The ego is commonly thought of as having an overly high opinion of yourself. From the standpoint of spirituality, however, the ego has a different meaning. Vedanta, the spiritual science of life, explains that the ego is your sense of separateness and individuality. It is your apparent identity because it is made up of who you think you are and not who you really are.
The ego limits your identity to what you look like physically and the characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of your emotional and intellectual makeup. It tells you that you are what you possess materially, the roles that you play everyday, (husband, wife, son, daughter, employee, boss, etc.), and convinces you that you are different and separate from others. The ego believes in limitation and lack, making you fearful of losing what you think belongs to you.
Like a rubber band that is kept stretched for long periods of time, holding on to these untruths brings stress and tension in life, and in your relationships with others and yourself.
The Birth of the Ego
When a baby is born, it does not know itself to be different from its mother and the world around it. It’s sense of individuality – the ego, arises when a baby becomes aware that it is separate from its mother. This happens at some point in infancy, a time when the child’s brain is developing rapidly.
Once this realization comes, fear and conscious dependency on the mother set in. Before, the baby cried as a natural response to it’s bodily demands for hunger and comfort. Now, the baby begins to understand that when it cries, its mother responds to it.
The notion of separation is reinforced by the world outside. The baby is given a name and treated as a individual. This imprint of separation and individuality stays with the child throughout its life.
The Ego keeps changing
Starting with your name, your identity today is built on a foundation of what you thought of yourself and what others said about you in your past. Everyday, you keep adding to that identity. Your outer appearance, character and roles keep changing.
Your emotional and intellectual personality is also your ego. You may have been very short-tempered before but have calmed down considerably now. Intellectually too, what you know now, is not what you knew in the past.
The ego identity keeps changing.
The Ego— a product of the “Manufacturer’s Defect”
What is your real identity? Essentially, you are pure and divine Spirit functioning through a physical body and mind. You are unlimited, immortal and ever free.
But, coming into this human embodiment, you cannot perceive or know your spiritual nature. All you experience and know are your human body and mind. You then identify with these human aspects and come to believe yourself to be a limited and mortal individual.
Why are you not able to experience your innate spiritual nature and why do you identify with your humanness instead? My Guru, Swami Chinmayananda jokingly called it a “manufacturer’s defect.” We are all born with it.
Your real identity never changes
The individual ego says, “I + …” (a description). For example, you may say, I am tall, I am a man/woman, I like grapes, I am feeling happy today, I think I can do it, etc.
The essential you is simply the “I am”. No other description follows it. Your ego identity is superimposed on your essential identity.
To illustrate the difference between the ego and your essential identity, let’s take a fictitious person called Sandra. Sandra is a 32-year-old mother of two children, wife of Brad, sister of Laura, and practising lawyer at Main Street Solicitors. Let’s suppose Sandra got into a traffic accident and was taken to the hospital in serious condition. Upon waking up two days later, Sandra had lost all memory of her name, age, her children, husband, sister, job and where she worked.
Although she lost memory of her ego identity as Sandra, the real person beneath the roles and identities still existed. Sandra, without knowing even her name, could still identify with her inherent existence and say “I”. This is her real identity.
To regain her ego identity, she would have to re-learn and add everything on her essential no-name, is-ness. This is why the ego identity is said to be the apparent identity. Her real identity is pure spirit functioning through the personality called Sandra.
Transcending the Ego
Our purpose in life is to transcend the ego and rediscover our essential spiritual nature. To regain it and live as spiritual beings, we have to gradually outgrow the limitations of our ego and selfish concerns. These are what keep us functioning as mere human beings. As you can imagine, this is doesn’t happen overnight.
All spiritual disciplines and practices are the means to this goal. These include meditation, spiritual studies, mindful living, self reflection and living with a conviction that we are all one and connected.
These will enable us to grow into the conviction “I am not this limited ego personality, but pure and divine Spirit.”
Like this post? Sign up for the free fortnightly Spiritual Solutions Newsletter and receive the latest articles, news and updates in your email inbox!