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All Things Yoga Blog


Ego: The Good, The Bad, And The Death Of


In yoga, we learn that practice is a virtue and perfection is not as important as progress. We also learn that there is no room for ahamkara (the harmful ego) in our practice, especially when we integrate meditative aspects into yoga. The human ego, through a lot of meditative work and inner-reflection can be good (as a transcendental ego), but begins as ahamkara (an impure ego). Letting go of your ahamkara leads to liberation and enlightenment.

Developing transcendental yoga can lead to the highest level of consciousness, and eventually liberation of the self, which is the goal of yoga. Here’s how: According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, "moksha" as well as the sanskrit term "kaivalya" (which usually translates to "isolation", but holds a different meaning in the Sutras) are used interchangeably, and both translate to the goal of yoga: liberation and emancipation. The fourth chapter of the Sutras, Kaivalya Pala, describes this process and how it leads to the reality of the transcendental ego. The transcendental ego is the pure consciousness of self that is composed of personal experiences, knowledge, and mastery of interferences (barriers which you have to overcome to reach personal stillness). The result is true awareness of the self and universe.

Our ego can be hugely negative, especially as a new practitioner when you are still practically a layman. The ego can and does interfere and bar us from moksha when we try to overextend our own will and self in a negative way, leading to harm of oneself or others. This type of ego, ahamkara, is selfish in that it is tightly bonded to the self. This bond will eventually need to be broken (ego death). Our selfish ego believes it governs our bodily thoughts and actions, our self-will, and can influence the will and actions of others. It tells us what our needs and wants are, and does so through bypassing spiritual thought. If your ahamkara is strong, it may believe it can control anything, except for maybe time, space, and the weather. It is this ego that tells you in your own voice that you are not yet strong enough to master handstand. It looks judgmentally at other yoginis in the room and will make comparisons between yourself and innocent bystanders. For example, when you are slightly irritated at how well the yogini next to you is beautifully accomplishing pigeon pose or when you become jealous at the same woman’s svelte, perfectly toned body, this is your ahamkara sneaking into your consciousness. This ego will keep you from progressing in your practice. Have you ever attended yoga class after a particularly awful day, having just experienced a personal issue that affected your emotions significantly? Chances are that during this class, your balance was off (forget tree pose!) and your mind was adrift. For this you have your ego to thank, keeping you from feeling steady and at ease — these are the two things you absolutely must have to come into asana.

How else does the selfish ego keep us down? It will disguise itself as our true Self. According to Wikipedia, "Ahaṃkāra is the instrument of Ahaṃ (the Spirit), the principle of individuation, acting as an independent conscious entity within the impure reality - yet, it does not have consciousness of its own". Separation of this adultured spirit is absolutely necessary to reach a higher level of consciousness and achieve moksha (the goal of yoga practice). You must liberate this harmful ego; this invisible parasitic twin. It must be let go. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna said that ahamkara must be removed — in other words, it should be subordinated to the lord. The reason for this is that the true Self is not and cannot be present when one is in a state of ahamkara.

So how does one transform the ahaṃkāra to the pure reality of transcendental ego? It is a slow process known as ego death. This is a metaphysical process in which we realign beliefs and realize truths. The self as you know it, and even your personality as it relates to your diseased ego, will be completely transformed. This process begins as your yoga practice develops. Meditation is necessary for transformation. Do not misunderstand this process of transformation: you will not leave this slow process of change a completely new and different person. You will not be brain-washed. Instead, this change is a truly positive one. You will come to know the reality of your true Self.

Practice honesty. Practice focusing on what defects you carry and the negative characteristics of your personality. Practice reflecting inward, self-study, and what makes you truly happy. I would suggest that these practices and ideas make excellent intentions if you are looking for liberation of the self. This higher-level knowledge of Self and the abolition of false, preconceived ideas of the world can only be imparted when intentions are set and meditation becomes an unbroken stream of a higher level concentration. Similar to achieving Nirvana, the Buddhist concept of enlightenment, you yourself have the ability inside yourself to reach moksha, as you are liberated from the untrue Self and, in a profound and marked spiritual awakening, discover not only who you truly are but also the pure reality of the universe.

By: Jessica Adams (G+)

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