The Necessity of Transcending the Ego

In the Taittiriya Upanishad, there is a famous passage sometimes called the “calculus of bliss” which starts with the premise that a favored human individual, intelligent, healthy, happy in his life and his endeavors, represents the first and lowest level of attainment of bliss. Beyond this level, there are a series of steps of higher attainments that expand, widen and transform the nature of bliss, so that each level is “a hundred and a hundred” times the previous level. If we examine this story, we can see that even the most favored human individual is small, limited, subject to action of forces outside of his control, and then inevitably subject to illness, pain and suffering, setbacks, hardships and death. The ego-personality is entirely bound up in the life and efforts of the individual and thus, must by definition be a restricted and highly limited state.

We see also in the world of egoism, human society, that those who remain bound within the scope of their limited individuality are circumscribed and imposed upon, and those who want to achieve something with their lives must expand and transcend the limited horizons of their individual being.

In the spiritual quest, where there is an attempt to leave behind the ego in order to attain a new standpoint and new unity of being with a higher consciousness, the requirement to overcome the force of the ego is obvious.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “In the human egoism and its satisfaction there can be no divine culmination and deliverance. A certain purification from egoism is the condition even of ethical progress and elevation, for social good and perfection; much more is it indispensable for inner peace, purity and joy. But a much more radical deliverance, not only from egoism but from ego-idea and ego-sense, is needed if our aim is to raise human into divine nature. Experience shows that, in proportion as we deliver ourselves from the limiting mental and vital ego, we command a wider life, a larger existence, a higher consciousness, a happier soul-state, even a greater knowledge, power and scope.”

“The ego is by its nature a smallness of being; it brings contraction of the consciousness and with the contraction limitation of knowledge, disabling ignorance,–confinement and a diminution of power and by that diminution incapacity and weakness,–scission of oneness and by that scission disharmony and failure of sympathy and love and understanding,–inhibition or fragmentation of delight of being and by that fragmentation pain and sorrow. To recover what is lost we must break out of the worlds of ego. The ego must either disappear in impersonality or fuse into a larger I: it must fuse in the wider cosmic ‘I’ which comprehends all these smaller selves or the transcendent of which even the cosmic self is a diminished image.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 9, The Release from the Ego, pp. 342-343