Enlightenment and Ego

In teachings on enlightenment, the word ‘ego’ is inadequate. There are no single words in English for the Sanskrit from which the word ‘ego’ has been derived.

In the West, we use the word ‘ego’ to refer to a number of things: a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-worth, someone with an overly high opinion of himself, one’s ability to discern “reality”, the sense of personal identity, and so on. On the other hand, when someone in the spiritual community refers to another person as having an ego, he is usually saying that he has identified this other person as unenlightened. This would seem to indicate that the person making this assumption is self-identified as enlightened.

The Sanskrit words from which the term ‘ego’ has been derived and applied to teachings on enlightenment, are asmita and ahamkara.

“I Am”

Asmita is the sense of self, “I am”. If you have a sense of yourself, you have an ego. The implication is that if you do not have a sense of self, you are enlightened, if you do, you’re not. (True or False?)

“I Do”

Nesting atop one’s sense of self is the sense of oneself as an actor, a doer. Ahamkara is the sense of oneself as the doer of action, “I do”, “I am the doer”. If you have a sense of yourself as a doer of actions of any kind, you have an ego so you are not enlightened. (True or False?)

Seeing yourself as being a doer of action (ahamkara) is what separates you from the Real. All action occurs in nature. You are not nature. You are You. In order to get to this point of misidentification though, you must first have a sense of yourself as existing (asmita). But who or what is having this sense of existing and doing? When you directly perceive the answer to this question, you have had an enlightenment experience.


Atman, ‘I’, or ‘self’, the individual, which is not ego, is the basis upon which ego relies. Atman is used to refer to the self in both the deepest sense of the divine individual that you really are, and you as an individual in the everyday sense. This tells us something important: enlightened or not, what you really are is still what it is in either case.

In the stack-up below, Atman is used to indicate the divine individual beyond body and mind, the Real You:

Ahamkara — I do
Asmita — I am
Atman — I

This stack-up constitutes the core of the mind. The mind is dependent upon this core for its very existence. Relying on consciousness (chitta), the individual mind, with its ability to record and file into memory all the innumerable things that enter (manas), and to make distinctions among them (buddhi), builds itself upon this core. Ergo, without an ego, there is no mind. That being the case, it’s fair to say that, according to the usual assumptions about enlightenment and ego, if you have a mind, you are not enlightened. (True or False?)

So, what is enlightenment, anyway? We’ll talk more about that in the next installment on Enlightenment. Until then, consider your answers to the “True or False” statements. What do you think?

True or False

If you have a sense of self, you are not enlightened.
True or False?

If you have a sense of yourself as a doer of actions, you are not enlightened.
True or False?

If you have a mind, you are not enlightened.
True or False?

Until next time …

Namaste (I bow to the Divine One that you really are),
Durga Ma

Go to the list of articles on Enlightenment.

Guided Meditation for Self Realization – Durga Ma.

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