HAMKARA or egoism is the self-arrogating principle in man. It is a Vritti or modification that arises in the mind. Patanjali Maharshi calls this by the name 'Asmita'. The same mind assumes the form of egoism when man self-arrogates himself. Ahamkara manifests first and then comes 'Mamata'.
This baneful egoism generates actions, desires and pains. It is the source for all evils. It is illusory. It deludes people. Through it is nothing, it is everything for the worldly people. It is associated with mineness. It is born of Avidya or ignorance. It springs from false conceit. Vanity fosters it. It is the greatest enemy. If one renounces this dire Ahamkara he will be happy. The secret of renunciation is renunciation of egoism. Ahamkara has its seat in the mind. It is under the influence of egoism man commits evils and wrong actions. It is deep-rooted. Anxieties and troubles proceed from egoism. Ahamkara is a veritable disease. Pride, lust, anger, delusion, greed, jealousy, love and hatred are the attendants of Ahamkara. Ahamkara destroys our virtues and peace of mind. It spreads the snare of affection to entrap us. He who is free from egoism is very happy and peaceful. Desires multiply and expand on account of egoism. Our inveterate enemy, egoism, has spread about us the enchantments of our wives, friends, children, etc., whose spells it is hard to break. There is no enemy greater than egoism.
He who neither desires nor dislikes anything and who preserves the serenity of mind at all times is not affected by the feeling of egoism. There are three kinds of egoism in the three worlds. Of these, two kinds of egoism are beneficial and of superior nature but the third is of a vile kind and is to be abandoned by all. The first is the supreme and undivided ego which is eternal and which pervades through the world. It is the supreme soul (Paramatman), besides which there is nothing in nature. Meditate on the formula 'Aham Brahma Asmi - I am Brahman.' Identify yourself with Brahman. It is Sattvic Ahamkara. The knowledge which makes us perceive our own self to be more subtle than the tail-end of paddy or to be as minute as the hundredth part of a hair and to be ever existent is the second kind of Ahamkara. The two kinds of egoism are found in Jivanmuktas or liberated sages. They lead to the liberation of men. They will not cause bondage. Hence they are of beneficial and superior nature. The third kind of Ahamkara is the knowledge which identifies the 'I' with the body composed of the hands, feet, etc., which takes the body for the soul or the Self. This is the worst or basest form of egoism. This is found in all worldly persons. This is the cause for the growth of the poisonous tree of rebirths. Those who possess this kind of egoism can never come to their right senses. Countless persons have been deluded by this form of Ahamkara. They have lost their intelligence, power of discrimination and power of enquiry. This kind of egoism produces baneful results. People come under the influence of all evils of life. Those who are slaves of this form of Ahamkara are troubled by various desires which induce them to do wrong actions. It debases them to the state of beasts. This kind of Ahamkara should be destroyed by the other two kinds of Ahamkara. The more you thin out this egoism, the more you will get knowledge of Brahman or the light of the soul.
Again there are three kinds of Ahamkara viz., Sattvic egoism, Rajasic egoism and Tamasic egoism. Sattvic egoism will not bind a man to Samsara. It will help the aspirant to attain the final emancipation. If you try to assert 'Aham Brahma Asmi' 'I am Brahman' - this is Sattvic egoism. Even in a Jivanmukta there is slight trace of Sattvic egoism. He does actions through this Sattvic egoism. 'I am a king, I know everything. I am very intelligent' - this is Rajasic egoism. 'I am a fool. I do not know anything' - this is Tamasic egoism.
The literal meaning or Vachyartha of 'Aham' Pada is Aham Vritti that arises in the mind, the little 'I' which identifies itself with the physical body. The indicative meaning or Lakshyartha of 'Aham' Pada is Atman or Brahman, the big or infinite 'I'. Mere illusion (Maya) is the cause of egoism. Knowledge is the cause of egoism. Knowledge is produced through the illusory objects such as the body, tree, river, mountains, cow, horse, etc. If there are no objects, we will have no knowledge of objects at all. Then egoism, the seed of Manas. Will be absorbed.
