Ego-The Metaphysical Perspective
De-linking of Reality-principles
We have seen that ‘Reality’ which is difficult to be described with words was also experientially perceived as
‘Sachchidananda’- a triune of ‘EXISTENCE-CONSCIOUSNESS-BLISS’. Now, these three principles-EXISTENCE (SAT), CONSCIOUSNESS (CHIT), ANANDA (BLISS) are not additive.
Sachchidananda is not a summation of these three principles, neither it can be viewed in gestalt terms (i.e. it is not a whole that exceeds the sum of its parts).
RATHER, EACH PRINCIPLE REPRESENTS A PARTICULAR POISE OF THE SAME REALITY.EACH PRINCIPLE CONTAINS THE OTHER TWO IN ITS ESSENCE. That is why the Sachchidananda consciousness is referred in Transpersonal Psychology as the ‘unitary consciousness’.
To permit the emergence of ‘multiplicity’, the ‘unitary consciousness’ of Sachchidananda has to change its poise. It loses its unitary nature and the three hitherto intertwined aspects of Reality; ‘Existence’, ‘Consciousness’ and ‘Bliss’ become gradually de-linked from each other.
As long as there is no ‘creation’, the unitary consciousness of Sachchidananda remains self- absorbed, self-sufficient and self-fulfilled. The problem arises with the manifestation of ‘creation’. ‘Creation’ automatically implies the emergence of ‘multiplicity’.
This phenomenon is marked by three consequences:
(1) Each aspect (Existence; Consciousness; Bliss) of Reality becomes separated, fragmented or diluted and gets to be expressed in multitudinous ways.
(2) Each aspect ultimately has the potential to get expressed in opposite terms too. This is a price that has to be paid for a multiple expression that automatically implies infinite variation. Thus instead of the unitary Sachchidananda consciousness, we have as a culmination of infinite variation, the divisive phenomena of death, entropy, ignorance, falsehood, and suffering.
Every divisive term of each aspect develops into an independent, unique, distinct form that is ‘separate’ from everything else in the universe. At the lower levels of the evolutionary hierarchy, this ‘uniqueness’ is ‘species-specific’ (thus each species of ‘plant’ or ‘animal’ has its distinct genus-specific identity). This is why biologists study plants and animals in terms of their ‘species’ or ‘class’ characteristics. The concept of ‘uniqueness’ is different in the case of human beings. Biologists study the species characteristics of homosapiens as a genus in comparison with other animal species. However the study of human beings as belonging to a species is not sufficient to understand the uniqueness of the individual human being and the diversity among human beings. In human beings, the ‘uniqueness’ is personality-specific in case of individuals and ‘culture-specific’ in case of human collectivities. That is why the psychologist studies the individual human personality and the social anthropologist studies cultures and societies. Indeed, the psychologist considers his knowledge as more ‘specific’ for the individual human being rather than the biologist who studies not the individual human personality but ‘homosapiens’ as a species and the social anthropologist who studies human beings in the context of group-behaviour.
Emergence of Ego
The transition from the unitary consciousness of Reality to the multiplicity in creation automatically implies that there must be an intervening variable that maintains the multiplicity. If this variable was absent, the multiplicity would cease to exist and creation could not be sustained. Metaphysically, this independent variable is a poise of the ‘SAT’ or ‘Existential’ mode of the Supreme Reality or unitary consciousness. It is in this poise that Reality is conceived as the SELF or ATMAN. Thus the essence of every form, animate or inanimate, is the same, the difference being only in the realm of the degree and quality of manifestation. In the human being, the Self has more potentiality for a rich and variegated experiential expression.
However, the experiential realization of the same Self (or unitary essence) in all forms of multiplicity satisfies our metaphysical quest, it does not explain why each form of the multiplicity has an exclusivity that cannot be shared by other forms. If the essence of each form is the same, why do we have the difference between forms? It seems that in creation, the appearance of the multiplicity is accompanied by a sort of forgetting of the unitary essence in each form. In a way this forgetting of the unitary essence in each form was necessary so that each form could grow, albeit selfishly, to its maximum potential. In other words, the divisive nature of every form must be actualized as far as possible or else creation would not be variegated, complex, rich and fulfilling. Naturally, in the process, the unitary essence in each created form has to be forgotten.
We have now a very complex situation. On one hand the unitary essence in each created form has been forgotten or kept in abeyance so that each form can grow ad infinitum in contradistinction to other forms. On the other hand we need to explain how each form carries out its agenda of individualization if the unitary essence is not active on the surface of things. This is possible by the substitution of the unitary essence by a temporary deformative variable that permits individual variation to proceed to the maximum limit without remembering that the essence of all forms is the same. Variability and multiplicity in creation cannot occur and cannot be sustained unless the unity-factor in the consciousness of creation is temporarily veiled. This temporary variable that deforms the actual truth of the unitary nature of consciousness is known as the ego. There are naturally different poises of the ego at different planes of the manifestation. If there is an ego of the individual form like the individual human being, there is the ‘collective’ ego, the ‘group’ ego, the species-ego.
