Taming the mighty ego

The ahamkara, or ego, is a formidable opponent in our Yoga practice. It will manifest in a thousand different ways. Whenever we set “goals” for our practice, we measure ourselves by whether we “attained” or “not attained” an established benchmark. Once the goal is attained, then there is another goal, then another. This goal attainment comes from our Westernized thinking of having to succeed.

This works well for awhile. But then what happens when something prevents of from ever attaining our “goal?” Our ego gets badly damaged. We employ Freud’s defense mechanisms to protect our ego. We deny, we rationalize, we may even be sophisticated enough to sublimate. But even the highest level of defense mechanism is still for the ego and not the true Self, the Purusha.

Yoga Sutra 1.16 says “tat-paraṁ puruṣa-khyāter guṇa-vaitṛṣṇyam” or

“Higher than renunciation is indifference to the guṇas [themselves]. This stems from perception of the puruṣa, soul.” Excerpt From: Edwin F. Bryant. “The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali.”

Indifference is an interesting word here. It is a mild form of pratyahara, or detachment from the senses, the fifth limb of Yoga. We must employ indifference to the gunas, or the properties of nature by having a sense of the soul, our true selves.

In our Yoga practice we are constantly striving for a Sattvic state. “Oh I had a stressful day at work, let me do some asanas to calm myself down.” This is our innermost yearning to achieve sattvas. Today I was at Kailua Beach which is a large manifestation of sattvas. People are clamoring to find a parking space to get a piece of this Sattvas. Beachgoers sit and don’t require much inner work to achieve a Sattvic state here.

But what if you don’t have access to Kailua Beach, or any other beach for that matter? What do we do in the face of Rajas? This sutra is asking us to pay no heed and abide in that which is not dependent on nature. To pull this off is far more sophisticated than Freud’s sublimation (doing constructive and creative activities to cope with barbs to the ego). It is realizing that the whole thing is a mere illusion (maya) unless it touches the soul.

In short, indifference to the transitory quality of nature is a great technique to neutralize the ego and its ceaseless wanting. Much like weather, emotions and situations come and go, but only you remain. There is a a beautiful sloka on the nature of the soul called the Atmashatkam. It is translated as:

1) I am not mind, nor intellect, nor ego, nor the reflections of inner self (citta). I am not the five senses. I am beyond that. I am not the ether, nor the earth, nor the fire, nor the wind (the five elements). I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

2) Neither can I be termed as energy (prāṇa), nor five types of breath (vāyus), nor the seven material essences, nor the five sheaths(pañca-kośa). Neither am I the five instruments of elimination, procreation, motion, grasping, or speaking. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

3) I have no hatred or dislike, nor affiliation or liking, nor greed, nor delusion, nor pride or haughtiness, nor feelings of envy or jealousy. I have no duty (dharma), nor any money, nor any desire (kāma), nor even liberation (mokṣa). I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

4) I have neither merit (virtue), nor demerit (vice). I do not commit sins or good deeds, nor have happiness or sorrow, pain or pleasure. I do not need mantras, holy places, scriptures (Vedas), rituals or sacrifices (yajñas). I am none of the triad of the observer or one who experiences, the process of observing or experiencing, or any object being observed or experienced. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

5) I do not have fear of death, as I do not have death. I have no separation from my true self, no doubt about my existence, nor have I discrimination on the basis of birth. I have no father or mother, nor did I have a birth. I am not the relative, nor the friend, nor the guru, nor the disciple. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

6) I am all pervasive. I am without any attributes, and without any form. I have neither attachment to the world, nor to liberation (mukti). I have no wishes for anything because I am everything, everywhere, every time, always in equilibrium. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

Meditate on this for Monday, and may you have a blessed week! (No animals were harmed while writing this blog post).

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4 thoughts on “Taming the mighty ego

  1. D

    I appreciated this article. I first read it when I was slammed with a big school work load and reached a high frustration in my practice. I haven’t been able to do some of the asanas as well as I am used to. This article puts things into perspective and I try to keep it in mind moving forward.

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