The ego is a soul attached to a body. [ref]The Promise of Immortality, Swami Kriyananda. Chapter 13, “Imperfection Is of the Ego – Perfection Is of the Soul .”[/ref] The ego divides the world into “mine” and “not mine.” Causative self-awareness. [ref]The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, Swami Kriyananda. Chapter 19, “Knowledge and Wisdom.”[/ref] It is the soul’s identification with the ego that separates it from God. [ref]The Promise of Immortality, Swami Kriyananda. Chapter 13, “Imperfection Is of the Ego – Perfection Is of the Soul .”[/ref]
The Sanskrit word for ego is ahankara.
How is the Soul Different from the Ego?
The soul is our true self, God manifested into an individual form (see soul for more details). As mentioned above, when a soul starts to think that it is a body and personality, it is called the ego. Many religions speak of the afterlife as one where you eternally retain your personality and sense of self separate from God, but in the words of Swami Kriyananda, to the sincere spiritual aspirant little could seem more like hell than to be stuck for all eternity in an ego. That would be true even if the body in which one lives is forever healthy, youthful, and full of energy. [ref]The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, Swami Kriyananda. Chapter 12, “The Nature of Right Action.”[/ref]
The ego is endlessly constricting to the soul, for it insists on identifying itself merely with petty expressions of its infinite potential.[ref]The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, Swami Kriyananda. Chapter 16, “The Supreme Science.”[/ref]
Why Do Souls Become Identified with a Body?
The great masters of the world have been strangely silent on this topic. Sri Yukteswar, the guru of Paramhansa Yogananda, used to tell his eager disciples, when they would ask that question, to leave some mysteries to be answered by the Divine, after one attains Self-realization. In the Vedic scriptures it is said that God made creation in order to “enjoy Himself through many.” [ref]The Path, Swami Kriyananda. Chapter 32, “I Am Spirit.”[/ref] When Swami Kriyananda was asked that question, he said that “it is the nature of joy to share itself.” [ref]Letters from Asha (blog), Nayaswami Asha. “Ask Asha: Fear in Meditation.“[/ref]
In his book Whispers from Eternity, Paramhansa Yogananda says:
When the Invisible, the One, became the many, He condescended to give freedom of choice and power of independent self-evolution to all His creations. So He gave to everything His own power—“to be able to do whatever one may want to do.” Thus, all things went farther and farther away from Him by believing in the cosmic delusion and painstakingly working for it. Yet, all things, by the right use of self-evolving reason, can move ever nearer and nearer to Him until the many again become the One. But the cosmic creation, or nature — being conscious, and having received unlimited independence — wants mostly to move farther away from the Divine Father, or God, thus creating self-imposed suffering from self-made or man-made laws of evil.
Man stands in a position of independence, able to reinforce the misguided or wrong reason in him and so move away from God, or to reinforce God’s emancipating wisdom and help God bring him back to the divine Oneness of infinity, as in the beginning. But God is powerless to help man unless he will voluntarily accept God’s ever-willing help. God can help only those who help themselves. After having once given unlimited personal freedom to man, God cannot become an autocrat and prevent His independent creation from doing evil, for God would contradict Himself should He take away the freedom of man after having once given it to him. [ref]Whispers from Eternity, Paramhansa Yogananda. “Dreams of God.”[/ref]