“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.27)
guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ
kartāham iti manyate
Friend-One: When you hear someone described as “egotistical,” what does that mean to you?
Friend-Two: Hmm. That they’re full of themselves. That they think they are hot stuff.
F1: Right. They like to brag about their accomplishments. When discussing future matters, they always bring up how they’ll emerge successful. Even if no one is questioning their ability, they will remind others of what they have done.
F2: From the psychological standpoint, it’s pretty easy to see what’s going on.
F2: They’re insecure. If you read Vedic literature, you’ll find areas where the Supreme Lord states that a hero doesn’t speak much.
F1: Krishna says this?
F2: And Rama. The statements are made prior to battle. The enemy of God is boasting; they are talking themselves up. Meanwhile, Krishna is standing by silent, ready to get the work accomplished. The idea is that the hero knows they are good. They have genuine confidence in their abilities.
F1: While the other guy is more or less scared. That’s why they are talking so much. They need to pump themselves up; otherwise they’ll wilt from the realization that they are not so great.
F1: Okay, but where does false ego fit in? You could say that the egotistical person is under the sway of false ego.
F2: For sure. False ego is one of the three subtle elements covering the spirit soul. The body consists of earth, water, fire, air and ether. Since these are somewhat perceptible, they are considered gross elements. The subtle elements are mind, intelligence and ego, which are finer than the gross elements.
F1: But you also said that the hero is confident of their abilities. Isn’t that false ego too? Not to turn this into a bigger discussion, but I’ve always been a little puzzled by the false ego thing.
F2: Yeah? How so?
F1: Let me see if I have this straight. False ego means that you are deluded by pride. You think that you are your body, though it was given to you by nature.
F2: That nature is known as prakriti. The individual is jiva, or living spirit. Through the work that is done, the prakriti surrounding the living spirit changes. This work is known as karma and the changes in prakriti are effected through time, or kala.
F1: Okay, so the idea is that you shouldn’t be so worked up about your accomplishments. There is that verse in the Bhagavad-gita where Krishna says that the living entity is not the doer. Material nature actually carries out the results to work.
F2: Right. Take clapping your hands for example. You make the decision to put your hands together. You think that the resulting sound is due to your efforts, but you didn’t make the laws of material nature. So many things have to cooperate in order for the sound to emerge. This is one way to see that you are not the doer. You make the choice for action, but you don’t actually make everything happen.
F1: I guess my issue is with self-esteem. If you know that you are not the doer, then why will you choose to act? If you rid yourself of the false ego, then won’t it mean that you’ll be too humble to do anything?
F2: That’s a good question. So basically you’re saying that you need some type of ego in order to act.
F1: Exactly. If I don’t have an ego, what will drive me to work hard? Confidence is a huge part of success. I know that Krishna urges the yogi to work, saying that renunciation isn’t an excuse to stop lighting the fire of sacrifice, or something like that.
kāryaṁ karma karoti yaḥ
sa sannyāsī ca yogī ca
na niragnir na cākriyaḥ
“The Blessed Lord said: One who is unattached to the fruits of his work and who works as he is obligated is in the renounced order of life, and he is the true mystic: not he who lights no fire and performs no work.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.1)
The idea is not to eliminate ego altogether. You just have to remove the false part. In the real ego, you know that everything belongs to the Supreme Lord. You therefore know that everything should be used in service to Him. That is the meaning to work. When under the false ego, work is karma. When under the real ego, the karma turns into bhakti.
F1: Which is devotion.
F2: Yes. If you want a good example of the difference between false ego and real ego, look at Arjuna before and after the Bhagavad-gita. Before speaking to Krishna, he thought he was the doer and that the carnage resulting from success would be his fault.
F1: That is interesting. The person who heard the lessons about false ego then afterwards fought heroically in battle.
F2: Exactly. He had self-esteem, but it was rooted in devotion to Krishna. He took strength from the Supreme Lord and acted confidently along the righteous path. For him in that situation the right thing was to fight without fear of the results. Similarly, our path is to follow devotion to the Supreme Lord with full confidence that we are choosing wisely. The spiritual master, the representative of Krishna, gives us this confidence. If we are serving him, then we have no reason to feel ashamed or down about ourselves. On the contrary, we will continue to chant the holy names without fear, knowing that the words of Krishna and the guru are flawless: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
When acting in confident way,
Not under false ego’s sway?
How work to be done,
When having confidence none?
Idea from Arjuna get,
Real ego in bhakti set.
Example from his path seen,
Work for Krishna with self-esteem.