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Is Ego Really Bad? PDF Print E-mail
Gita - Gita Articles

Before we go on further with the next set of shlokas, it is essential to understand certain basic facts. We know that Gita is conversation between Krishna and Arjuna (Krishnaarjunsamvad). This point has been highlighted at the end of each chapter of the Bhagvadgita. We need to explore this further. Is it a conversation like a student has with another student or is it a conversation between two prominent surgeons or two eminent professors? Who is talking to whom? What is the stature of these two individuals? That will give us some idea as to what was important for Arjuna.

But before we get into the question of stature of Arjuna and Krishna further we need to know some basics of ego. Is ego necessarily bad? Why do we always talk about dropping ego? Why do we emphasize Tyag (renunciation) so much? I have so far resisted from getting into this topic, but it will be difficult to understand the next set of Shlokas and the rest of Gita without first looking into this important point of ego. The reason I resisted so far is because there is inherent danger in misinterpretation in what I have to say. The words have limitations, and I have my limitations in the use of my vocabulary. If I say that it is essential to develop ego to be able to drop it, someone can tell his father that I am in the stage of developing my ego. What is wrong with that? I will drop it one day when I am ready. In fact to be able to drop something you should first have it. It is true but smart people can definitely get a meaning that suits them. If I say that your ego is bad and you should drop iteven before you develop it then you do not progress much in this world. Indifference may arise and then you have to pay the price of Indifference. So let me start this column with a prayer of a Rishi in the Kaivalya Upanishad. This is the first shloka of the Kaivalya Upanishad:


May the different limb of my body-my voice,
My nose, my eyes, my ears, and my strength,
And also all the other sense organs be nourished,
And become intelligent (Kavailya Upanishad)

The rishi (Saint) starts the Upanishad with fairly mundane aspects of life. He asks his senses to be strong, he is asking for nourishment of his senses and he asks for his senses to be intelligent. These are in so much contrast to what we ask for and teach. When we go on a spiritual journey we start with giving up, we talk about how ego and desires need to be dropped.

What is in a name? We are all born without any identity. A name is given to us and we grow up with and around that name. Eventually that name becomes our identity. We leave home and start going to school. The comfort of home is lost, a new set of friends develop in the early school. A bond starts developing with peers that are outside of our home. Then there is the high school and then the college and so on. In the process there may be relocation to different places, which is related to movements of the parents. I spent a year in class 8 in Bangalore in India away from my home Ara in Bihar. One year later we moved. I had so much attachment developed with that city and some of the colleagues there. For many years I used to imagine and dream that one-day I will meet those friends somewhere in Timbuktu and have a good time. I still cherish those moments and memories. My parents did not even know what was going on with me. They had their own agenda and aspirations to take care of. It is important to realize that all these years as you move on from home to school to high school to college, something has been being dropped. When you go to high school you drop the primary school, when you go to college, the high school is dropped. If you never left home there is nothing to drop.

Let us try to take it one step further. You are out of College and are working in real life. Now you are applying the knowledge you gained from the school and college in real life. You are gaining experience. The college has been dropped now. You may still read but by and large this is your past time or reference reading. The books have been dropped too. That does not mean that the schools, colleges and the books have lost their meaning. They should not be thrown in trash. They are still valuable and they still have a role. They are not trash; they are not bad.

I went to Patna Medical School and did my MBBS after which I stayed there and finished Masters of Surgery (M.S). Then I came to England. I had developed quite a bit of ego of being not only a doctor but a surgeon too. I knew the core books of surgery and was pretty proud of myself. One day I was assisting a consultant surgeon and I kind of pointed out to him that the surgical test book says differently than what he was doing. I felt that the surgeon, Mr. Gibbins (In England once you do FRCS and become a surgeon, you are called Mr.) would explain to me why he was doing it differently. I also expected some appreciation of my knowledge of the books. Instead I was shocked with his reply. He paused for a moment, looked at me and simply said, “Dr. Bhatta, I stopped reading text books 20 years ago.” I do not know if he meant it or not, but there is a time you have to drop you attachment to books. The surgical textbook is still important, but not in the same way as it is for a medical student. This needs some close examination. We need to understand the source of these books. The sources of these textbooks are surgeons. You cannot create anything new if you are not prepared to drop your attachment with these books. You need to have them, you need to read them, but you do not need to be enslaved by them. A tyag is needed to stop being dependent on these books. Then a new can flow out of you. Inventions are then possible. You then become the source for these books.

So far so good. It is easy to understand tyag or dropping or letting go of your school to go to college and you can also understand dropping of the books to become the source. It gets a little harder when you start talking about dropping of scriptures. You can imagine what will be the reaction be if you ask a Christian to drop Bible, or ask a Moslem to drop Koran or ask a Sikh to drop the Granth Saheb or ask a Hindu to drop the Vedas. The attachment here is not only of the individual but there is a group attachment as well. The attachment goes still deeper and also transcends the time-space of an individual. The roots are quite deep. How can you drop these deep roots?

