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Is ego pride? What is enlightenment? || Acharya Prashant (2019)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
9 min
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Questioner (Q): Is ego pride? What is enlightenment?

Acharya Prashant (AP): Ego is the ‘I’-feeling that causes you suffering.

Pride causes you suffering, but it is not merely pride that causes you suffering: even the opposite of pride causes you suffering. Taking yourself as too big will cause suffering, but even taking yourself as too small will cause you suffering.

Now, that’s quite interesting. If you look at any ‘I’-statement that causes you suffering, you discover that even the opposite of that statement causes you suffering.

“I am hungry”—suffering.

“I am just too full”—suffering.

Any ‘I’-statement is, in its essence, suffering. That’s ego.

Do not associate it merely with pride, or power, or achievement. The one who says, “I am a big winner,” is exhibiting ego. The one who says, “I am a big loser,” is equally exhibiting ego.

Q: We can say that at these points, the ego becomes more apparent, more visible, more emphatically visible.

AP: The ego has to have something to say about itself. And whatsoever it is that you say about yourself is your ‘I’-sense. That is your ‘I’-statement, that is ego.

Q: If I am just playing, there the ego is not very visible. If I have won the match or lost the match—there the ego is more visible.

AP: When you are really playing, then the ego will not say anything. When you are really in the thick of the game, do you have the time to say anything about yourself? So, the ego does not even say, “I am playing.” When you are playing, then the ego falls silent.

“I am a winner”—ego.

“I am a loser”—ego.

“I am playing”—well, there is no such statement if you are really playing.

Q: How did this ego come into existence?

AP: Happy birthday!


Q2: Sir, it is seen that people who have dedicated themselves to some great purposes have less ego than the common man. Great scientists like Einstein, great dancers, I have heard that they have less ego.

AP: It totally depends—depends on the purpose you are dedicating your intellect to. Some of the best scientists were dedicated to the project of developing the nuclear bomb, Project Manhattan. Even Einstein was tried to be dragged into that.

Ego diminishes only when the one you are devoted to is— the Absolute. Otherwise, it may be a big project or a small project; the ego is not going away anywhere. And projects that are to the service of the Absolute do not always appear big.

So, egolessness does not have anything to do with the apparent bigness or smallness of the project. The commander of the world’s largest army is not going to be egoless, whereas it's a herculean project, probably, managing that army. Is he going to be egoless? Whereas some unknown saint, working on some basic project in some village, might have won over his ego almost fully.

यस्याभिमानो मोक्षेऽपि देहेऽपि ममता तथा ।

न च ज्ञानी न वा योगी केवलं दुःखभागसौ ॥ १० ॥

yasyābhimāno mokṣe'pi dehe'pi mamatā tathā

na ca jñānī na vā yogī kevalaṃ duḥkhabhāgasau || 16.10 ||

He who claims liberation as his own, as an attainment of a person, is neither enlightened nor a seeker. He suffers his own misery.

~ Ashtavakra Gita, Chapter 16, Verse 10

✥ ✥ ✥

Beautiful. “He who claims liberation as his own, as an attainment of a person, is neither enlightened nor a seeker. He suffers his own misery.” Something we have repeatedly talked of, repeatedly warned ourselves against.

Enlightenment or liberation is not something that the person can possess, just as freedom is not something that a prison can possess or achieve.

It is such an absurd statement to make, no? The prison has attained freedom! When you say, “I have attained liberation,” the prison has attained freedom. Ashtavakra is saying, “The one who claims liberation as his own is not enlightened, and he is not even a seeker of enlightenment. He is a fraudster. He is calling himself 'enlightened'.” Be very cautious of those who have claimed enlightenment for themselves.

Q: There are times when it lures as an achievement.

AP: Of course! And if you have declared that there is freedom inside the prison, then, for sure, you are never going to be free of the prison.

Q3: Sir, yesterday you said that real love is one-sided. Can you please explain this quote?

AP: You love liberation. Or do you put a condition on liberation that it must love you back? Who is suffering: you or liberation? You are suffering, so you will chase liberation. Liberation is not going to chase you. Oh, that’s not fair! Women don’t propose!


That’s why saints have always had a sweet grudge against Him. They ask Him, “You are resting there coolly, comfortably, and here am I running after You. What kind of a hard-hearted thing are You? And You call Yourself the epitome of compassion! Only I keep running after You!” So, such are the sweet complaints in devotion.

Q4: You spoke about freedom. I can think that freedom is the most important thing, but my actions are not aligned with this way of thinking. What I think is different from how I act, I don’t understand why.

AP: Thoughts are one thing; habits are a totally different thing.

You think of getting up at 5 a.m. It’s Rishikesh, and you want to go for a 6 a.m. walk along the Ganges—that’s what you think of. And in your thoughts, you are very clear and certain: “It’s going to be a 6 a.m. walk.”

But then, the habits show up at 6 a.m., and, unfortunately for man, habits often defeat intention; the power of intention is far lesser than the grip of the habits. Therefore, liberation can also be defined as freedom from habits, with the word ‘habit’ being taken in a very wide sense.

There are the small habits that we name as 'habits'—tea, coffee, cigarette—and then there is the mother habit that we do not even call as a habit. What is the mother habit? ‘I’-tendency. And the ‘I’-tendency defeats not merely your thoughts but, horribly, even your love. Small habits just defeat your thoughts and intentions; the mother habit defeats even your love. You may love Truth, or God, or Freedom, but the ego habit will defeat your love.

Human life is just a struggle between these two forces: love and habit. Let’s see who wins.

Who wins? The one you favor.

Q4: The winner has to be love.

AP: Ideally. Let’s see who actually wins. The great thing is—and the horrible thing is—that you are the judge. You will decide who wins. That’s great if you are a lover. That’s horrible if you are habituated. You decide who you are.

Who are you?

Q5: A while back, you said, “The best in you is called God.” Don’t you think that pushing yourself to the best and always judging the bad things in yourself is bound to create an inner conflict?

AP: Are you alright with those bad things? If you are, then you do not need to push yourself any higher. The bad things are bad not only for namesake; ‘bad’ is not merely a label assigned to certain things in life. They are bad because they cause you suffering. Now, do you want to let them remain? If you do not want to let them remain, then there has to be a conflict. Such a conflict is necessary.

Look at the immune system of your body. It is always in conflict, is it not? Such a conflict is necessary; otherwise, you won’t survive for the next day.

I can see the value you are coming from. The value you are coming from is: if you judge yourself, then there would be a needless inner conflict. But the question is: Is there not a conflict when you are not judging yourself? Are you peaceful when you are not judging yourself? Is a war not already raging within? And if there is no war within, then you are already home; then there is no need for any spiritual effort.

But the fact of life is, that we are all divided within. There is confusion; there is strife, conflict and disagreement, multiplicity of choices—and all that is suffering. Therefore, you need to come to a point where all this strife and confusion and the related suffering ceases. That point, we said, is the best you can get to, and we said, that is the point of godliness, the best in you.

We may not believe in God—and there is no need to—but we do experience suffering. Don’t we?

Spirituality has nothing to do with God at all. Let’s junk him. Spirituality has everything to do with your suffering. Don’t you want freedom from that? That’s spirituality.

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