|[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 341 ]
Different cultures associate various meanings with many words in the English language. With regard to the term ego, a concept widely expressed in Eastern spiritual thought, I have noticed that its use often evokes a particular type of defensiveness or resistance in those from Western cultures.
The ego has a very profound place within Eastern thought and its proper understanding is essential to the interpretation of much of the teachings of yoga and Eastern spirituality.
In contemporary Western culture, the term ego has usually denotes arrogance, selfishness, conceit, haughtiness, inflated self-importance, and superiority. It is most often used to refer to a certain characteristic of an individual that makes them unpleasant or intolerable in the eyes of others. Though the yogi certainly would not disagree with those descriptive words, he/she understands that these notions are merely the grossest inflation of the ego.
Based on the above descriptive words only, most people would likely claim that they don't have an ego. But the very fact that they would say "I don’t have an ego" indicates to the yogi that they do have one! Actually, we all have an ego. Having an ego is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is part and parcel of our existence in this material world.
The ego that the yogis speak of is the very sense of 'I' which we all possess. 'I have this…,' 'I am that…,' 'I do this….,' 'I like that….,' 'I feel,' 'I eat,' 'I sleep,' etc.
The ego is that sense of being a separate, thinking, feeling, sleeping, eating, doing human being, which is itself a result of our dualistic perception of reality -- of our loss of the sense of 'Oneness'. This ego-state is commonly referred to in yoga as the 'I Consciousness'.
Rene Descartes said "I think, therefore I am." This statement is true, yet utterly misleading to the Western mind. It would be more revealing to say "I think therefore I am an ego!"
The yogis point out to us that this ego is not real. It is not the truth of our nature. It is merely a concept which exists purely in our dualistic thinking minds, and is nowhere else (in nature) to be found...
NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.
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