Philosophical Studies in Egoism And Its Elimination


Sri Swami Sivananda

This article is a chapter from the book Conquest of Mind.

Ego or egoism or Ahamkara in Sanskrit is the self-asserting principle or Tattva born of ignorance or Prakriti. Abhimana is egoism. Garva is egoism. The seed of this ego is the differentiating intellect or Bheda Buddhi. It is the ego which has created the idea of separateness from God or Atman. It is the ego which is the root cause for all human sufferings and births and deaths.

This ego identifies itself with the body, mind, Prana and the senses. Wherever there is ego, there are mineness, selfishness, likes and dislikes, lust, anger, greed, hypocrisy, pride, jealousy, delusion, arrogance, conceit, impertinence, Vasanas, Trishna or cravings and Vrittis “or Sankalpas, clinging to this earth-life (Abhinivesa), agency, doership (Kartritva) and enjoyership (Bhoktritva).

You must have a very clear understanding of the nature of this ego, if you want to annihilate egoism. Killing of egoism is killing of mind. Destruction of thought, desires, cravings, mineness, selfishness, jealousy, pride, lust is really destruction of mind or egoism. Control of senses also is annihilation of the mind or egoism.

This egoism assumes a subtle form. The gross egoism is not so dangerous as the subtle egoism. Institutional egoism is a subtle form of egoism. The man identifies himself with the institution and gets himself attached to the institution or cult. He has no broad-mindendness or catholicity. The working of egoism is very mysterious. It is very difficult to detect its various ways of working. It needs subtle and sharp intellect to find out its operation. If you practise introspection daily in silence you will be able to find out its mysterious ways of working.

This ego likes his own birthplace and district, people of his district, his own mother-tongue, his own relations and friends, his own ways of eating, mode of dressing. He has his own predilection and preferences. He dislikes others’ way of eating, dressing, etc.

This ego wants to exercise power and influence over others. He wants titles, prestige, status, respect, prosperity, house, wife, children. He wants self aggrandisement. He wishes to domineer and rule over others. If anybody points out his defects his vanity feels offended. If anyone praises him, he is elated. This ego says: “I know everything. He does not know anything. What I say is quite correct. What he says is quite incorrect. He is inferior to me. I am superior to him.” He forces others to follow his ways and views.

This ego will lurk like a thief when you start introspection and self-analysis. It will elude your grasp and understanding. You must be ever alert and vigilant. If you obtain the grace of the Lord through Japa, Kirtan, prayer and devotion you can easily kill this ego. Through Lord’s grace only your self-surrender will become perfect. When this ego melts in the cosmic ego you will attain communion with the Lord or Self-realisation. May you realise the goal of life and attain everlasting Bliss through annihilation of this little ego.

Ahankara or egoism is the self-arrogating principle in man. It is a Vritti or modification that arises in the mind. Patanjali Maharshi calls this by the name “Asmita”. The same mind assumes the form of egoism when man self-arrogates himself. Ahankara manifests first and then comes Mamata.

This baneful egoism generates actions, desires and pains. It is the source for all evils. It is illusory. It deludes people. Though it is nothing, it is everything for the worldly people. It is associated with mineness. It is born of Avidya or ignorance. It springs from false conceit. Vanity fosters it. It is the greatest enemy. If one renounces this Ahankara, he will be happy. The secret of renunciation is renunciation of egoism. Ahankara has its seat in the mind. It is under the influence of egoism that man commits evil and wrong actions. It is deep-rooted. Anxieties and troubles proceed from egoism. Ahankara is a veritable disease. Pride, lust, anger, delusion, greed, jealousy, love and hatred are the attendants of Ahankara. Ahankara destroys our virtues and peace of mind. It spreads the snare of affection to entrap us. He who is free from egoism is very happy and peaceful. Desires multiply and expand on account of egoism. Our inveterate enemy of egoism has spread about us the enchantments of our wives, friends, children, etc., whose spell is hard to break. There is no enemy greater than egoism.

He who neither desires nor dislikes anything and who preserves the serenity of mind at all times is not affected by the feeling of egoism. There are three kinds of egoism in the three worlds. On these, two kinds of egoism are beneficial and of superior nature but the third is a vile kind and is to be abandoned by all. The first is the supreme and undivided ego which is eternal and which pervades throughout the world. It is the Supreme Soul (Paramatma), besides which there is nothing in nature. Meditate on the formula “Aham Brahma Asmi–I am Brahman.” Identify yourself with Brahman. It is Sattvic Ahankara. The knowledge which makes us perceive our own Self to be more subtle than the tail-end of paddy or to be as minute as the hundredth part of a hair, and to be ever existent is the second kind of Ahankara. The two kinds of egoism are found in a Jivanmukta or a liberated sage. They lead to the liberation of men. They will not cause bondage. Hence they are a beneficial and superior nature. The third kind of Ahankara is the knowledge of the hands, feet, etc., which takes the body for the Soul or the Self. This is the worst or basest form of egoism. This is found in all worldly persons. This is the cause for the growth of the poisonous tree of rebirths. Those who possess this kind of egoism can never come to their right senses. Countless persons have been deluded by this form of Ahankara. They have lost their intelligence, power of discrimination, and power of enquiry. This kind of egoism produces baneful results. People come under the influence of all evils of life. Those who are slaves of this form of Ahankara are troubled by various desires which induce them to do wrong actions. It debases them to the state of beasts. This kind of Ahankara should be destroyed by the other two kinds of Ahankara. The more you thin out this egoism, the more you will get knowledge of Brahman or the light of the soul.

