the sensual pleasures only. He is always restless, always complaining. His life is full of unhappiness.
2) The Rajasic ego: It is due to delusion and attachment with the material world. The person becomes blind to reason, discrimination and the Goal of the life on account of his involvement in the worldly things, his bondages and ‘my and mine’ attitude. He is not as unhappy as the gross ego person. But he too loses the right path due to delusion. The result is he creates more and more Karma-bandhana and plunges deeper and deeper into the bog of Samsara and into the wilderness of the cycle of birth and death. So the ultimate outcome is the same as of Tamasic ego. Both are equally bad in the sense that both keep us away from our divine Destiny. In this sense, there is not much to choose between the two.
3) The subtle or Sattvic ego: This is desirable and helpful in the early advent on the spiritual path, for the simple reason that it keeps us out of the Tamasic and Rajasic egos and their consequences, and puts us onto the right, the spiritual path. It is a good ground to start spiritual Sadhana. But howsoever Sattvic or subtle it becomes, it is the ego principle and it remains so. So, so long as even the most subtle ego exists, one cannot have God-realisation, the Divine Experience. Selflessness, compassion and sympathy for others are the foundations of the subtle ego. It may be in the form of, ‘God is my father and All-in-all. Everything belongs to Him only. Nothing is mine. I should serve Him in all His Forms. The entire world is His creation, His form. So I should do service to others, I should do Paropakara.’
So, the subtle ego sows the seeds of Shubhechha. Thus it is helping the Sattvic person in putting onto the path of knowledge. It makes his life Dharmic, ethical, pure. So it is not only a necessary prelude to the spiritual life, but it is also helpful in brining us out of the Dehadhyasa. In this way, the Sattvic ego is uplifting and sublimating one’s life and is considered very beneficial. However from the point of view of Vedanta Darshan it is undesirable after a certain point. A mystic has given it an analogy of a golden cage. Though it is pure gold, very valuable, it remains a cage. Some mystics use the analogy of the three types of handcuffs — iron, silver and gold. The gold handcuffs look very beautiful, yet they remain handcuffs. So, for the ultimate Experience, the Sattvic ego is also to be transcended.
Guru Maharaj has analysed the ego principle in a wonderful way in his writings. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa Dev was not well educated, but he explains it in a very, very simple but telling way:
In olden times, a traveller was passing through a thick forest. Three dacoits attacked him and snatched away all his wealth and made him captive. One dacoit said, “We should kill him.” The second dacoit protested, “We could get so much wealth from him, that is enough. Why kill him and invite trouble? We should tie him with a tree and run away. So that we can enjoy all his wealth.” So, all the three tied him tightly to a tree and went away.
After a while, the third thief parted from the other two. As it started becoming dark he started thinking, ‘I should save that traveller from his bondage. Otherwise any wild animal may kill him. He is tied with the tree and is totally helpless.’ So he went back and freed the traveller from his bondage. Now the thief thought that they had taken the traveller in such a deep jungle that unless he showed him the way, the traveller would be lost in the wilderness of the jungle. So he took the traveller by a short-cut route, out of the wilderness and said, “Look there! That is your abode, your home. Now you proceed on by yourself.” The traveller said, “I cannot go alone. You must accompany me. You have been so much kind and helpful to me. I want to give you a reward.” But the thief explained, “No, no. I cannot come there. Now onwards you have to proceed by yourself without my company.”
Sri Ramakrishna Dev explains: The first dacoit is Tamoguna. It is destructive, it always thinks negatively and harms others unnecessarily. The second dacoit is Rajoguna which binds the Jivatma, the traveller, to the tree of Samsara and sensual pleasures. You are no more able to move towards your Abode, your Destination. It may not destroy you spiritually, but will hold you bound to the material world with Maya. The third thief is Sattvaguna. It shows the right track and puts the traveller Jivatma on the right path, shows him his Destination, takes him near the ultimate Reality. So far it is very, very helpful. But it cannot take you any farther.
Ultimately, you have to become Trigunatita, you have to transcend all the three attributes; till that you cannot have God-realisation. However, it is the Sattvaguna which brings you near that so you should take refuge in Sattvaguna to become firmly rooted into the spiritual ascent. But Sattvaguna is also one of the three Gunas; So unless you transcend that too, you cannot have the ultimate Experience. However, most of the Sadhakas need not worry about that very, very high state; because Sattvaguna can take you upto Savikalpa Samadhi, it can take you upto the eighth stage of Navavidha Bhakti, that is, Sravanam, Kirtanam, Smaranam, Archanam, Vandanam, Padasevanam, Dasyam and Sakhyam. Only for the ultimate stage of Atma-nivedanam, one has to give up even the helping hand of the Sattvaguna. Thus Sattvaguna is indeed of a great help. It is a great thing to bring you right upto the threshold of Illumination. It is necessary to get help of Sattvaguna for this ascent. Guru Maharaj says, “The complete annihilation of ego is possible only after a very, very intense and atom-bomb-like powerful Sadhana. So, go to the place where you are not respected but you are humiliated, abused and insulted. Deliberately go to the place where people are likely to make fun of you. Bear all the insults calmly.”
