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Sadhana for Elimination of Egoism

by Swami Sivananda

Egoism is the self-arrogating principle in man. It is a Vritti or modification that arises in the mind. Patanjali Maharshi calls it by the name, Asmita. The same mind assumes the form of egoism when man begins to self-arrogate. Ahankara manifests first and then comes Mamata or attachment.

This baneful egoism generates actions, desires and pain. It is the source of all evils. It is illusory. It deludes people. Though it is nothing, it is everything for the worldly people. It associates with mineness. It is born of Avidya or ignorance. It springs from the false conceit. Vanity fosters it. It is the greatest enemy of peace. If one renounces this dire Ahankara he will be ever happy. The secret of renunciation is renunciation of egoism.

Ahankara has its seat in the mind. It is under the influence of egoism that man commits evils and wrong actions. It is deep-rooted. Anxieties and troubles proceed from egoism. It is a veritable disease. Pride, lust, anger, delusion, greed, jealousy, love and hatred are the attendants of Ahankara. Ahankara destroys the virtues and peace of mind. It spreads the snare of affection to entrap man in it. He who is free from egoism is ever happy and peaceful. Desires multiply and expand on account of egoism. Man's inveterate enemy of egoism has spread about him the enchantments of his wife, children, friends and relatives, whose spell is hard to break. There is no enemy greater than egoism.

He who neither desires, nor dislikes anything, who preserves the serenity of his mind at all times is not affected by the feeling of egoism.

There are three kinds of egoism. 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 throughout the world. It is the supreme Soul (Paramatman), besides which there is nothing in nature. Meditate on the formula, "Aham Brahma Asmi-I am the Brahman". Identify yourself with Brahman. It is Sattvic Ahankara. 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 Ahankara. The two kinds of egoism are found in Jivanmuktas or liberated sages. They lead to the liberation of man. They will not cause bondage. Hence, they are of a beneficial and superior nature.

The third kind of Ahankara is the knowledge which identifies the 'I' with the body, composed of five elements, which takes the body for the Atman. This is the worst or the basest form of egoism. This is found in all worldly persons. This is the cause for growth of the poisonous tree of rebirth. Those who possess this kind of egoism can never come to their right senses. Countless persons have been deluded by this form of Ahankara. They have lost their intelligence, power of discrimination and the power of enquiry. This kind of egoism produces baneful results. People come under the influence of all the evils of life. Those who are slaves of this form of Ahankara are troubled by various desires which induce them to do wrong actions. It debases them to the state of a beast. This kind of Ahankara should be destroyed by the other two kinds of Ahankara. The more you thin out this egoism, the more you will get knowledge of Brahman or the light of the Self.

Again there are three sub-forms of Ahankara, 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 "I am the servant of the Lord, He is the manifest form in me and I have been given this birth to serve the Lord, manifest in all". Even in the Jivanmukta there is a slight trace of this Sattvic egoism. He does actions through this Sattvic egoism. "I am a king, I know everything. I am very intelligent",-this is the form of Rajasic egoism. "I am a fool, I do not know anything" and even with this notion if one is impertinent and arrogant-this is the Tamasic egoism.

The literal meaning or Vachya Artha of 'Aham' Pada is the Aham Vritti that arises in the mind, the little 'I' which identifies itself with the physical body. The indicative meaning or Lakshya Artha of 'Aham' Pada is Atman or Brahman or the infinite 'I'. Mere illusion or 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, mountain, animals, etc. If the objects do not exist, we can neither think of, nor know anything. 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 Ahankara is Buddhi or intellect. From this sprout, the ramifying branches called Sankalpas take their origin. Through such a differentiation, the mind, Chitta and Buddhi are but the different names or qualities of the one Ahankara. 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 being the eradication of the tree at its root. If you through virtuous actions destroy the idea of 'I' at the root of the tree (mind), then it will not spring up. Atma Jnana or knowledge of the Self is the fire which destroys the conception of the Ahankara, 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 the 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 to eradicate. "I am a rich man, I am a king, I am a Brahmin"-this is gross egoism. "I am a Yogi. I am a Jnani. I am a good Karma Yogi. I am a moral man. I am a good Sadhaka or a Sadhu"-this is subtle egoism. There is also another classification of egoism viz., Samanya Ahankara (ordinary egoism) and Visesha Ahankara (special egoism). Ordinary egoism is present in animals. Visesha egoism 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? '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 Ahankara and other effects which are produced through the delusion of knowledge are also non-existent. The real 'I' is only the Sat-Chit-Ananda Brahman.

