Ahamkar or Egoism in Hinduism

Hinduism Concepts

by Jayaram V

Ahamkar or ahamkara in Sanskrit literally means the form of the self-sense (aham) or the actions of the self-sense.  The former meaning applies if 'kara' is used in the sense of form (as in case of akaram), and the latter if it is used to denote actions actions. Thus, egoism generally used to denote egoism or the sense of individuality.

The opposite of ahamakara is nirhamakara. It is also the state of Sankara or Vishnu, the Lord of the Universe.The early Upanishads often speak of the Self as aham or associate the word with it, as in case of "Aham Brahmasmi."Another name of egoism is anava, the quality of being atomic or small, which is considered responsible for bondage and suffering. But the most commonlu used word for egoism is Ahamkara. An egoistic person, ahmakari, abides in his own individuality and remains centered egoism.

His egoism is physical when he identifies himself with his body, mental when he develops attachment to external objects and subtle when he incurs karma and suffers from births and deaths. In Samkhya, yoga and other Hindu schools and in other related religions of Hinduism, such as Buddhism and Jainism, ahmakara or ego-sense is an aspect of Prakriti (tattva). It forms a part of the internal organ and the subtle body. Mixed with the gunas, namely sattva, rajas and tamas it experiences desires and attachments of various kinds which keep the inner Self in bondage.

Egoism is a crystallization of pre existing thoughts and desires resulting ia shadow self, which is subject to ignorance, duality and illusion (maya) that veils the true Self and lets the ego-sense take charge of the mind and body and act as if it is the real Self.

Ahamakara is not mere self pride or arrogance, except in a very narrow sense. In a wider sense it is the very feeling of separation that makes one feel distinct and different from the rest of the creation and the Creator.

If I am is the ego-sense, I am Iam is the nature of the eternal individual Self. The state of I am Iam denotes absence of separation and duality. The ego experiences objectivity. It relates itself with the external world. Hence it is always in a state of "I am this" or "I am that."

The state of Iam I am is referenced in the old Testament, when God introduced Himself to Moses on the mountain as "I am I am". The state truly describes the nature of Brahman.

The whole universe is permeated with the sense of "I". There is nothing else. It is the one self that appears as many. The feeling of "you" and "I" exists in our limited consciousness.

Brahman Himself has both manifested and unmanifested aspects. In His unmanifested aspect there is not sense of "I" at all. It is neither this nor that. It has not state. In contrast the manifested Brahman has the "I-sense" or the ego-sense. He is therefore also known as Primal Being or the Universal Being. His ego, unlike ours, is infinite and free from bondage and delusion.

The Isa Upanishad proclaims that the whole world is inhabited by Brahman and everything here is Brahman. He is the prime mover of all actions and events that happen in all the world. He is the karta, the Doer.

However, because of our egoism, we accept our individualities and indulge in ownership and doership. As the Bhagavadgita declares, repeated contact between the senses and the sense-objects results in attachment and from attachment arise delusion, ignorance, anger and other evils.

We then indulge in desire-ridden actions and assume ownership them. This identification of our actions and our seeking with our egos results in our bondage to the earthly life and the cycle of births and deaths.

The Bhagavadgita also suggests that egoism is the feeling of separateness, which creates the sense of duality or the idea of being distinct and different from others. It is the false perception of the self that exists in all of us as individual consciousness. The scripture is essentially a conversation between the individual Self and the Supreme Self at one level or between the ego-self and the Individual Self at another.

Arjuna stands symbolically for the ego consciousness. His suffering is because of his limited knowledge, his sense of separateness, his identification of himself with his body, his belief that he is the doer of his actions and his anxiety about the results of his actions. Lord Krishna represents individual Self or the Supreme Self.

The ego is a part of the eight fold division of lower Divine nature, which is made up of the five elements, the ego, the mind and reason (Bhagavadgita. 7.4&5). Egoism is part of mind body awareness, also called the kshetra or field in the Bhagavadgita (3.5), while egolessness is part of the knower of the field or the pure consciousness (13.8&9).

The ego is responsible for our thinking that we are the doers of our actions and responsible for them. It acts under the influence of desires. In the process it binds the beings to the mortal world. According to the Bhagavadgita (3.27) all actions are performed by the gunas (inherent in the being), but an egoistic ignorant person believes that he is the doer.

An egoistic person suffers from the consequences of his own egoistic actions. Drawn to his attachments, he is caught helplessly in the ocean of life, from which escape seems very difficult. A being under the influece of gunas is born in suffering and dies in suffering, not knowing what cause his suffering or how to escape from it.

Escape from this mortal existence is possible only when a person overcomes his delusion and egoistic thinking and leads a divine centered life, practising yoga. Of the various forms of yoga, karma yoga or the yoga of action is the first step. Actions should be performed with detachment, as an offering and obligatory duty, and without seeking the fruit of such actions.

As the Bhagavadgita (5.7) declares, the qualified karma yogi, who is pure in his heart, who has controlled his mind and his senses overcomes his egoistic thinking and limited vision. He sees his self in all living beings and remains free even though engaged in action.

Depending upon how we approach about it, the ego or the lower self , can be either a help or an impediment to us in our spiritual endeavor. The self alone is the friend of the self and the self alone is the enemy of the self (6.5). The self is a friend of him who has conquered it and an enemy who has not (6.6).

Conquest of the self is therefore very important for peace of mind and union with God. He who conquers his self is in the company of the Supreme. He remains stable and serene in cold or heat, sorrow or happiness, respect or disrespect (6.7). Giving up all desires, without the awareness of any need, sense of ownership and egoism, he attains peace (2.71)p>

AnAnd when he reaches this state he develops proper understanding and attains a state of egolessness. He is freed from all desires and attachment. He engages himself in desireless actions without struggling and striving. He believes that he does nothing while seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting, walking, sleeping and breathing. (5.8).

He becomes completely absorbed in God, having surrendered to Him unconditionally, offering to Him his Self, his life and actions, and merging his individual identity fully in Him. With his ego thus gone, he becomes united with the Universal Consciousness and develops the unified vision through which he sees the Self in all and all in the Self (6.29). He finds God everywhere and worships Him as the Inhabitant of all beings (6.31).

We know from experience that egoism is what makes feel worried, anxious, disturbed, selfish and self-centered. Because of egoism we seek things, compete with others, try to amass wealth in excess of our needs and draw a distinction between ourselves and others.

It is very difficult to overcome egoism and develop a sense of selflessness (nirahamkaram). We cannot related ourselves mentally with others and with others without a center of individuality. Yet, liberation is our goal, we have to deal with our ego and overcome our egoistic attitude. It is the only means by which we can break the walls of separation that exists between us and the rest of creation and experience universality and oneness.

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