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Tuesday, February 17, 2009



Doer ego is responsible for carrying out the actions that we do and we need to do.
For example we have legs and in order to keep the legs in good shape we need to walk. ‘I’ have to walk;’ I’ need to walk and this requires the ‘ego’ which is the good ego. If we do not have this ego we can not take care of our legs. We can not keep our body in a healthy state. Say you are convinced that doing yoga is good for your health and you have made a resolve that you shall do yoga regularly. If there is no strong ‘doer ego’, you can miss out on the regularity in spite of being convinced about its benefits. Thus a strong ‘doer ego’ is necessary under all circumstances so that we do not become parasites on the society. In order to promote this good doer ego, wise people said that if you do not take care of your ‘self’, you are a sinner. This concept of sin in this context was probably introduced to encourage us to recognize that if one does not put in the right amount of effort through a strong doer ego, he cannot be happy.

A young man saw a caterpillar just turned into a butterfly and fighting to come out of its cocoon. With lot of sympathy for the struggling insect, he took a pair of scissors and very carefully cut the shell to release the butterfly out of its cocoon and was very happy about his success in helping a small creature.

Side by side, another butterfly also struggled and came out of its cocoon by itself.
Finally when both of them were out in the free world, the butterfly that did not fight or struggle could not fly because the wings had not grown fully. On the other hand, the one which had struggled through its life had strong wings and flew freely. We realize that even a butterfly has to nurture a strong doer ego in order to grow fully! Same way we have to do what we need to do, in order to grow. This is the positive ‘doer ego’.

There are two ways in which one can utilize this Kartrutva. The doer ego can be called Asmita when we do the work with a sense of duty which is the good Kartrutva ego. The same Kartrutva becomes Ahankara or ‘bad Kartrutva ego’ when we try to claim the ‘doership’. In the present day life style we see many stress related problems in high profile performers (executive stress) that can go on to many killer diseases such as hypertension and heart disease. The doer ego of such a workaholic person is very strong and effective that produces great results .But the problems of stress that goes with it is basically created by the ‘ahankara’, (‘I am the doer’) that goes with it and not the Asmita ego. The problem of such an activity is not created by the activity, but by the doer. Hence the solution does not lie in giving up the activity but changing the inner ‘doer ego’ through right understanding and introspectively change from Ahankara to Asmita. Of the several techniques that have been recommended for this, Sri Krishna in Bhagavad-Gita says ‘the fire called true knowledge of the self burns the action’ .Through the right knowledge, the Ahankara is removed resulting in complete freedom from the distresses of life including the so called executive stresses. How can knowledge burn an activity? Spiritual knowledge has especially no connection with activity. Knowledge has nothing to do with action directly. It is directly connected with ignorance. Knowledge has its role in removing the ignorance. Ignorance gives rise to Ahankara. What is this right knowledge of self? The right knowledge is to realize that it is really the universal intelligence that is doing the work using ‘me’, the doer ego, as an instrument .Ignorance of this knowledge obviously results in doership and Ahankara. With the dawn of the right knowledge that ‘ I am only an instrument in the hands of the divine universal will or the universal ego’, the Ahankara gets burnt. The moment the identification with this limited ‘I’, the Ahankara goes, the ‘doer’ falls and the attachment to the action also drops. Then the burden of ego is dissolved.

Here, the question that needs to be addressed is, how can such a person with no ‘doer ego’ function in this world after it has been completely burnt ? How can any one function efficiently without an intense commitment to the activity on hand? The answer comes from the following proclamation of the scriptures. After attaining this true spiritual knowledge, although the doer ego does not exist in its earlier form, its functional aspect continues to be available with all its capabilities. Hence the practically useful functional abilities that are necessary for survival and doing good to others etc., do not go away, but the snow balling effect of the repercussions of good and bad actions(called vasanas) are completely erased. The example for this is that of a burnt rope.

Krishna says that even after the action is burnt by the fire of knowledge, he continues to function with an ego with utmost efficiency. A burnt rope that is not disturbed has exactly the same appearance as before but cannot act any more like a rope. Another useful example of a burnt ego is that of a burnt seed which has the same size, shape and appearance as a live seed but it has lost its potential to sprout any more. This seed does not give rise to any branches and reproduce more seeds. Same way a burnt action cannot gather unconscious impressions (vasanas) of suppressed emotions such as unfulfilled desires, hatred, anger, frustration etc. The activity goes on with a sense of duty and joy without any distress. Sri Ramakrishna says that the realized person goes on working like a wheel that continues to rotate and function with gathered momentum without collecting any mass on itself. It is like the way light removes the fear of darkness. Light literally has nothing to do with fear, but it was the non visibility of the obstacles in the room due to darkness that created the fear of a non-existent danger. And the moment he light is lit, things become clear and the fear drops off. If you were holding a gun to protect yourself from danger in the dark room, you drop that gun too. Light directly can not drop the gun but it appeared that light dropped the gun from your hand. Same way knowledge drops the identification of the doer. Once the doer is dissolved, the fever of activity also disappears.
The difference between an ordinary person’s Karma (the unconscious non erasable impressions created by any action )and the Karma of a Jnani is that, in the case of a Jnani, karmas are like lines drawn on the water and in case of an ordinary person the Karma is like line drawn on a stone. Even of you take a sharp instrument and draw a line on water the line will not last even for a second. On the other hand even if a soft substance like water falls on the stone repeatedly it can make lasting impressions as we see in river beds. This is to say that in case of a Jnani even if he does work of killing as a worrier he will not be affected but in case of an ordinary person who does the work with ahankara, even a respectable action of giving a charity, can lead to intense attachment and result in deep impressions (called punya vasana).

