Ego is a badgered word. Every time we catch ourselves doing something that we feel reflects an ugly side of us we blame it on the ego. If we cut someone out, it was ego. If there is fiery ambition in us, it is ego. If we feel hurt because someone else cuts us out, it is ego. Is ego really responsible? Is an egoless state possible for us yoga practitioners in the worldly life that we live?
As yoga practitioners we work towards increasing our sattwa. Everything in nature is composed of three energies – sattwaa, rajas and tamas. These are referred to as gunas in Sanskrit. It is a certain propensity or tendency associated with everything in existence. The play of these energies bestows specific qualities to sentient and non sentient existence. Before we explore the idea of ego further a little understanding on the nature of these qualities is essential.
Sattwa refers to state of clarity, purity, intelligence, equanimity and pleasantness. Gentle breeze, warm sunshine, pleasant weather is seen as sattwic. A perfectly ripe fruit for example is considered sattwic. Rajas refers to the quality of heat, passion, dynamism and movement. Storm can be seen as Rajasic. Non veg food, spicy food is also considered rajasic. Tamas refers to the quality of binding, rooting, non moving, ignorance. Stale food is considered tamasic. Damp, dull weather is seen as tamasic. So does it mean we should only be sattwic in nature and get rid of rajas and tamas? No. Without rajas, we will have no drive, we need that energy. Rajas is Sun. Without tamas we will not be able to sit and meditate. We need tamas to root, to bind. Earth for example is seen as tamasic.
Our awareness should help us ensure that rajas and tamas in our system is dominated by sattwa to manifest the positive aspects of these two gunas. With rajas dominated by sattwa we have drive, warmth, enthusiasm and balanced activity. With sattwa dominating the tamas we have structure, stability, rootedness. When sattwa drops, rajas can create anger, hatred, chaos, and tamas will create lethargy and ignorance.
In my understanding the same principle applies to ego. When sattwa dominates ego it gives us “virya” the positive aspect of ego which is courage: that part of our being which says : I can do it. I will do it. When rajas dominates our ego, our individual nature becomes aggressive and hurts and burns people along the way. The path of balance is about working towards raising one’s sattwa constantly. In fact this is the practice of yoga.
My understanding is that as long as we have a physical existence an egoless state is not possible. Ego is like the shadow of the physical body that we are embodied in. In the yoga texts we are explained that there are 25 tattwas (a specific order in which a human mechanism is organized) These are as follows:
1. Self / Pure Consciousness – Purusha
2. Nature (Sattwa Rajas Tamas) – Prakriti
3. Intellect (Logical dimension of thought) Buddhi
4. The tattwa of Individuaton. Ego. That which keeps on making I, me, my.This is Ahamakara. It is what distinguishes us and imparts us our unique strengths and weaknesses. It is what gives us an identity. Our identity as belonging to a nation, family community is necessary for our existence. Identity also extends to specific capacities or talents that we identify ourselves with. Ahamkara (Ego) is not seen as a fixed aspect but a process chip in our make up that can keep changing.
5. Mind: the place of likes and dislikes- Manas
6. Five organs of perception : eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin
7. Five organs of action : feet, hands, organs of elimination, organs of reproduction and tongue as organ of speech
8. Five subtle elements : earth as smell, water as taste, fire as form, air as touch and space as sound referred to as Five Tanmatras
9. Five gross elements : Earth (Solidity), water (fluidity), fire (vitality), air (mobility) and space (that which holds the other four elements)
Now if ahamkara (ego) is part of the process of human mechanism how can we destroy this and why should we? It is one among the nuts and bolts of the human machinery. In my understanding it should only get dominated by sattwa to bring greater inclusion and expansion in one’s experience. Ego is that which separates us giving us our unique boundary of the physical body that we acquire. Obviously this separation will exist because anything physical is limited. However buddhi (intellect) can be unlimited and can break all barriers of separation. Then we can see me and mine in others, and empathy blossoms. We begin to include others in our boundaries, or in other words our boundary expands. The more we are inclusive, the closer we are to yoga.
So there is no need to destroy ego. Let it function the way it is meant to. It is necessary for our growth. We as yoga practitioners should only be aware that we constantly keep moving towards sattwa.
The above article is based on my contemplation of yoga teachings by Manoj Kaimal at Manasa Yoga and Satsangs with Sadhguru.
Swati Pandey is a keen student of Yoga. She has completed 600 Hrs Teacher Training from Anahata Yoga, Hong Kong and Manasa Yoga, Kualalumpur. Swati is passionate about sharing yoga and teaches regularly in Kualalumpur