In yogic philosophy the ego is referred to as the Ahamkara. Ahamkara translates directly as “I”-ness. It is the sense of separateness or individuality that we tend towards once we begin the process of taking physical form. As pervasive as this “I”-ness is, however, it is not real, and it blocks us from experiencing our true nature as consciousness (Purusha).
According to yogic philosophy, Purusha is the universal energy that is also called God, or “Brahman”. This energy flows within me, and is the same as the energy within you, within the tree, the dog, the earth. It is the energy called “Chi”, “Prana”, “The Force”. It is everywhere and in everything.
The entirety of the yogic path is focused upon transcending the illusion of this Ahamkara, and moving into the experience of Purusha; that which we truly are. This journey is called moving towards enlightenment – a journey towards the discovery of our own God nature. But because of the pervasiveness of this Ahamkara in our journey towards oneness, the illusion of separateness and therefore hierarchy easily occurs. There is a somewhat humorous story that my yogic father once related to me in order to illustrate the blinding and destructive nature of ego, and I now relate it to you.
The Story: There was once a yogi who knew well the philosophies of yoga. But still he had a great ego. And as such, he walked around beating his chest exclaiming, “I am Brahman! I am Brahman!” for all to hear.
One day, as the yogi walked out of a temple, there was a great commotion in the street. As it happened, an elephant, with its mahout (driver) atop, was stampeding along the street. The mahout had lost control of the elephant, and unable to stop it, was crying for everyone to get out of the way. People were fleeing in every direction, but the yogi stood his ground.
“I am Brahman!” the yogi exclaimed. “Why should I get out of the way? Let the elephant go around me! I am Brahman!”
The mahout continued to shout for the yogi to get out off the way, but he would not. And so the elephant trampled the yogi and continued stampeding on.
A vagrant who had been nearby when this all happened walked over to the yogi, who now lay trampled in the middle of the street. Looking upon the yogi, the vagrant in his wisdom and deeper understanding of the yogic way said, “Yes, you are Brahman. But wasn’t the elephant also Brahman? And wasn’t the mahout also Brahman? Then why didn’t you listen to Brahman when He told you to get out of the way?”
The story illustrates what yogic philosophy teaches: We must strive to see the divinity in all beings. There is no hierarchy; no one is of greater or lesser importance. What blinds us from this shared divinity and commonality is our pervasive sense of ego. To serve the ego, we separate ourselves from all others, and in the end, we suffer for it.