Generally, in the world today, the ego of human beings gets a bad rap, often considered a major stumbling block of spiritual and personal growth. People complain about someone having too big an ego or about egoism that very easily turns into excessive self-love. In the yoga practice of meditation, the admonition is to still the ego. But then how does that square with yoga’s understanding that we are made in the image and likeness of God and that we are divine, infinite and perfect. Are we supposed to say that being made in God’s image is a good idea, but we are not supposed to identify with it?
There are several people throughout history who have declared that God and they are one! Was that an egotistical statement that needs to be questioned or the truth because the person recognized his or her true nature?
The Yoga Tradition speaks highly of the ego and poorly of egoism. What is the difference? The ego, according to yoga psychology, is the identifying factor in the mind. The ego appropriates identity from the other aspects of our human experience like the fantasies of our unconscious mind or the accomplishments of the external world or the memories of our successes or our rational decision-making ability or even our spiritual drives and desires.
The ego organizes all of our physical, mental and spiritual experiences and says, “I am that.” The problem with the ego begins when we attribute to ourselves a false identity. When we focus on the small “I,” like our economic status, our race, our sex, our religious beliefs, our intelligence, we are identifying with the “false” self.
Generally, even though we have not necessarily done anything to grow or develop those aspects of our life, we often say that that is who we are. “I am a successful businessman or businesswoman.” “I am a powerful athlete.” “I am a marvelous teacher.” “I am a good yogi.” And so on…
Those identifications usually focus on the physical or mental aspects of our world not our true nature. These identifications give us a sense of confidence over another by comparing ourselves to another person. These ego statements usually separate us from others.
The true sense of ego, according to the Yoga Tradition, is the realization that we are to identify only with our spiritual nature, which is that multifarious, many-sided gem of love, peace, truth, goodness, kindness, joy, patience, etc.—all the qualities of the Divine. When we truly identify with those innate qualities within ourselves and take pride in them as gifts from our core self, then ego does not become egoism. Ego is outward-directed when we know that we are that “I am”.
All of us need to develop this larger sense of Ego because the purpose of ego is to insert one’s self into the world and have an impact of the external world. More than ever we need to identify and act on our goodness, our patience, our kindness, our peace. We need to identify with all that brings us closer together and that leads us to act more in concert with all around us.
When our ego identifies with all that is physical and “little” in our lives, like our financial status, our political perspective, our race and all the other physical and cosmetic parts of us, we make a dysfunctional society—we shoot each other; we don’t talk to family and friends; we call each other names; we hate others; we blame others for the adversities in our life; we think that our way of seeing things is always right. This is falling into egoism.
Falling into egoism is the crime of our culture and we need to get bigger Egos. We need to develop the ego that makes us as big as God—not the vindictive, angry, judging and separating God, but the loving and nurturing, compassionate and unifying God. True religions and yoga teach that. We are to become one with the Divine!
May your ego grow and live a divine-oriented life.