The Ego and Its Drive for Independence

There is something of an unconscious drive for the ego to act as if it were totally free, separate and independent of everything “other” than itself–other individuals, the world, the Supreme. This illusion of independence can go to extremes of aggressive self-centered activity at the expense of all values of society and the need for balance with the environment, as we see taking place throughout the world around us. While it has been taken to an extreme that distorts the truth of the matter, there nevertheless is a basis for this drive, as Sri Aurobindo has explained: “The cause of our world-existence is not, as our present experience induces us to believe, the ego; for the ego is only a result and a circumstance of our mode of world-existence. It is a relation which the many-souled Purusha has set up between individualised minds and bodies, a relation of self-defence and mutual exclusion and aggression in order to have among all the dependences of things in the world upon each other a possibility of independent mental and physical experience.”

Seen in its right relation, it is of course quite obvious that no individual ego can be absolutely and totally independent in any real sense. We are born into a world of interdependence and interchange. We rely on other individuals to be born, to care for us as we grow, and to interact with us once we have matured. We are dependent on the world and the environment for the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink, and every action we take is part of a mutual dependency between ourselves and these other forms in existence.

For those individuals who take up the spiritual path, yet are still focused on the drive for independence, there are traditions that focus on separation, abandonment of all relations and attachments, and eventually fixing the concentration totally on the silent, separate Absolute, as there are others that deny even the reality of the ego itself so as to not have to admit the need for relationship with the world that the ego’s existence implies. However, it becomes clear that this cannot be the deeper meaning of existence and is not a path suited to all.

In the end, the attempt to achieve the extreme of independence from all existence must lead to failure and a recognition that there cannot be any absolute independence. From that realisation comes the opportunity for seeking out a balance and harmony that allows the soul to recognise the role of its independent formation while acknowledging the harmony and mutuality that recognizes the truth of every other soul and of Nature and of God. The process of discovering this, through the attempt to achieve absolute independence, is an important stage because it does help us recognize the need to withdraw attachment from the forms and forces of the world in order to establish the divine standpoint within our awareness.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 18, The Soul and Its Liberation, pp. 421-422