Just as the motion of the train or the boat is transferred to the tree, so also 'I' is transferred through the jugglery of the mind to the body, mind, Prana and the senses. When you say, "I am stout, I am lean," the 'I' is transferred to the senses and you identify with the senses; when you say "I am hungry, I am thirsty," the 'I' is transferred to the Prana; when you say, "I am angry, I am lustful," the 'I' is transferred to the mind. If you identify yourself 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 this commander-egoism in the Adhyatmic battle, 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 the 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 says, "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 beings live, move and have their very existence in Him.

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 doctrine-'I am not this body, I am not this Prana. I am not this mind or the senses', and through identification with the supreme Self by meditating on the formula, 'I am the all-pervading Self or the Brahman'.


Ego is a steel wall that separates man from the Lord or the Immortal Atman. It is a stinking substance that has brought down man from his highest level of divinity and made him degenerate into a being with base animal instincts and brutal impulses. It is a magical chemical manufactured in the Laboratory of Prakriti or Maya which has made him forget his original, essential, divine nature, and run after shadowy toys of mundane, perishable combination of opium, cannabis indica, alcohol, wine, brandy, gin, rum, essence of grapes, malt, whisky and something else whose composition is unknown to scientists and even to Brahma, the Creator. It is a mysterious gas which evaporates into nothing for an enquirer but appears like a granite rock for a man of indiscrimination and worldliness, which cannot be blown out even by dynamite and potent bombs.

It is highly powerful. Its ways are peculiar. Its nature is ineffable. Its mysterious working is beyond the reach of intellect. It is insidious and treacherous in its invasion and onslaught. It brings down a Yogi or a Sannyasi, who has ascended to a great height in the ladder of Yoga, to a low level in the twinkling of an eye. It assumes various forms, attacks in various ways and deludes a man.

This whole world is a play of ego. Ego, sex and world are inseparable. If you understand the nature of ego, you have understood the whole mystery of creation. Therefore scrutinise. Study of ego is imperatively necessary. It will help you in the attainment of Eternal Bliss or the Ultimate Reality.

Ego is a modification of Prakriti or Maya. It is the self-arrogating Tattva or principle. It is an effect of Avidya. It is born of ignorance. It has got three forms, viz., Sattvic ego, Rajasic ego and Tamasic ego. Sattvic ego leads to liberation; Rajasic and Tamasic ego binds you to the wheel of births and deaths.

Its favourite abode is the mind of a rich man, a dry Pundit, big officers, ministers, scientists, doctors, atheists, rationalists, agnostics, communists, whose minds are turned away from religion and the pursuit of Truth.

You feel Aham Asmi, 'I exist'. This is Sattvic ego. Vibhishana and Tulasidas said "I will not bow my head to any other God than Sri Rama". This is Sattvic ego. A desire to know one's own self, to attain liberation, to lead a virtuous life, is born of Sattvic ego. A desire to rule others, to possess estates, to have position, power and prestige is born of Rajasic ego. Idleness, procrastination, carelessness, inertia, obstinacy, head-strong nature are born of Tamasic ego.

Ego is a Vritti or modification of the mind. First Aham Vritti manifests and then all other Vrittis cling to this Aham Vritti. From ego is born mind. Reflection of intelligence that is associated with ego is Jiva. It makes the Jiva identify himself with the physical body. Then the notion of 'I' in the body arises. This is the cause for human sufferings and miseries.

Wealth, beauty, physical strength, possession of virtues, erudition, Rajasic diet, fatten or thicken the ego. Satsanga, Japa, meditation, study of religious books, Sattvic diet and Kirtan, thin out the ego.

If the go is directly killed by Brahma Chintana or enquiry of 'Who am I?' or Jnana Abhyasa, all its modifications will perish by themselves. They have no independent existence. Annihilation of lust, anger, etc., leads to thinning of egoism.

Through repetition of acts, lust, anger and pride are strengthened. They become deep-rooted or inveterate. You must struggle very hard with great patience and indomitable will to eradicate these evil Vrittis.

Pride or vanity is a long-standing associate of the ego. It will not leave even advanced Sannyasins and Yogins. If proper respect is not shown to them, they become offended, even though they may not exhibit violent fits of rage. What is the reason for this? This is due to wounded vanity. The ego still persists. It wants respect and honour for its secret gratification.

If you keep the servant Bhava, even when you are in a high position, vanity will not affect you. You should think also that your exalted position may change at any moment.

If a Sannyasi or a Yogi or a great man is honoured, saluted and garlanded very often by his admirers and disciples, if he occupies always a high seat, he finds it difficult to return the salutations and bend his body or sit down on the floor. After some time gradually vanity creeps in his mind unconsciously and he becomes a slave of respect and honour.

