Ego is explained as “ahaṁkartā ahaṁkāraḥ” This means the thought of doership is ego. Ego is a vital component for one’s very existence. We have to understand ego in order to transcend it. Though we can transcend it, we cannot live without it. When ego is transcended, Reality is revealed. Ego is more or less like the mind and it is difficult to keep it under check. Ego works in close association with mind. Ego does not merely mean pride. The stumbling block for the mind to realise Brahman is ego. Ego is bound by three guṇa-s. Many times, ego causes a deceptive conviction that one is a Self-realised.
Primarily, one’s ego makes a person to discover himself with everything else, except the Kūṭastha. It is therefore, essential for those who follow the path of spirituality, not only to acquire knowledge, but also to practice meditation, a process that enables the mind to disassociate itself from the senses. It is only the senses that carry the images of the materialistic world to the mind. It is the māyā that makes the ego to work in coordination with the three guṇa-s (sattva, rajas and tamas). Ego cannot be totally eliminated, but can be transcended. As a matter of fact, none of the features of māyā can be eliminated as long as a man exists. However, they can be transcended with the will of mind to realize the Ultimate Reality. Mind is the beginning and the end of spirituality. The mind should be so trained in such a way that it should not identify the unreal as the Real (this is due to the influence of māyā). The illusionary effect of the māyā is unreal. When the Kūṭastha within is the cause for our activities, how can one say “I have done this; this is mine; etc.” This is a typical example of ego, where the mind falsely identifies the body as the doer and enjoyer. A bulb cannot say that it is the cause for the light. Bulb is only an appliance that coverts the electric energy into light energy. Without electricity, how can the light function? The thought of the bulb is ego and the reality is the electricity. In the same way, thought of man falsely identifying himself with the three types of bodies, five types of sheaths, etc. is ego, whereas in reality Kūṭastha is the true cause.
Without Kūṭastha, no living being can exist. Because of Kūṭastha, ego is active; but ego in no way affects the Kūṭastha within. Ego is the cause for desire, attachment, hatred, etc. Ego changes according to guṇa-s (sattva, rajas and tamas) and states of consciousness (active, dream and deep sleep states). During active state ego is rajasic in nature, in dream state it is sattvic in nature and in deep sleep state ego is tamasic in nature (tamasic because it is inert or no ego state). Ego is the main impediment in identifying our body as Kūṭastha. For example, I am happy, I am sad are due to active functioning of ego during active state.
The level of individual consciousness merging or uniting with the universal consciousness is yoga. In such a situation, ego is isolated. When ego is isolated, mind loses its best friend to instigate and influence it. When ego is isolated, mind is made to realize that it cannot claim ownership for the actions done by it. By further practice, it is made to realize that it is Kūṭastha who is responsible for all the actions performed by it. If the mind is not tamed, then it is influenced by the senses and afflicted by ego and attaches importance to the gross body. All the actions of the body are carried out by the mind only and this is the reason why it gets influenced by ego and takes undeserved or false credit for the fruits of actions. Why yoga is considered as important? Yoga attempts and succeeds to bring out the best within, to isolate the ego from the Kūṭastha by means of pure knowledge or the knowledge for self-realization. Yoga is a tool that connects mind, body and soul (Kūṭastha) and does not differentiate them as different entities. It attempts to unify this trio on the spiritual plane as opposed to mind that works on the physical planes. Yoga should not be construed as a physical experience but as a coordinator between body, mind and soul. Yoga in its advanced stage makes one realize the eternal Truth. But such a transition has to be gradual and cannot happen at a faster pace as this would derail the process itself. Wise men do not attach importance to the results of actions as they surrender the fruits of actions to Kūṭastha. Such unconditional surrender is possible only if ego is totally dissolved. But it is possible that it could rear its ugly head at any time, if the mind is not properly trained to function without the influence of ego. This is known as the supreme sacrifice that happens at the doors of God. The fortunate ones who could tame their minds, to function without influence of ego and senses, become out of bound for emotions to influence. If such a stage is attained, he transcends the cycle of birth and death. His free will is ready to take him for final liberation.