The idea of 'I' which is the nest containing all frailties is the seed of the tree of mind. The sprout which at first germinates from the seed of Ahamkara is Buddhi or intellect. From this sprout, the ramifying branches called Samkalpas take their origin. Through such a differentiation, the mind, Chitta and Buddhi are but the different names or qualities of the same Ahamkara. The branches of Vasanas will naturally produce innumerable crops of Karmas, but if with the sword of Jnana you sever them from the heart's core, they will be destroyed. Cut the branches of the dire tree of mind and eventually destroy the tree at its root completely. Cutting the branches is only a secondary thing, the primary one being the eradication of the tree at its root. If you, through virtuous actions, destroy the idea of 'I' at the root of the (mind), then it will not grow up. Atma Jnana or knowledge of the Self is the fire which destroys the conception of Ahamkara, the seed of the tree (mind).
There is another classification of egoism, viz., gross (Sthula) and subtle (Sukshma). When you identify yourself with the gross physical body, it is gross egoism. When you identify yourself with the mind and Karana Sarira (seed body), it is subtle egoism. If you destroy pride, selfishness, desires and identification with the body, the gross egoism will perish but the subtle egoism will remain. You must annihilate the subtle egoism also. Subtle egoism is more dangerous and more difficult of eradication 'I am a rich man, I am a King, I am a Brahmin,' - this is gross egoism. 'I am a great Yogi, I am a Jnani. I am a good Karma Yogi, I am a moral man, I am a good Sadhaka or Sadhu' - this is subtle egoism. There is another classification of Ahamkara viz., Samanya Ahamkara (ordinary egoism) and Visesha Ahamkara (special egoism). Ordinary egoism is present in animals. Vishesha Ahamkara is present in human beings.
You say, 'This body is mine.' The vultures, jackals and fishes also say, 'this body is mine.' If you peel off the layers of the onion one by one, the onion dwindles into an airy nothing. So is the 'I'. This body, mind, Prana, senses, etc., are all combinations of the five elements and Tanmatras. They are all modifications of the Prakriti only. Where is the 'I' then? This physical body belongs to Virat, astral body to Hiranyagarbha and causal body to Ishvara. Where is the 'I' then? 'I' is an illusory nothing fabricated by the juggler-mind. Nothing can be said to exist, which is not produced by some cause. This body which is produced through Karmas is not itself the cause. The knowledge or consciousness that we have of it is itself illusory. Therefore, Ahamkara and other effects which are produced through the delusion of knowledge are also non-existent. The real 'I' is the Sat-Chit-Ananda Brahman only.
Just as the motion of the train or the boat is apparently transferred to the trees, so also 'I' is transferred, through the jugglery of Maya, to the body, mind, Prana, and senses. When you say, 'I am stout, I am lean', the 'I' is transferred to the body and you identify with the body; when you say, 'I am hungry, I am thirsty,' the 'I' is transferred to the Prana, you identify yourself with the Prana; when you say, 'I an angry, I am lustful', 'I' is transferred to the mind. If you identify with the Supreme Self, all false identifications will vanish.
If you kill the commander of an army, you can very easily subdue the soldiers. Even so, if you kill the commander - egoism in the Adhyatmic battlefield, you can very easily subdue the soldiers, viz., lust, anger, pride, jealousy, greed, delusion, hypocrisy, who fight for their master - egoism.
Try to attain Brahman by means of the first two kinds of superior egoism. If you are firmly established in that supreme immaculate state wherein even these two kinds of superior egoism are abandoned one by one, then such a state is the imperishable abode of Brahman. Do not identify the 'I' with the physical body. Identify yourself with the Supreme Self or Para Brahman.
You might have reduced or thinned out your egoism to a very great extent but if you are still susceptible to censure and praise, know that the subtle egoism is still lurking in you.
An aspirant who treads the path of devotion destroys his egoism through self-surrender or Atma-Nivedana to the Lord. He say I am Thine my Lord. All is Thine. Thy will be done. He feels he is an instrument in the hands of the Lord. He dedicates all his actions and the fruits of his actions to the Lord. He feels that there is nothing but the Lord, that everything is done by the Lord, that even an atom cannot move without Him and that all live, move and have their very being in Him alone.
A Karma Yogin destroys his egoism through self-sacrifice. A Jnana Yogin kills his egoism through self-denial or self-abnegation, through Vichara and the practice of Neti-Neti - I am not this body, I am not the mind, I am not Prana, I am not the senses, and through identification with the Supreme Self by meditating on the formula, 'I am all-pervading Self or Brahman.'
May you rest in the big Infinite 'I', the pure Sat-Chit-Ananda Brahman and enjoy Eternal Bliss by annihilating this little illusory 'I', the product of Maya, through self-denial or self-sacrifice or self-surrender!