Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part XLVI


Continued from Part XLV

The corresponding Sanskrit term for the ego and egoism is Ahamkara, comprised of Aham (= I) and Kara (= to do). It had originated more than three millennia ago in Vedic period and is one of the four components of Antahkarana (inner parts or components) as accepted in Hindu philosophy. Besides Ahamkara, the other three parts are Buddhi, Chitta and Manas. It is a core negative component or organ which is responsible for many other negative qualities or attributes in human beings. Therefore, in Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Shree Krishna insisted that the ego must be removed by the person of divine nature for their spiritual pursuit. Aham (ego) in its pure and absolute form is a synonym of Self. This is the reason why in certain Vedic mahavakyas, it is read with Brahman (Aham Brahmasmi) and Atman (Aham Atma). On the other hand, Aham (ego) in its impure and depraved form i.e. egoism (Ahamkar) acquires a false identity giving rise to umpteen demoniac dispositions like arrogance, excessive pride, lust, anger and greed.

However, in common parlance, ego and egoism are read together as a negative attribute which together with lust, anger and greed constitute foundation for many other demoniac vices such as hypocrisy, false pride and arrogance. They mortify the mind making it suitable and vulnerable to all kinds of vices to take root and grow. This is the reason why Shree Krishna labeled them as gateways to hell, and strongly advised to get rid of demoniac attributes to save self from destruction. At one point, He specifically told Prince Arjuna that good people learn to dread hypocrisy, pride and arrogance and carefully avoid their presence in own personality. As egoism is in the root of all vices including cravings for the material pleasure, it is necessary to get rid of it for Self well-being through detachment in action, remaining equipoise in all situations and surrender to the will of God. Egoism manifests in human beings in several ways, and one can manage it better with proper knowledge, practice and selfless action.

Manifestation of Egoism

To understand the fine difference in usage of ego, one could refer to the Bhagavad Gita wherein both the subjective and objective implications of Aham are well depicted in two different verses. The subjective meaning of the Aham (ego) is “I” while in objective sense it is used to show the person’s “individuality or the sense of self” (egoism). For illustration, in the beginning of war in Kurushetra overwhelmed with pity and sorrow, Prince Arjuna asks Shree Krishna - “Katham bhismam aham sankhye dronam ca madhusudana” (Ch 2, Verse 4) meaning thereby ” O Madhusudan, how I shall fight Bhishma and Drona in the battlefield!”; now here he is using Aham in the subjective sense to refer his Self. At another place, when Shree Krishna mentions - “Nirmamo nirahamkarah sa santim adhigacchhati” (Chapter 2, Verse 71), He means “That person free from greed, proprietorship and egoism attains perfect peace”; here Aham is used in an objective manner to illustrate harmful effect of egoism.

The term Ahamkara in Hindu scriptures has been mostly used is in the context of egoism which finds many ways and reasons to manifest in human beings. While scriptures favour dispassion and detachment through selfless actions as a recommended pursuit which is not only necessary for the peace and harmony in own life but also leads the person to spiritual path with ultimate object of liberation. On the other hand, an egoist person focuses to assume too much ownership and doership in the mundane life. Such people are overly driven by the desires and attachments to worldly accomplishments and possessions. Too much involvement with the material possessions and pleasures seeking habits make them selfish and self-centred, whereby they seldom care for the feelings and sensitivities of other people.

Egoism tends to make the person with a demoniac disposition and such people are devoid of both external and internal purity, good conduct and truthfulness. They tend to cherish insatiable desires, false doctrines due to sheer ignorance and consequently become full of hypocrisy, unwarranted pride or self-esteem and arrogance. Their insatiable cravings for the lust and greed constantly propel them to amass wealth and other objects of sensuous pleasure more often through the unfair means. Aggressive behaviour and unfair competitiveness can be easily identified with their mind and body, and they seldom care about the popular judgment, opinion and criticism of the society. In short, egoism is the base evil that manifests into so many negative qualities and attributes in the person, causing sufferings in the form of anxiety, fear, insecurity, anger, stress, and so on.

Illustrations from Epics and Mundane Life

One could easily find legends chronicled in Hindu Puranas and Epics with characters, many of which present paradigms of egoistic personalities. Many of them were accomplished kings, warriors or sages of par excellence with several positive attributes but ego was one single evil in combination with associated vices that rendered them useless and often a burden on the contemporary society; such men pursued unrighteous path inflicting harm and miseries to others and finally met their nemesis as due for the evil deeds. Here I shall briefly discuss two legendary characters of Lanka King Ravana and Hastinapur crown prince Duryodhana from the all-time great Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, respectively.

