Egoism and Ignorance: Why the Ego is An Obstacle to Spiritual Growth

overcoming egoism

Egoism is a problem. You don’t have to be a yogi to know this. The small self—which egoism inflates—always competes for attention, recognition, and accomplishment. Why is this a problem? If you’re focusing on human life, it’s not. If you’re focusing on spiritual growth and enlightenment, egoism is a great obstacle.

Reverend Jaganath Carrera describes egoism as “the first born of ignorance.” In his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali offers yoga as a practice for finding out who we truly are. To yogis, the ego we believe ourselves to be—the small self—is not who we are.

So why this case of mistaken identity?

Swami Satchidinanda tells us “the self will always be falsely represented by the ego until our ignorance is removed.” Our bodies and minds change as we age. Our experiences affect our lives in the world. We may be rich or poor, accomplished or simple, surrounded by loved ones or alone. None of this is our true self.

Beyond Egoism: The True Self is Unchanging

As we’ve seen in the Yoga Sutras, only the unchanging is true. Think about your own life. Can you sense a “you” that’s separate from your body and mind? Who would you be without your pain, without your story, without your drama?

If you can identify that being, even for a moment, you’ve seen your true self. Identifying with truth is the goal of yoga.

Clinging to pleasurable experiences or even to life is egoism. Distaste for pain is egoism as well. When we can exist in a more neutral place, a place where we enjoy life without clinging to it, we come closer to enlightenment. When we can experience pain without judgment or suffering—that is, when we can accept it but not identify with it—we also move closer to enlightenment.

Fear of Not Being

As human beings, most of us are terrified of not being. While this almost sounds funny, the reality is that terror causes a lot of suffering for most of us. We may engage in unethical behavior to get ahead, for example. Or we may go to extremes to appear younger than we are. We compare ourselves to others, believing their existence is more valid if they have more, look better, or have more prestigious titles.

Eventually, we fear death, the ultimate annihilation of the ego. Fear of annihilation can be so paralyzing that we waste many years on this earth in misery and suffering.

Fear is the Opposite of Love

Have you ever noticed you tend to be happier when you stop thinking about yourself and focus on others? Or what if you participate in a project without worrying about who gets credit for what? In short, what if you act more from love and less from fear? What happens? Your ego gets smaller.

Overcoming egoism in this way is great practice for enlightenment. If you’re a yogi and you want more tools for conquering egoism, Patanjali suggests meditation. With yoga and meditation, we can create a lifestyle at odds with egoism. And that will lead us to the light.

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Maria Kuzmiak

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