Ego: Good or Bad?

Few days ago I was having discussion about ego. I forgot the context, it may be about medal winning by Hima Das or some other matter. The talk went to discussion about nationalistic ego. My friend had an opinion about some types of ego being good. As if from a god-gift, recently I chanced upon few short essays in Speaking Tree about Ego. It goes out in different perspectives so let me share the core thought from those.

Our ego is nothing but our illusion. Ego makes us to think that we are everything. Nothing will be changed without us. When we claim our siting chair as our own property. Ego makes us put a claim to everything.  Ego makes to put an ” i” and ” mine” for our family,house and friends. It become, MY country, MY friend, MY enemy, MY group, MY caste, MY language. We never understand that we don’t belong to ourselves. Nothing comes with us including our self when we leave this world. Self is only the label we attach to ourselves when ego rules our mind. Ego is just a illusion. Drop the ego and see that we are loved by everyone. Once there is no ego, we will automatically drop the false illusions in our mind. It is our ego ultimately stops our growth. Drop our ego and be free to walk as selfless human being. Ego is pure convention in our head. Ego is our pure imagination. Imaginary ego is cause for all our troubles. Get rid of ego.

Some say, you need at least a bit of ego to survive in this world. A little bit of ego is healthy. But is it really? What if it’s blocking the quality of our life? It’s easy to recognize the BIG ego but if you are looking for a more profound clean up, More importantly, why do I want to be free of ego? What’s in it for me? Let us see them:

Happiness. It’s as simple as I can put it. Imagine a weight falling of your shoulders, you can breath again, stop thinking about useless matters and feel love for those around you, no matter who they are or what they do. Could your heart handle that? Imagine you don’t feel down anymore, feeling no more failure and loss, and thinking you’re not good enough is something of the past. Experience the total relaxation by saying “Really I am nobody”.

What does ego mean?

The Meaning of ego in spiritual terms ego is body-consciousness versus soul-consciousness.

It’s all that you THINK who you are or think who you have to be. Mostly who you think you are and who you really are don’t match. The bigger the gap between who you think you are and who you really are, the bigger the ego. So in short, ego is a gap in your mind. You think you are the roles that you play:

•I am a mother

•I am a designer

•I am a teacher

•I am ….

but roles are not human, they are attributes, mere temporary identities that stick to you like post-it’s. Who you think you are usually starts with I am and connects with a role that you play. Who you really are is so much more. You’re a soul with a great history and a lot of experience on earth that has encountered love, respect, wisdom, peace and silence. Because of over-identifying with the roles that we play in our current birth, the roles that are connected to our body, we have a limited vision of our selves. It’s OK to play a role, we can’t escape from that. Running away from our responsibilities that come with those roles doesn’t bring any freedom. On the contrary. Yet, the idea that we are the roles that we play is exactly what limits us, blocks us from real interaction with others and with ourselves. In the worst case it can create a wall around our heart which is the recipe for loneliness and depression. In The Drama of the Gifted Child, Alice Miller describes depression as ‘Mourning for the loss of the self’.

Digging deeper – how to recognize ego:

  • ego has no heart feelings, no love
  • ego has no mercy
  • ego can not appreciate
  • ego is ignorance
  • ego does not share your value, it compares your values with others
  • ego has expectations, which is the biggest trap in relationships
  • ego is not value based
  • ego can not tolerate praise of others, unless we are attached to those that are praised
  • ego doesn’t let go seeing the failing of others
  • ego can not receive correction, only give correction
  • ego inspects others, self respect corrects oneself
  • ego is very powerful outwardly but very week inwardly
  • ego makes it difficult to establish relationships based on love

Ego comes through the door of comparison, competition and criticism, you want to show that what you are doing is better than what others are doing. To an untrained a tourist and ego-tourist look same. Both kinds go from one place to another. Both travel, make plans and spend money. Both stop when tired. Both go forward when rested. But there are differences, big differences between the two. Ego-tourist is like an instrument that is out of adjustment. He drives from place to place that are too soon or too late. He is not interested in the beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees, the bird song or the fragrance of wild flower. He goes on when the sloppiness of his drive shows he is tired. He rests at odd times. He looks up the trail trying to see what’s ahead even when he knows what’s ahead because he just looked a second before. He goes too fast or too slow for the condition. When he talks his talk is forever about somewhere else, something else. He is here but he is not here. He rejects the present, he is unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the road. When he gets there, he will be just as unhappy because then “it” will be “here”. What he’s looking for, what he wants, Begining is all around him, but he does not want that because it “is” all around him. Ego traveller’s every step is an effort, both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant.

Self-respect and Ego

Now, if I feel proud about my country will be called a bad thing? Is it bad to have good opinion about myself?  These are the questions that often come to people’s mind when we talk about ego. There is a subtle difference between ego and self-respect,  let us try to understand it:

Self-respect is conducive to a wholesome life. The key to its being useful in the real sense lies in one’s prudence in exercising it. In the right proportion, self-respect is good. But excessive and unjustified self-respect loses its sublimity and positivity. It becomes insidious and mutates into the negative, pernicious force called ego.

Ego is the big, ugly sense of ‘i’ and ‘mine’ that leads to unnecessary complexities in life. It is inordinate self-obsession, narcissism, bigotry, rigidity and vanity to the point of being a pain for self and others. An unbridled ego can cripple one’s development in all facets of life. It can obscure one’s inherent virtues, eclipse one’s rationality and dwarf one’s personal growth. By and large, an egoist will be lacking in reason, sensitivity, clarity of thought, confidence, courage, transparency in speech and conduct and above all, a clear conscience. The sole aim of his life becomes the gratification of his sense of ‘i’ and ‘mine’.