Ravana was a legendary King of Lanka, son of the great sage Vishrava and daitya princess Kaikeshi during the Treta Yuga of Hindu chronology, who gave rise to a new cult called “Raksha Cult” (means “we protect”) and the followers of which were called Rakshasas. He was known as a great devotee of Lord Shiva, scholar with the knowledge of Vedas and Shastras, a great warrior and capable ruler, and an accomplished musician (Veena), architect and Vaasthu Shastra expert. Notwithstanding his virtues and accomplishments, his inflated ego gave rise to vices like lust, desire, greediness, arrogance, anger and jealousy, due to which he tortured and killed many contemporary kings and sages. His lust and over confidence is his own power and reach prompted him to the abduction of Sita putting him on the path of disgrace and decline. The Ramayana is so popular in India and elsewhere too that one does not any detailed description to know how he met his nemesis at the hands of Sri Ram of the Ikshvaku dynasty as punishment of evil deeds.

Duryodhana, also known as Suyodhana, was the crown prince of Kuru dynasty in Mahabharata age of Dwapar Yuga of the Hindu chronology. He was the eldest son of the blind King Dhritarashtra and Queen Gandhari. Since early childhood, he became an instrument to represent ambitions and unfulfilled desires of the blind father, and puppet in the hands of the cunning and crafty maternal uncle Shakuni. He wanted to ascend the Hastinapur throne and for this he was willing to go to any extent. All this made him extremely egoist, arrogant and greedy prince, who supported by brothers and Shakuni made many covert attempts to destroy cousin Pandavas, who were not only the righteous people but also great warriors. Even the division of the Kuru Kingdom between Pandavas and Kauravas could not satisfy Duryodhana’s ego and greed, so he along with his like-minded brothers, Shakuni and Karna tried to rob Yudhishthira and his brothers of their kingdom and wealth through the game of dice. Ultimately, Duryodhan’s ego and greed, and consequent treachery, scheming and unrighteous acts, led to the greatest ever war of Mahabharata, wherein the entire Kuru clan was eliminated along with many other kings, their family members and army.

The good and bad qualities and virtues are beyond the space, time and age, in Bhagavad Gita they are described as divine and demoniac attributes, respectively. They were true and applicable in ancient age, and they are equally true and applicable in the modern age. During my own long years in the Indian bureaucracy, I have experienced many good and bad people as also their righteous and unrighteous deeds and actions. My own conclusion is that ego is one single and most dominant attribute among the famous and powerful men (and women). In many instances, it looked quite intriguing how attitude and behaviour of people changed overnight with the change of office (promotion or position). It has been so unnerving to see on many occasions how a sociable and accessible person changed overnight to transform into an unsociable and withdrawn man to the utter surprise and shock to many of his colleagues and acquaintances. Actually, it is nothing but the untamed ego of the man that transforms him to a hypocrite, narcissist and arrogant persona with material progress and achievements. The beauty is that people do it forgetting that nothing in this world is permanent and lasts forever.

This reminds me of my stint as a senior officer (Deputy Secretary) during the mid-1990s in the South Block, New Delhi, a seat of certain key Ministries of the Government of India. Our boss in the rank of a Secretary was known to be a competent and knowledgeable officer but he was very egoist and arrogant, who, ordinarily, would not see or like to talk to an officer below a particular level (Joint Secretary). Somehow he had developed a bit fondness towards me over a period of time, needless to mention impressed with my professional knowledge and competence at work. So he used to call me occasionally for official work off and on, contrary to his nature and habit of not calling officers below the particular seniority.

Later he retired on attaining the age of superannuation and started writing a book on a sensitive defense subject. For this, he needed relevant data and information from various wings. Due to his egoist nature and rough dealings, most of the senior officers avoided him after retirement or he himself chose not to reach them in view of his strained relations while in office. In these circumstances, he started visiting my office for professional support as well as to resolve some petty personal issues. I tried to help him to the extent feasible which later he acknowledged in his book too. Obviously, he visited me for help in the changed scenario because of the good and healthy relationship that he maintained with me while he was in office. From this mundane experience of own life, I learnt that every age and every position in life is only ephemeral and prone to change. Therefore, there should be no place for ego and arrogance in life which are man’s worst enemies; ultimately, what matters is a good conduct which can be achieved by remaining transparent, fair, polite and helpful to all.

