How are we to understand the ego? How is the ego formed? Are we born with a proclivity for a certain type of ego?
Dictionary.com defines ego as ‘the “I”, or self, of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought.’ It also adds a psychoanalytic definition: “the part of the psychic apparatus that experiences and reacts to the outside world and thus mediates between the primitive drives of the id and the demands of the social and physical environment.”
Other meanings are associated with the word ego. People may say: “Curb your ego; maybe then you will get along with others.” This view of what our ego represents is a popular definition, albeit a harsh one. It implies feeling superior to others with this trait as the core of the personality. So, what really is the ego? Does it have purpose? Is it beneficial to our overall wellbeing? Sadhguru answers these questions, and more.
Sadhguru: “Ego” is not something that you got because you did something well or because you became rich or beautiful or anything else. When you started kicking in your mother’s womb, the ego was born. The very first mistake of getting identified with your physical body means the ego was born. It is a defense mechanism. You got identified with this little body. This little organism has to survive in this vast existence, of which you have no perception to even know where it begins and where it ends. Just to survive, you have to project yourself like a big man. So the ego is born. It is a false reality you created just for the sake of survival.
So what is ego? It is like your shadow. The moment you have a physical body, you have a shadow. The shadow itself is neither good nor bad. If the sun is up there, you have a little shadow. If the sun is down there, you have a mile-long shadow. Whichever way the outside situation demands, that is the kind of shadow you have. That is also the kind of ego you should have.
You may have heard the word “vairagya”. “Raga” means color. “Vai” means beyond. “Vairag” means beyond color; you have become transparent. If you have become transparent, if what is behind you is red, you turn red too. If what is behind you is blue, you turn blue too. If what is behind you is yellow, you turn yellow too. You are unprejudiced. Wherever you are, you become a part of that, but nothing sticks to you. Only if you are like this, only if you are in a state of Vairag, then you will dare to explore all dimensions of life when you live here.
To handle different kinds of situations in our lives, we need different kinds of identities. If you are fluid about it, if you can change from one to another gracefully, then you can play your role to the hilt and still have no problem with it. But right now, the problem is, you get so identified with it, you start believing you are that. Once you believe “I am the shadow,” what would you do? You would naturally crawl upon the earth. If you crawl upon the earth, how will life be? If we carpet the floor, you will crawl in comfort, not in joy. Suppose stones and rocks and thorns came? Then you will cry. That is how your life is going on right now. If the outside situation is carpeted, you will crawl in comfort. If little thorns come, you will cry because you are crawling upon the earth.
Right now, your whole experience of life is limited to the physical. Everything that you know through your five sense perceptions is physical. The physical has no purpose of its own; it is there only as a peel to the fruit. The peel means something only as a protective layer to the fruit. This body is important because there is something else inside. You have never experienced that something else. If that something else goes away tomorrow morning, nobody would want to touch this body, which would have become a corpse. So today, when it is there, we have to take care of it.
If we do not transcend the limitations of the physical, if we do not transcend the limited existence of the physical, then life will only be a struggle. If situations go well, you are very confident. If situations do not go well, you are diffident. And you always know, whatever situations are going well, any moment, things can go wrong. It is not even a question of going wrong. Life can just take any course any moment. Things can happen in a way that you do not like, any moment.
If everything in the world is going dead wrong for you, and you can still go through this life untouched, peacefully and joyfully within yourself, then you know life the way it is. Otherwise you are just a slave of the physical.
Today, there is too much unnecessary talk going on in the world about destroying the ego. This has been picked up from the scriptures. Whenever your personality turns ugly, you call it ego. This is just one more way of passing the buck. When your personality turns ugly, you must just see it as you. If you see “I am ugly,” you will want to do something about it. You would not want to be that way anymore.
But we have evolved so many strategies just to avoid this possibility. At a certain moment, whether you are beautiful or ugly, it is you, isn’t it? Keep it that way. Don’t create things which are not there – your ego, your atman, or something else. The moment you create things like “What is beautiful is my atman, what is ugly is my ego,” no transformation will be possible. If you see: “Whatever nonsense I am, that which is beautiful and that which is ugly in me are both me,” then, what is ugly will naturally start changing – you will have to transform, you can’t help it.
Today in the world, we need to bring about simple sense – life sense. Right now, people only have ego sense, they have no life sense. They are ego-sensitive, not life-sensitive. When you are like this, you only see yourself as life, no one else is life. You can trample upon anything and anyone. But if you are life-sensitive, everything is life in your experience, so you naturally behave very sensibly with every other life around you. The ego will no longer be a problem if you become life-sensitive.