The Place of Ego
Sri Aurobindo explains that the multiplicity is maintained by the ‘EGO’. Each individual form has to maintain its uniqueness, assertiveness, and distinctness. This is
possible only if the ‘ego’, which is at the ‘centre’ of each individual form or group-form, gives ‘restricted’ or ‘limited’ values to movements and forces instead of ‘universal’ values. Take the example of human love. Obviously, human love is selfish, possessive, demanding and conditional. It is so because the ego ‘gives’ these values to love. Once, human love is given ‘universal’ values, it becomes unselfish, non-demanding, non- possessive and spontaneous. The individual has then succeeded in ‘universalizing’ oneself. The ‘ego’ however cannot per se do this work of universalization (even if it is involved with so-called unselfish acts); one has to go beyond one’s ego to achieve this status. This is specifically why mystics, saints and seers have always advocated that the ‘ego’ needs to be transcended.
In fact, the reason for ego-transcendence is to get back to the unitary consciousness of Sachchidananda-The Origin-The True Reality. For that one need not travel to outer space; one has to discover the ‘forgotten’ unitary essence that supports each created form. What will one do with the ‘divisive’ ego once one reconnects with the unitary essence?
There are in fact two ways to reconstruct or reinstate the unitary Sachchidananda consciousness in this world of multiplicity:
(a) GET RID OF THE EGO COMPLETELY. A significant section of Indian spiritual geniuses attempted this path of egolessness. They had the ‘reward’ of ‘experiencing’ the Sachchidananda consciousness. This ‘experience’ was so overwhelming, total and complete that the world of multiplicity became secondary, unimportant, ’unreal’ and ‘unworthy’. Instead, they preferred a world-shunning ascetism.
However, till the Psychic Bering replaces the ego, the latter has to function so that the individuality of the forms is not dissipated. That is why Sri Aurobindo described the individual ego as a ‘DETERMINATIVE AND TEMPORARILY DEFORMATIVE FACTOR’:
(b) REPLACE THE EGO BY A WHOLISTIC PRINCIPLE. This is what Sri Aurobindo advocates. He insists in replacing by the ego by a fourth-dimensional, ego-surpassing principle. This principle can universalize the individual and help him to be in touch with the unitary consciousness while yet acting within the multiplicity (Sri Aurobindo will later elaborate this principle which he named as the Psychic Being). In fact, this shift from the ego to the Psychic Being as the integrating centre of the human psyche heralds the beginning of true individualization. It will be subsequently explained how individualization will proceed further when one achieves an experiential contact with the Central Being or Jivatman of whom the Psychic Being is a projection
Determinative - as it has to maintain the uniqueness of the individual form in a world of conflict, competition, chaos and disharmony. It accomplishes this by a ‘self-limitation of consciousness by a willed ignorance of the rest of its play and its exclusive absorption in one form, one combination of tendencies, one field of the movement of the energies’.(The Life Divine,pg65)
Temporary - as it has to be replaced at an optimal point of personal growth by a wholistic principle that can really harmonize the myriad, discordant elements of the human psyche. The ego is too skewed to accomplish this.
Deformative - because it does not reflect the unitary Sachchidananda consciousness. Instead, it reflects the exact opposite of Sachchidananda in earthly existence.
In fact, if the individual ego was not there, conscious individuals could not emerge from ‘that indeterminate totality general, obscure and formless which we call the subconscient, -hrdya samudra, the ocean heart in things of the Rig Veda. We have the dualities of life and death, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, truth and error, good and evil as the first formations of egoistic consciousness, the natural and inevitable outcome of its attempt to realise unity in an artificial construction of itself exclusive of the total truth, good, life and delight of being in the universe. We have the dissolution of this egoistic construction by the self-opening of the individual to the universe and to God as the means of that supreme fulfillment to which egoistic life is only a prelude even as animal life was only a prelude to the human.’(Ibid,pg66)
What do we gain by transcending the ego?
Sri Aurobindo answers ‘…we have the outflowing of the infinite and absolute Existence, Truth, Good and Delight of being on the Many in the world as the divine result towards which the cycles of our evolution move. This is the supreme birth which maternal Nature holds in herself; of this she strives to be delivered’.(Ibid, pg 67)
The Little Ego
This puppet ego the World-Mother made,
This little profiteer of Nature’s works,
Her trust in his life-tenancy betrayed,
Makes claim on claim, all debt to her he shirks.
Each movement of our life our ego fills;
Inwoven in each thread of being’s weft,
When most we vaunt our selflessness, it steals
A sordid part; no corner void is left.
One way lies free, our heart and soul to give,
Our body and mind to Thee and every cell,
And steeped in Thy world-infinity to live.
Then lost in light, shall fade the ignoble spell.
Nature, of her rebellion quit, shall be
A breath of the spirit’s vast serenity
(Sri Aurobindo, Collected Poems, pg 157)
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu