Tag Archives: ahamkara

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).

Lost in translation: the Eastern ego versus the Western ego


When we use the word “ego” in the West, we automatically think of the quality of a boorish person who muscles his/her way around without much regard to others. We also attribute the ego as having a size like “he has a HUGE ego.” Some even value this quality in people and want to have a large and “healthy” ego. This is only one definition of the word.

While studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, it becomes evident that the ancient writer’s definition of the ego is very different than the one we use in the West. To clear up the definitions of this word, I will give both the definitions used in psychology and in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Sigmund Freud, who is the father of psychoanalysis, used the term das ich which is translated to “ego” to describe the mind’s attempt to balance the superego and the id.

According to Freud, the “superego” is our moral blueprint that says “thou shall and thou shan’t.” When you say to yourself, “I would like that diamond, but it would be illegal to steal it,” that is an example of your superego guiding your behavior.

The “id” is the impulse that wants you to have the diamond no matter what the consequences. From this definition, it would be incorrect to label the obnoxious person as having a big ego, but rather an “unchecked id.”

The “ego” is the mind’s ability to meet the demands of the id, while adhering to the superego’s integrity. A healthy egoic resolution to the diamond scenario would be to purchase it on a payment plan, or justify not buying it because it is outside one’s budget.

freud ego

Patanjali’s definition of “ego” is very different than that of Freud. In Sanskrit, ego is translated from the word ahamkara which roughly translates to “the I maker.” This “ego” definition refers to one’s sense of self. For example “I am Hispanic, I am male, I have a Ph.D in Astrophysics.” It is how we identify ourselves to make sense to others. It is part of the three aspects of the citta (mind-stuffs) which are manas (mind) and buddhi (intelligence) in addition to ahamkara.

The wrinkle in the plot is that this ahamkara or “I maker” confuses us into strongly identifying ourselves into something we are not. It is listed as a vrtti in Pantajali’s text which means it is something that modifies our mind into thinking it is something that is not part of our true essence. Our “ego” in the Eastern terminology likes to attach itself to things. We want to have good fame and good fortune and have people recognize us for those things. A good way to see your ahamkara is to feel slighted at something and then see what it is that makes you feel so important. “You can’t do that to me, I am the president of the PTA!”


Who we identify with

Through the correct practice of yoga, we learn to psychologically shave off those parts of us that our “I maker” attaches to until we are shaved down to nothing. It is a sobering thought to be nothing, but according to Patanjali, it is the point where true liberation begins. That is why yoga is an extremely non-Western practice. Most everything about the West in modern times is about ego attainment and attachment. Just watch 10 minutes of commercial television to see this clearly.


Who we really are

This is just one word of many that does not translate well into English from Sanskrit. The other aspect of Sanskrit is the language’s vibrational qualities that do not have any translation, but add to the “feel” of the language on a superficial level, and add greater effects for the seasoned practitioner on deeper levels.