Ego, Difference Between The Ego And The Self

This Chapter is taken From The Book ”Guru Ramana – Memories and Notes” by S.S.Cohen

17th February, 1937

1. Mrs. D. Jinarajadasa, wife of the late President of the Theosophical Society and resident of Adyar, Madras, wanted to go to the root of the human ego, which is the cause of so much discord between nations, families and individuals.

Mrs. J. What is the difference between the ego and the Self? Bh. That which comes and goes, rises and sets, is born and dies is the ego. That which always abides, never changes and is devoid of qualities is the Self.

Mrs. J. Can I say that God is the Flame and we are the sparks? Bh. Although the sparks rise from the flame, they fall away from it into space, whereas we are never outside God.

Mrs. J. But is there a God apart from ourselves? Naturally there must be a creator to this universe.

Bh. If by “ourselves” you mean your body, then there is a creator, but if you mean the pure Self, then there is nothing but It. If you objectify and see a universe, then you are bound to see many things beside yourself and postulate a God, the creator. Body, God and world rise and set together from, and into, the Self. If God is apart from the Self, then He would be Self-less, that is, outside existence, that is, non-existent.

Mrs. J. I suppose one has to sublimate the ego-self into the true Self.

Bh. The ego-self does not exist at all.

Mrs. J. Then why does it give so much trouble? Look at the havoc it has created among nations and people. It is dreadful even to oneself.

Bh. To whom is the trouble? The trouble also is imagined.

Pain and pleasure are to the ego, which is itself imagined. When the ego disappears through constant enquiry into its nature, the illusion of pleasure and pain also disappears, and the Self, their source, alone remains. There is neither ego nor ignorance in Reality.

Mrs. J. But how did the ego arise?

Bh. Ego is non-existent, otherwise you would be two instead of one – you the ego and you the Self. You are a single, indivisible whole. Enquire into yourself, and the apparent ego and ignorance will disappear.

Mrs. J. Why then do we need to concentrate?

Bh. Concentration, meditation and all spiritual practices are not performed with the object of realising the Self, because the Self is ever-present, but of realising the non-existence of ignorance. Every man admits his own existence and does not need a mirror to prove it to him. Existence is awareness, which is the negation of ignorance. Then why does a man suffer? Because he imagines himself other than what he in reality is, e.g., the body, this, that, and the other – “I am Gopal, son of Parashuram, father of Natesan,” etc. In reality he is the intelligent “I-am” alone, stripped of qualities and superimpositions, of names and forms. Does he see his body and all these qualities, shapes and colours in dreamless sleep? Yet he does not deny that he is then himself existing even without a body. He must hold on to that existence, that lone being - Kaivalya -even when he is in the waking state. The man of wisdom simply is. “I-Am-That-I-Am” sums up the whole Truth. The method is summed up by “Be still and know that I am God.” What does stillness mean? Cessation of thinking, which is the universe of forms, colours, qualities, time, space, all concepts and precepts whatever.

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A visitor asked “If the ego or ‘I’ be an illusion who then casts off the illusion?”

Bh. The ‘I’ casts off the illusion of ‘I’ and yet remains as ‘I’. This appears to be a paradox to you: it is not so to the Jnani. Take the case of the bhakta. His ‘I’ prays to the Lord to unite it with Him, which is its surrender. What remains as residuum after this surrender, is the eternal ‘I’, which is God the Absolute, Paramatman Himself. What has happened to the ‘I’, which originally prayed? Being unreal, it simply vanished.

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18th November, 1936

2. Visitor. Sushupti is so peaceful that one would love to stay as long as possible in it, but cannot, why?

Bh. We are ever in sushupti. Becoming aware of it in jagrat is samadhi. The ajnani cannot remain long in sushupti because his ego pushes him out of it. The Jnani, although he has scotched the ego, it continues to rise again and again due to prarabdha. So, for both the Jnani and the ajnani the ego springs up, but with this difference: whereas the Jnani’s enjoys the transcendental perience, keeping its lakshya (aim, attention) always fixed on its source, that of the ajnani is completely ignorant of it.

The former is not harmful, being a mere skeleton of its normal self, like a burnt up rope. By constantly fixing its attention on the Source, the Heart, the ego gets dissolved into it like a salt doll which has fallen into the ocean.

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14th March, 1943

3. Professor M. Venkataramiah (later Swami Ramananda Saraswati) asked whether the light which gives the “Aham” – ‘I’-sense – identity and knowledge (of the world) is ignorance or chit (Pure Consciousness). Sri Bhagavan replied:-

Bh. It is only the reflected light of chit that makes the ‘I’ believe itself different from others and create the objects. For reflection there must be a surface on which the reflection takes place.

Ella Maillart. What is that surface?

Bh. On realisation of the Self you will find that the reflection and the surface on which it takes place do not actually exist, but that both of them are one and the same chit. There is the world, which requires location for its existence and light to make it perceptible. Both rise simultaneously. Therefore physical existence and perception depend upon the light of the mind which is reflected from the Self. Just as cinematographic pictures can be made visible by a reflected light, and only in darkness, so also the world pictures are perceptible only by the light of the Self reflected in the darkness of avidya (ignorance). The world can be seen neither in the utter darkness of ignorance, as in deep sleep, nor in the utter light of the Self, as in Self-realisation or samadhi.