An oft repeated spiritual advice is to negate and efface the 'self'. However, I possess very vague notions about this concept and in my view mostly fail to do so. Please help me with the nature of 'self' and how to starve this feeling of 'self' to work for good of all and in the service of good and God? While I understand that 'self' constitutes our desires, vested interests that always raise their hood even through noblest of our acts, but how to be ever conscious of it interfering in our work?

—Anonymous, India


Dear Friend,

The ego gets a lot of “brickbats” in spiritual circles but the truth is we need the ego as a stepping stone to the soul. Even an avatar needs an ego to function in a specific human body. There are two aspects to ego transcendence: one negative; the other positive. In today’s culture and consciousness, the positive is easier to relate to than the negative. In the many centuries from which we have come, the emphasis was on “killing” the ego: the negative path. Both are necessary to a degree but the positive is more useful at this time. Let me explain a bit more.

Positive: Ego Expansion. Paramhansa Yogananda defined the ego as the “soul (to the extent) identified with the body (and personality).” If we think of the needs of others; if we develop our love and devotion to God (in any form we hold dear, whether guru, avatar, or deity); if we serve without thought of self; if we do that which is ethical, moral and ours to rightly do; if we meditate deeply and offer ourselves in Self-expansion into the Light of God…….then we expand the sense of “self” from the little self of the body and personality to the great Self of All. This is the way of expansion.

Negative: Ego Dissolution. If we discipline our thoughts and words away from self-referencing and ego affirmation; if we discipline the senses through control of food greed, re-direction of lustful thoughts and actions, release of anger, and away from pride or judgment, then we starve the ego self and subconscious mind from controlling our behaviour and destroying our inner happiness and equanimity. If we remain (mostly) inwardly focused; mindful of our thoughts and words; humble; calmly controlled; even-minded and cheerful under all circumstances. Such ways are the way of negation of the little self.

Each has its place in our life but the positive way awakens energy and enthusiasm while the negative way can too easily lead to suppression.

A more subtle approach combines the two ways so that we re-direct negative impulses into positive directions. Some examples: If we have a tendency to seek ego approval, re-direct that into inner Divine approval. If we have need for material security, learn to be generous and serve the divine work of God and our fellow beings. If we have a need for human love, see God in the one we love. If we desire things, then obtain things to give to others.

And when we slip or temporarily fail, give our failure to God with love and get up again to try our best. When we succumb to temptation, keep a part of your mind apart from the act or thoughts as if watching and saying “God is the Doer.”

God watches the heart and doesn’t mind our errors, for God seeks only our love. Develop therefore love for God and if that is lacking, pray to God to experience God’s love so you can seek it ever more deeply!

May the peace of God fill your heart!
Nayaswami Hriman
Seattle WA USA