To prove his point, an egoist may go to any length — howsoever unethical or inimical to others. He is blind to reason. Deep down, he is weighed down by misery and discontent and is starved of happiness. Hence, one needs to keep one’s ego well in check and be wise in practising self-respect.

There is a thin line between self-respect and ego. When we stand up firmly for a just cause involving us, it is self-respect and when not for a just cause, it is ego. The following illustrates this subtle difference: An old couple, in dire need of money, may refuse the grudging financial help from their apathetic children. Their refusal is rightly inspired by self-respect. Another old couple, also in financial crunch, but blessed with loving, caring children, may still refuse the financial aid from their devoted children. Now this refusal is unjustified and simply the corollary of ego.

There are many factors contributing to the growth of ego like insecurity, inability to face life’s challenges and high aspirations not in sync with one’s capabilities. Self-justification is a major contributor to ego development. We keep justifying our wrongs under the facade of safeguarding our self-respect, when in reality it is the undeterred havoc of the ego. This can be highly injurious to our personalities, behavior and relationships.

Conversely, self-respect is a propelling, uplifting force. A meek, unassuming and well-behaved employee, when persecuted unjustly by his boss, may depict unprecedented courage and tenacity in his retaliation. This unexpected show of mettle is driven by self-respect. Hence, self-respect is a pre-requisite to a qualitative life. It is synonymous with self-love. It bolsters our innate instinct of self-preservation.

Transcending ego is a herculean task. All the same, we need to work at it continuously. Sublimating the ego also helps mitigate it. When we live a virtuous life of profound awareness, we become deeply connected to ourselves. In such a state, we start becoming aware of our frailties. We start observing the ego in ourselves, thereby beginning to go beyond it. Ego can be a major blockade in one’s advancement on the spiritual path and in receiving Divine grace. The extent of its harm can be gauged from Ramakrishna Paramhansa’s dictum: “The water of God’s grace cannot collect on the high mound of egotism. It runs down.”

Rainwater will never stand still on high ground, but will run down to the lowest level: to become great, one must be humble. The nest of the skylark is on the earth below, though it soars high into the sky. High ground is not fit for cultivation, low ground is necessary so that water may stand on it. Unless one becomes as simple as a child, one cannot reach divine illumination.

Give up your vanity about worldly knowledge that you have acquired, and know it to be futile in the realm of higher truth. Be as simple as a child, and then only you will reach the knowledge of the True. Have no egotistical feeling, such as the conceit of the preacher, “I am lecturing, hear me all of you!” Egotism exists in ignorance, not in knowledge. He attains the Truth who is void of conceit. The tree laden with fruit always bends low. So, if you wish to be great, be lowly and meek. The scale that is heavier bends down, but the lighter scale of the balance rises up. So, the man of merit and ability is always humble and meek, but the fool is always puffed up with vanity.

Dealing with Ego

Often we are faced with situation where we are at the receiving end of unjust criticism. The way of the world is to find fault with others. The world is dominated by mind, which is motivated by ego. The nature of mind is to entwine us in ego. We think we are superior to all others. This egoistical thinking leads us to criticize others.

Throughout the day it is hard to escape criticism of others. Whether at home, during one’s commute, at work, at social gatherings, during leisure activity or while playing sports, or even shopping, someone is bound to come along and criticise us. There may be a mild sarcastic comment, a put-down, someone commenting that what we are doing is wrong and there is a way to do something better or an outright verbal fight. Even if we try to stay alone for an entire day, our thoug hts are besieged by memories of words spoken by others who criticise us. These thoughts may replay in our heads over and over again. And we react. By that single act borne out of our latent ego, we fall prey to the viscious cycle.

Sometime, we may accept what others may say and then feel bad about it. At times we become critical of our own self. Then, we take steps to change what we are doing even if we are right. These critical remarks may upset us and lower our self-esteem. Or, we may try to prove them wrong. We may fly into a rage and then think of ways to take revenge on them. The anger may escalate into verbal abuse or physical violence. If we do so, we are not only wasting our life’s breaths, but we are creating more karma for which we have to pay. We will also face health problems.

Worse, we may become angry and want to take it out on others. There is no good ending for retaliation and revenge. We just add fuel to fire. Instead, we want to put out the fire. One way to do this is to ignore the criticism of others. At first, we can politely listen and ask,” Is there any truth to what they are saying? If i listen to their remarks can i improve?” If so, we can take a good hard look at ourselves and make necessary changes so we can become better.

However, if we find that there is no truth in what is being said, we can graciously thank them and ignore their remarks. It is not worth getting upset over the comments of others when they have no validity. The key to ignore the invalid criticism of others is to forgive. If there is no truth in what people say, we should forgive them for being ignorant of the true situation, and move on with our lives. When life is so short and the journey back to God must be completed within our lifetime for us to have spiritual success, we do not want to waste time dealing with the criticism of others.

When we face criticism we can meditate to calm our minds from the reactions we may otherwise face. If we want to reunite our soul with God, we need to calm our mind to meditate. Meditation puts our attention on the bliss and intoxication inside. We are focused on the spiritual divinity within and not on the outer world. We are so intoxicated that we do not notice other people along the way.

  1. Differentiate Between Self-Respect & Ego; Geetika Jain;
  2. Drop your Ego; P Parasuraman;
  3. Subtle ego; Gopal Shree Uday;
  4. Become free of ego; Sri Ramakrishna
  5. Dealing With Criticism That Comes From Ego; Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj;