Isn’t it a curious, the way so many people boast of their accomplishments – when nobody likes a boaster? The phenomenon is self-contradictory: How to explain it? Do people merely dislike having their own egos “crowded to the wall”? Surely it is more than that. Sensitive people, especially, can’t help sensing that there is something wrong about emphasizing one’s own ego at the expense of other people’s.
Their displeasure is motivated only partly by self-interest. There is an intuitive understanding that the ego, itself, is unworthy of unseemly promotion. People are wiser than they know. Most understand intuitively that they are more than they seem. They feel a certain greatness within them that is not defined by their humanity.
The secret of a happy life
Paramhansa Yogananda described our apparent individuality with the illustration of countless tiny slivers of glass, each of us being one sliver. The light reflected from the sun of Spirit seems, in every sliver, individual. It is only a reflection, however, of the one sun. Every sliver of glass, considered individually, seems distinct and separate. What makes the sliver attractive in our eyes is the light reflected in it. The more we manifest the spiritual light from within, the more we lose our egoic individuality and the more a deeper sense of who we really are begins to manifest.
Certain realities are universal. All of us must, for example, cooperate with cosmic law; we cannot safely ignore it. Anything that will help to expand our consciousness, rather than narrow it in egoic self-importance, will bring us the happiness and fulfillment that we all crave. Anything, on the other hand, that shrinks our awareness into a narrower identity squeezes inward upon our happiness, deprives us of lasting fulfillment, and increases our suffering. In other words, the secret of a happy life is a minimum of self-preoccupation.
Self-esteem vs. self-respect
It is quite normal for businessmen and for anyone striving for success in life to feel a need for self-esteem. Low self-esteem is an obstacle to success. If however, a person wants true happiness, it is also necessary for him to eliminate any relish in his self-importance.
I suggest that the modern-day emphasis on self-esteem be changed. Self-respect, surely would be a better concept; it is less susceptible to misunderstanding. The problem with self-esteem is that it blocks creativity. The highest kind of creativity flows down to us from the superconscious. In that context, high or low self-esteem are no different from each other: both of them arise from excessive ego-consciousness.
When I was nine or ten years old, living in Bucharest, Romania, I made the trip from Teleajen to Bucharest by car with a few American businessmen. Their very voices conveyed vibrations of self-importance. Mere child that I was, and certainly only that in their eyes, I was more or less ignored. The car windows were tightly closed. The men puffed on cigars the whole way. As for me, I suffered in silence. At last the air was so suffocating I could bear it no longer. In desperation I rolled down my window and leaned out, gasping for air.
“Shut the window, son,” said the man seated beside me. “You’ll catch cold.” I wonder now, in retrospect, if he didn’t treat everyone under him at the office with a similar lack of concern. That ride lingers in memory even today, seventy years later, as one of the worst experiences of my life.
The difference between ego and arrogance
Most people equate the word ego with arrogance. It is important to know that those two words, arrogance and ego, have very different meanings. Arrogance means to have a superior opinion of oneself. Ego-consciousness does not, in itself, mean arrogance, which is perhaps the ego’s least attractive manifestation. Because many prominent people are deliberately arrogant, however, let us first consider this aspect of ego-consciousness in particular.
Many people desire to seem important in the eyes of others. It pleases them to be able to look down aloofly on their fellow creatures, and to treat them slightingly. Those who have this tendency focus on “things” more than people. Those “things” include their own position in the world. Snobs enjoy anything that feeds their sense of self-importance. People whose focus is especially on themselves often seek self-justification for any weakness by saying, “After all, I am only human.” The true answer to that statement is, “No. You are not yet human!”
Never excuse yourself with the words, “I’m only human.” Failings that are common to the human herd do not belong to man’s higher, divine nature. As the adi (first) Swami Shankara said, “It is very hard to reach the human level of evolution. Don’t pass over that great blessing!”
The delusion of self-importance
If you balk at the idea of ego-transcendence, I have no choice but defer to your free will. In this case, indeed, I must tell you, “Go right ahead! Become quite as self-important as you desire. Seek name, fame, a surfeit of riches, and overweening power – if those baubles still attract you. They attract most human beings. Seek those satisfactions, therefore, until you grow sick of them – as you certainly will do, someday!”
A young man living among the gangs of New York City told a woman I later met in California, “It gives me a real feeling of power to carry a gun when I walk the streets of New York. I know, then, that nobody can mess with me.”
The daughter of a prominent businessman went to Vassar College and came back – in her own eyes – a queen. At a party I attended she made a show of pulling elbow-length velvet gloves from her arm, lingering impressively on the movement until she’d released all her fingers.