Again there are three kinds of Ahankara, viz., Sattvic egoism, Rajasic egoism and Tamasic egoism. Sattvic egoism will not bind a man to Samsara. It will help the aspirant to attain the final emancipation. If you try to assert “Aham Brahma Asmi,” “I am Brahman” this is Sattvic egoism. Even in a Jivanmukta there is slight trace of Sattvic egoism. “I am a king. I know everything. I am very intelligent”–this is Rajasic egoism. “I am a fool. I do not know anything”–this is Tamasic egoism.

The literal meaning or Vachyartha of Aham Pada is Aham Vritti that arises in the mind, the little “I” which identifies itself with the physical body. The indicative meaning or Lakshyartha of Aham Pada is Atman or Brahman, the big or infinite “I”.

The idea of ‘I’ or egoism, is the seed of the tree of mind. The sprout which at first germinates from the seed of Ahankara is Buddhi or intellect. From this sprout, the ramifying branches called Sankalpas take their origin. The mind, Chitta and Buddhi are but the different names or qualities of the same Ahankara. The branches of Vasanas will naturally produce innumerable crops of Karmas, but if with the sword of Jnana you severe them from the heart’s core, they will be destroyed. Cut the branches of the dire tree of mind and eventually destroy the tree at its root completely. Cutting the branches is only a secondary thing, the primary one being the eradication of the tree at its root. If you, through virtuous actions, destroy the idea ‘I’ at the root of the tree (mind), then it will not grow up. Atma Jnana or knowledge of the Self is the fire which destroys the conception of Ahamkara, the seed of the tree (mind).

There is another classification of egoism viz., gross (Sthula) and subtle (Sukshma). When you identify yourself with the gross physical body, it is gross egoism. When you identify yourself with the mind and Karana Sarira (seed body), it is subtle egoism. If you destroy pride, selfishness, desires and identification with the body, the gross egoism will perish but the subtle egoism will remain. You must annihilate the subtle egoism also. Subtle egoism is more dangerous and more difficult of eradication. “I am a rich man, I am a king, I am a Brahmin”–this is gross egoism. “I am a great Yogi; I am a Jnani; I am a good Sadhaka or Sadhu”–this is subtle egoism. There is another classification of Ahamkara, viz., Samanya Ahankara (ordinary egoism) and Visesha Ahamkara (special egoism). Ordinary egoism is present in animal; Visesha Ahamkara is present in human beings.

You say, “the body is mine.” The vultures, jackals and fishes also say, ‘this body is ours.’ If you peel off the layers of the onion one by one, the onion dwindles into an airy nothing. So is the ‘I’. This body, mind, Prana, senses, etc., are all combinations of the five elements and Tanmatras. They are all modifications of the Prakriti only. Where is the ‘I’ then? This physical body belongs to Virat, astral body to Hiranyagarbha, and causal body to Isvara. Where is the ‘I’ then? ‘I’ is an illusory nothing fabricated by the juggler mind. Nothing can be said to exist, which is not produced by some cause. This body which is produced through Karmas is not itself the cause. The knowledge or consciousness, that we have of it, is itself illusory. Therefore, Ahankara and other effects which are produced through the delusion of knowledge are also non-existent. The real ‘I’ is the Sat-Chit-Ananda Brahman only.

Just as the motion of the train or the boat is apparently transferred to the trees, so also ‘I’ is transferred through jugglery of Maya, to the body, mind, Prana and senses. When you say, ‘I am stout, I am hungry, I am thirsty’, the ‘I’ is transferred to the Prana, you identify yourself with the Prana; when you say, ‘I am angry, I am lustful’, the ‘I’ is transferred to the mind. If you identify yourself with the Supreme Self, all false identification will vanish. If you kill the commander of an army, you can very easily subdue the soldiers, viz., lust, anger, pride, jealousy, greed, delusion, hypocrisy, who fight for their master–egoism.

Try to attain Brahman by means of the first two kinds of superior egoism. If you are firmly established in that supreme immaculate state wherein even these two kinds of superior egoism are abandoned one by one, then such a state is the imperishable abode of Brahman. Do not identify the ‘I’ with physical body. Identify yourself with the Supreme Self of Para-Brahman.

You might have reduced or thinned out your egoism to a very great extent but if you are still susceptible to censure and praise, know that the subtle egoism is still lurking in you.

An aspirant who treads the path of devotion destroys his egoism through self-surrender or Atma Nivedana to the Lord. He says “I am Thine my Lord. All is Thine. Thy will be done.” He feels he is an instrument in the hands of the Lord. He dedicates all his actions and the fruits of his actions to the Lord. He feels that there is nothing but the Lord, that everything is done by the Lord, that even an atom cannot move without Him and that all live, move and have their very being in Him alone.

A Karma Yogi destroys his egoism through self-sacrifice. A Jnana Yogi kills his egoism through self-denial or self-abnegation, through Vichara and the practice of ‘Neti-Neti’–“I am not this body, I am not the mind, I am not Prana, I am not the senses,” and through identification with the Supreme Self, by meditation on the formula, “I am all-pervading Self or Brahman.”

May you rest in the big infinite “I”, the pure Sat-Chit-Ananda Brahman and enjoy Eternal Bliss by annihilating this little illusory ‘I’, the product of Maya, through self-denial or self-sacrifice or self-surrender!

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