Ahamkara is a Sanskrit word that is derived from the word aham. Aham in Sanskrit means self. Aham has many positive connotations in Hinduism. Phrases like Shivoham (I am Shiva), Brahmoham (I am Brahma) uses aham to represent self-awareness. On the other hand, ahamkara is negatively perceived by all the Hindu texts. Ahamkara is ego. I am; I did; I have; I gave; I do; all are different faces of ego.
What is Ahamkara or Ego from The Perspective of Hinduism?
During Jodhpur katha, Shri Kiritbhaiji Maharaj said that language is a mirror of culture. Your culture will be drastically affected by the language you use. In the English language, when “I” is used as a pronoun, it is always written in a capital case. Subconsciously, the children are taught from the very beginning that you are ‘capital’ (meaning most important).
However, in Sanskrit or any other Indian language, aham is like every other word. The difference in thinking starts here. When we think we are superior to others, ego is born. (Disclaimer: I have a special place in my heart for the English language, it has the power to reach masses. After all, I write in this language.)
Ego can be understood well by a simple metaphor. A window in the room thinks that it is illuminating the room. However, it is just a medium through which the sunlight enters the room and illuminates it. The source of light is the sun and not the window. The window represents a person who thinks he is a doer. He has an ego. In fact, he is just a medium in this world. He should perform his karma without the pride of doing it and leave the returns to God.
Hidden Egoism in The Modern World
Egoism or a sense of supreme self is a hindrance in attaining peace. Ego is a very wide term and many times is hidden. Let’s look at some examples:
- I give money to the poor and needy;
- I go to do seva in so and so ashram;
- I am very devout and religious;
- I have read many holy books; I know;
- My religion is the ultimate truth and above all other religions;
- I come from a very religious family;
- And the MOST important: I am very modest. I do not have any ego.
These are hidden forms of ego. Hinduism warns every one of us against every form of ego.
Ramayan describes Ravan as a very learned person and a devotee of Lord Shiva. He could control all the planets to make them move as he pleased. However, he had an ego that he was so powerful. Ravan’s 10 heads are a symbol of his inflated ego. He lost his war, country, money, son, and even his life because of his ego. Shri Raam was nirmal. When asked by mata Kaushalya whether he killed Ravan, Shri Raam replied, “I did not kill Ravan, his own ego killed him.”
How to Attain Perfect Peace?
In Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna says:
विहाय कामान्य: सर्वान्पुमांश्चरति नि:स्पृह: |
निर्ममो निरहङ्कार: स शान्तिमधिगच्छति || 2.71||
Meaning: That person, who gives up all material desires and lives free from a sense of greed, proprietorship, and egoism, attains perfect peace.
When a person identifies with his body rather than his soul, he inflates his ego. We are our souls. Just like we change our clothes, our soul changes bodies. Hence, when we identify ourselves as our souls, we can detach ourselves from the body and mind’s needs. We can also detach ourselves from the result of our actions and let go of our ego.
Final Words on Egoism and Hinduism
When faced with a difficult situation in life, an egoist person will ask, “God! Why me?” A wise person knows that God is never biased. Trust God. As Krishna said in Bhagavad Gita, you have right over your karma, but you do not have a right over the returns. God will give you what you actually deserve and not what you think you deserve. Detach from the ego to attain true peace.