Consciousness, Specifically Ego

Have you ever had a thought and then wondered who exactly is doing the thinking?

It’s a hot day, you’re walking down the street, and wafting by on the warm breeze is a hint of the aroma of freshly baked waffle cone. You think there’s ice cream nearby and the desire pops into your head I want it. 

Three things have happened here. First, your sense of smell gathered a whiff of cone. Next, your intelligence discerned that it was ice cream related. Finally, you yourself decided you wanted some.

I can make this yoga related. Read on.

In the yoga philosophy, we talk a lot about consciousness. In Sanskrit it’s called citta, pronounced “chitta.”

Citta is sort of like…everything you’re aware of and the awareness itself. Because it’s an amorphous concept, it’s split out into three different functions. That is, consciousness is made up of three faculties:

  1. Mindmanas, which receives all the inputs from your senses (smells the cone)
  2. Intelligencebuddhi, which does something with the information that manas has gathered (realizes there’s ice cream nearby)
  3. Egoahamkara, the “I” in I want it. 

It’s ahamkara I want to talk about today.

Ahamkara is the “I-self.” It’s the part of your consciousness that sets itself apart from the things around you. It identifies itself as separate and distinct. It takes the inputs from manas and the insight from buddhi and considers them to be “mine,” moving through the world as an independent “me.” Obviously ahamkara is a useful part of consciousness, otherwise we wouldn’t have a concept of ourselves as selves at all. We would have no “I.”

Ahamkara is translated in English as ego (not the same as Freud’s ego, but they can be compared).

A lot of folks understand ego as a bad thing, synonymous with narcissism and self-absorption, but narcissism and self-absorption aren’t the same as ego—they are afflictions of an ego run amok. An ego grown so large that the mind and intelligence aren’t having their say. An ego that’s made “me” more important than mindfulness and intelligence. An ego that’s forgotten it’s just one in a trio of consciousness. An ego that lacks awareness. An ego that’s not a team player.

Because we all have an ego, and because we live in a culture that’s quite taken with me, me, me, it’s no surprise that all of us sometimes forget that there’s more out there than our own business.

It’s understandable that we can get so wrapped up in personalizing our experience that we forget to be mindful, to simply be aware of the multitude of sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations that are occurring in our senses constantly. And because it’s easier to register details that fit into our own life stories, we accidentally ignore the infinite other goings-on around us. Unaware that this is happening, the part of our consciousness that is insightful and wise takes a hit.

Do you see how ego can squeeze out mind and intelligence?

Just by having this concept of three-part consciousness, we are able to begin seeing the world through a less ego-centric lens. And please, don’t demonize your “me.” We’re built this way and it serves a purpose. We need to have an I-self! We’ve just got to get that loud voice to sit down and be quiet sometimes, lest we forget the rest of our faculties. Let’s not sell ourselves short here.

Come to class this week to continue to explore parts of your world that expand your consciousness.

To be specific, we’ll be exploring KNEES in Tuesday Yoga Live. Because expanding consciousness doesn’t necessarily mean esoteric philosophy. In this case, we’re zooming in the other direction…inside your body, inside your joints.



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