Erasing the ego totally is a long, long process requiring an all-out effort. Guru Maharaj has said, “Give up Brahmin, Sannyasa Abhiman.” Give up the ego of being a Brahmin or a Sannyasin. Guru Maharaj’s Sadhana in this direction was simply unique. He touched the feet of even all the Grihasthi devotees. Sri Ramakrishna Dev and many other saints have also consciously and deliberately made special efforts like this.
On the Swargashram side, there lived a famous saint Swami Narayana Paramahamsa who was known as Bori Narayan Swami or Gunnybag sage. He wore only one underwear of coarse gunnybag. No other clothes. All his belongings were a time-piece alarm and a Yoga-danda. Nothing else. In winter, he slept on straw spread on the ground and then covered himself with a gunny-bag. He had no Guru except Sri Badri Narayana Bhagavan Himself. Bhagavan came in his dream and gave him the Mantra-diksha, the initiation. In his pre-monastic life, he was a judge in Uttar Pradesh. A doctor soon becomes aware of all the terrible pains and sufferings that exist in the world. Likewise, a judge very soon becomes aware of all the dirtiness, selfishness, untruth, dishonesty, wickedness, crookedness and evils of human life. So, if they are sensitive, both a doctor and a judge would be disgusted with all the human society. He being a judge, he had to deal with murderers, cheaters, dishonest people, wicked people, evil people, twisters, etc.
While sitting on the bench, he saw only Adharma, non-righteousness, being poured forth in their arguments. He was aware that everything they were speaking was absolute falsehood. The witnesses also uttered falsehood. This was a painful experience for a sensitive soul. He got some spiritual awakening. He gradually became disgusted with the terrible nature of human life and started reading spiritual books and turned to meditation and prayer. He became a Sadhaka and did spiritual Sadhana even when he was in service. He gave up his service and came to some pilgrim place on the banks of holy Ganga. As a judge he was a very, very big person. A peon was always going ahead of him and a clerk by his side. No one could approach him. He was accustomed to being always respected, honoured and served. Now that he had taken the extreme step of complete renunciation and entered the Nivrritti Marga with a begging bowl, the problem started. He did not know how to beg, he had never asked for anything before. Not a word could come out of his mouth for begging and he started remaining hungry. A Sadhu advised him to take certain rice-like seeds of a wild plant and to boil them and eat them so that he would be free from hunger. The judge followed this method to avoid the necessity of begging. One day, two days, three days, the hunger left him completely. But on the fourth day he could not get up. He had no hunger, but he had no strength either. His head began to reel. This dimension of the remedy he had not anticipated. That forced him to start begging. He would stand before some house and make some noise when the house wife came out, he stretched his hands and would get some food.
He was a very intelligent man. He thought to himself. “Why this happened to me like this? I must have still got that notion that I am a judge, I must be still clinging to the old I. I am not feeling hundred per cent that I am a Sadhu, a Bhikshu. I am still having that ego that I was a judge. I must remove it. How to remove it?” So he must have pondered over it well and he hit upon a plan. The pilgrim place that he was living in, was a settlement of Sadhus and on certain days pilgrims used to take the Ganga-bath. He used to go to the Ghat very early in the morning and station himself there. When the pilgrims came for bath, he would prostrate himself completely at their feet in dust. 1,2,3,… 30,… 40,… 50,… he went on doing Sashtanga Dandavat Namaskaras to all the pilgrims returning after their bath. People were taken aback, a Sannyasi doing such complete prostrations to ordinary Grihasthis! But after sometime, they became accustomed to this. They might have thought, ‘He is doing Prayaschitta of some big sins committed in the past.’ So, afterwards, they took him for granted and did not try to avoid him. In this way he completely got rid of the feelings that he was a judge or something.
Gurudev has said about him, “He is keeping up the very ancient tradition of the forest dwelling Rishis and Munis whose description we find in Srimad Bhagavatam and other Puranas. Now they are a fast vanishing tribe. We have to be grateful that in our Sadhu Samaj we have a person of his kind, his nature.” He had observed Mauna for about twenty years. When he was persuaded to break his Mauna, he could not speak. His vocal-chords had become inactive. He was Gurudev’s companion in those days.
I had had the good fortune of going to him and seeing him. Due to too much exposure to cold and all that, he had inflammation of eyes and he was not taking any medicine at all. Some devotees informed Gurudev and he asked me to go to the Swamiji and see him. The moment I told Sri Narayana Swamiji that Guru Maharaj had sent me, he was overjoyed and said, “Ah!”