Part I — Discourses on ego
Ego1To feel the absence of ego is as difficult as to feel the presence of God in one’s heart. To feel the absence of ego is as difficult as to feel the presence of God in one’s self.
Man is ‘I’. God is ‘We’. Similarly, the ego is ‘I’; the soul is ‘We’. On the strength of its absolute oneness with God, the soul feels the entire universe as its very own. The soul knows and feels the omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent God is within us. The soul sees and feels that it can sooner or later manifest the infinite Truth here on earth.
The ego does not see the truth; it does not feel the truth. The ego binds. The ego separates. The ego casts asunder the wisdom in us. When the ego expresses itself through self-delusion, it tells us that we can do nothing. Again, before we have achieved our soul’s liberation and perfection, the same ego tells us we are everything, we can do everything.
Ego is selfishness. He is lucky indeed who has freed himself from selfishness. God is in self-dedication, in selfless service. At the same time, he is blessed who sees God emerging from selfishness itself. In the process of evolution we have to go beyond selfishness, beyond the ego. But we have no right to deny the existence of God in the ego. Even in the ego God abides. He also abides in doubt, in fear, in ignorance and in bondage, but that does not mean that we will cherish fear, doubt, ignorance and bondage. No, God’s Consciousness in these things is extremely limited. We have to transcend our limitations. Today’s achievements are not enough. We are the children of tomorrow. There is no end to our progress. There is no end to our soul’s journey. We are running towards Infinity, and the shore of Infinity always transcends itself. There is no limit to our realisation.
No doubt we are infinitely superior to the wild beasts. Yet we consciously drink two bottles of ignorance-wine. One is the bottle of ego. The other is the bottle of self-doubt. Self-doubt has to be transcended. Ego has to be transcended. Man uses the terms ‘I’ and ‘mine’ because he feels that these things constantly feed him. But the real God-lover wants to be fed by God’s Grace and God’s Compassion. A true seeker of God, a true lover of God, will use the terms ‘Thou’ and ‘Thine’. He dines with illumination and God’s Compassion. He drinks the nectar of divine delight. He enjoys the bliss of oneness.
There are many thieves, but the worst of all these thieves is undoubtedly our ego. This thief can steal away all our divinity. Not only are our experiences afraid of this ego-thief, but even our realisation, our partial realisation, is afraid of it. We have to be very careful of this ego-thief.
Our human ego wants to do something great, grand and magnificent. But this unique thing need not be the thing that God wants us to do. It is always nice to be able to do great things, but perhaps God has not chosen us to do that particular thing. God may have chosen us to do something insignificant in the outer world. In the Eye of God, he is the greatest devotee who performs his God-ordained duty soulfully and devotedly, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Each man is a chosen child of God. Similarly, each man is destined to play a significant part in God’s divine Game. But each person has to know what God wants from him. When one becomes aware of God’s plan for him, then he abides by God’s decision. When God sees that particular person performing the role that He chose for him, then only will God be filled with divine Pride. Our ego will try to achieve and to perform great things, but in God’s Eye we can never be great unless and until we do what God wants us to do.
Ego comes to us in the form of self-flattery. When we remove the mirror of self-flattery from our eyes and in its place we hold the mirror of truth, what do we see? We see that we are nothing but semi-animals. We are afraid of seeing the truth face-to-face. Truth seems painful. But the ultimate Truth is not painful. It is our ego, our doubt and our self-styled pride that make the truth painful. The truth seems destructive, but that is not the real truth. Truth is sweet. Truth is harmonious. Truth is all-fulfilling. But we do not see truth the way truth has to be seen. We see truth according to our self-conceived ideas. Truth has to be seen in its own way.
The ordinary, common human ego feels that it has achieved everything and that it knows everything. This reminds me of an anecdote which Swami Vivekananda related to the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. It is called “The frog in the well”. It happened that a frog was born and brought up in a well. One day a frog from the field jumped into the well. The first frog said to the other, “Where do you come from?”
The second frog said, “I come from the field.”
“Field? How big is it?” said the first frog.
“Oh, it is very big,” said the second.
So the frog from the well stretched its legs and said, “Is it as big as this?”
“No, bigger! Much bigger!” said the frog from the field.
The other frog jumped from one end of the well to the other and said, “This must be as big as the length of a field.”
The second frog said, “No, the field is infinitely vaster.”
