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Monday, January 27, 2020

The Dichotomy of the Ego Function of the Mind

 By Abhijeet Kislay

As per the small booklet “The MIND and its control” by Swami Budhananda, the mind in its functional aspect has four faculties:
1.  Manas is that modification of the internal instrument (antahkarana) which considers the pros and cons of a subject. 
2.  Buddhi is that modification of the internal instrument which determines. 
3.  Citta is that modification of the internal instrument which remembers. 
4.  Ahamkara is that modification of the inner instrument which is characterized by self-consciousness.
The Ahamkara (translated as Ego in English) is the function of the mind which tries to appropriate actions done by various parts of the body-mind to a central Identity (the small self). This function of the mind, as such, is not a bad thing. It is because of this function that we can as a unified single perform actions in the world.

A simple example would be:
While working say in the office, we don’t say that, “Oh it is my hand that is typing the document and it is my eyes that is reviewing the email.” Rather, we say that I typed the document and I reviewed the email.

So, we see that, as such, the job of Ego-function is to help us carry out our duties in the world in a sane way.

However, we also see that this function of the mind specifically can be a strong detractor in moving forward with our spiritual practices. Now that we have been told that we are not the body-mind complex, and we want to realize this as a truth for ourselves. Here this ego-function can be a terrible thing to overcome to get this insight that one is Atman, and not the body-mind complex.

The reason it is difficult to get beyond this ego-function of the mind is lives and lives of past appropriations of actions to this self which is constrained to the limited body-mind complex. These accumulated samskaras are difficult to overthrow. And this turns out to be our worst enemy for Jnana Yoga to work. 

It is told that one of the ways to consciously weaken this ego function of the mind is selfless action. When a person does something, which goes beyond the duty of that person, the ego-function gets a jolt. For years and years, it has appropriated actions done by the limited body-mind to itself. But suddenly you have thrown it an action which has no visible consequence for your own betterment. It finds it difficult to appropriate this action to itself. And in turn, it weakens this strong grip of self to this small limited body-mind complex. After considerable Karma Yoga, when the strong hold of past actions weakens, this ego-function starts giving room to accommodate others in definition of the self. The self starts expanding!

Hence, a selfless person scientifically is tapping the joy of the expansion of the self. It is thus that we start getting closer to this insight which is well hidden behind this ego-function of the mind. As the ego-function is slowly broken down with conscious Karma Yoga, we get closer and closer to experience the bliss that the Jnana Yoga promises to permeate.

P.S.: The reason to explicitly use the term “ego-function” and not “ego” as a translation of Ahamkara is because “ego” is an overloaded term and can mean a lot of things in the common parlance.

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