Sometimes a Rajasic man asserts and says, "I will never withdraw my remarks and statements even if I die. I will never yield. I will never talk to him first. I will never salute him first. I will never apologise. I must have the first seat." These are expressions of a man of vanity. If his vanity is wounded, he will try his level best to attack and kill those who have wounded his vanity. If a man corrects his nature and develops a little humility and adaptability, if he can bend a bit and speak sweet words, he can win the hearts of all and can become the real king of the whole world. Man suffers terribly on account of his wounded vanity. He cannot stick to his position in one place, to one superior, to one Guru. He creates troubles, fights and quarrels, loses his conveniences and other advantages and aimlessly wanders from place to place, dragging a cheerless existence. All these are due to his wounded vanity and stiff ego which is harder than steel and granite.

Maya is powerful. She deludes him. He has no time to introspect and look within to find out his defects. He is annoyed even if his defects are pointed out by his best well-wishers. He has not the strength to remove his defects, to eradicate his vanity. These defects lurk in his mind birth after birth. He repeats the same mistakes again and again and leads a miserable life. It is easy to become a M.A., Ph.D., in Universities. It is easy to deliver thrilling lectures and electrify the audience but it is difficult to remove this vanity and stiff ego which is the root-cause for human sufferings.

Ego never spares even a Yogi or a Vedanti. A woman is vain of her physical beauty and gracefulness, a king of his dominions, a Vedanti of his erudition, a Yogi of his Samadhi and Siddhis, a Brahmachari of his purity. It is only a real Bhakta who is free from the evil trait is saved from this dire enemy through the grace of the Lord.

O Man! Know clearly what this mischievous ego is. Study its nature very carefully. Sit calmly with closed eyes daily for a few minutes. Introspect and find out your defects. Be regular in your meditation. Have constant Satsanga. Remove vanity. Annihilate this ego and rest in your original Satchidananda state.


The workings of the ego is very mysterious. It is very difficult to detect its various ways of working. It needs a subtle and sharp intellect and keen introspection to find out its operations. If you practise introspection daily and discriminate you will be able to find out its mysterious ways of working.

Wherever there is ego, there are selfishness, likes, dislikes, arrogance, conceit, impertinence, Vasanas, Trishnas or cravings, Vrittis and Sankalpas, clinging to earthly life of hypocrisy and the idea of agency and doership. You must have a very clear understanding if you wish to annihilate this ego. Only patient and sustained efforts can give you success.

This ego likes one's own birth-place, his own province, the people of his province, his mother tongue, his own relations and friends, his own ways of eating, mode of dressing and similar things. He has his own predilections and preferences. He dislikes other's ways of eating, dressing, etc.

This ego wants to exercise power and influence over others. He wants titles, prestige, status, respect, prosperity, house, wife and children. He wants to self-aggrandise. He wishes to dominate and rule over others. If any body points out his defects, his vanity is offended. If any one praises him, he is elated. Thus the ego says, "I know everything. He does not know anything. What I say is quite correct. What he says is quite wrong. He is inferior to me. I am superior to him." He forces others to follow his ways and views. These are the general modifications of the ego.

This ego will lurk like a thief when you start introspection and self-analysis. It will elude your understanding. You must be ever alert and vigilant. If you obtain the grace of the Lord through Japa, Kirtan, prayer and devotion, you can easily kill this ego. Through Lord's grace alone your self-surrender will become perfect. When this ego melts in the cosmic ego, you will attain communion with the Lord through Self-realisation.

Try to know the ways and habits of this Ahankara. It thirsts for self-aggrandisement or self-advancement, power, possession of objects and enjoyment. Kill this Ahankara and selfishness. Be disinterested. Pin your faith to the opposite virtues, spirit of sacrifice and service as the guiding principles of life. At once you will have a rich, expanded spiritual life.

Kindle the powers of resistance. Keep up the positive ideal of active service to humanity and pure love. Generate the positive Sattvic counter current of energy to combat the downward, negative currents of Vasanas. Keep yourself in a positive state. Overcome negative thoughts by entertaining positive divine thoughts. Rise from impurity, impotence and faintness of heart. Be bold, be cheerful always. Cultivate Daivi Sampat as mercy, peace, forgiveness, tolerance, etc. Destroy Asuric Sampat as arrogance, egoism, pride, anger, lust, etc. You are bound to attain the highest bliss and knowledge of the Eternal.

Aspirants bold! take refuge in your own Self, the Immortal Soul. Be steadfast in your resolve. Tread the path of truth and righteousness. Watch your mind very carefully. Be vigilant and diligent. Discipline the turbulent Indriyas. Curb the tongue and the impure desires. You will cross the ocean of Samsara and attain immortality, perennial peace and joy.

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