The people with the largest egos are the ones who’ve never even heard of ego. They don’t understand this particular aspect of themselves that takes things personally, always has to be the best and doesn’t take kindly to criticism. Like many age old sages have said, “You are not your ego”.
The Purpose of Ego
The Sanskrit term for ego is ahamkara and its function is to provide a sense of unity or singularity to human experience. This is necessarily so we can have that feeling of being a person so personal growth and inner reflection can happen. Your sense of “I” or individuality is a result of your ego, so in that sense it’s necessary. The ego can be like a focal point in a lens which focuses all experiences and converge them into a single point. The ego is what allows us to say “I’m sitting in a chair” as oppose to “This large mass is on that chair”. It lets us compare our external experience with our thoughts and identity, essentially the core behind all personal experiences. The ego performs a vital role.
The Problem with Ego
The role of the ego is to give individuality to experience – as mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita, this is the “real ego”. Our real ego is the essence of our being – the consciousness which perceives through us and is aware of all thoughts and experience. The problem with ego arises when we listen to our “false” ego. The false ego is the conditioned identity which you have crafted through life and which you merely adopted. It is the one trying to always be the best and have a harsh unwelcoming of any criticism that may shatter this created shell of the false ego. The person in your mind that you have made yourself to be is simply your identification with the false ego. In short, your false ego is a narcissistic search for being accepted, validated and loved.
The source of all fear is the false ego. The cause of all arguments, war, greed, anger can all be tied to ego and our identification with our thoughts, words and deeds which are the subtle manifestations of the ego. The ego is the source of all greed, power, and domination issues, which manifest in the real world through dictatorships and corrupt corporations having little care about the wellbeing of the world or how to live peacefully as a society. To overcome our ego is to live in a peaceful world.
The ego, our sense of self or the social shell in which we have constructed is constantly being test by friends, family, and society. On the contrary, it is also always being reinforced and confirmed by friends, family and society. The idea that you have to become “someone” is the root of suffering. This belief is ingrained into every child’s brain and the child grows up with a fighting mentally of having to always “make” it in this world. Unless they have the latest car, the biggest house or the newest toy they are being left behind in the “game” of trying to be the best and be accepted in the eyes of society. There’s nothing wrong with having a beautiful house or a luxurious car, the problem arises who we are or who we want others to see us as is identified with these material things – so if we don’t achieve them there is always this feeling of not quite having made it yet – an eerie nudge of “incompleteness”.
“I – Want – Peace, I is ego, Want is desire; Remove ego and desire and you have peace.” ~Sri Sathya Sai Baba
The truth is that is not how to really live. The purpose of life is to experience and enjoy it as much as you can and to truly push the limits of your personal growth and who you can become. What’s the point of that massive mansion when the only reason you have it is to look worthy in the eyes of others – an absurd way to live. Living on purpose is to live fully for you and is the only way you can truly help and benefit the world. To do what you love so that you can inspire others to do what they love.
Overcoming the Ego
To be identified with ego is to remain asleep to the control of which the ego has over you. The truth is that you don’t have to listen to the many thoughts you have about yourself – this is not who you really are. The thoughts you have about yourself are not you – so don’t identify with them. Most thoughts simply arise on their own and you are not doing the thinking. Sometimes you can think, but the majority of the time thoughts just arise from the subconscious mind in reference to the external world. Compare it to breathing, in which sometimes you can consciously choose to breath – but when you simply forget about it your breathing will go on naturally. It is in built and a part of being a human.
“Thinking, or more precisely identification with thinking, gives rise to and maintains the ego, which, in our Western society in particular, is out of control. It believes it is real and tries hard to maintain its supremacy. Negative states of mind, such as anger, resentment, fear, envy, and jealousy, are products of the ego.” – Eckhart Tolle
Additionally, always be aware of your deep seated need to constantly be right. The truth is no one cares if you’re right or wrong, only people who are identified with their false ego appreciate being right. Do you ever go home after watching an argument of either friends or family, and liking the person who won the argument more? The answer is probably no, so don’t be so concern about how you look to others when you’re wrong or refuse to engage in the argument. The false ego only gets strengthen when you win an argument, because now in your mind you have constructed a reality of which you are a good arguer and that you are smart. So when the smarter person (they are always going to be someone more knowledgeable than you on any particular subject) comes along and beats you in an argument you will suffer – you will feel like the sense of who you were has shattered and now you must get it back somehow. It’s a vicious cycle.
To truly overcome ego one must try to remain in the present moment, where when thoughts arise you can simply view them as just thoughts. They are not really who you are. When you feel like your ego is flaring up a good technique is to focus your awareness outside of your thoughts – to transcend thinking all together. Put your full awareness on the senses on your body, all your limbs and even internal organs. This takes your awareness completely away from thought and into the essence of your being. Something magical happens – where a feeling of inner bliss arises through you and your delusional sense of self and ego are diminished – they seem and appear very distant to whom you really are. This is the true way to live an ideal lifestyle and to enjoy every moment of life.