We come back to Arjuna and Krishna. Arjuna is conversing with Krishna. He has been to school, college and has graduated from the highest possible school of education of his times. He has read the Vedas, has achieved the heights of archery and is a lion heart of his times. He is at the pinnacle of his fame. He is talking to Krishna who is a long time friend and buddy. Krishna is equally qualified and more. Arjuna respects his friend Krishna but does not really know the extent of this ‘more.’

What is this ‘more?’ Krishna is manifest as a person with a human face and a human body. But, he represents the cosmos. He is the whole Ocean contained inside a drop. The drop may appear to have boundaries and limitations, but in Krishna’s case it is vaster than the Ocean. This is what I would call the Krishnafield Krishna is unique. There is a qualitative difference between Krishna and others. This is important to realize. Einstein was a great scientist. He was genius. His contribution was tremendous. Yet the difference between a regular physicist and an Einstein is quantitative. It can be measured. The thought patterns are essentially the same. The brain may have certain parts more developed. In fact, recently I happened to see the difference in the brain of Einstein and a regular scientist. Certain parts of the brain near the temporal lobe in Einstein’s case were larger and more developed. In case of Krishna or Buddha it is not merely a difference of size but of the entire vision. They have a totally different vision, a holistic vision of perfect clarity, and a vision from the state of no mind.

Arjuna starts by showing off his knowledge. His ego is quite refined and subtle. Arjuna is willing to die rather than kill. And he is waiting for Krishna to agree with him. How can Krishna not agree with his arguments, which are rooted in the Sahshtras and high moral standards? Arjuna must have been shocked with the reply of Krishna (2:1-2:2 last column). He is in for more shock in the coming shlokas.

The Vedas have a source too. We believe they came directly from the Parmatma. The problem arises when Parmatma is right in front of you in the form of Krishna. Krishna is sooner or later going to tell Arjuna to drop his knowledge, including the knowledge of the shashtras like those of Vedas. That will not mean that those books are useless, it simply means that when you reach the source, you do not need the books. Any book has limitations; the limitations are not of the book, but that of written or spoken words. Certain experiences cannot be expressed through medium of words, you have to experience it, and for that the attachments of the books or scriptures have to be dropped.

It gets more interesting and intriguing. We talked about attachments to books. Let us talk about attachment to beings. It is easy to understand when a child drops playing with toys as he grows up. They (the toys) are not alive to the child any more. He knows that they are just toys. As we grow up and move we drop our old friends and folks. Some of them are far away and some of them are dead. The attachments linger and the memories survive. And if you meet them 20 years later, every thing comes alive. It is another matter if you have to fight then in an election. You can deal with that but what Arjuna is facing in the war of Mahabharata is chilling. He has to fight them and possibly kill them. These are his Gurus, his friends and his relatives. We will analyze it further later. But, I would like to mention here that the closer the attachment, the intense the situation the harder it becomes for us to understand Tyag (dropping or letting go).

It is important to realize that there is need to develop the ego before you can decide to drop it. You need a name for identity. You need to get contemporary education and be the best you can be. Then you can talk about dropping your ego to go further in your life. Tyag (dropping) usually happens it is not an active process. When you go to College you do not drop School, the school drops and you move on. Ego can become subtle and there is need to realize it. Arjuna’s problem is not so much how he will kill his Gurus but more so with the fact that how can Arjuna who is so nice think of killing his Guru. Krishna is going to deal with all this later in the Bhagvadgita.

We have the custom of Durga puja and Saraswati puja in our country. We make these beautiful murthis (statues), decorate them and worship them with develop so much attachment to them over a course of few days. And then, we immerse them in water and move on. Ego and attachment development is part of our lives, dropping happens when you want to go further. The last thing to drop is of course your attachment to yourself. Even the desire to go further has to be dropped. Once you drop this, the forces of Grace and here the forces of Krishna start working on you and you are lifted up.

When a Dr. Rao or Mr. Patel (computer engineer) leave his home in India and goes to the U.K. or USA, we feel he is going to a place. We do not see him leaving home, he is not a Tyagi; he is not renouncing anything. What he is going for is in our grasp. He will become a famous doctor or will become a famous company owner. We can still be proud of his achievements, achievements we can measure with our criterion. When a Gautam Siddhartha leaves his palace and goes in search of truth we see what he is leaving. We can see what he is leaving because we can measure that with our measuring tools and standards. We cannot see what he is going for. We definitely do not see what he achieved; when he attains Buddhahood there is nothing to show for in our eyes. But, for him he lost nothing and gained everything. Tyag is obvious to us; what Buddha obtains is not.

Let me end this column with another shloka from the Upanishad:

Shrotrasya shrotram manaso mano yad
Vaacham sa uu pranasya pranah
Chakshushashchakshuratimuchya dheegah
Pretyasmaallokaadamritaa bhavanti

It is the Ear of the ear, the Mind of the mind,
The tongue of the tongue, and also Life of life
And Eye of the eye.

Having abandoned the sense of Self or ‘I-ness in these
And rising above sense life,
The Wise becomes immortal (Talvakaropanishada)

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