In general, most people think of the ego as the way we view ourselves and our relationships with others. A dictionary definition is: “Someone’s ego is their sense of their own worth. For example, if someone has a large ego, they think they are very important and valuable. He had a massive ego; never would he admit he was wrong.” Understanding the Yogic/Vedic perspective of the ego can lead to clarity on how to have a better and happier life.

The foundation to understanding “ego” is to understand consciousness and that it does not, and cannot, arise from matter. Consciousness emanates from a spiritual energy, the energy known by its characteristic – life. Consciousness is the inherent quality of the ‘soul’ or the ātma/self.

The ancient Vedic teachings describe how the embodied ‘soul’ is covered by two bodies and ‘lends’ consciousness to these two bodies.  The first is the gross physical body (sthūla-śarīra), which we readily see or perceive, and the other is the subtle body (liṇga-śarīra). This subtle body/covering of the soul is comprised of three ‘layers’, the mind (manaḥ), the intelligence (buddhi), and the false ego (ahaṅkāra) or false sense of self. When I identify as the labels attached to the body (male, female, tall, short, race, etc.,) I am oblivious of my true spiritual identity and have adopted a ‘false self’ as me.

Spiritual enlightenment means to discover my true and eternal spiritual identity beyond these temporary and changing material identities.

The verses I quoted in this talk:

The soul is atomic in size and can be perceived by perfect intelligence. This atomic soul is floating in the five kinds of air (prāṇa, apāna, vyāna, samāna and udāna), is situated within the heart, and spreads its influence all over the body of the embodied living entities. When the soul is purified from the contamination of the five kinds of material air, its spiritual influence is exhibited. – Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad 3.1.9

The pure and transcendental consciousness of the atma (self) is unchangeable.  When the mind receives the reflection of that consciousness it is able to perceive and appears like the seer.  Yoga-sūtra 4.22

The mind, being able to perceive due to its reflecting both the atma (self) and objects of perception, appears to comprehend everything. – Yoga-sūtra 4.23

Even though the mind has accumulated various impressions (and desires) of various types it is always at the disposal of the atma (self). This is because the mind cannot function without the power of the perceiver. – Yoga-sūtra 4.24

When the soul is under the spell of material nature and false ego, identifying one’s body as the self, the person becomes absorbed in material activities, and by the influence of false ego one thinks that they are the proprietor of everything. – Bhāgavata Purāṇa 3.27.2

One who is enlightened in self-realization, although living within the material body, sees himself as transcendental to the body, just as one who has arisen from a dream gives up identification with the dream body. A foolish person, however, although not identical with his material body but transcendental to it, thinks himself to be situated in the body, just as one who is dreaming sees himself as situated in an imaginary body. – Bhāgavata Purāṇa 11.11.8