The Bhagavad Gita, Ego and Egoism

In Bhagavad Gita, the word “Aham” appears at many places in a subjective sense denoting “I” or “Self”. Then at other places it is found hidden as suffix but essentially denoting aspects of subjectivity; few such examples are sukham, dukham and purusham depicting happiness, sorrow and individual self, respectively. Then at some places, Aham also appears in union with other words/letters such as nigraham and agraham which means self-restraint (restraining the ego) and anger, respectively. The ego (I) makes the beings believe that they are doers of actions and responsible for them because most of them indulge in desire-prone actions seeking fruits thereby remaining bound to the material world. This position has been aptly explained in the following verse.

Prakriteh kriyamanani gunaih karmani sarvashah,
Ahankara-vimudhatma kartaham iti manyate.

{All actions are performed by the modes (Gunas) of Prakriti (Primordial matter); those who are deluded by the ego and misidentify themselves with the body think – they are the doer.) (BG: Chapter 3, Verse 27)

Now, for the actions of our own body, we find two categories: The first category relates to natural biological or involuntary functions, such as digestion, blood circulation, respiration, excretion etc., which we do not consciously plan or execute but it happens; the other category is of voluntary actions such thinking, speaking, hearing, walking, sleeping, working etc. that we feel we are consciously doing it. All these actions are carried out by the body-mind-senses mechanism, which are components of Prakriti (material energy) driven by three gunas i.e. sattva, rajas and tamas in variety combinations. One may have obvious doubt, why then the soul, which is part of Purusha, perceives itself as doer of activities. Shree Krishna clarifies that under the influence of ego, the soul identifies itself with the body, hence remains under the illusion of doership. The moment the soul gets rid of the ego, becomes equipoised and surrenders to God; it realizes Self as the non-doer.

In Bhagavad Gita, the ego has been explained as an aspect of the eightfold lower divine nature (material energy), which is comprised of five gross elements, the ego, mind and intellect.

Bhumir-apo ’nalo vayuh kham mano buddhir eva cha,
Ahankara itiyam me bhinna prakritir ashtadha.

Apareyam itas tvanyam prakeitim viddhi me param,
Jiva-bhutam maha-baho yayedam dharyate jagat

(Earth, water, fire, air, space, mind, intellect, and ego - these are eight components of my material energy. This is my lower divine energy. But beyond it, O mighty-armed Arjun, I have a superior divine energy. This is the jiva shakti (the soul energy), which comprises the embodied souls who are the basis of life in this world.) (BG: Chaper 7, Verses 4,5)

In the first verse, Shree Krishna lists five gross elements along with the ego, mind and intellect as eight different manifestations of His material energy. All these eight elements are parts of Maya or illusory world. In the next verse, He describes His superior energy i.e the soul energy which constitutes the basis of life in the world. In the Vedic philosophy and the Bhagavad Gita, the Matter is considered as the lower or inferior energy of God called the Prakriti, while Purusha as higher or superior energy represents Brahman or Supreme Soul. This latter energy is entirely transcendental compared to the lifeless matter and it includes the jiva Shakti (spiritual energy) representing all the living souls of the world.

Amazingly, this insightful knowledge contained in the ancient scriptures is so comparable with the developing trends in modern science. Albert Einstein was the first to propound the concept of Mass-Energy Equivalence in 1905 when he propounded that it was possible to convert mass into energy through an equation E=mc2 (Theory of Relativity) replacing the earlier concept of the universe being made up of the solid matter. Then in 1920, Niels Bohr Inc. put forth the Quantum Theory suggesting a dual particle-wave nature of matter. Ever since, the scientific community has been on a lookout for a single field or Unified Field Theory that could logically explain the relationship between matter and other forces of the universe. This idea appears in concordance with what Shree Krishna told Arjuna in Kurushetra that all existential forms and entities of this world were manifestation of His material energy.

The most complex and biggest mystery of the universe is again well narrated in chapter 13 of the Bhagavad Gita wherein Shree Krishna describes the body as Kshetra (field) and the one who knows it is called the knower, the Kshetrajna. The Brahman (God) is present as the Kshetrajna (individual soul) in all the Kshetras; it is the true knowledge of the Kshetra and Kshtrajna i.e. the matter with its evolutes and the soul that is true knowledge. Subsequently, in verse 13.5, 13.8 and 13.9, He goes on to describe it at length. This includes the description of the Kshetra being composed of the five gross elements, the ego, the intellect, the unmanifest (Primordial Matter), the ten organs of perception and action, mind, and five objects of the senses. A yogi who knows it will be known inter alia by complete absence of egotism, dispassion towards the objects of pleasures, detached from the fruits of action and constant equipoise of mind in both favourable and unfavourable circumstances.