We claim credits for things for which we are not really responsible and we become a Kartru for that action. For example, we say ‘I breathe’. We cannot take even a single breath by our own effort if the system fails. If the “I”, the ahankara type of (bad) ego had to decide to do the job of breathing, we would have been dead by now. Many things which we are supposed to do, we conveniently forget and this can be one of them because taking breath is such a monotonous activity and hence this has been programmed into our nature and is the Asmita type of doer ego. God has given us legs and we are supposed to walk. How many of us walk regularly? God has given us joints and wanted us to regularly exercise them but we don’t do it and land up with ailments like arthritis. That is why God kept the activity like breathing to go on by itself but we claim that ‘I breathe’! Similarly we say ‘I have given birth’ to my son. Giving birth to another human being is such a great act of creation that only God can do that and in this process he uses us as an instrument .We are only the birth canal and nothing more than that! But we do have the responsibility to take care of them to develop into a healthy human being. When we say ‘I gave birth to him or her’ it is Kartrutva Ahankara which is bad, but when we take the responsibility of bringing up our children that is Kartrutva Asmita which is good.

When Buddha came back from his tapas of several years, his father said to him ‘I gave birth to you!’ Buddha replied, “Oh Father, when you were not born ‘I’ was there. I am coming from the time when this universe was created and you are also coming from the time of creation. We are meeting here in this life like two passengers meeting in a train. We both only happen to meet here as father and son!”

Another form of Kartrutva Ahankara is found in organizations. There are many responsible members in the structure of an organization to run it efficiently. Some times, some people want to take on every thing on their own shoulders and are never satisfied with any one else’s way of functioning and they tend to suffocate the other functionaries. Here the intentions may be good but the ego of one person wanting to be the Ahankara Kartru is the sickness that prevents him from functioning with a peace of mind and getting the joy of performing! In addition it also comes in the way of the growth of the other persons in the organization. Here, the litmus test is whether the activity is done using Asmita or Ahankara type of ego. If one can nurture the capacity to move from Ahankara to Asmita, then it will help them to enjoy the work they are doing .This helps one to grow. But if the work is done with Ahankara Kartrutva then the person will not grow.

When I was working as an engineer, one of my colleagues- a senior executive, wrote a very unsatisfactory report about his junior and sent it to the administration asking them for extension of his probationary period and not to make him a permanent employee although he was his close friend at a personal level. But we all knew that the junior was very capable, intelligent, and hard working. The administration asked me to solve this problem! I observed their way of functioning in the office for ten days. I noticed that, whenever there was any work in the office, the senior would ask the junior to attend to it and within a few minutes he would go back and check whether the work has been completed. If it was not completed he would conclude that the junior is not confident to tackle the problem, immediately jump in and complete the work himself. Poor fellow, the junior employee had to stand there as a mere spectator with folded hands! Now, this senior executive has a valid point when he said ‘look at his way of doing. How can you expect me to give him a good report?’ I interfered and explained to him that he, as a senior is not allowing the junior to grow. I advised him,’ give him an opportunity, give him time, let him do mistakes and you please correct his mistakes and help him to grow’. The senior understood and gave him time to finish the work at his own pace. When the junior was given the freedom and opportunity, in less than three months, he came up so well that the same senior, not only sent a good report but also mentioned that this junior should be working under him only. This is a very subtle Kartrutva ego! This Kartrutva ego undermined the Kartrutva responsibility of training a junior. This can be seen happening in many organizations where very efficient seniors cannot create and recognize capable juniors to take over!. Thus the Karturtva ego is not always bad . One needs to grow from the doer ego to the responsible ego.

- to be continued...

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Ego according to Vedantha -1-

