What is meant by Ego according to Sri Aurobindo and his successors?

Sri Aurobindo“What is meant by Ego? According to Sri Aurobindo’s teachings and also his successors, what is meant by Ego? Is it different from the Self and if so how?” – H.K.

 [Link Here to read about ego in ‘A Dictionary of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga’]

Hi H., Regarding your question about whether and how the Ego is different from Self in the teachings of Sri Aurobindo, the Mother and Thea, from what I understand, they consider the ego as that which gives one a small sense or experience of self – a veil that makes us feel ourselves to be something separate from the divine, separate from the cosmic and separate from other individuals. In other words the ego is that which veils us from a knowledge and experience of our True Self, which is tri-fold in its nature (simultaneously transcendent, cosmic and individual), and is at once, timeless and of time, absolute and relative, stable and dynamic, infinite and finite.

Thea writes of the individual and collective ego as an ignorance and limitation of Self which has been necessary in the course of evolution, yet is now necessarily giving away to the wider Self.

… ‘for a long, long time, it was necessary to be limited, because limitation was the element of safeguarding the gestation of the Light. This being born, the veils can finally be shed. (TGC, p. 22)

Also in The Gnostic Circle Thea writes of an essential Personality and the conscious death of the ego:

‘The Personality would not be lost, because that Personality is one with Essence, the Individuality is no longer a product of the Ignorance.

    ‘ . . . The only illusion that exists is the illusion of Death and the illusion of the ego which creates in us a fear of death, because it is precisely the ego that dies at death, and nothing more. For this reason man as he is presently constituted fears death, because he lives in his ego. Rid of ego, he is rid of the fear of Death. The dissolution of one brings about the dissolution of the other.’ (TGC, p. 59)

The Mother’s makes some interesting comments about ego in Questions and Answers, 1956, which fit well with Thea’s writings on the individual in The New Way, Volume 3. Both the Mother and Thea suggest that a realisation of the Divine Will, Force and Unity in the dynamic flow of life is essential to the giving way of the ego. I don’t think one finds this point of view in other yogas or spiritual paths.

The Mother:

   ‘… you are made up entirely of something which is the forces of Nature expressing a higher Will of which you are unconscious.

    ‘Only, one doesn’t understand this except when one can come out of one’s ego, though it be only for a moment; for the ego – and this is its strength – is convinced that it alone decides. But if one looks attentively, one notices that it is moved by all sorts of things which are not itself. . . .

    ‘ . . .  There is a dynamic force which moves all things, and when you become conscious of it, you see that it is one single Force which moves all things; and as you become conscious, you can even follow its movement and see how it works through men and things.

    ‘From the minute you become unconscious of the Unity – unity of Force, unity of Consciousness and unity of Will – well you no longer have the perception which makes you quite separate from others, so that you do not know what goes on in them, they are strangers to you, you are shut up as it were in your own skin, and have no contact with others except quite externally and superficially. But this happens precisely because you have not realised in yourself the perception of this oneness of Consciousness, Force and Will – even of material vibrations’ – Q&A, 1956, p. 55       


    ‘The purpose of the Gnostic Circle is to help the individual engaged in the work of transformation to achieve this vision of oneness and to rapidly enter into a consciousness of unity whereby the personal is no longer a limiting factor but is seen only in the context of its unity with the Divine, for the purpose of evolving that Divine in the material creation. The Gnostic Circle helps to break down the limited sense of the personal. The movement of Time within the field of Space as reflected in the Gnostic Circle, of which he is a part, is presented in the form of a tri-fold expression: transcendent, cosmic and individual. He is shown that this is the truth of his existence on this planet, and that the flow of Time propels him onward to the goal of manifesting in his consciousness these three aspects of the supreme Reality. Thus the personal is immediately incorporated in its correct position in the Circle, as a part of the tri-fold structure. His personality is no longer the pivot of his existence and makes sense only in the context of the whole. All actions stemming from or limited to his personal self are seen clearly as being ego-centred and correspond to an old vision of Time. Yet the true place of the personal is revealed in the Circle and the sadhak is assisted in his yoga by this diagram that measures the course of evolution to develop all parts of the being and discover the harmony of existence.’

Sri Aurobindo:

‘The realisation of Self and of the Cosmic being (without which the realisation of Self is incomplete) are essential steps in our Yoga’; it is the end of other Yogas, but it is, as it were, the beginning of ours, that is to say, the point where its own characteristic realisation can commence.’The Integral Yoga, p. 36

In the evolutionary journey of consciousness as per the 12 stages of the Zodiac, it is in sign of Sagittarius that we begin to ‘travel’ beyond or shed the limitations of the ego, we ‘expand in the Sagittarian way beyond the present limits of [man’s] mental instrument and prepare for the descent of a power and a light that will allow him to live in the consciousness and being of the Whole. This is the Aquarian universality, the vision of Unity, and the Sagittarian impulse to reach the planes of the consciousness of Truth.’ TGC, p. 74

I hope the above helps a bit with your questions. You will see lots of teachings on the nature of the Ego (‘the element of falsehood and illusion’) in The Gnostic Circle when you get it. Also The New Way, Volume 3, is all about the establishment of the True Individual.

Namaste, Lori


[Originally posted in the Preparatory Study Group, September 2008]

By lori