“You are a liar!” said the first frog. “I am throwing you out of here.”
This kind of thing is also the tendency of our human ego. Great spiritual Masters and sages speak of Infinity, Eternity and Immortality. The beginner who is just starting his spiritual life will immediately doubt. “Is Infinity a little larger than the sky?” he will ask. The sage will say, “No, Infinity is infinitely larger than your imagination, larger than your conception.” Immediately the sage will be criticised and will become an object of ridicule, because our ego binds us and makes us feel that what we have seen and what we have realised can never be surpassed by the realisation and experience of others. The ego does not like to feel that someone else has more capacity or that someone else can do something which it cannot do.
I am sure all of you have heard of Shankara, the great Vedantin. A Vedantin is one who follows the truths embodied in the Vedas or the Upanishads and who has realised the Vedic Law, the Vedic Truth. The great Vedantin Shankara, after a bath in the Ganges, was walking home along the street. It happened that a butcher carrying a piece of meat brushed against him. Shankara became furious and said, “I am a Brahmin! How dare you touch me! I am absolutely pure!”
The butcher said, “O Shankara, you are the Self, I am the Self. The Self does not touch anybody, and at the same time the Self is not touched by anybody.” Shankara came back to his senses.
In our day-to-day life, each human being feels that he is purer than others. He may do absurd things, he may be the prince of emotional affairs, but still he feels that he is superior to others in the realm of purity. Now, who is responsible for his foolishness? It is again his ego. If we live in the soul, we do not have problems of superiority or inferiority because the soul immediately makes us feel that we are one, absolutely one with the entire world.
Brahmosmi means in Sanskrit, “I am the Brahman.” It is the expression of the soul which has attained conscious oneness with the Absolute. But the tricky ego sometimes makes us say, “I am God.” Shankara had a disciple who used to imitate him in every way. When Shankara realised God, the absolute Brahman, he started saying, “I am the Brahman.” So this disciple also used to say, “I am the Brahman.” All the other disciples used to mock and scold him. “You must not dare to say that you are the Brahman,” they said. “Master Shankara can say this, for he has realised God, but you must not.” But the disciple would say that he wanted to imitate his Master in every way. One day Shankara asked this disciple to follow him. They came to a foundry and Shankara took a lump of molten gold and devoured it. Then he told his disciple, “Since you imitate me in everything, you should imitate me in this, too.” The disciple was scared to death and left the place. The other disciples then knew that they had been right, and they must never utter the word Brahmosmi unless and until they had actually attained that conscious and inseparable oneness. When that disciple transcended his ego and his emotions, he became a real, intimate devotee of Shankara. But first he had to get rid of the ordinary human ego and enter sincerely into the world of aspiration and realisation.
If we try to imitate the words and actions of the great Masters while we are still immersed in the ordinary life, it will be sheer foolishness. We have to grow in the field of spirituality first. This field is full of experiences. After that we can enter into the field of realisation. Then we will also be able to say, “God and I are one.” Right now we are not one with God consciously. In the realm of the soul we are one, but not in our day-to-day life. In our daily life we feel that God is somebody separate from us. Eventually we are bound to discover that this very God is inside us. One day we will be able to realise Him; we will be able to see Him and feel Him constantly. It is sheer foolishness and stupidity on our part to say that we are one with God while we remain in utter ignorance. We have to come out of ignorance and soulfully and devotedly become one with God. Then, if it is the Will of God, in order to teach humanity, in order to arouse humanity from its age-long slumber of ignorance, we can proclaim that we are one with God, that we are God’s chosen children, here on earth to fulfil God in His own Way.
At one time ego will make us feel that we are nothing and at another time ego will make us feel that we are everything. We have to be very careful of both our feelings of importance and our feelings of unimportance. We have to say that if God wants us to be nothing, then we will gladly be nothing and if God wants us to be everything, we will be everything gladly. We have to surrender unconditionally and cheerfully to the Will of God.
If the ego tells us that we are only God’s slaves, this also has to be renounced. We have only to pray to God to make us what He wants. If He wants us to be His peers, we shall be. If He wants us to be His slaves, we shall be. If He wants us to be His true representatives on earth, we shall be. “Let Thy Will be done.” This is the greatest prayer that we can offer to God. In the sincere depths of this prayer is the extinction or transformation of ego.
TDB 1. 26 January 1969↩