„Material culture is all about blowing up the ego, whereas spiritual culture is meant to dissolve and subdue the false ego!“ While I hear these words of wisdom during a talk given by H.G. Devaki Mataji 1, I remember a scene from the movie ` Seven Years in Tibet`. Heinrich Harrer, a famous Austrian mountain climber, wants to show off in front of a beautiful Tibetan lady by showing her newspaper articles about his achievements. She is not at all impressed and makes a very interesting comment: „That's another great difference between our civilization and yours. You admire the man who pushes his way to the top in any walk of life, while we admire the man who abandons his ego!“
This topic of the false ego really deserves more attention. I very much relished the presentation and therefore I like to share here some of the points that I found especially relevant:
The bigger the false ego is, the more difficult it becomes to recognize it. The smaller it is, the easier to understand. We would think that it is the other way around, but in order to realize how we are conditioned by the false ego, some level of purification is needed.
What is this false ego? As we know from Bhagavad Gita, the false ego is part of the subtle body.
„Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego-altogether these eight comprise My separated material energies.“ 2 The false ego, the ahankara, is the most subtle element of the subtle body and it is therefore very difficult to understand.
What does the false ego do? False ego makes us think that we are something we are not! Naturally, we all play different roles in life. It's like wearing different hats. A family man, for example, plays the role of a lover, wearing the hat of the husband. He then plays the role of a caretaker with the hat of the father. At the office, he again wears a different hat playing the role of the boss. That`s quite natural, but the problem arises when we start to identify with the hat instead of just wearing it.
It’s the false ego who makes us think „I am this, I am that“. Why is this identification there? Because we develop some attachment to the subtle ego gratification, especially if the role we identify with gives us recognition. The ego will tell us „yes, you are so special!“
In this way, we identify with so many different roles although we are actually eternal, spiritual souls. In every life, again and again, we take up different identifications. Srila Prabhupada calls it ` nonsensical stage performance`. We perform our role, identify with it and then death comes, the curtain closes, the show is over, we take another birth and the next show begins! This repeated birth and death, repeated identification with something unreal, brings with it so many anxieties. There can`t be peace in such a situation! The more we dissolve the ego, the more peaceful we become.
Therefore Krishna says: „If you become conscious of Me, you will pass over all the obstacles of conditioned life by My grace. If, however, you do not work in such consciousness but act through false ego, not hearing Me, you will be lost.“ 3
In other words, there are two motivating forces: (1) Service - I want to serve Krishna and His devotees, in whatever way needed (2) Ego Ambition - I want to be successful, I want to achieve a certain level of position, etc. Unfortunately, for the conditioned soul, ego motivation is much stronger. The path of success for a materialist is driven by ambition. The devotee on the other hand simply wants to render service. When his desire to serve becomes more and more intense and pure, Krishna, who resides in the heart of everyone, sees his sincerity and opens all the doors of success for this devotee. A devotee is not motivated to act by ambition, but on the order of a higher authority. This is the path that we are meant to take - the path of service!
We, therefore, have to be introspective enough to develop the right motivation: „Let me serve the devotees, let me serve the Lord, that's all I want.“ Because the false ego is so strong and such purity of intention to just serve is not so easily developed, spiritual culture and Vaishnava etiquette are designed in such a way to help us subdue our ego instead of blowing it up in the name of Krishna Consciousness. We will hear more about that in the next blog!
1 - This entire blog is taken from the Seminar `The False Ego - Our Constant Companion and Troublemaker` by H.G. Devaki Mataji, who is just about to write a book on this topic. See also https://www.therootsofspiritualculture.net for more information.
2 - Bhagavad Gita 7.4
3 - Bhagavad Gita 18.58