The concept of ego is neither ontological nor philosophical in my view. It is a practical instrument in our hands. When we consider any thing as an instrument, then it is neither good nor bad intrinsically. But unfortunately it is the most misunderstood and wrongly punished aspect of our being. Normally, in most spiritual circles ‘ego’ is looked down and is considered to be a big hurdle in the path of one’s spiritual journey. Several questions come up while accepting this concept. Let us try and find a logical understanding of this ‘ego’, so that we can utilize this highly simplified introspective knowledge for the healthy growth of the individual to live a happy life free from all distresses which is the goal of any spiritual seeker. Let us pause and think without any prejudice, if the ‘ego’ was only a big hurdle and, a poison why such a thing was created by God?? Like many things which are good in one area and dangerous in another area, my feeling has always been that ego also must have its good and bad aspects. It may be that we have interpreted it wrongly and overplayed its bad aspects and made it a big hurdle to one’s evolution. It is like the food which can be nourishing when taken in the right way, in the right place, in the right quantity and at the right time (in empty stomach) and can become a poison and destructive when the conditions are not right. It is not the fault of the food but the application is wrong. Similarly, according to Indian philosophy there are both the good and bad aspects of the ‘ego’, just like a sharp edged razor which can be used for killing some one brutally or saving someone through a life saving surgery. We discuss about ‘ego’ and think that only adults can understand and realize the impact of ego on one’s life as it is too philosophical. But an incident happened which surprised me to realize how even a simple child can also recognize this concept of’ ego’. A group of our friends were watching a documentary on yoga and its relevance to modern man in which there were several elite people who were being interviewed to give their ideas about yoga, yoga research and its application as a science etc.. The anchor person questioned one of the participants of the panel, about his opinion on yoga. He started talking about how much he is committed to scientific experimentation, how many papers in science he has published and how rigorously he is scientific in his temperament etc. Listening to this for about two minutes, a small girl of not more than eight years sitting next to me said very innocently, “Why is he talking about himself and not coming to the topic?” It was interesting to realize that , while an innocent young girl could understand what is ego and also that it is bad which the elite adult , the speaker, could not .What could be the reason ? There are several reasons. Let us understand how Indian scriptures understand this inner stuff called ‘ego’ and how it camouflages itself as we grow into adults.

Ego , the self, can have dual existence, (a) as a distinct entity (the observer mind) or (b) connected inseparably with all aspects of our personality ,the entire body mind consciousness complex. Ego exists not only in human beings but you can find it in entire creation. That means every thing in this manifested world has its own ‘being’ which distinguishes its ‘self’ from others. Hence it cannot be good or bad; it is only a self distinguishing quality of the organism. Animals have ego, plants have ego and even the matter has its ego. In case of physical matter, we may not use the word ‘ego’, but we call it as its innate property .Thus, ego of physical matter establishes its identity and individuality, manifests as its fixed property and is predictable. .For example water follows the law that under normal pressure and temperature, it becomes steam at one hundred degrees centigrade and turns into ice at zero degree temperature. It is the property of the water. This property inbuilt into its nature distinguishes it from other substances. This is what I call as the ego of nonliving physical world and all objects share their distinct ‘self’ or ‘ego’. Similarly plants also have their own individuality. For example, roots grow downwards into the soil in search of water. The genetic programming is to find water and not just a downward growth. Hence, if the roots happen to come across an obstacle of a huge rock on their way, they know how to negotiate themselves to reach the water. This clearly indicates the inbuilt intelligence that helps the plant to survive and is achieved through this programmed effort to strive to reach a goal. This ability and intention to pursue its goal is the ego of a plant. Thus, in case of living organisms the ego takes on the property of trying to protect its own existence in addition to its physical property .This can be established so clearly when we see small plants which start their small roots in small cracks in a wall. These little ones, as they continue to grow, send their roots into the wall in such a complex network that even the huge stone structure may give way over time although their aim was never to destroy the wall. This ‘ego’ makes the widespread roots of huge trees break open and lift off the heavily concreted road surfaces for their survival. This is the ego of living things that is characterized by the law of ‘survival instinct’.

Further in case of insects or animals, we can see this ego for survival or the survival instinct has an added advantage of mobility. Try to disturb an ant that is resting, you can see the ant becoming alert at once and trying to run away or fight for its survival. This survival instinct can be found even in the new born.

In the’ Animal World Channel’ of the television i saw a live video, wherein the baby

Turtles coming out of their eggs early in the morning on the sea shore, were swiftly rushing towards the ocean! They were millions of them and not one of them missed their direction. Who told them that the ocean is in that direction and they have to go to the ocean for their survival? Even though at some places the sand dunes were going up and the ocean was far behind them, the turtles made no mistake. The anchor of the program picked up one of them and turned it around and left it on the sand in the opposite direction, the turtle wasted no time to turn around and proceed on its journey to the ocean! It is the ego of the turtle which makes it to do this way. It is the individuality which ensures its survival. This I call as the ‘good ego’, the very nature of the individual described as ‘Asmita’ in Vedanta. This ‘Asmita’, the ego, is the first aspect of our personality to take birth as we evolve as an individual and then comes the other aspects of our being that includes the mind and the physical body.

As human beings also, we all have this ego that strives for survival. This exists from the time of birth. This is very much visible within seconds after birth even in human babes. I was watching a documentary where the doctor puts the baby on the mother’s tummy as soon as it is born (even with out cleaning it) and in less than ten minutes, it crawled on the mother’s tummy to reach the breast! How did the baby know that the food is available there! This is the ego of survival.

In the case of human beings, apart from this survival ego which is programmed into our physiology, we have evolved enormous degree of free will which we may perceive as psychological ego. There are three aspects of this psychological ego that we use for our day to day functioning. These are- the doer ego, the identifier ego and the experiencer ego, which are called Kartrutva Asmita, Bhoktrutva Asmita and Jnatrutva Asmita respectively in Indian scriptures.

Let us try and understand what we mean by these three types of Asmita.

- to be continued...