A few months ago, a person I genuinely admire made a public statement that confounded me, he said ”I have been on the spiritual path for such a long time that I have almost no ego left.” And again, a few days ago, a colleague happened to mention, "I have so much wealth, that I don't care about anything - I just don't care. I have no ego - absolutely none." This set me thinking. Is that ever possible for the most deserving of human beings even if there has been a dedicated focused approach to spiritual growth.
What is Ego? Apart from being a much maligned word used ever so often and so often used as an adjective to signify something deplorable, contemptuous or opprobrious in a person. In simple words, isnt it just a person's sense of self-esteem or self-importance? Isnt it just that part of the mind that mediates between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind and is responsible for imparting a sense of personal identity?
In Sigmund Freud’s structural model of the psyche, the Id, ego and super-ego are three parts of the psychic apparatus, of which the ego is the realistic part that mediates between the id and the super-ego. The ego is the organized part of the personality structure that includes defensive, perceptual, intellectual-cognitive, and executive functions. Conscious awareness resides in the ego, although not all of the operations of the ego are conscious.
In layman terms, Ego is a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance would arise from the thoughts about oneself that one would use to construct a self-image. “I’m not good at arithmetic”, “I am not clever enough”, “my pimples make me look ugly”, “I am better than you”, ”my body and mind”, ”my intellect”, ”my life”, ”my wealth”, ”my family”, ”I should acquire happiness”, and such other similar thoughts arise from ego alone. The ego hides behind the “I” and “me” in those thoughts and statements about oneself.
Therefore, from a spiritual perspective, ego would therefore mean that identity given to oneself which considers itself to be distinct from others and from the Ultimate One (God, Almighty, Highest Self, etc.). In other words, leading a life which is limited to the way we perceive reality through our 5 senses, intellectualizing our perceptions and identifying with them in varying degrees. Since there is unity in all Creation, the lesser we identify with the Unity, the greater should be our ego?
The ego is difficult to define comprehensively because the ego isn’t just one specific thing. It is a cornucopia of multiple beliefs that one has acquired and continues to acquire over their lifetime. Quite often, these beliefs can be diverse and even contradictory. One of the perceptually misleading aspects of the ego is that it generates strong emotional reactions, and then tops it up by ensuring that we blame ourselves for how we felt. A classic example is anger which often arises from a sense of being right and knowing more or better than someone else.
In this part of the world, “having an ego” is usually associated with arrogance and is a term used to describe someone who think they are better than others. However, since the ego is a set of beliefs emanating from perceptions, it is possible to have both positive and negative thoughts about oneself or one’s self-image and these together form the ego. In fact, we are easily aware of these different beliefs at different points in time of our existence.
And insofar as the ego has multiple dimensions, both positive and negative, it is neither practical nor effective to let go of it all at once, presuming we could do it in the first place. The more sensible approach if one were interested would be to deal with manageable pieces and let go of false beliefs that are in fact holding us back from becoming what we can be. Having spent years building up our ego, living it and reinforcing it, there is undoubtedly a long period of work ahead of us.
But the question is, even after years of effort, can the ego truly become zero (shunya)? As long as we have a form and we endeavor to do things for ourselves and for others in the world we know, dont we need our ego? Isn’t it a tool that is absolutely required to move and function on this physical plane?
According to Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, an Indian Spiritual teacher, ego starts when thought starts. To be fully rid of ego would mean one had to be fully rid of thoughts. How do we exist in this form and go about our daily routines without thought – isnt that impossible? Sri Nisargadatta further says that the egoless state is the ”I Am” state. The Chopra Center says that ”Aham Brahmasmi” (ah-HUM brah-MAHS-mee) or ”I Am” is a Sanskrit sutra whose English translation is "the core of my being is the ultimate reality, the root and ground of the universe, the source of all that exists."
Any word added to the pure awareness of ”I Am” requires ego. To state that ”I Am Egoless” would therefore necessarily need Ego. Only the Ego could possibly suggest that it is possible to live without it.
As long as have a physical form and exist on this physical plane and required to act, we cannot but think. In creating, shaping and interpreting these thoughts, the ego finds it existence. Therefore, rather than getting rid of Ego, it would be far more advantageous to get rid of all those beliefs which are stopping us from realizing our true potential and being the best we can be. And in this process of identifying and isolating those beliefs, we have to recognize and utilize a healthy ego as a tool which facilitates this growth and experience of our highest potential in this life.
The author, Rajesh Seshadri, is an internationally recognized Certified Leadership Coach, Certified Success Coach and Certified Life Coach. He is also a NLP Master Practitioner, facilitator and therapist. The basket of therapies is holistic and integrative adopting techniques from Psychotherapy, NLP, Silva, Gestalt, Hypnosis and Silva UltraMind. Additionally, he is a seasoned corporate professional who continues to serve as a whole-time Director and Board Member. You can contact him here.