Vihaya kaman yah sarvan pumansh charati nihsprihah,
Nirmamo nirahankarah sa shantim adhigachchhati.

(That person, who gives up all material desires and lives free from a sense of greed, proprietorship, and egoism, attains perfect peace.) (BG: Chapter 2, Verse 71)

Thus in the beginning itself, Shree Krishna had made it clear to Arjuna that giving up of the material desires is of paramount importance. Once a person opts to desire a thing, he is driven by egoism and suo moto falls into the trap of negative attributes like greed, sense of possession and arrogance. The inner peace and tranquility of mind comes from eliminating the desires rather than maneuvers to fulfill it. In the modern age, one could find best example in the developed Western countries of North America and Europe. Majority of them have best of the material comforts and pleasures yet they are the ones who are most unsatisfied and disturbed in mind due to their strong sense of ownership and doership when compared to relatively less developed people in modern materialistic sense. The main causes contributing towards this nemesis are their egoist nature, insatiable greed and sense of ownership.

This feeling of ownership among the people is due to their ignorance as they do not understand that the natural resources are created by the God and belong to the whole world. Their inflated ego propels them to indulge in scheming and quarreling for the disproportionate share with illogical sense of ownership. This becomes the ultimate cause of conflict, dissatisfaction and pain when the truth of the universe is that everyone comes empty-handed in this world at the time of birth, and goes back empty-handed with death. It is difficult in most cases to be desireless but a person can certainly modify the quality and extent of desires. A person with moderate ego could easily understand that all resources are created by God, hence he should not falsely claim proprietorship over things while using it for his minimum essential needs in mundane life. This transcendental knowledge based on self-realization could become the basis of real peace in life.

The Bhagavad Gita at many places reminds that the repeated exposure of the sensory organs and the sense-objects leads to attachment and from attachment arise delusion, ignorance, greed, anger, and so on. In such case, people are unable to control their cravings for the desire-ridden actions and consequently they assume doership and ownership. All such actions under the influence of ego lead to bondage to material life and the consequent cycle of births and deaths. Therefore, Nigraham i.e. the restraint of the ego is essential to experience peace of mind through the self-realization. Shree Krishna says that one who has conquered Self by relinquishing desires and attachments, attains peace in life sans ownership and egoism.

Jitatmanah prashantasya paramatma samahitah,
Shitoshna-sukha-duhkheshu tatha manapamanayoh.

(The yogis who have conquered the mind rise above the dualities of cold and heat, joy and sorrow, honor and dishonor. Such yogis remain peaceful and steadfast in their devotion to God.) (BG: Chapter 6, Verse7)


Ego joins the five gross elements, mind and intellect to constitute material energy of the world. It is only in its impure and corrupted form i.e. egoism (Ahamkar), it acquires a false identity giving rise to numerous evils leading to ignorance and bondage of the person. The egoism gives the feeling of separateness, out of a false sense of duality where by one broods the idea of being distinct and superior to others. This false perception of the Self exists in many people as individual or ego consciousness. Although they appear to enjoy material comforts and pleasures with a sense of ownership and such other vices, but in reality they constantly suffer in bondage due to ignorance, sense of separateness, false identification of Self with the body, and so on. Due to their pretense of ownership and doership, they are also constantly worried about the results of their actions.

Thus the ego stands as the main barrier which tends to deprive the person from seeing the truth of Self and universe. It functions like a fortified prison that keeps the person locked within his own mind and body. Hence it is essential that the person gets rid of egoism; getting riddance of egoism itself paves way for renouncing a host of many other negative attributes like arrogance, excessive pride, hypocrisy, lust, greed, anger, and so on. Most importantly, a person free from egoism can easily get rid of the sense of ownership and doership, which is responsible for the bondage in the material world. According to Srimad Bhagavad Gita, in the state of egolessness, one is able to realize the pure state of spiritual self-awareness i.e. one enters the vast expansive feeling of oneness with all, which is the essence of Hindu philosophy and key to liberation.

Continued to Next Page 


More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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