Sri Aurobindo observes: “But the centre of all resistance is egoism and this we must pursue into every covert and disguise and drag it out and slay it; for its disguises are endless and it will cling to every shred of possible self-concealment.”
This self-concealment acts like a chameleon in that it takes on the appropriate acceptable garb for the environment within which the individual is placed and can look like self-denial, renunciation or altruistic service while secretly enhancing and strengthening the ego within. It is this characteristic of the ego-self that makes it so difficult for the seeker and which requires the effort and the vigilance along the path. “Altruism and indifference are often its most effective disguises; so draped, it will riot boldly in the very face of the divine spies who are missioned to hunt it out.”
Sri Aurobindo provides us a solution to this riddle: “Here the formula of the supreme knowledge comes to our help; we have nothing to do in our essential standpoint with these distinctions, for there is no I nor thou, but only one divine Self equal in all embodiments, equal in the individual and the group, and to realise that, to express that, to serve that, to fulfil that is all that matters.”
The touchstone of the action and its freedom from egoism is the demand of the Spirit within rather than the approval or disapproval of those outside who would try to judge by outer appearances. “If the realization, fulfilment, service of the one Self demands from us an action that seems to others self-service or self-assertion in the egoistic sense or seems egoistic enjoyment and self-indulgence, that action we must do; we must be governed by the guide within rather than by the opinions of men. The influence of the environment works often with great subtlety; we prefer and put on almost unconsciously the garb which will look best in the eye that regards us from outside and we allow a veil to drop over the eye within; we are impelled to drape ourselves in the vow of poverty, or in the garb of service, or in outward proofs of indifference and renunciation and a spotless sainthood because that is what tradition and opinion demand of us and so we can make best an impression on our environment. But all this is vanity and delusion. We may be called upon to assume these things, for that may be the uniform of our service; but equally it may not. They eye of man outside matters nothing; the eye within is all.”
The essential principle here is that as long as we act from the human standpoint, we are subject to the action of the three Gunas and the ego-personality remains entrenched. When we switch to the Divine standpoint, we no longer see, think or act as an individual, separated, and limited human personality but as a nexus of the Divine action. Until that can occur, we must be vigilant to address the manifestations of ego as they arise and renounce them.
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 5, Renunciation, pg. 316