A man who was on the board of directors of my father’s company boasted so extensively about his oil findings that an associate once said to him humorously, “Why, M___, you must be just about the greatest geologist in the world.”
“Oh, no,” the other replied with hastily assumed modesty. “In oil, maybe.”
People don’t realize the extent to which self-importance invites gentle mockery, and doesn’t by any means attract awe or respect. The soul intuits a divine greatness which the ego rejects in its search for merely competitive self-importance.
Egoic self-importance always disappoints
The essence of yoga principles is to emphasize the need for transcendence over the ego in oneness with Infinite Truth. If people want egoic self-importance; if they want power over others; if they hunger for name and fame; if they hope to radiate self-esteem: and if they like to manipulate others – they might do well to study Nicolo Machiavelli’s classic book of self-help, Il Principe. It has, I understand, been well received. Hitler kept a copy of it on his night table. Napoleon had a copy, discovered in his carriage after the Battle of Waterloo. The only trouble with the principles Machiavelli taught, and with the delusions I’ve briefly described here, is that they never fail to disappoint their adherents in the end.
If, on the other hand, you equate success with happiness for yourself and others, and not with the ability to exert power over anyone, then know that self-importance, power over others, and a desire to manipulate are delusive – dreams that are eventually succeeded by a rude awakening. The awakening may take time, owing to what my Guru called “the thwarting crosscurrents of ego.” When retribution comes, however, it is no longer awaits us in some distant future: It is very much right here and now – this very minute.
The nature of duality provides for everything a compensating opposite. Power and self-importance are balanced out, in time, by nullifying impotence and disgrace.
Happiness comes through self-expansion
Where your own work is concerned, remember that Maya (delusion) will always try to trick you into seeking self-gratification by ego-affirming means. In the process, Maya will carefully avoid the only thing that will ever really work for you: offering yourself into a greater reality. The way to defeat every Maya’s ego-narrowing argument is to remind yourself constantly that happiness and fulfillment come through self-expansion – a kind of expansion that is unattainable by the ego, but that comes inevitably to one who achieves release from the ego.
A final objection to overcoming ego-consciousness is the natural thought, “I don’t want to cease to exist! If cessation of my own individual consciousness is the goal of yoga, I consider that no fulfillment at all.”
Paramhansa Yogananda explained a final and supremely inspiring point in the debate between the advantages and disadvantages of ego-consciousness: “The ego, he said, is never destroyed. The only thing destroyed is attachment to ego-limitation!”
What happens, he explained, is that once the soul achieves Self-realization, it discovers that God alone was, in fact, the only Actor of very role the ego ever played. In the divine omniscience, once it is attained, there remains the memory of all one’s prior, individual existences. In cosmic memory, then, your own ego itself will continue to exist forever. You will be able to re-manifest yourself whenever the need arises – if ever, for example, someone prays for your blessings. In such cases, it is not that the Infinite Consciousness recreates something resembling you: It will be you, yourself, re-manifesting that very ego with which your being was once identified.
Ten Ways to Expand Your Consciousness
There are a number of practical ways of expanding your consciousness even while living and working in this body. These methods can be practiced anywhere. I offer a few such ways here:
1. Share with others the credit for any success you receive. Resist the temptation to call attention to any part you played in that success.
2. Try not to defend yourself against people’s accusations. Accept them silently and with good cheer. The ability to bear the negative opinions of others will lead to a growing freedom and happiness within.
3. Don’t meet praise with denial. Instead say words to this effect: “God alone is the Doer. I appreciate what you’ve said, but the credit really belongs to Him.”
4. Don’t point out to others their flaw of ego-centeredness. Remember than non-judgment will help release you from ego-involvement.
5. Laugh with people, never at them.
6. People often try to manipulate others, or the circumstances around them. Live, rather, by the principle, “What comes of itself, let it come.” You will find that, if you can reject completely the tendency to manipulate others, things will somehow flow well and smoothly for you.
7. Don’t hesitate to say “I can,” if you think you might succeed at some task. It is no sign of humility to tell others, “I can’t do that.” Remember: God, through you, can do anything!
8. When circumstances prove you to have been right in some matter, never announce smugly, “I said so, didn’t I?”
9. Be truthful, sincere, and ever kind.
10. Give to God everything you do, even if the profits of that action accrue to you personally. In this practice lies the secret of Nishkam karma – action without desire for the fruits of action. This practice leads to liberation and perfect fulfillment.
Excerpted from: Material Success through Yoga Principles, by Swami Kriyananda, Lesson 26, “The Right Use of Ego.” Crystal Clarity Publishers.