Of Ego and Will

Many people believe they need a strong ego to live a successful life and to progress in their spiritual pursuits. This is not true. We cannot be successful in either the external or internal world while we are tossed about by a powerful ego. What success in both realms does require is a strong will.

The difference between ego and will is that the ego is blind but the will has vision. Will has its source in the pure Self. Ego springs from avidya, a false sense of identification with the external world, and is usually concerned with preserving self-image and self-identity. Ego is characterised by stubbornness, selfishness and unwillingness to compromise.

The ego is like a little pool. An egotistical person is like a frog crouching in that pool – his world is small, his borders insecure. He has only a vague awareness of the trees around the pool, and he cannot begin to imagine the frog-filled marshes just beyond. From his perspective, only his own feelings and his own voice are meaningful.

The power of will, by contrast, is like a spring whose source is the Pure Being. It infuses the mind and body with enthusiasm, courage, curiosity and the energy to act. This intrinsic power of the soul is called iccha shakti,and it is from this force that all the various aspects of our personality, including the ego, derive energy to carry out their activities.

Becoming successful in the world requires a strong will, and that strong will needs to be properly guided so we develop a strong
personality rather than a trivial, egotistical one. A strong personality exhibits tolerance and endurance. It has the power to ‘vanquish’ an opponent, but chooses to forgive and forget instead. When egotistical, on the other hand, we demonstrate our weakness by answering a pebble with a cannon. We lose composure the moment our feelings are even slightly bruised. We have a hard time forgetting injuries we have received from others, but an even harder time remembering how much we have injured others.

A strong ego is as much of an obstacle in spiritual practice as it is in worldly matters. The stronger the ego, the bigger the hurdle it will create. However, the solution is not to kill or weaken the ego but to do our best to purify, transform and guide it properly. We can do this by employing both our intelligence and our power of discrimination. In other words, when we meditate, practise contemplation, pray, study the scriptures, serve others and seek the company of the wise we make our ego purer and less confined, and this in turn inspires us to move one step forward. As we do, the purified ego, accompanied by a sharpened intellect, gets a glimpse of the next level of awareness, and naturally aspires to reach it. Thus the ego becomes the tool for purifying and expanding itself, and in this way the petty ego is gradually transformed into an expanded, more purified ego.

Along the way it becomes increasingly apparent that this transformation must end with the ego dissolving and becoming one with the pure Self and experiencing its union with Universal Consciousness. As the ego of a dedicated seeker merges with the Infinite, all confusion disappears, the veil of duality lifts, and the purified ego sees the whole universe in itself and itself in the whole universe.


Pandit Rajmani Tigunait


Interesting article appeared in Times Of India, Speaking Tree.

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