Ego (Guru Granth Sahib Speaks) by Surinder Singh Kohli

ego

Below is a summary of our second meeting on 12th February. The book discussed was ‘Ego’ from a series called ‘Guru Granth Sahib Speaks’ by Surinder Singh Kohli.

A copy of the book can be found here.

Brief Summary

  • Terminology used in the book
    • Haumai, Ahamkara
    • Origin of the words, their use in Hindu philosophy
    • Purusha and Prakriti leading to intellect
    • Rajo, Tamo, Sato and the fourth state
  • Maya
    • What is Maya? Is it good or bad?
      • Attachment to Maya is what takes us away from Akaal Purakh
      • Maya is a necessary part of life in many way
    • Through Maya the self believes it is an individual
      • This duality separates us from God
    • We link with Maya through the senses
      • Through controlling the senses one can progress
  • Ego
    • Everything we do is in ego, this is the root of all problems
    • There is no room for ego when the mind is focused on Naam
    • The cure for ego is within ego itself
    • Everything we think is own is a gift
    • Both virtuous and non-virtuous acts are as a result of ego
      • So is virtue alone enough to overcome ego?
  • Hukam is part of the laws of nature
    • Individuals have duties but there are limitations to this
    • Individuals working on three planes: mental, physical and spiritual
  • The mind
    • The mind has the potential to uplift us spiritually but can also wreak havoc
  • The body
    • Recognition of the importance of keeping the body strong, healthy and pure
  • Naam
    • Doing simran is one step towards overcoming ego
    • Mere recitation is not enough but may be the first step
    • What are the next steps?

 

The meeting began with a discussion on the terminology used in the book. We often use the words Haumai and Hankaar interchangeably but the author highlighted that Hankaar/Ahamkara refers to superiority, whereas Haumai (separation) is the root of all other evils e.g. the five thieves. There was recognition of the vast references in the book to multiple authors within Gurbani. This highlighted how important the concept of ego is in Sikhism, and how it has been described in many ways by all the Gurus and Bhagats that contributed to Gurbani.

It was interesting to note that some of the words referenced by us in Sikhism today (such as Haumai) first appear in texts which were written many centuries before Gurbani was written. We discussed the fact that there are some truths in the world which permeate throughout the ages and are relevant to all of humanity regardless of religion.

Not many people in the session were familiar with the words Purusha and Prakriti, and the fact that these two concepts result in the formation of intellect. However we did recognise that the Purusha has links with the word Purakh and that Prakriti also appears in Dasam Bani.

We talked about the authors translation of Rajo, Tamo and Sato (passion, morbidity and rhythm) as attributes of Maya. There was some discussion of what these words mean in Sikhi e.g. Sato can be described as virtue, Tamo as atrocities and Rajo as worldly aspirations. Everything we do can be categorized into one of these states. Even good actions can be regarded as part of Maya. Sikhi talks about a Fourth State where one rises above these aspects of Maya in an egoless state of mind. There was recognition that having an awareness of these categories could be one of the first steps in advancing one’s understanding of Sikh philosophy.

Guru Ji created concepts such as seva and kirat. If these acts cause ego to arise in the mind then the battle is being lost. Neverthless they are important acts to keep us on track when we walk on this path as they encourage spiritual growth. However virtuous acts alone cannot truly lead to us destroying the barrier of separation that we feel between ourselves and God. A Sikh almost has to live on three planes, as the author describes; mental, physical and spiritual planes. We must keep our bodies healthy and strong in order to survive and enhance our spirituality. Similarly we must keep our mind engaged in Maya to some extent in order to survive in the world, whilst not becoming too attached. Guru Nanak Dev Ji talks about us being born into the world with nothing, but as we progress through the different stages of life we accumulate ego in a number of ways. However at the end of life we all die and even though we may have been very proud of the turbans we tie on our heads, even those heads will be used by the crows to clean their beaks.

This led onto a point being raised about how Bana was introduced by the Guru to lower one’s ego, and make everyone dress in the same way. However today we have turned things around and instead when one dresses like a ‘Gursikh’ it actually serves to enhance one’s ego. All that a person has really done is change their clothes if internally the ego remains the same.

There was a discussion about Maya and what it encompasses, including whether it is good or bad. We recognised that Maya is essential for survival in this world, and that we should only engage with Maya as much as is necessary. There was debate about the fact that different people have different ideas of what is necessary in life. Gurbani clearly encourages us to live within Maya but stay detached from it. But some degree of attachment is necessary, e.g. a mother having a maternal bond with a child in order to provide them with shelter and food. Similarly we cannot do our jobs by completely ignoring Maya. Becoming attached to Maya is what takes us away from spiritual growth, but Maya in itself cannot be considered as ‘bad’ as it was created by God.

This led to a question about whether ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are actually two separate entities. In many religions good and evil as described as polar opposites. In Sikhi the lines are much more blurred because there is recognition that God created everything, including what humans considered to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The majority of time we define good/bad depending on how things affect us personally. The example of natural disasters was used to reflect on how humans deal with ‘bad’ things happening. Bad can be considered an absence of good and vice versa, just as cold is the absence of heat. Ultimately cold, heart, light and darkness is just the transfer of energy. They are not separate forms in their own right. Continuing to use terminology such as ‘good/bad’ promotes duality in our minds. Despite the recognition of this fact, it was noticeable that we all kept introducing these words into the meeting throughout, perhaps highlighting the extent to which we have all been conditioned to think in this dualistic way.

In the same way that there is no room for darkness when there is light, there is no room for ego when there is Naam. We discussed what Naam can mean, and whether this is simply the physical utterance of one word. Even the utterance of the word Vaheguru (God is great) demands recognition of the Divine and nothing else, and this can be powerful. Practising recitation can eventually lead to spontaneous recitation or the incorporation of Naam into everyday life. The whole world/nature can be thought of as being engrossed in Naam Simran as it is attuned to the One in a harmonious rhythm. The question was asked that doing Simran is one step, possibly one of the earliest steps one can take on this journey, but what is the next step after that? Is the next step seeing God in everyone? Or is it having an awareness of when you feel ego taking over your mind? In the same way that a teacher can describe all the stages of understanding to you in one lesson, sometimes the only way for the student to gain a true understanding of the content is by working through each step one bit at a time.

The mind is very difficult to control as it wanders in many directions at the same time, like the junctions of a busy train station. Even when attempting to still the mind all sorts of thoughts can arise. Doing Naam simran might be one way to begin to control the mind.

In the book, the author makes reference to Gurbani saying that ego’s remedy is within itself. This is a puzzling concept as it’s saying, in order to rid oneself of ego, one needs to employ ego initially. Maybe this means that initially we have to take one step towards God. That might come from a place where we still consider ourselves an individual, separate from God, in Haumai. However that step is crucial in subsequently getting to an egoless state.

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