The Ego Is Both Foe and Friend


Why do people never shed their ego? Throughout my life, I have seen many things which had a great start, but unfortunately due to someone’s EGO it didn’t last for long. Why do people put their ego first and compromise their relationships? Does Karma comes into play here?

—Santhosh, India


Dear Santhosh,

In Paramhansa Yogananda’s commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, he said that the many characters of the Mahabharata represent different facets of everyone’s being. Bhisma represents the ego. Bhisma fights on the side of darkness against the Pandavas, yet he is deeply respected by everyone on both sides of the war.

Thus symbolizing that the ego is both our friend and our foe. Yogananda defined the ego as the soul identified with the body. In this sense it is our foe. Our narrow sense of identity with the material body, and thus the material world, is what drives us to search for satisfaction and pleasure in the material world. We try to find ultimate happiness in wealth, recognition, sensory experiences — often at the expense of other people, and at the expense of other people’s success and well being.

But paradoxically, the ego is also our friend. For without the ego we can’t move forward toward liberation. It is our ego that provides the motive force to get out of the suffering caused by — yes — the ego’s identification with the body.

In the great school we call life, death, and reincarnation, we all experiment with finding happiness through the material world until, after many disappointments and painful experiences, we — in our egos — realize that our soul qualities, not our physical qualities, are the only source of lasting happiness.

It is hard to dispassionately watch others learn their lessons in the great school — especially if we figure as the victim in their lesson! But try to remember that it is a school and that we, along with everyone else, are learning our own lessons which will ultimately inspire the ego to release the soul from limitation and achieve soul-liberation — self-realization.

With warm regards,
Puru (Joseph) Selbie