The Role and Purpose of the Ego

The human mind’s tendency to want to create black and white distinctions gets in the way of any deeper understanding of the role and purpose of the ego in the evolutionary cycle. Clearly there must be some serious meaning to the existence of the ego, as it represents an effort of Nature over long millennia of time. At the same time, those who seek spiritual development, liberation or salvation all tend to fixate on the dissolution of the ego as a necessity. How do these two positions, so seemingly opposite to one another, get reconciled with one another?

In one of his aphoristic statements elsewhere, Sri Aurobindo states: “The ego is the helper; the ego is the bar.” He recognizes in this statement, that the ego has a purpose at one stage of human development and must be overpassed at another stage. Just as a child will play with a toy at one age, but when he grows up, he puts the toy aside and takes up other activities and objects upon which to focus, there are times and seasons when the development of the ego is a primary and essential phase in the work of Nature; yet there can still occur a further time in which it is no longer needed or can even become counter-productive.

“The formation of a mental and vital ego tied to the body-sense was the first great labour of the cosmic Life in its progressive evolution; for this was the means it found for creating out of matter a conscious individual.”

“The dissolution of this limiting ego is the one condition, the necessary means for this very cosmic Life to arrive at its divine fruition: for only so can the conscious individual find either his transcendent self or his true Person.”

There are numerous different theories and concepts surrounding this dual process of development and dissolution of the ego. Depending on the religious or philosophical path, there will be different explanations for the facts we experience. Some hold the fulfillment of the ego to be the goal of life; others hold it to be an illusory formation that must be overcome to find the true Self. Some hold that there is no reality to either the ego or the Soul. Others hold that the true Soul is eternal and can be experienced when the ego-sense is overcome. Some even hold that there is a greater ego, the ego of the society, the “collective ego” that takes precedence over the individual ego, and that should be the end and goal to be served.

Whatever the personal belief system, the individual eventually must come to grips with the need to address the consciousness of the ego-sense and the limitations it imposes on the spiritual quest.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 9, The Release from the Ego, pp. 341-342